SQUICK WARNING: This describes my personal experience of trauma injuries. If you don’t like reading about things like this, now would be a good time to stop. Hooray for oversharing.
It’s 11:30 pm and I can’t sleep.
My bike, and with it my usual busy schedule, ground to a halt on Thursday evening on the pavement of Stromlo Road, as I was cycling home from work. The rain had made the road slicker than usual and I really should have been going about half the speed I was going down the steep hill. But as it was, when my bike fishtailed, objects in motion remained in motion, and I tumbled down the hill for a while after being thrown. I didn’t sustain any head injuries, and remained painfully conscious throughout; I remember all too well how it happened.
Thirty seconds afterwards, a white cargo van happened up the hill, driven by a good Samaritan who offered to take me home, or to the hospital. Since I was pretty sure ankles weren’t supposed to make crunching noises I decided the latter option would be the best. He saw me into triage, locked my bike up for me (thanks, bro), and made sure Em was on the way before taking his leave.
A few X-rays and one CT scan later, they decided my left arm wasn’t broken, but merely hurt like hell to move in certain directions. (They said they’d re-evaluate this after hearing my pain report, but I think they’re probably right and I just have to wait for the pain to go away.) The crunchy left ankle, on the other hand, was definitely broken and would have to be surgically reconstructed; I could expect to have more than one screw installed, a full cast on with crutches for at least three months, and potentially all kinds of interesting future complications like arthritis in the injured joint. Awesome.
From a rational scientific standpoint I am actually not too worried. Medical science is amazing these days, and I hear stories of not only athletes but ordinary people walking and doing athletics after worse than what I’ve experienced. The surgeons know what they’re doing, they’ve done things like this thousands of times, and the broken pieces have remained in place so that all they have to do is go in there and screw them together. I’m a scientist, I deal with probability all the time; I’ve been given numbers for complications rates which, while not as near zero as my risk-averse personality would prefer, seem low enough that I have excellent odds of coming out the other side of this being able to do all the things I love to do again. I’ll have to remain aware of how to care for the injured joint so as to avoid injuring it again in the future, but that will hopefully be more a matter of due diligence than a serious setback to my active lifestyle.
No, what gets to me is not any rational expectation that I won’t be repaired to as good a condition as medical science can manage. It’s the feeling, in the moment, of frailty and helplessness: embarrassment with having to press a button just be helped out of bed to use the toilet, and having to be helped into the toilet; frustration at having an entire side of my body without its usual strength, so much so that I can’t even open a sealed bottle of water by myself (needs two hands!); impatience at things I could take for granted now taking ten times as long and sometimes creative thought about moving my damaged body under constraints; abject fear of hearing about a new place they’re going to stick a needle, and having morbid fantasies immediately spring to mind of how big that needle is and what it will feel like as it slides through my skin. (The one I had been worrying about, an injection of blood thinner into my belly fat, actually turned out to be not that bad after all. The IV cannula, however, which was installed in the back of my good hand available to grab stuff, was unexpected and just made me feel more fragile still.)
It’s all a good meditation on impermanence, and to a lesser extent, on conditioned arising: I can say with little doubt that while the physical indignities are bad enough, my anxious baseline cast of mind is making this several times worse than it needs to be. There are people in this ward who have been here for weeks, who are fighting cancer, or who broke many more bones than I did in other, more horrible trauma accidents. This is a transient phase of suffering which will be over soon, and then I’ll be back to normal. At least, for a while; eventually, unless we die quickly, all of us eventually end up back where I am right now.
For reference, I’m getting huge outpourings of sympathy from family and friends; text after text, special delivery of fresh Easter buns (can’t eat them now, fasting for surgery), and generally quite a lot of attention paid which is solicitous of my well-being. So I’m being very well looked after, and that helps. The rest is my own baggage which I am unloading here. Thanks for your best wishes and support, everyone.
Okay, at 12:45 am the drugs are kicking in and knocking me out again, so I’m done for the time being. But I’m very, very keen to get this over with and get the hell out of here. Sorry to be such a downer, folks, I’ll post more travel recollections when I get the chance (there are plenty).