Monday, February 22, 2010

Laid Up Leg Up

I started writing this about a week ago, but I'll admit being laid up in bed with not a lot of energy doesn't exactly inspire brain waves to move toward creativity. For those who don't know, I broke my ankle about 2 weeks ago and have been quietly mending since then. Now on day 16 of invalidism, I finally feel up to finishing what I've been trying to write down for weeks.

Literally slower than a one-legged man in a butt kicking contest. I have never been more frustrated with the inability of mobility. I was fine with a resting state of inertia before this happened, but too much of a good thing in this area is a lot worse than simply eating an entire box of cookies. I haven't felt like doing much of anything because every time I exert myself my body decides that it's had enough and tries to wimp out on me. I loathe this feeling so much that even the idea of sitting in a French government office all day is starting to sound pleasant. I am not going to lie for the sake of pleasantry and say that it's really not that bad, because it is. It completely sucks (if I had a better synonym to describe this feeling I would have used it, but there isn't one) and I want to cry and scream about it most of the time. Yes, I have crutches; two pair in fact (one polio style and the all-American underarm burners as well) but before you wonder why it's such a big deal, please go to your nearest hospital with two broken bones in your ankle, have them cut you open so they can drill 7 screws and a metal plate into your bones so you look like a junior high carpentry project, dope you up on morphine for days only to take it away so it then forces you into immediate detox (withdrawal) for the next week until you just can't vomit anymore and then.... Lift yourself up and down on one leg anytime you need to urinate (because let's face it, all of those opiates are going to keep you nice and constipated for a few more days) and do it all in another country where you are in such a state that speaking your mother tongue is difficult enough, let alone any other language.
We all remember the kid that broke a leg in school. We drew asinine pictures in magic marker on their casts, tried out the crutches and thought they were cool, and were jealous that they were able to obtain a get out of jail free card for at least 2 weeks of school. My bubble is officially burst. Being an adult with broken bones is just pathetic and sad.
I suppose I should start at the beginning and explain how this less than blessed event came to pass. I was leaving a friend's place after a lovely evening of dinner, wine, good company and some dancing. Being that in France most elevators, lifts or ascenseurs are rarely made for more than two small nose to nose people and there were three of us leaving the apartment, I opted to take the stairs. It was four flights down, but I didn't make it past the first. Most buildings have large, wooden circular stairs with carpet that is being bolted down by metal rods and screws. I was wearing my cowboy boots as I would any other day, and slipped on the last two steps, which buckled my foot under so when I landed it snapped my ankle perfectly between my body and the stairs. I must have been in shock, as I have very little recollection of what happened directly after that. My friends lifted me and put me in the elevator to go back up one floor to the apartment. They got my boot off and assessed the damage which led to the calling of an ambulance. I was convinced that it might not be that bad and so I would just wait it out until morning. I did know I had done something really bad to it because I was in some seriously unfamiliar pain and normally have a pretty high threshold when it comes to that sort of thing. The next morning after I had to crawl to the bathroom for fear I would wet my pants, my friends took me to the hospital. I must say that if one finds him/herself in such a predicament that might require an emergency room (in Paris) I highly recommend 8:30am on a Saturday. Completely void of people, I was immediately whisked away to an exam room with a very sexy doctor from Luxembourg and his handsome little intern. Mind you at this point in the game I fear my pride was wounded far worse than my ankle, especially when they removed my socks to uncover the hairy legs of winter and non-pedicured feet. Only after that mortification did I discover my right ankle to be twice the size of the left. After the intake, I was supposed to go to "radio" on a rollaway gurney only to be left waiting in the middle of a giant hallway for about an hour. I watched a handful of doctors and nurses walk by who were all well above par in the looks department. I suppose if one is forced to wait, enjoying the sites is always a viable option in time passing. A woman came and asked me something in French about "radio" and I really still had no idea what she meant until I saw the x-ray machine. Duh....radiology. Meanwhile back in the vacant waiting room were my patient friends Jeremy and Thibaut. Both sleep deprived without any news of me they sat and waited. While they were there, a gigantic (meaning tall and wide) man walked up to the nurses station in sweat pants, huffing, puffing and sweating - registered, asked the orderly for a plastic bag, then decided the best seat of the forty empty chairs spread generously across the waiting room would be the one right next to Jeremy. He proceeded to sit down and vomit profusely into the small, clear plastic bag he had requested. This made me burst out laughing when I heard this from Jeremy. By that time I was fresh with the news that I needed surgery and would be admitted to the hospital only to perhaps find out there might not be room for me on the orthopedic surgeon's schedule that day. Oh, and did I mention they put me on drugs too? Yeah, that did make things much more hilarious and able to digest. Come to find out I was in a brand new orthopedic wing at Saint Antoine Hospital which is supposedly the best in Paris. However, the fresh out of school nurse who came in to take six vials of blood from me, left giant bruises as she couldn't seem to decipher what veins looked like. I wanted to stab her several times and see if that might improve her skills so as to keep her patients from looking like heroine junkies. The reality of all this felt as though it had barely set in when they wheeled me to be prepped for surgery. I had never broken a bone, had surgery or been admitted into a hospital since the day I was born. Still a little out of it I tried to decipher broken French and English with the nurses, surgeon and anesthesiologist that I was a singer and if they were going to knock me out or have to intubate for any reason to use a small tube and be extremely careful with my vocal folds. Ultimately I opted for a nerve block that would simply keep me from feeling any sensation below the waist for a few hours and was fully conscious in surgery (aside from the awesome sedative and morphine combination they injected into my bloodstream - intravenous drugs really do have their up side). For those of you who are a bit squeamish I would advise you read ahead. I wanted to watch the surgery, but they wouldn't let me. I did get to see them draw the giant Frankenstein-ian marks on either side of my ankle to use as for the cutting and suchers reference +++++. I laid there for about an hour and then started to hear what sounded like a power drill. It was complete with flying liquid and debris, and brought with it a smell I will never forget. At first I thought perhaps it was burning flesh, but then I realized that scent was coming from the hot screws being drilled into the bones of my leg. It was reminiscent of a barbecue near a slaughterhouse. I watched them roll the cloth and fiberglass around my leg. It's an odd perspective to watch people handle a part of your body that has zero sensation. It might as well have been someone else's.
By the time surgery was over, my less than opaque hospital gown was completely torn and falling off (not that it prevented one from seeing everything in the first place). For perhaps the first time ever, I had a Garden of Eden moment of bashfulness, when I realized I was naked in a room full of strangers. My friends had been with me just before I left for surgery, and brought some bare essentials, reading and writing materials. I imbibed in a perfectly wretched hospital meal that night and met the over night nursing staff. They were three jovial women that came in laughing and singing, but whom did not speak English, so this forced me to fight through my drug ridden haze to communicate. By this time I had a roommate in the bed next to me in the form of a 75 year old French woman who appeared to have fallen and dislocated her shoulder. She was wearing the same transparent gown as I, and let me tell you I don't ever want to see that much wrinkled nakedness again until I'm staring at it in the mirror 40 years from now. I didn't think I could feel much worse until I needed to urinate. It had been a few hours since surgery and I figured I'd call a nurse to help wheel me over to the bathroom in a chair....but no. This crazy heifer brought me a nasty, white, post-war bedpan and stuck it under my ass. Whatever miniscule sliver of remaining dignity I had, took a flying leap right out the nearest window. I sat on that stupid bedpan for about an hour in various positions trying to convince myself that it was "okay to pee in bed." I confess, I was a bed wetter as a child until about the age of 9 I would say. It didn't happen often, but it was humiliating nonetheless and I always hated having to tell my mother because I knew waking her up in the middle of the night with this news was never something she was happy to hear. So, at this moment I had to fight past the fear of being scolded for wetting myself, plus doing it in front of two other human beings. I just couldn't make it happen and the bedpan was starting to dig into my rather plump ass cheeks, so she took it away. At 3am they came in to give me a new dripping bag of drugs and asked if I wanted to try again. It still took some time but when the nurse returned she asked if I was successful and then threw her arms in the air with cheer as I confirmed that I had been. Then she wiped me......that.....I can't.
I am a very proud, independent person who never asks for help from other people, and therefore is not used to accepting it. When I have asked in the past for help from my friends or family I'm always ridden with guilt while doing it. However, it appeared in this scenario I didn't get to make the choice as to whether I would accept help or not. I have learned (mostly the hard way) that when we are resistant to making certain decisions, life will eventually make them for us, but never in the way we expected. So, at the risk of negating or retracting other things I've said about not depending on others and doing everything on my own..... I see that I need to learn how to let go of pride by allowing others into the parts of my life where I feel weak or vulnerable. That accepting help and needing to depend on people is okay and should not carry shame. My parents have said to me on numerous occasions that I was the child they never worried about because I always wanted to do things my own way without help. I wish they had known that even though I have a strong will for independence, I still needed to be taken care of like a child and taught that people can be dependable even when you think you don't need them. Some lessons come later, and life has an interesting way of teaching you when you refuse to learn on your own.
A few days after surgery I was allowed to go home, but still had to face one flight of stairs to the 6th floor as the elevator stops at the 5th. I really need to acknowledge these amazing people who were at my side these last couple of weeks in some of the worst moments of my life. I have only known them for a few months, yet their kindness, generosity and care have shown what lovely people they are. Jeremy stayed with me and made sure I was settled into the hospital with a working phone and a list of phone numbers. He visited me every day, has done grocery shopping and comes over at 9am every Thursday to let in the nurse who takes my blood to make sure my platelets aren't going to kill me. Tara has been so helpful and amiable when it comes to making sure I'm comfortable, have everything that I need and brings me delectable chocolate. She and Thibaut even had me stay at their place for a few days and they waited on me hand and foot (not to mention that I took the first bath I've had in France and clean hair for the first time since leaving the hospital). Thibaut is in the field of naturopathic medicine, so he has taken on the responsibility of getting me to and from the hospital, doctor's appointments and dealing with all of the paperwork in French to make sure I know what is going on. He even did my gross and disgusting pile of dishes....and yet somehow still wants to be my friend. More thank yous to Sylvain, Hanaye, Nanci (Camille and Juliet's mother) and everybody who keeps checking in on me via phone or skype. I have more fun stuff to share and tell, but I'll wait until tomorrow to bombard you all some more.

From your favorite Paris gimp,


1 comment:

  1. I practically peed my pants in my office. I couldn't help but burst into laughter from the onset of reading. You have always kept me laughing and this by far is funny as hell. I hope all is well. Chauency