The Battle of Broken Knee – Part 1

Well I really asked for it, didn’t I, entitling my last post “Why Bareback? Why Not”?!

Two weeks ago I just about had enough time at the end of a sunny day to take Pom down to the school for a quick and gentle workout, which had worked well for us both a few days before, or so I thought!  Pom was evidently in a different frame of mind and wouldn’t stand still for me to mount.  Finally he stood and I jumped up from a makeshift mounting block.

However, just as I was about to get my leg across his back, Pom whirled away from me and set off at a canter.  I didn’t have enough purchase to haul myself on and so I tried to slide off, but he had already picked up too much speed and I came down heavily on my left foot, trying very hard to ignore the ominous crunching noise.

A self-deluding night of emptying the medicine chest of painkillers and feeling my knee swell like a fungus burgeoning in the dark left me no choice.  A morning visit to “Urgences” was a necessity.

My husband, who is not very much bigger than me, again hoisted me manfully into the car, unfortunately a high-wheel-base Landcruiser, and out again at the Emergency department of our nearest hospital, a bone-jolting 20 minute drive away.  I was bundled into a wheelchair and left to wait in agony whilst a line of people with earaches and sniffles took forever remembering their own names and addresses to fill in the forms.

Finally I was wheeled into a room and told to clamber up onto a high bed alone, little realising that from this point on I was to be a hostage -at the mercy of the hospital machine.

A glance from an offhand doctor, an x-ray, followed by an hour in a corridor, followed by a scan, followed by a long wait in some god-forsaken oubliette brought back a slightly more solicitous doctor with the news that I had a badly twisted and fractured knee and would be taken onto a ward and then operated on.  Exit before possibility of questions being asked.  Eventually nurse arrives;  I beg for painkiller and the chance to pee, also that someone inform poor husband who, despite my requests he be kept informed, has sat in the waiting room, unenlightened, for nearly four hours.

I’m sure it must be one of life’s thankless tasks, working in emergency services, but the sense of urgency was energetically ignored and every patient was treated as if wilfully diverting the staff from the far more absorbing need to fill in forms and complain about each other and the various services . 

As I’ve never had a serious illness, or an operation, or a baby, or spent any significant time in hospital before, the week that followed was one nasty surprise after another.  And oh how it opened my eyes to how very hard life must be for anyone sucked into the “care” system by recurring ill-health or simply the inevitable degeneration of ageing, which I now dread even more.   

Pain reduces any normally fit, able-to-fight-for-oneself, healthy individual, to a self-centred, blurry, anonymous well of need, which dare not ask for help until suffering beyond forbearance.  As nurses and doctors and other hospital staff pass before you in ever changing combinations, you get a crash course on the “ages of caring”:

The recent recruit:  zealous, tender, caring, a ready smile and a swift and discreet return with the bedpan or the painkiller.  Not awfully sure about the procedures but still in it to make a difference.

Five years later:  very professional, apt to tell you what you’re feeling/needing, despite evidence to the contrary;  injections, enemas, all other treatments delivered impersonally and without thought for patient’s humiliation/embarrassment, or wussy feelings of pain or discomfort.

Ten years down the line:  job-to-do, more pressing concerns at home, seen all possible empathy-exhausting conditions, compassion fatigue, keep the patient quiet and follow the rules.

Empty-nest, needs to return for the income:  slightly less rule-bound, but apt to be a bit idiosyncratic as totally blasé, a bit-out-of-date on practice, prone to mid-life forgetfulness.

I was lucky enough to be offered a single room.  As you might have deduced, I’m with Jean-Paul Sartre when he stated, “l’enfer c’est les autres”.  When you’re in pain and mad as a mongoose that you’ve only got yourself to blame for your predicament, sharing a room with another ailing person, their illness and their entourage of visitors is enough to convince you that Hell is other people.  On my ward, windows on one side had views over one of the most famous medieval bridges in Europe.  On the other was the building site for 2 new hospital wings, which kicked off each day at 7 am.  No prizes for guessing the side I was on!!

A couple of bright lights;  a member of my book club was recuperating from a hip replacement op. in the next room, and kindly came in to cheer me up every day, in small but welcome doses and the physio. was a lovely guy who had treated me before.

I could go on, and on, but I think that’s quite enough ranting for the time being.  I do, however, unreservedly apologise to any indignant hospital personnel who feel they have been misrepresented.  I am the most impatient patient, being attached to drips made me feel like Gulliver strapped down by the Lilliputians and I just can’t stand being enclosed and immobile.  Once my leg had been operated on;  fractured tibia just under the knee patched with a plate and screws, I found myself fitted into a metal-framed fabric leg brace with lumps which dug into my flesh, tightened by velcro straps, which the physio could remove to flex my knee.

As I lay awake, in pain and dying to pee most nights in the hospital, the drugs I was given did very strange things to my thoughts.  One of my set texts at uni. was Madame Bovary, which, back then, I thought wonderfully tragic and dramatic.  Re-reading it more recently for the book club I found Mme. B a shallow, self-centred, irritating, sex-and-shop-aholic.  (How we change!)  In the wee(!), small hours my mind kept returning to the part where she persuades her unambitious doctor husband to perform a revolutionary operation to correct the club foot of the groom at the local inn.  His leg is locked into a straightening apparatus, newly delivered from Paris, but soon there’s a strange smell, Hippolyte, the groom is in agony and the contraption is removed to reveal that the leg is gangrenous and has to be amputated……..

One last thought;  not one person treating me has looked at the good knee, which I would think was necessary to see what normal looks like for me.  One nurse said the knee didn’t look very swollen, until I showed her the other, only half the size.  I do hope the surgeon who did the operation matched them up!

Anyway, I’m back home now and we’re all struggling;  I have need of all the good thoughts you can send me for a speedy recovery …. I’m told I won’t be able to ride for 3 months!!!!

About cavaliereattitude

Englishwoman, transplanted to SW France in '86, blogging - with a large dose of humour and self-deprecation - about life with my husband and our horses, the never-ending renovation of an ancient and crumbly stone farmhouse and the attempt to carve a beautiful garden and productive pasture out of a woodland wilderness.........
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