.It only took two seconds. But since the consequences of those two seconds have dominated my life for the last six months, and promise to do so for some months yet, I feel faintly justified in sharing them.
Stepping blithely onto the back of the sofa to put a book back on the highest shelf, I lost my balance and fell backwards. Lying on the floor in a strange position, I knew without even looking that I had broken my leg and announced this to my love as he came to help me. Luckily the sofa is seven feet long, so he was able to get me onto it so I could lie there in unbelievable agony.
Even in that short time when I looked at my knee it was about ten inches across. I foolishly thought this was just swelling.
Abandoning the idea of driving to our nearest hospital an hour and a half away along a winding, precipitous road above the sea, we rang 111 instead. In half an hour the blessed ambulance arrived, with two angels who pumped me full of morphine, got me onto a special stretcher which didn’t entail lifting me, and decided I had to go by helicopter to the big area hospital.
After the interminable drive down the long winding gravel road during which time they stopped regularly to allow me to be sick, we reached the air strip and the waiting helicopter.
The last words I heard before I even had time to say goodbye to Himself, were: “I’m giving you ketamine for the pain. Some people get hallucinations.” I did.
Suddenly I was hurtling through outer space – tumbling into a vortex between intricate patterns of gold and black, and being sucked into the centre into the black hole. It seemed to go on endlessly. Eventually I said if I’m dying, I’m ready to die, but this didn’t stop the tumbling through space, the diving into the black hole again and again, and the patterns closing in around me. Then suddenly, I was back in the real world, unable to move a limb, totally paralysed, with the blazing sun beating down on my face through the glass about a foot away.
Unable to move or attract attention, I somehow survived this ordeal by sunburn, and arriving on terra firma was immediately surrounded by helpful, efficient people and wheeled away into a white tunnel which is what seems to pass for an X-ray these days apparently.
Then up to the operating theatre, and more blissful unconsciousness while they put on a plaster from thigh to toes, which had to last until the specialist could operate five days later. They told me the top bone was jammed down on the bottom bone, shattering it – a very nasty injury they assured me… not sure what happened to the knee in between, and I never got to ask…
Wheeled into a ward, addled with drugs and shock, I got used to the other drug-crazed, injured people around me! There were six of us and they included a secret smoker in one corner, and a young Maori woman who wore dark glasses all the time so she didn’t have to speak to any of us. The one time she was roused into vehement speech was on my behalf on the third day.
I had drawn what I called the Short Straw, a nurse who was looking after me that day who was so stout, it was a real effort I felt, to keep on her feet all those hours, and deaf too, so I wasn’t sure whether she was a bit dim or whether she just hadn’t heard me. Her ministrations were slow and reluctant, and when I told her I felt sick and she ignored me, I wasn’t sure whether she didn’t think it was worth taking any notice of me, or whether she just hadn’t heard. Seconds later, I called urgently for a receptacle and then filled three large ones with blood. “I wonder what caused that?” she kept saying in a helpless, puzzled way.
Apparently enraged, the Maori girl sat up in bed, took off her dark glasses, and using the odd four letter word, said words to the effect: “what do you expect when you fill her full of F… tramadol. Of course it’s tramadol doing it, you dimwit.” I trust the Short Straw only heard some of this.
The doctors decided it was the infamous drug tramadol too, combined with the rest of my cocktail, so I was downgraded to morphine and daily injections, instead of taking anti-coagulants. The result of this was that I had damaged my stomach, but didn’t know what to eat, so ate nothing but yogurt or mashed potato for some time, since otherwise I felt so ill that the pain of my leg paled into insignificance.
The operation duly took place and I wore a heavy black lycra and metal brace from thigh to foot for the next two months, unable to set foot to the ground. The operation also left me with a numb foot and shin, which I still have, accompanied by nerve pain which means I still enjoy/consume a full cocktail of painkilling drugs, and which makes it hard to walk.
The months were passed in a little cottage hospital where thirty-five of us were all coping with long-term injuries. In our little ward with four of us, we sympathised with each other, listened to each other’s life stories, gossiped about our favourite nurses, and moaned about the rigours of trips by ambulance back to base hospital to see the specialists at regular intervals.
I was humbled by the dedication and commitment of the staff, none of whom ever dawdled but who were on the run all day, scurrying down long corridors of an old style building, walking between ten and twelve miles a day.
I set myself to be a low maintenance patient, but many of the patients needed help even in getting out of bed, (depending on the injury this was an art in itself), into a shower, dressing or eating, and no nurse ever be-grudged the time they spent with anyone. Two patients died unexpectedly while I was there, and red-eyed nurses showed me how much they cared.
The doctor who visited several times a week knew everyone’s names, joshed us all, and usually ended his visits in the big sitting room, where he sat at the piano and played old favourites for anyone who wanted to listen. One of my favourite nurses was a delicious and beautiful Indian who brought her children and nephews to do Indian dancing for us… exquisite…others brought their dogs, and one jumped straight up on my bed, and cuddled into me – bliss…
Most people were old, and alone at home so they couldn’t manage, and were sheltered safely here until they were ready to cope. I was a rarity with my leg stuck out in front of me in a wheel chair. But what I learned as I observed the others was that I was one of the only lucky ones there.
Though I was older than many, I was almost the only man or woman there with my own teeth, who didn’t have a hearing aid, who didn’t have dementia in some form, and who was strong and active, healthy and able to do yoga and all the other things that kept me young(ish) and flexible. In other words, I had been lucky enough to afford to go to the dentist, to be educated about a healthy diet and life-style, could afford them both, and had enjoyed a life fairly unencumbered and unstressed by money worries.
These frail people brought home to me as never before how life expectancy and/or the enjoyment of good health depends on income, which dictates education, health care, mental health, housing, and everything else we need for a good life.
I listened to the life stories of my companions in pain, and heard how one woman brought up her six children when her husband died when her youngest was five, working at sewing factory uniforms at home from dawn to dusk to make a living and look after the children, and helping in the local shop when she had any spare hours; the lady in the bed across from me who had had two children and adopted two more, shared the trials of coping with deeply disturbed children and then their adult problems; the beautiful, feisty woman in the next bed was going home to look after an alcoholic and bloody-minded, middle-aged son she’d brought up alone, and the severely mentally handicapped sister she also cared for.
And then there were the incidental friendships. A visiting son who had raised thousands of dollars to rescue, doctor and re-home over six thousand feral cats. When he ran out of money and still had thirty-six cats to re-home, he sold his house and he and his wife moved into the country into a smaller house with land where rescued dogs, ducks, ponies, goats, pigeons and every other needy creature came to live with him and be loved. All the cats came and were named and loved until they died. This lovely man worked at night driving a bull-dozer to make enough money, and he also did a lovely tango across the ward to amuse his mother! It was my enthusiastic applause which connected us !
A young woman came with her dog to visit an old neighbour, and she told me she and her sister and her mother, rescue and re-home more dogs than the local animal charity, who often turn to them for help. They used up every penny they earned caring for desperate creatures.
Listening to these stories, and the life-stories of my fellow patients, I felt humble and so grateful for the life I had been able to lead. Even having the time to write and to blog, and to own a computer is something only the fortunate can do.
Breaking my leg, and now hobbling around with my stick, waiting for everything to heal has been a blessing. It has opened my eyes to how so many good, kind women live their whole lives coping with inescapable burdens. That son reminded me of how much hidden goodness there is in the community, and I was shown how much beauty, compassion and dedication so many women pour into their lives and their careers in the hospitals where they work. I was reminded that women are wonderful.
And I left this wonderful place with a full complement of much needed pain-killers, a walking frame, crutches, stool for the bathroom and a high stool to sit on in the kitchen. I was offered care at home, plus someone to clean, and free physio for as long as I needed it. I will never grumble about paying taxes again! I give thanks for being fortunate enough to live in a western society where care and compassion for those who need it, is a way of life.
Food for threadbare gourmets
This is the first year of my adult life that I haven’t made my own Christmas mince pies – for obvious reasons (see above !!!). But I found some decent bought ones, prized off their lids and spooned oodles more good mince- meat into them, replacing the lids, and heating them up as required. Before serving I sprinkle them with caster sugar … this IS Christmas isn’t it??
I also like to serve them with a dollop of brandy butter – why keep anything so delicious just for Christmas pudding? I make it by ear as it were, using two ounces of softened butter – preferably unsalted, but not necessarily… and adding icing sugar and brandy… I go on beating with a fork, or a beater, and adding butter and icing sugar and brandy until it tastes the way I want it, and is the right soft consistency. I also add a few drops of vanilla. Once tasted, no mince pie is complete without it… though cream is also good… A Merry Christmas… to threadbare gourmets and to all those who are neither gourmets nor threadbare !
Food for thought
Lord, forgive us that we feast while others starve. Grace before a banquet, said by John Fisher, Bishop of Rochester in the reign of Henry VIII. Just as appropriate now as then…
50 responses to “Helicopters, hallucinations and hospital”
Good for you, Valerie, and thanks for this post. Always a good reminder of how many blessings the vast majority of us have, especially those of us in the blogosphere. I pray you have a blessed Christmas and that your heal or keeping healing quickly and successfully.
Thank you Janet for churning your way through my story of the last six months..
.A merry Christmas to you too, Valerie
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My goodness Valerie, what a tale! I am so sorry to hear all this but delighted that you are on the mend. We have a great deal to thank our health services for and so much to learn from others, from listening and appreciating . You are right about how fortunate we are. It is a pleasure to be reading your words again, albeit describing something that has caused you much pain.
Enjoy your mince pies and have a safe and happy Christmas,
with love (and guilt for not having got back to you sooner)
Dear Sally, no guilt ! I gave up Guilt, when I realised it didn’t get me anywhere !!!
It’s lovely to hear from you, and I hope all is well with you in your beautiful corner of the world. I have to try to get all my blogs back, they all disappeared when my old computer collapsed… hope to be reading you again soon,
Happy Christmas to you,
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You are right, of course! I will just celebrate that we are back in touch, that you are happy and you are recovering.
We are well, thank you, off to Barcelona on Wednesday for Christmas but much more importantly, because our lovely daughter-in-law is about to have twins! We hope to be able to meet the babies and to help.
There will be news on my blog!
With love, Sally
Happy Christmas to you, too!xx
Wow! An ordeal AND an adventure, all rolled into one! Glad you’re mending apace, Valerie. Merry Christmas, my dear! 😉 xoM
Thank you Margarita for reading my long story… you’re right, it was an adventure which outweighed the tough bits !
Merry Christmas, dear friend.
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This is my Christmas present. You are my present. This was amazing and so freaking spot on! I am impressed by so many levels here. But, I’ll limit myself to one, “Apparently enraged, the Maori girl sat up in bed, took off her dark glasses, and using the odd four letter word, said words to the effect: “what do you expect when you fill her full of F… tramadol. Of course it’s tramadol doing it, you dimwit.” I trust the Short Straw only heard some of this.”
Can I make sure she is next to me in hospital when next there? How amazing is she??? And you, this was true brilliance, and I hope you are getting better and thank you for sharing this with us.
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Your wonderful comment was my Christmas present. As you would know, to be read and understood is such a gift, and your words warmed my heart and mind… yes, wasn’t the Maori girl wonderful.. she left the next day, but if good intentions have any power, I’ll certainly try to dial her up for you when you need it !!!
But before then, I hope you have a very merry Christmas at The Holler, which sounds like my sort of place – warmest best wishes, Valerie
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It sounds pretty dreadful, Valerie, but I understand exactly what you are saying about the blessing of it all. Five years ago when I finished a few months dealing with breast cancer I felt absolutely blessed. I had experienced so much kindness and realised how very fortunate I was/am in so many ways that I told the breast care nurse, I was glad for the experience. She said she had felt the same way when she had breast cancer. A person only need visit a hospital and sit around for a little while to realise how fortunate their own life is. It happens every time for me. I love mince pies but I’m the only one. I have to be satisfied with the memory of them now that I can’t eat wheat. I don’t want to sully the memory with a poor imitation using gluten free pastry. But I’ve discovered other things that are nice. We just have to look for them… Best wishes for the holidays and for your recovery.
Tackling breast cancer would have been a very real challenge Ardys, so glad you made it through with such optimism and wisdom….
What a shame about the mince pies… know what you mean about poor imitation, I’m always having to find ways round the gluten free thing with a neighbour who goes into anaphaleptic shock if she has even a scrap of gluten…
Have a merry Christmas in spite of the mince pie deprivation !!!
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I am grateful for your recovery and resiliency, Valerie. To paraphrase my mother (who paraphrased someone else), aging is not for the faint of heart. I raise a glass to your health and a prayer for those who are alone, ill, or lost in a world that can’t be reached by others.
Thank you MImi for your generous comment, I appreciate it,
Really lovely to hear from you… since I only admit to being “older”, I’m leaving the faint hearted thing to others !!!!
And thank you, I too will raise a prayer for all those you mention, and for all of us too in this world of puzzling times !
Best wishes, Valerie
I wish there were a happier reason for your blogging absence. It’s good to know you are mending. And, yes, the people, especially the women, who, with very meagre resources, support communities and family in NZ, are amazing. I am grateful to so many of them.
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Lovely to hear from you Amanda… hope all is well with you…
Thank you so much for your concern, but the worst is over, and I learned so much from the whole experience that I have no regrets…
Hope you have a very happy Christmas, Valerie
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Excellent, and a Happy Christmas to you.
I am imagining your Christmas with the birds.
‘To the listening ear of earth
Spoke the Bell-bird from the hill:
“O my bubbling peal of bells,
O my little melody,
Let me chime Your coming in,
Let me bless You from a tree!”
Loved the poem Amanda, I googled straight away… thank you, Valerie
Thank you for sharing these amazing stories Valerie. People can be amazing , we can never really know people just by looking at them. Many people do cope with unbelievable burdens.
I hope you are continuing to heal. A very Merry Christmas to you and yours and a very healthy, peaceful New Year.
Good to hear from you, and thank you for your good wishes, I hope you too have a Merry Christmas… and I really like the idea of a healthy peaceful New Year !
You’re so right about people.. they are amazing aren’t they?
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What a year you’ve had. I hope that 2017 brings a more restful season in your life, filled with peace and prolific writing times. Give the quail and Monarch butterflies my regards from the frozen Midwest.
Lovely to know you’re reading my long drawn out blog !!!
I Like your new photo…
So it’s winter with you, I tend to forget… frozen Midwest must mean you’re looking forward to a snowy Christmas… I”m finally getting used to strawberries and roses and butterflies at Christmas instead of the cold !!!!
Hope you have a very merry Christmas and good writing time next year for you too, love Valerie
Wow! So sorry to hear of your accident. Hope you are getting better fast!
Alas, not fast… slow !!!!
I thought I’d beat all the records for recovering, but with all the side effects, it hasn’t turned out like that….
Hope all is well your end, and the furry people who run your life are thriving, and a merry Christmas to you all, Valerie
Gosh Valerie – you really have been through it this year. All the best for a wonderful Christmas and a happy and healthy new year.
So good to hear from you… thank you for your good wishes, and I hope you too enjoy next year, and have fun this Christmas, Valerie
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Oh you wonderful wonderful woman. i am so glad you are writing for us again. And God Bless that Significant Other for gently lifting you onto a soft couch in more ways than one. I love the brandy butter and have never even tasted it – what am i like? – I will make some up in the mountains where I will be going for Christmas. I hope you have a lovely Christmas season too even with that bloody leg! c
Dear Celi, it’s so good to hear from you, I love your pithy perceptive remarks, and delicious writing style.
And I love it that you always “get it”…
Yup, the leg is bloody, but I just got a fresh supply of blissful morphine derivative today !!! Not addicted yet, but I’d love to be !!!
Hope you have time to make some brandy butter… I forgot to get brandy today after going into town for physio, so will make do with rum…almost as good !!!
Happy happy Christmas to you, love, Valerie
I am so, so, so sorry this happened to you, my Dear and wonderful friend. But having a wonderful man there to help and care for you has been one of the Universe’s Gifts, that is for certain and sure.
I am so glad you are back to blogging and keeping in touch with your fan base and friends from here and there…it’s one way to never be alone and to recieve lots of love and hugs and good wishes. Which we all need.
Here is hoping that 2017 is a year that puts all the bad and ugly and painful behind you and lifts you to the clouds.
Your friend always,
Linda, so lovely to read your loving words… yes, Himself has been wonderful, and so have my friends, including you…
And yes, it’s lovely to be back to blogging and connecting with so many old friends….
Love to you on the farmy, and enjoy a happy happy Christmas… yes, here’s making an intention for nothing but good for you and me in the next year.. with much love Valerie
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Thank you so much, Valerie!
What a story to tell? I suspect there are many more stories in that experience. Perhaps we’ll hear some. Hope your loved one was ok without you for such a long time. Bless that Maori woman for stepping in! Enjoy your holiday at home.
Dear Kate, thank you so much for your thoughtful comment… yes, you’re so right, so many stories – maybe they’ll surface !!!!
Yes, it was a hard time for my love, and it’s lovely to be back home…
Yes, wasn’t that young Maori woman something !!! Life is amazing, isn’t it?
A merry Christmas to you and your loved ones, including your delicious, furry friends, best wishes, Valerie
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I came back several times to read your post and reflect upon the many levels of inspiration. Oh Valerie, I learn so much from reading your posts. Healing and redemption are embedded in every word, every thought that came through your narrative. We build communities wherever we go by sharing our stories, our hopes and dreams. I came across this thought by Hermann Hesse: “One never reacher home,” she said. “But where paths that have an affinity for each other intersect, the whole world looks like home, for a time.” Hugs and love!
What amazing words from you – as usual I should say.
I read and re-read them, they were such a gift to me – thank you so much dear friend.
I love the thought that telling our stories is not self-indulgent, but a positive doing, and making of communities. You have such a wonderful way of looking at things, and I am so grateful that you read my stories and comment on them with such wisdom and insight.
And of course, love Herman Hesse’s quote.
Have a happy and a merry Christmas with those you love,
With love, Valerie
I’m glad that you can write about this harrowing episode with gratitude. It’s a perfect reminder for me to take the time to get the step ladder when I need to reach for something over my head! Hope the healing goes well. ❤
Yes, Lorna, Yes ! Always a stepladder, or a tall man.
Wish I had let my tall man put the book back !
On the other hand, it was an amazing experience which I would never have had if I hadn’t been so reckless !!!
Merry Christmas to you, Valerie
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I find tall men come in handy at least several times a day! 🙂
I am sorry to hear about your mishap – but am so thankful you are on the mend. As bad as it was it could have been so much worse. Sending you Christmas blessings and let you know I missed you. Hugs from the grand ole USA. 🙂
Patty, so good to hear from you. I know that you have been through far worst ordeals in the last few years, and hope you are on the mend too…
Best wishes for a happy Christmas, Valerie
I’d realised you’d gone silent for some time and then suddenly resumed. People stop blogging for all sorts or reasons – boredom, business, death, boyfriends – and one gets used to not wondering too much. Glad you’re back and glad you can take so much that’s good out of a fearsome experience. Pity about the short nurse. We have some like that in the UK too and of course, it’s the people in the most vulnerable condition who get the worst treatment from them. But the people’s stories are fascinating and I have to say, the hallucination SOUNDS fascinating too.
Thank you so much for your comment. Good to hear from you. Sorry for the long delay in replying…Christmas got in the way !!!!
Yes, I wish I’d been prepared for the hallucinations… next time round I’ll know what’s going on ! Hope 2017 is a good one for you, best wishes, Valerie
Hello Valerie. I enjoy your column very much and missed it when you were not writing and sending it. Very sorry to read of your unfortunate accident. It sounded terrible and just hope you are now making a good recovery and able to enjoy Christmas with your family. Best wishes, Marie.
Thank you so much for your message… sorry for the long delay in replying… Christmas got in the way !!
So good to know you enjoy the blog, and I hope you have a very happy New Year, best wishes, Valerie
Valerie, I am so glad you are back and that you are on this side of that adventure. Wishing you a full recovery and a wonderful 2017!
Thank you Shirley, so good to hear from you. Yes, With the aid of sticks and painkillers, I’m making progress !!!
A very happy New Year to you, with best wishes, Valerie
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I’m so sorry to hear of your accident Valerie. I hope that by now you’re well on the road to recovery and pain free. Did you ever discover the problem with the knee?
I wish you a very Happy New Year full of dreams come true.
xxx Massive Hugs xxx
Thank you David… I’m getting there, though still on badly needed painkillers for the nerve pain in my numb foot and shin. The knee was shattered, and so I have a metal ring right round and a long rod with lots of other rods gripping the leg… I shall blast any metal detector I move through in the future !!!
A happy new year to you too, and may your dreams come true… mine actually have done !!!!
Oh dear, what a scary two seconds and a long consequence, banish books from the top shelves please, something ornamental that never needs touching from now on. I’m so sorry to hear of the terrible pain and operations and I hope all that immobility has really helped the healing process Valerie.
But my, what a wonderful collection of people you’ve met and stories you’ve absorbed during your re-education period, humbling indeed. I recently spent a couple of weeks in hospital with my daughter while she had back surgery and I had some special encounters with a few of the mothers, or might I call then Earth Angels, amazing women who had endured so much and yet were such a beacon of light as we each nurtured our children through terrible nights of pain and consequences of the process they’d been through. Being operated on and recovering is terrible enough, witnessing it and being able to do little is excruciating.
I’m pleased you are back home now Valerie and hope you are coping ok and glad to hear you have the help necessary. Sending light and healing vibes to you and best wishes for the year ahead.
thank you so much for this wonderful comment… I know how much energy is involved in writing long comments, and I appreciate every word of yours. I do hope your daughter is healing and good for the rest of her life. Those times in wards with other mothers and family are so richly moving…
We are going through a strange time as a young family member has just fallen from a horse and is now tetraplegic. It happened just before Christmas and as you can imagine blighted it. At the same time I’m awed to see how my children and others involved are rising to the challenge… which is a heart-breaking one … so my injuries seem very small beer, even though healing is taking a long time with a numb foot and shin.
So lovely to hear from you Claire, and I’m looking forward to catching up with your lovely book blog, ( I lost all my blogs etc when my computer collapsed, and am still piecing things together)