I was dragged screaming from the car. No- one realised that the reason I couldn’t lift my leg to get out was because I’d broken my hip.
Once inside the hospital the next ordeal was the battle to save my clothes. Cut off the expensive trousers l’d only been able to afford because they were in a sale? No, no, no… Cut off the top given me by a friend who only gave expensive extravagant beautiful presents? Again no. My newest bra? At this my love exploded,” I’ll buy you fifty bras, to replace it”… the bra went.
After the X-rays, came the two-and-a-half- hour drive in an ambulance over winding country roads which seemed to be pitted with railway level crossings every half mile. Thank heavens for morphine.
In the orthopedic ward, there were five other women – three other feisty intelligent women with a wicked sense of humour. Another was so ill that her three daughters kept a vigil by her bed – three graces – elegant women with long legs, wonderful clothes and an active sense of humour. They wore clothes to gladden the eye – a skirt made of pleats from every shade of red, pink and orange to yellow, a long red sixties dress… The daughter who kept the night vigil made us tea in the night and pulled up our blankets to cover us when we fell asleep. The sixth woman was a gentle sweet soul who was too vague and forgetful to look after herself, and brought us all together in our efforts to protect her.
In the bed opposite me lay Jane, a kindred spirit, and one who had risen above the tragedy of her terribly handicapped daughter and helped to revolutionise the care of disabled people, including organising a nappy service, taxi services, and getting the law changed in recording the very existence of such children. In the far corner was an older Maori woman typical of so many older women of her race – full of life and fun and stroppiness and dignity, while in the other corner was a quiet, witty and intelligent English woman.
The nurses were gentle, kind, mainly Filipino and Indian girls, while the two male nurses were a gift. One, a tall American engineer, had changed course in mid career and put himself in the power of bossy female charge nurses. His dry sense of humour and calm competence and compassion brought serenity into the ward every time he appeared, while the other young man with the bluest eyes , was intelligent, capable and fun.
“Is there any word in the English language you don’t know?” he asked me after a couple of days. He then instituted a game in which we both presented each other with an arcane word every day which we had to recognise and spell.
When we had all had our operations and split up to go to other hospitals, the Maori woman stood in the doorway surrounded by her daughter and grandchildren and sang a Maori farewell. I replied by singing ‘Auld lang syne’ and everyone in the ward joined in, a beautiful swelling chorus of male and female voices. When we said goodbye to the three graces the eldest said she had always thought hospitals were sad places, but she’d never laughed so much in her life.
Jane, who had had the same operation, and I, repeated the purgatory of the ambulance ride back to our local hospital, but this time it was a journey filled with laughter, as our ambulance driver took on the persona of an airline pilot, and conducted the whole journey as a send-up of a plane flight.
Back at the hospital, Jane and I shared a room decorated in soft celadon green with heavy expensive matching curtains and our own bathroom. There was a legend, that on the door of our room was a notice saying ‘Do not mess with these women’, and our days filled with laughter continued.
When we were able to totter around on walkers, I found that every ward looked out onto flower gardens. Every day I sat in a bower where hundreds of gardenias scented the air, a blue jacaranda tree flowered overhead and birds sang in the sunshine.
The delicious food, we discovered, was cooked by the chef from the local restaurant in town that was a by-word for good food. Each day we ticked our choices off on a form, and the second day I decided to buck the system. Where it listed sweetener for the porridge I wrote ‘Lots of brown sugar’. To my surprise, lots of brown sugar arrived, so the next day I pushed my luck even further. Where the list said margarine, I wrote ‘lots of butter’. These treats arrived for several days and then the Food Police pounced. ‘Please consult your dietician and health professionals about your diet.’
I groaned and gave up, knowing the days of brown sugar were over. But lo, the next morning porridge and brown sugar arrived for me. I never discovered who had noticed and intervened and sneaked in the magic words on my order, but what a joy to know someone cared! After a week at this happy little hospital, I returned home armed with enough medication and rehabilitation equipment to equip another ward, and settled back, to be visited by teams of helpers, physios and nurses.
While the rest of the world struggles with Covid, all I have to cope with is a broken hip, and the experience was truly life-enhancing. If having an accident was bad timing just before Christmas, the silver lining was the amazing experience of being with so many beautiful people.
I emerged from what could have been an ordeal, with the knowledge instead, that goodness, kindness, courage, and laughter are as much part of our world as all the misery we read of in the media. I had been reminded that these are the things that keep the world turning, not politics and mayhem. Happy memories and gratitude and the knowledge of the goodness of life, are the lasting after- effects of another profound experience with which life has gifted me. In that alternative universe where goodness triumphs, all is well and all manner of things are well, as Mother Julian reminded us.