“You must pay for everything in this world one way and another.”
Charles Portis, True Grit
What do you do with an outdoor blog when you can’t really do much in the outdoors for about 10 months? Well, let’s start typing and see what happens, eh? If you’ve been following me on Twitter or on this blog then you cannot have failed to notice that this happened. It was painful and frightening and humbling, but with enough sheer bloody-mindedness I would surely bounce back (although you’d think that after 130 feet of bouncing, I’d have earned some respite). Well, yes and no. I held up my head as high as I could and I did what the physiotherapists told me to do but it seems that was not and never could be enough. So here, by way of an introduction to the the medium term future of this blog, are some things I have found out through surgical consultations, physiotherapy and psychotherapy. Sitting comfortably? Then I shall begin. And I may ramble.
So, when I smashed my skeleton out through my musculature, the bone took the path of least resistance. I had thought the thing that looked like a small shark bite was the exit wound but it was not; that was the donor site for the tissue graft they took to pad over the repair job on my tibia. The almost-not-there scar that I had wondered about for ages was in fact where my hard infrastructure was exposed to the atmosphere.
When you break a bone and then introduce it to the air, apparently it starts dying. My tibia was out meeting and greeting for 8 or 9 hours. The end of a bone cannot start regrowing from dead tissue. There’s still quite a lot of dead bone in there and so I’m going to have another operation. The surgeon is going to drill into the top of my tibia and remove the intramedullary nail. Then he is going to trim (I’ve no idea with what) 5cm of bone out of my tibia . Then he’s going to re-break it. Then he’s going to fit an Ilizarov frame to my leg – that’s an external cage that’s screwed into my skeleton. As the bone regrows from the new break, the frame will be used to winch it up the inside of my leg* until it meets the other side of the old break. The frame will take my weight so that I can remain mobile while I grow a new shin, and the muscle will not atrophy as it would in a cast. This will take around 10 months.
I’ve no idea how I’m going to react to this. Will I be self-conscious about it? Will I feel clumsy? How much will it hurt? I’m hoping that I will not react to morphine as I did before, given that the circumstances of our meeting will be less traumatic. I’ve bought a kilt so that I don’t have to try to wrestle trousers over the frame. A friend is putting velcro side seams into some underpants for the same reason (thanks, LB). I’ll be like half a male stripper. Tragic Mike, if you will.
And after the physiology, there’s the stuff that I’ve been ignoring for months – where, as Black Francis asked, is my mind? The bit where I was found by dogs? I wasn’t. When I was recording for the Listening Project, I discovered that I’d imagined that. Oh, there were dogs alright, but they showed up 25 minutes after I was found. Those slackers. My mind has just re-ordered things, presumably for a more satisfying narrative.
And you know what? It didn’t hurt as much as you might think. By the time I peeled, the panic already had me over the shock horizon and still accelerating. Don’t get me wrong, it hurt plenty, just not as much as the as the list of fractures would suggest. But the sheer intimacy of death’s presence – oh my word, the weight of that terror, pressing me into the Earth’s crust as firmly as gravity had pulled me there. And it just went on and on and on and on and on. I would not wish it on the worst of us.
But that, after all, is the bargain I made. My stubbornness and me against as much risk as I could handle. Or couldn’t handle, as it turns out, because I lost. And the loss isn’t just the injury, it’s everything that follows; the genuine strangeness of hospital; the slow return to work, struggling with tasks that would once have taken moments; the inability to enjoy the pursuits that got me here in the first place; and now the shuffle back, the regression – you thought you were here but really you’re back here. And that’s all there is for that. This was a leisure activity; I didn’t need to be doing it. So now I have to accept the consequences of my actions, soak up the surgery and try not to moan about it. Next stop – hand tools and my tibia.
Disclaimer: I might moan about it. A bit.
*this is an imperfect understanding of the process