“This shouldn’t hurt, but you might feel a slight discomfort.”
The Hold Steady, A Slight Discomfort
So, the district nurse bottles removing my stitches two weeks running – they’ve been in for four weeks now. I make an appointment with my GP practice nurses. They are hesitant when they see my frame but as soon as they hear the district nurse baulked at it, there’s no stopping them. It takes two nurses 45 minutes to get them out and they have to have a time-out in the middle. They are heroic, though, and I salute them. The following day, my leg aches just from tensing up for so long. And it is quite the picture.
I’m physically competent enough to shower now, which is a relief. No more flannel baths for Marquis. I have to pull a bin liner up over my right leg and strap it in place above my knee (to prevent infection, not oxidation – titanium doesn’t rust). Once a week, when the pin site dressings are changed, I can shower fully. I strip out all the dressings and then let the pin sites air-dry until the dressings are replaced.
The appointment with my consultant arrives and I am x-rayed to see whether the tibia has sufficiently healed for it to be re-broken. Normally, they would crack the bone when they fit the cage. Because they also had to remove an intramedullary nail, my leg swelled up too much to take all that punishment at once. The surgeon is pleased with how I have healed, which means that he can now drill a series of holes across my tibia and then put a chisel through it. Then I use the frame to crank the gap open by 1mm a day – my bone will grow into the ever-widening crack until I’ve got back the missing 3cm. What, as they say, a time to be alive. For all the incoming brutality, it’s a massive relief. I’ve had 20 months of no-growth in my tibia and it’s a huge weight off my mind that my skeleton is back in the game. Crikey.
I return to physiotherapy at St. Luke’s. I’ve spent so much time here over the past year and half that it’s a sort of homecoming. Unexpectedly, they have me working on some quite heavy equipment on the first session. I keep going until my leg is shaking with the effort. Repeat on every session.
I meet a young woman at physiotherapy who had an Ilizarov frame fitted by my surgeon. She was told she’d need to wear the frame for a year, and yet had it removed after 3 months. She’s 20 years south of me, so I imagine she heals more quickly, but it’s good to hear some positive affirmation of the process. She warned me that the first time I put my weight on the new break, it’s going to feel really alarming. It’s going to feel like something terrible has happened but that the medical staff aren’t going to alert me to that. I was grateful that she took the time to share her experience of the procedure with me. One of the positives out of all this is the camaraderie among the patients; those that have already trod the path coming back to show me the way. Thanks, HB, if you’re reading this.
It’s been an emotionally overwrought month. I’ve cried at two episodes of Castle now, and a Lie to Me. Good grief. They were all episodes where characters were being physically rescued. Feeling impaired has set me pondering what a profound experience it is to be rescued. I don’t think that, even after all this time, I’m quite over that huge crest of relief when the cavalry showed up for me. Gosh, it was a colossal moment, such a huge heart-shaking thing to experience that sudden reprieve from the infinite. Forgive my lack of clarity here – it is difficult to articulate because I’m not entirely sure what I’m feeling. To physically damage yourself to the extent that you will die unless somebody steps into save you; to absolutely understand that in that moment; to be saved amidst the certainty of your own death – it is a big thing to process, and I’m still in the middle of it. Which is fine. It is what it is, but I need to acknowledge what it is and that it is affecting me.
And while I’m on the subject of danger, it’s time for a sweeping generalisation. I know I shouldn’t speak for everyone who’s been to the brink, but I just need to get this off my chest. If you have a loved one who’s survived a life-threatening ordeal, please think twice before you utter the words “it could have been worse”. It is a thing you say to comfort yourself* and not to comfort them. The notion that they might have suffered more than they did will in no way mitigate the suffering they have endured. And, believe me, they already have an iron grasp of the fragility of human life without your insight. If they’re like me, they’ve already devoted a lot of time to thinking about how much worse it could have been. My favourite scenario is where one of my seven broken ribs punctures my left lung and then I drown in my own blood; I’ve spent hours rolling that one back and forth behind my eyes. They get to say “it could have been worse” and you get to listen – that’s the deal for this. If something dreadful happens to you (and I genuinely hope that it does not) they will return the favour. And because they themselves have spent some time lost at the bottom of the world, they won’t try your patience with platitudes.
*this is a legitimate need – you’ve had a terrible fright – but it needs to be kept separate from their need