The Story of the Worst Night
It was Saturday night. I had plans to meet some coworkers for dinner, but the hostess said our reserved room wouldn’t be ready for another hour. I decided to pass the time by walking to the bookstore down the block.
It was crowded. A band was doing mic checks near the entryway. I headed downstairs to browse the stacks. I had visions of finding something literary and obscure: the letters of some long-forgotten poet, or the Virginia Woolf book that would help me finally appreciate Virginia Woolf. Something that smelled of cheap pulp and the passing of time. The basement seemed a likely place.
An old man caught my attention as I neared the bottom of the stairs. I remember a moment of hesitation, a rattle of synapses--one step left, or two? Before my brain could compute an answer I found myself hurtling through space, a downward trajectory that my left foot couldn’t stop. It collapsed underneath me as it hit the floor, my leg reduced to a mess of sharp strange angles.
I heard myself screaming through a wind tunnel of pain. When I regained enough of my senses to open my eyes, I saw the same man, perpendicular now, his back toward me.
“Help?” I gasped.
He turned. Then two new people appeared, both young, full of questions. They were both adamant to call somebody, anybody who knew me.
“The paramedics,” I said. “An ambulance.”I felt a sudden stabbing underneath the skin of my ankle, a spear of bone pressing against flesh, and braced myself to scream again, but then the pain swirled and diffused, like paint in water. I looked down and saw my foot bent at the wrong angle, a strange bulge above it, blood speckling the underside of the skin.
Greenstick, I thought. Flowering trees in spring. Branches broken by a little girl's shoes.
“You twisted your ankle,” a girl comforted. “I know it hurts, but it’s going to be okay. Do you want to try to sit up?”
The thought made me nauseous. I rested my cheek against the cold concrete and shut my eyes. “No, I’ll wait here.”
I spent a few minutes fumbling with my phone, trying to dial my husband, but the numbers kept losing their meaning. A coworker arrived and coached me through the pain.
“You had two babies,” she said. “You can do this. Now breathe.”
But labor contractions had been so orderly and expected. This was different. At any moment the bone could break through skin, or someone could jostle my leg and raise a new tidal wave of agony.
A paramedic showed up ten minutes later, then another. Soon uniformed men lined both sides of the stairway. They set to work splinting my leg.
“This is going to hurt,” one told me. “Probably a lot. Feel free to scream.”
I did as they strapped my leg onto a board, and again as they lifted me onto a sheet. I thought perhaps they’d carry me out that way, hammocked inside, but then I felt the wheels of a stretcher underneath me, swift forward movement, cold night air.
A flashbulb glimpse of an ambulance parked outside, its lights flashing, buttressed by two huge fire engines. So that’s where all these men came from.
The ambulance was blinding. I spent the entire ride with my hands over my face, trying to blot out the world.
At the hospital a nurse asked me if I had a living will? Yes. A power of attorney? Yes. Did I have them with me today? No, because I wasn’t planning to die today.
Someone cut my tights off at the knees. Someone gave me morphine, and when that didn’t work, valium. Then the world went quiet for a while.
I only remember bits and pieces of what the surgeon told me after surgery. Ankle dislocated. Compound fracture. Two long incisions, one on each side. No weight bearing for six to eight weeks.
Those are the details of my fall. Funny how something so small can happen so fast, and throw your life into such upheaval. I'm still sorting through the pieces. Still trying to figure out what happens next.
315/365. Image courtesy of Robert Emmerich and used under a Creative Commons license.