Friday, September 23, 2011

Awaiting help

On any other Sunday the lake would have been busy with waterskiers and kayakers and the shore would have been lined with parents watching young children splash in the shallows or fish from docks, but Hurricane Irene had chased them all inside. I lay on the sloping lakeside outside our camp, where decades before two of my sisters had done their great Sun-In vs. hydrogen peroxide experiment, and where more than once I had fallen asleep on a grass mat while drugged with sun-comfort only to later regret the hot pain of my reddened skin. But late in the afternoon on August 28, groundwater seeped through my shirt, hoodie and pants from below and rain pelted me from above and I held my calf so my disfigured ankle wouldn't touch the ground. My body temperature lowered, and I started to shiver.

I was shaking uncontrollably when my mother arrived, holding loosely over her head a long camo coat in dual shades of green from our resident rainwear supply.

"Charlie's coming," she said. My mother, 80, looked so little as she hovered above me. She had lost weight since my Dad's death this spring and weighed a mere 117 pounds—I knew because she'd recently recovered from a bad case of bronchitis and a double ear infection that required I take her to the health clinic in town. I had cared for her, helping her sort out the meds since she kept thinking she should take the antibiotic four times a day and the cough syrup only once, instead of vice versa. Now she said, "What can I do to help you?"

I was shaking so profoundly I had trouble getting her to understand my words. "Take my c-c-c-cell phone inside and d-d-dry it off. I'll need it." She took the phone and covered me with the raincoat she'd been wearing. "And be careful—it's so slick out here." I pulled the raincoat over my head—it covered most of me—to wait until help arrived.

After another minute or two I heard a man's voice. "Kathy, it's Charlie." I moved the raincoat aside so it shielded me from the rain, but allowed me to peek out. "I've called 9-1-1, but it will be a while till they can get here. What happened?" I gave him the shaky, Reader's Digest version. Pat, his wife, arrived too. Both stood over me in hooded raincoats. My mom arrived with an umbrella and several more jackets, which she used to cover my legs. Now, only the twisted foot remained uncovered.

"I wish I had a tarp or something, " Charlie said. He might not have had one, but we did—we had several on the shelves in the garage. I told him where to locate them. What I didn't factor in: like any 76-year-old Charlie needed light to see, we have no electricity in the garage, and the hurricane sky offered little light. He came back with our hot pink, fully inflated float. "This is all I could find," he said. "Here." He laid the lightweight float over the broken ankle.

Distracting me with chitchat was the best medicine available just then, and Pat and Charlie are masters of the form. Yet even they could find a limited number of things to talk about in such a situation. "I wish there was more I could do," my mother said during an awkward lull. My number one complaint at that point was the wet and the cold—my foot was screwed and I knew there was nothing to be done about that. It was then I remembered the rice socks.

I host writing retreats for women at the camp at the beginning and end of the summer season, when nights can be chilly in our unheated camp. So I keep tube socks filled with rice on top of the fridge—3 minutes in the microwave to heat them, slip them beneath the covers, and your bed will be toasty when you climb in. I asked my mother to heat me one. When she passed it under the raincoat to me a puddle of collected water spilled onto my face, but I took the sock and held it to my chest. When the heat dissipated some, I stuck it right beneath my shirt. I couldn't stop shivering—I assumed at this point that might be from shock—but I did draw some comfort from the heat source.

Pat went into our camp and found paper and pencil and opened the window so I could shout up to her with Dave's phone number. She said she'd call him as soon as the ambulance left.

EMTs were in the firehouse in Hermon when Charlie's call came in, so they responded instead of the crew from nearby Edwards. I had shivered on the ground about a half hour when I heard the beeping of the ambulance backing up. Charlie went to greet them. He told me later that the EMT said, "Where is she? I told you not to move her." To which Charlie replied, "That's her—down there, under that heap of coats."

I've heard they're canceling All My Children so feel free to stop in here daily for your daily fix instead! Sorry, no sex scenes, but plenty of drama. More tomorrow...


jrtague said...

Oh no! I just broke my ankle in June, so I'm very interested to hear more about this. I was lucky enough to be inside when it happened though. Hope you are recovering well. I look forward to a happy ending! *crosses fingers*

donna galanti said...

Kathryn, I am living this ordeal right alongside you. Glad all ended well for you. What a terrible time! (And I'm keeping your tip on socks with rice to warm up your feet!)

billie bakhshi said...

I can so relate. My break was the result of falling.the last two steps while carrying a laundry basket to the laundryroom.
I fell, and hit my head (I'm pretty sure) and when I turned over, there was a split second before the pain receptors sent the message to my brain. When I saw my foot turned upside down, with a purple piece of bone sticking out my flesh, effectively pinning it in that contorted way...reminescent to me of the way some 'artists' skillfully pin butterfly corpses to a display venue.
That's about the time I started screaming.

Kathryn Craft said...

Julia: Wow, what an odd thing to have in common with your editor! So I guess you'll understand when I say I'm running a couple weeks behind. I jumped back into the editing after two weeks and am holding off on my own writing projects until caught up, so making headway. Will let you know when I get to yours.

So how is your ankle doing?

Kathryn Craft said...

Thanks Donna. You will LOVE rice socks, and you can reheat them over and over. My Dad always told me to warm my sheets by running in place in bed--but that wakes you up too much at bedtime! The only downside is that it does smell like you're going to bed with your dinner--it smells like rice!

Kathryn Craft said...

Billie: I have heard several people say they broke ankles that way, with a laundry basket. So dangerous. I had a laundry basket fall like that once, right before I left to drive to Pittsburgh for a writing conference. Didn't break anything, luckily, but had wicked bruises on both shins, sprained toes (from the way they overturned), and didn't realize I had wrenched my knee as well until, as you said, the pain from the other injuries got under ice. Then my son set the kitchen on fire and I had to gimp around to get smoke out...ah, a story for another blog post, perhaps. But your break sound AWFUL. They must have had to splint it facing backwards to get to the ER for reduction, yes?

billie bakhshi said...

Not sure what they did. Thankfully much of the incident was a blur (thank you, 'milk of amnesia' aka Versed)
According to Basil, I was awake when they turned my leg back over. He heard me pleading, 'please...nooo...' And the the piercing scream when they did it.

Thankfully, I can just take his word for it.
Open reduction, and permanent hardware (I am convinced they used spare parts from a barometer, for I have become very good at predictnng storms) is my way of life.

And these days, I kick the laundry down the steps.

Marie Gilbert said...

I'm so sorry for your accident. Hope you're healing without complications. Keep an eye on Mom, though, because severe depression usually hits, months after a death. You mentioned her weight loss, and it might be due to other factors other than her recent illness. Get better.