Sunday, September 25, 2011


I hit the Canton-Potsdam Hospital Emergency Room on a slow evening, I guess—or maybe that's just the kind of service you get when you arrive by ambulance. They wheeled me right into a room, transferred my backboard to a bed, and had me roll off it. Right away a nurse came in. She told me to get changed—I'd never so happy to don a hospital gown. I peeled off my cold, wet clothes, begged her to cut off my wet pants so I didn't have to jar my leg, and asked for a towel. I soon lay clothed in a dry gown and beneath heated blankets. For the first time in two hours, I stopped shivering. With these small improvements, my sense of the emergency felt behind me.

The nurse started an IV and did an EKG (I was thinking, isn't that for older people? It took me a moment to realize that I was just days from my 55th birthday.) They told me the on-call orthopedic surgeon was on his way over from Ogdensburg, a border town on the St. Lawrence River, and he should be here within the hour. I was told how lucky I was: he was the orthopedic surgeon for the Clarkson University ice hockey team. I was also told that if I'd gone to the emergency rooms of Gouverneur or Star Lake, I would have had to transfer to CPH for orthopedic specialty care anyway, so I silently offered up a quick thanks to the EMT who diverted me here, and begged forgiveness for objecting, however silently, to the disgusting cigarette smoke smell on his fingers as he tied on my oxygen mask.

My mother and neighbor Beth, who drove her, soon arrived with my purse. Beth is a real take-the-bull-by-the-horns type; she had already rifled through my wallet, given them my insurance info, and called Dave to tell him we were at the ER. She found my mom something to eat while they took me to x-ray. Thankfully, the tech was able to x-ray through the splint, positioning plates so that I didn't have to move.

When I got back to the ER the nurse pulled the splint from my foot; the doctor would soon arrive. As she put some dilaudid in my IV she explained that some of the pain was from the dislocation tugging at muscles and ligaments now held in an unnatural position. I recognized an opportunity—as gross as it was to look at my foot, I was a bio major with a graduate degree in health and physical education; I knew I'd one day want to study my foot in its current condition. I asked Beth to look in my purse for my cell phone to snap a photo. I hoped it was in there—my mother suffers from short term memory loss and she was quite stressed when I asked her to dry the rain from it and put it in my purse. I also hoped the phone would still work.

Beth pawed around in my purse and said, "Look at this." She pulled out my digital camera, which I never carry around in my purse. For once, dementia to the rescue—my mother had a hard time distinguishing my cell from my camera, so had brought both. Beth took several shots of my foot.

The doctor arrived and told me he'd already reviewed the x-rays. My ankle was fractured in three places (a trimalleolar fracture): the tibia, the fibula, and the talus, the ankle bone that these longer bones articulate with at the ankle. Later research put me right in the middle of the demographic for such fractures. According to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons:
During the past 30 to 40 years, doctors have noted an increase in the number and severity of broken ankles, due in part to an active, older population of "baby boomers."
As soon as the doctor found out I was a writer he said I must cast him in my next novel as the handsome doctor who swoops in to save my life. I smiled, but knew this wouldn't be possible: the details would strain believability. Because he was Canadian by birth he spoke with a French accent, his name was "Luc Perrier," he was fit and handsome (as you can see), and, like most orthopedic surgeons I've met in my life, quite full of himself. I try not to adhere to such stereotypes in my creative writing. He marched over to my foot, picked it up by my big toe, and suspended it—I prepared to scream, but this didn't hurt as much as I thought it would. My guess is gravity itself was beginning the process he would soon complete.

"We will add something to your IV now," he said, and I turned to watch the nurse insert a syringe into the port. "Can you feel it?"

"It feels all hot going in there," I said, looking at my arm, and with that he grasped hold of my dislocated foot and pulled. I heard and felt the crunching of the bones as they realigned, but whatever anesthetic he'd given me had done the trick—it didn't hurt, at least not any worse than it already did. I now understood the orthopedic surgeon stereotype: it certainly would take some mad hubris to do something like that and believe you were helping the situation.

Before I was wheeled off for a set of post-reduction x-rays, he told me he'd admit me tonight and perform surgery tomorrow. The need for this didn't surprise me. Beth, however, followed him from the room and demanded to see my x-rays, she told me later. She doesn't think people should be operated upon without some proof of the necessity.

But even to her untrained eye, she said, after seeing the x-rays, she knew he spoke the truth.

Tomorrow: a photo montage of my ankle, inside and out, and a special tribute to the cause of my accident.


Donna Brennan said...

Wow, Kathryn, what an ordeal.

I was about to say I'm enjoying your story, but decided I need to be more specific. I'm enjoying your writing. But I'm agonizing right along side you as I read.

I was also feeling a little bit of your mother's pain, seeing her child going through this and feeling indequate at making it all better. You are both blessed to have such caring neighbors.

Your attitude, humor, and perspective are a testimony to your resilience.

Kathryn Craft said...

Donna: I love every aspect of this comment, thanks so very much. I know that "healing through writing" tackles challenging subjects, making commenting difficult. I appreciate your sensitivity in teasing out and fine-tuning the contrary emotions in your response.