Saturday, September 24, 2011

My first ambulance ride

The sound and sight of the ambulance backing down our driveway finally drew the attention of some other neighbors. I recognized the voice of Ken, two doors over, as the EMT reached into my makeshift tent and strapped oxygen onto my face. He apologized that he now had to touch my foot, and strap it into a splint to immobilize it for the ride. I was so focused on the implied promise—that I would soon get out of this weather and get some help—that it only hurt a little more when he cinched the straps that kept my foot in its twisted position.

I rolled to one side and they slipped a backboard under me. Later, Ken would tell me he became one of the "pall bearers" that carried me up the hill and into the ambulance. I said over and over, "Be so careful. It's incredibly slippery." It's odd how safe you feel in the world until something like this happens—now, I could perfectly picture them all falling on the hill, dropping me, and sending my newly sledded body down the hill and into the lake.

But we made it to the gurney behind the ambulance without mishap and they set me, with the backboard, down on top of it. They asked what hospital I wanted to go to. I knew Gouverneur was the closest, but my aunt had had such a bad experience there a few years earlier she made me promise that if I had any emergency with my parents I would take them to Star Lake. So I said, "Star Lake."

The guy actually laughed, which isn't surprising—Star Lake, like most destinations any farther east into the Adirondack National Park, was kind of in the middle of nowhere. He said, "It's Gouverneur or Canton-Potsdam."

I said, "Take me anywhere where I can find a good orthopedic surgeon."

As they pulled the raincoat off of me and pushed the gurney into the ambulance he yelled to the driver (without hesitation, I noticed): "She's going to Canton-Potsdam."

Potsdam was an hour away, over many back roads with plenty of painful bumps. To make me comfortable for the ride (please note intended sarcasm), they left me on the backboard. They claimed I was strapped on but every time we went around a turn I reached over my head to hold on for fear I'd roll off.

Surprisingly, the man and woman in back with me kept me distracted for most of the ride. They checked me over for other injuries (none), kept asking me if I had chest pain or difficulty breathing (no). All I wanted at that point was to get warm, and they did crank up the heat and cover me with dry blankets, which made me feel a bit better. They were kind of surprised when from beneath my shirt I produced the damp rice sock that had been keeping me warm.

Then he told me he had to cut off my sneaker.

I was wearing my MBTs, the mother of all the new knock-off toning shoes. I was rarely without them: they'd greatly improved my feet in the past year and eliminated my need for the custom orthotics I'd previously never been able to go without. Since they're so expensive, and since my feet had never complained that the shoes had "broken down" the way other sneakers usually do, I had delayed replacing them as long as possible. I have no doubt that their complete lack of tread was the main reason I went down so fast—with no channels for the water in the lawn to seep into, I'd hydroplaned.

As he snipped through the laces, I told him that this pair of shoes had cost me $245. He said, "Look at it this way, then—cutting this one off only cost you $122.50."

Every few minutes they asked what my pain level was, on a sale of one to ten, with ten being the worst pain I'd ever experienced. The first time I answered I looked at the woman: "I'd say it's a five, but that's only because I've had a child. If I were a man, I'd say a nine."

They finally started to orient me: we're past Canton, we're past the new Wal-Mart, this will hurt a bit because there's a bump here but the hospital's just ahead. They told me my mom and Beth, Ken's wife, were in the car behind the ambulance, and that they had my purse.

And I thought, this is just so ironic. I'd never heard of this hospital until earlier this summer, when a social worker whose family summers at the lake hired me to teach my "Healing Through Writing" workshop in the building across the parking lot. That had been at the beginning of August.

Now, at month's end, I was being wheeled into the hospital in desperate need of my own healing.


billie bakhshi said...

I was barefoot at the time if mine...but I was wearing a favorite Liz Clairborne top, good support bra and new yoga pants...all promptly cut off at the ER. And then, my favorite, which I wish I forgot...the rectal exam!
I do remember asking what that had to with a broken ankle.
Apparently it's how they check for internal bleeding...or so the guy said.
After that, it was lights out.

Oh, and you think they'd design an ambulance that didn't bounce like a yellow school bus going over potholes.
Imagine trying to start an IV like that. Yikes!

Kathryn Craft said...

Billie: Luckily I was not deemed worthy of, ahem, your "special treatment." But I'm all for ambulances having more comfortable shocks!

J. Thomas Ross said...

So sorry about your fall, Kathryn. Wishing you a speedy recovery!

I love your response when asked about your pain level! It's all relative, isn't it? And I'm impressed that you kept your sense of humor.


Marie Gilbert said...

Oh my goodness. I love your posts, but this one was a true eye opener. Due to a chronic illness, I wind up in the hosptial at least once or twice a year, and lucky for me, our big teaching hospitals are only 15 minutes away. I can't imagine your level of stress, as you rode to the hospital.

Kathryn Craft said...

Judy and Marie: Talk about an illustration of the fact that it's all relative. Judy read this and saw that I kept my sense of humor; Marie, who revealed a history of hospitalizations, can't imagine my level of stress. I guess you're both right, though. Knowing that I would soon get help relieved the fear and allowed the storyteller in me to peek through; there was much joking and ribbing on the way to the hospital. But my vitals, especially through high blood pressure, told a different story about my well-being.

Lynette Benton said...

How brave of you to relive all this by writing it. Wonderful story, told with humor and vivid description. (I was lying out there, shivering in the rain with you!)

Kathryn Craft said...

Lynette: Thanks for stopping by again! My hope is that if I can get those vivid details out of my head and onto the page, where I can manipulate them, I'll be able to stop them from ambushing me later on.