My feet suddenly slid out from under me, and I crashed down to ground with a “thud”. Stunned, I sat in the thick mud puddle, trying to figure out what the hell happened. Did I break anything? My legs were splayed out to the side and my left hand was buried in the sludge on the trail. My left ankle and thumb were throbbing. I leaned forward and wiped my hand against my jeans. It was so covered in muck that I couldn’t see the heavy Pandora ring on my thumb. I could feel it, though … it had jammed into my knuckle when I landed. My ankle was in worse shape.
I had only planned to take a short dog walk on the trail behind the church. My two dogs were facing me, their tails half wagging expectantly. That’s dog language to say “What’s up, Mom?” They weren’t sure what happened, either. I’m not sure if mild neuropathy from my cancer treatment made me a little unbalanced, because my feet don’t always seem to know where to go. My right foot had snagged an exposed root on the trail and my other foot slid out from below me in the mire on the trail. I’ve hiked thousands of kilometres over my lifetime. I sat for a few moments longer appraising the damage. My ankle was already swelling and bruised.
I looked up at sky beyond the forest trees and sent a silent plea. “Please God, don’t let me be stuck out here on the trail.” It was very early on a crisp Monday morning in October, not the best time to run into other nature lovers. Autumn’s chill had finally arrived this week to chase away the heat wave and fair-weather hikers. I had flipped through the weather app on my phone as I sipped my morning coffee. It said 5C. I closed my eyes and pictured my phone lying on the table by my cup.
Of all the days to forget my cell phone at home.
I was alone on the trail with Carly and Annie, my two rescue dogs. Visions of dutiful Lassie raced through my mind. “Annie! Carly! Lisa’s in trouble! Go get help, Carly! Go get help, Annie!” Too bad they’re not trained in Search & Rescue. Even with a serious injury, I’d never let them leave my side. The thought of losing my puppies on the trail or on the highway just south of us was more painful than my ankle. I sat and waited as long as possible, hoping someone would come along. There are often men who fish along the creek during the salmon run, but no one showed up. The trail was empty. Carly barked and whined, eager to get going. I couldn’t deny the inevitable. Sitting on the ground allowed the cold to creep into my woefully under-dressed body. I shivered and rubbed my legs.
I would have to figure out how to get us home.
Slowly, I stood up and tested my left foot. Pain shot through my ankle as I straightened. Gingerly, I took a step forward. Provided I didn’t flex the ankle or put too much weight on it, I could walk. Carefully. Deliberately. Limping. I gathered up the dog’s dual leash and sternly warned them “No pulling!” I hobbled out of the trail, stopping every few feet to steady myself. A few quick yanks on the dog’s leashes told them to settle down. They seemed to understand that this was an unusual situation. My street was deserted as we painstakingly walked home.
Once home, I stripped down to take hot bath. I was chilled to the bone as I had gone out totally unprepared for the fall weather. My slip-on runners were an unrecognizable mucky brown. A plain black t-shirt and a flimsy jean jacket piled on top of the floor. I sat down on the side of the tub to peel off my mud-caked jeans. They were more fashionable than functional with artful rips across the thighs and knees. Black bra and undies landed on top of the other clothes.
The only way into the tub was to brace myself on the edge. I lifted one foot in, then the injured foot. Sinking into the steaming, hot water, I sighed. Every few minutes I would add more hot water to the tub. My skin still felt cool to the touch, despite the hot water, so I let my body float in its warmth to soak the chill out of my bones. Opening my eyes, I looked up at the ceiling. “Did I hit my head when I fell?” I wondered. I couldn’t remember. Perhaps staying in the bathtub wasn’t the best idea. I scrubbed and soaped the mud from my body, then pulled the plug. I sat there, motionless, while the dirty water swirled down the drain. Trails of sand and dirt were left on the bottom of the white tub, but I had no desire to reach for the shower head to hose it down. Later. I got out of the tub the same way I got in. Brace. Lift injured foot out. Lift right foot out.
My big, thick grey bath towel was a welcome sight, but I still couldn’t dry off fast enough to get into my fuzzy red housecoat. I just wanted to be enveloped with coziness and comfort.
Our main bathroom is old. The plaster has cracked through the paint. It never seemed worth it to sand it down and repaint. We should be long gone from here. The floor is a confused mixture of brown and drab 1-inch tiles with sixty-year-old grout. The bathroom vanity is an old style mirrored cabinet with sliding doors. I opened my side and sifted through the lowest shelf for Tylenol. I hope this will help with the pain and swelling. It can’t be broken since I walked several kilometres to get home.
I leaned on walls, laundry baskets and furniture as hobbled to my bedroom for a change of clothes. I drove to the local Emergency Room and waited an hour for x-rays. The doctor said there was too much swelling to tell if it was broken. Rest. Ice. Compression. Elevate.
I went home to sleep. A nap under a pile of thick blankets sounded deliciously wonderful right now. I curled up and arranged my feet to protect the injured one and dozed off.
The trauma and exhaustion must have caught up with me because slept past lunch time. My grumbling tummy and aching ankle finally woke me late that afternoon. I hobbled back down the hall to see what I could make for lunch. A toasted bagel with cheddar and a fried egg sounded good. Looking down, I re-examined my injury. Some purple and red to the front and side of my foot, but not agonizing pain if I put weight on it. It was quite numb, really. I just couldn’t bend it much. Something wasn’t quite right.
After my late lunch I fired up my laptop and searched for the difference between a broken ankle and a sprained ankle.
Was the pain on the soft part of my foot or the bone? Well, not right at the ankle but above it.
Could I move the ankle? Yes, slightly.
Pain? Some, but not overwhelming. Tylenol. was helping.
Emergency Rooms are busier at the beginning of the week and the end of the day. If people can, they wait until the end of the work and school day to bring in their wounded. Parents pick up sick and injured children who were fine this morning. The guy with the severe stomach cramps waits until his shift is over. The crazy #altnightlife crawls in to deal with their weekend damage.
I wanted to miss the Monday night crowd. So, I piled everything I needed onto my bed to camp out for the night; laptop, phone, notebook and pen, magazines and Kleenex. On my bedside table was water and Tylenol. The only hobbling needed was from the bed to the bathroom. I emptied my little waste basket and slipped that under the bed covers to provide a protective cage for my injury. Since my dogs hop up and down off the bed, I didn’t want them accidentally landing on my foot. It might have been safer to lock them out of the room, but none of us would sleep well if I did that. Carly moans and noses the door while Annie howls.
By 10 AM the next morning, I was out the door and checking into Emerg with the triage nurse. She slipped my shoe off and nodded, “Best to have that x-rayed again.” Within minutes, I was moved from the outer waiting room to a smaller one inside.
“Go to the third door on the left. There is a waiting room.”
I popped my head in the third door and asked, “Is this where I wait?” I was ushered right into this room yesterday.
“No, the waiting room is one more door up.” OK. Four doors. Was I mis-counting due to my chemo brain? Thirty minutes later the doctor sent me for x-rays.
I walked around in circles trying to locate the X-Ray Clinic. “Go left to the Green Desk” the doctor advised me. I went left, then left. No X-Ray. I asked someone and they sent me walking in the other direction until my doctor said “I told you to go to X-Ray. It’s up that hall, right then right again.”
Is chemo brain affecting my hearing?
I listened to a lovely young mother chat with her kindergarten age daughter during the twenty minutes it took for my requisition to be transferred through to the clinic. I didn’t mean to eavesdrop but she had such a kind and respectful way of engaging her daughter in conversation. They made me smile while I read on my iPad.
My turn. I hopped up onto the table and the technician helped position me for three images of my foot. She must have known it was broken because she let me out a back door so I could hop directly back into the waiting room. The doctor immediately poked his head in the room to say “Don’t move, Lisa. You have a really bad fracture.”
“What? Where?” You sent me home with a broken leg?
He pointed just above my ankle and said “You snapped the dorsal fibula in two. Wait here while I get someone to splint it.”
Within minutes, a good-looking doctor came in and called my name. As I stood up, he yelled “Don’t get up! I will go get a wheelchair. Don’t put any weight on that ankle. You have a very bad break there.”
He came back with the wheelchair and I asked “How can it be badly broken? I’ve probably walked five to six kilometres on it? And why couldn’t he see it yesterday?”
He literally face-palmed. “Sometimes the swelling seals the bone. Well then, if you walked on it … somebody up there sure loves you. If those two pieces of bone separated, we’d be taking you in for surgery. Then you are talking six months recovery instead of two.”
“But, I don’t feel much pain!” I told him about my recent journey through chemo and upcoming radiation. I even told him about my black sequin miniskirt, fishnet stockings and 5-inch stilettos in the Chemo Lounge.
“You cancer patients amaze me. That’s common.” He replied. “You are one tough bunch and seem to have a much higher pain tolerance.” He paused and said “You really have no idea how lucky you are.”
I remained quiet as the news sank in.
“It can always be worse” he said. “My best friend taught me that.”
I really liked this doctor’s bedside manner. He was clearly spiritual, kind, and considerate. He and I spooke easily as he cast my leg. Even better … he was a handsome Cuba Gooding Jr. lookalike.
“It can always be worse” I echoed. “But how much worse?!” I wondered to myself …