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April 27, 2007

Broken Ankle

I have eleven screws in my ankle; eleven titanium screws carefully inserted by a man whose grey hair spilled abundantly from his bird-like chest.

"Are you okay?" They asked me.

"I'm feeling a bit anxious because you guys seem to be rushing." I told them.

"Government cuts." The old bird-chested one said. They laughed as the heat ran up my arm and there was nothing more to remember.

A bone is hollow so a screw has to go all the way through and be lodged in both sides of its cross-sectional circumference. But the screw mustn't come out the other side of the bone, so they come in two millimeter increments.

"Don't worry about all the wires and stuff." The young doctor said, "They're in the table." He showed me the computer screen. "We use a portable x-ray machine in the operating theatre to check the work."

My right ankle and lower leg are riddled with metal; a plate runs up the outside of my leg.

He pointed to a long screw running right through the tibia and the smaller fibula, "Your interosseous membrane was ruptured. That long screw is holding it in place. We'll remove that later so it doesn't fracture your bones when you run; we'd leave it in if you were an old person."

"What about the other screws?" I asked him.

"We might remove the two screws protruding from the medial at the end of your tibia if they rub on your shoe." He said.

I awoke from the operation, pulled the oxygen mask from my face, and tried to get out of the bed.

"There's an old lady in the bed next to you!" The nurse told me.

"So what?" I thought.

The next day I read my notes from the operation and found that I had been verbally abusive when I had woken but had then been tearful and apologetic. Apparently that's normal.

The first day in hospital, the afternoon and evening following the operation, were very peaceful. The four other men in the ward sat quietly and watched television or stared blankly at the wall. Pills were not enough to satisfy my pain but the nurses were distracted so it was not until after midnight that I was given an injection of morphine.

Claire and I drove towards Glastonbury Tor on that sunny afternoon of 7th of April. As I looked up at that mammiform mound of Arthurian legend, Avalon, a tear slipped from my eye.

"All six of the waitresses are witches." Claire told me as she returned from ordering my jacket potato. "You'd like them."

Glastonbury is a small town filled with cafes and candle shops; it feels like Santa Cruz but more so. Enclosed courtyards surrounded by boutiques selling crystals and magic wands are encroached upon by the wooden decks of cafes jutting into the sun with hanging greenery and interwoven with footpaths inlaid with brightly colored stones.

We wandered across to the ruins of Glastonbury Abbey and walked through the main lancet arch reaching a hundred feet up and then, having collapsed at the top, appearing to be capped only by the sky. And we stood and kissed on the place where the high alter had been.

I climbed an evergreen oak and waited for Claire but she did not come, having climbed her own tree. I decided to jump six feet to the ground from a vee in the rough branches. I felt unsure about landing on a slope but jumped anyway.

As I landed, I watched my right leg, which was further up the slope, take most of my weight. I saw my foot roll effortlessly outward and find a bizarre position at right angles to my ankle. As I lay on the ground and tried to lift my foot, I could feel my leg flop and grind. I waited for Claire to come. While she called an ambulance I called Carol and my mum and I cried. My tears were not about my leg; there was so much more to cry about.

"What's the big bone called?" The male paramedic asked the female one.

I began to laugh and I felt so calm and happy even though my leg was probably broken and I laughed even though I hadn't taken gas and air.

I sat on the stretcher in the ambulance and felt grateful that I was being taken care of so well. Through the back window I could see Claire driving my car and talking on the phone. I worked on getting my pulse below forty and talked with the female paramedic about how she could invent stuff to use in ambulances.

I didn't take any painkillers after breaking my leg in the afternoon until the evening when around midnight the aching became so deep and incessant that I began to cry again. That night I was dragged and pushed up the narrow stairs of the guest house, belonging to Claire's uncle and aunt, and managed to sleep with the help of pills.

My ankle was broken for twelve days before I saw a surgeon in Brighton, where I live; it was broken for sixteen days before I had an operation. If I did it again, I would return from my weekend away and take my leg in its temporary cast to Accident and Emergency in Brighton. That's how the system works: A&E comes first.

I've had a great experience with state medicine; it's quicker than private for fractures. I'm pleased to have escaped the specialist in Yeovil Hospital, where the ambulance took me, who thought that it was unlikely that I'd need an operation and had my foot set with my toes down, two decisions that would most likely have left me permanently disabled.

I'm sitting in the window of Carol's apartment in Tunbridge Wells, looking out at the layers of green on the common undulating with the wind. I'm grateful to Carol and Claire for caring for me and to Trevor for his osteopathic treatment and to everyone who has sent me love and good wishes.

"You use the written word so well." — Trevor (Brighton, UK)


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