I had a moment that changed my life years ago. I didn’t wake up that morning thinking that such a thing could happen to me – because it wasn’t the kind of thing I’d ever plan for. It was February, very windy and chilly, and I was wearing blue linen trousers and a blue wool coat. I worked in marketing for a Japanese company that manufactured huge machines which other companies used to manufacture printed circuit boards and the like. It was the day before opening day of a huge technology expo at the convention center. It was a very big deal necessitating the arrival of several employees from the head corporation in Japan who would assemble the machines that we were displaying.
I was looking forward to schmoozing with all the engineer type geeks and enjoying some free cocktails after work. It was my task that day to meet my boss, the VP of marketing at the convention center, deliver all the written materials and set them up. Mr. Yazaki the owner of the company would be arriving that night. I loved Mr. Yazaki because although he spoke no English and I didn’t speak Japanese we had bonded over the teppan table on numerous occasions, laughing uproariously together as we got hammered on sake and beer. I was his American daughter.
I pulled into the main lot and was advised that I wouldn’t be able to get into the arena. The parking attendant told me to go around and enter through the drayage area –whatever that was, and after I unloaded my materials I could come back and park in the main lot. I followed his instructions and told the parking attendant standing watch over the rear parking lot what my mission was. He directed me to park where the other cars were and then to enter through the rear of the convention center. Okey-dokey. I made my way down the service road that ran along the edge of the parking lot, dodging forklifts and trucks that were headed to the loading dock. There were numerous crates waiting to be unloaded lining the way and big burly guys yelling and rushing to get everything loaded in. It had been raining and they were way behind schedule.
I entered the convention center clutching my box of materials. I found our exhibit area, but my boss wasn’t there. The only people at our booth were the numerous employees from Japan, none of whom spoke English, but who all bowed and listened earnestly as I explained to them that I was going to leave the stuff for Tom, move my car and be right back. They all nodded politely and without any idea what I was saying. I put the box down and headed back to my car thinking I needed to get back sooner rather than later.
As I headed back down the service road toward the aisle where my car was parked the wind was blowing something fierce, pushing big black clouds to the south. I clutched my coat around me and moved to the right side of the road to avoid a van that was speeding toward me. As I approached a house sized crate that was standing there empty – the front and top having been removed to facilitate removal of whatever gargantuan machine had arrived in it – I heard someone holler, “lookout!” Simultaneously I heard a creaking whine of splintering wood and looked up just in time to see the crate coming down on top of me. For some reason my instinct was to go into it with my shoulder, like you know I’m going to be able to push the 8 foot wall of wood back into it’s position like Jamie Summers, bionic woman.
Therefore, I collided with the crate and it was like getting hit by a car. I was knocked over and the crate tore through my left pant leg, about mid-calf, peeling the skin down my ankle as we, me and the crate, came to rest on the asphalt, my ankle and foot completely pinned underneath the weight of the crate wall. My immediate concern was that I was getting dirty on the ground like that and that the man driving the van that was heading toward me didn’t seem to register that I was now lying across the road. Things got really quiet and I felt like everyone was staring at me because they totally were!
About forty people came running in my direction all at once as I lay there like a bobcat in a trap, my hand flapping around looking for my sunglasses, which had gone flying off my head on impact. I found them and jammed them on, completely mortified to have created such a scene. I wasn’t even considering the fact that I might be hurt, I was more concerned that I wasn’t going to be able to get up slink away like you do when you fall down in public, because I was pinned under this huge fucking crate. It took five of those big burly men to lift the crate up high enough so that another one could slide me out from under it. I heard sirens in the distance and told the nice men that I just wanted to get to my car and go home please.
Then I looked down at my foot, which was turned at an awfully weird angle and noticed that I couldn’t actually move that leg. I lay there rather confused and then I started to shake. The kind of shaking where your teeth chatter and you have no control of your body. One of the big burly men shooed everybody back and sat down on the asphalt next to me and took my hand. He told me to squeeze his hand as hard as I needed to and since I was now becoming aware of how much pain I was in I squeezed really hard. Tears started to leak out of the corners of my eyes and I started to breathe in small gasps as I squeezed and looked into his face. He was completely bald with a huge moustache, the ends of which were waxed into zippy little twirls, and he had the nicest eyes. I could see that he was concerned about me and I felt really safe just lying there holding his hand. It was now starting to occur to me that I was hurt pretty bad, a fact confirmed by the paramedics who got there, took a look and hooked me up to some monitors while my leg was placed in a trauma splint.
I was loaded into the back of an ambulance with instructions to go to the closest emergency room. Once the doors shut and I was on my way I advised the EMTs that I wanted to be taken to Los Alamitos Hospital, a small hospital where my best friend’s father worked who just happened to be an Orthopaedist. I don’t trust doctors and I trust emergency rooms even less and I was adamant, although for some reason I told them that they couldn’t use the siren because I didn’t want to pay the extra money that would cost. Don’t quite know where that reasoning came from, like I said I was in shock, but they did as I asked. They were really quite sweet – they just wouldn’t give me anything for the excruciating, jackhammer through the bone pain that I was suffering. At first I thought it was because there was a huge ice pack on my ankle. You know how when you put your hand in ice water it begins to ache? It was that kind of achy pain – only multiplied by about 10,000. The guy who was riding in back with me took the ice pack off when I started going, “takeitofftakeitofftakeitofftakeitoff”, but then the pain got a million times worse and I started screeching “putitbackputitbackputifback.” As the ambulance made it’s way through rush hour traffic, passing cars on the right – silently, per my bizarre request, I started to cry and beg for drugs. My ice man told me that I would most likely need surgery upon my arrival at the hospital and indicated my ankle which was now swollen to about the diameter of a pickle jar and getting bigger by the minute. One benefit to the grotesque swelling was that it constricted the blood vessels so the gaping wound wasn’t bleeding – all the better to view the torn skin.
Just when I thought I couldn’t take it anymore we got to the hospital and I was unloaded and rolled into the emergency room. I asked them to call Dr. F. and have him come right away. Dr. F. has known me most of my life and being aware of my propensity for drama he told them to take x-ray and he would come as soon as he could. I had to cool my jets in the ER because x-ray was busy and I wasn’t dying. So I’m in pain and not getting what I consider to be adequate attention and I demand a phone. They rolled me over to the phone on the wall and I called my parents. Who weren’t home. I left a suitable message on the answering machine designed to inspire guilt and fear and then proceeded to call my mother at her office where she was seeing clients, my mom is a psychologist. I made them interrupt her session and when she got on the phone I began to weep as I am wont to do when I am upset and I talk to my mommy. She becomes distraught and asks if she should leave her client? Mournfully and in best martyr mode I tell her no, that’s okay, there’s nothing she can do anyway.
They roll me into a corner where I lay silently weeping, chewing on my towel and asking anyone who looks like they can work a needle to get me drugs. An old woman is brought in who has just been discovered after laying on her floor for 4 days in her own urine. Her blood pressure is 80 over 30 and she’s not doing well. She crashes and they begin drastic measures to bring her back. The whole situation sucks. Not only am I in horrible pain and hurt worse than I’ve ever been in my whole life, but now I may have to watch someone die. And no one will give me drugs.
In the midst of all that drama Dr. G., one of the partners whom I know shows up. He looks at my ankle and rolls me down to x-ray where we cut in line and he has the films taken. In this x-ray room you lie alone on your gurney after the tech has adjusted the machine to get the view he needs. The film comes out in the other room, where I hear Dr. G. say in a very loud voice, “oh shit, I don’t know if we can fix this.” He comes running into the room with my films and throws them up on the light box and I get to see that not only is my ankle broken, it’s dislocated and decimated. Both the tibia and the fibula are broken in little pieces, but the bigger issue is that the talus, the bone upon which the leg bones rest to create the ankle joint, is smashed to bits. What was my ankle joint now looks like lots of rice krispies doing the hokey pokey.
Dr. G. runs out of the x-ray room with my films and I am wheeled back to the emergency room to await Dr. F. I find out that the old woman was very dehydrated and they got her back in her body and admitted her. That, at least is a relief. Dr. F. arrives with his hair blown and out of breath from sprinting across the parking lot clutching my x-rays. I start to tear up because I know this man like my own father and he is trying not to show how concerned he is. He tells me that I’m going into surgery right now. Have I eaten anything in the last twelve hours? Yep – I had lunch. This means that I’ll be having surgery with an epidural and a IV morphine. Yippee! Can we start that IV like now? And can we wait for my mommy and daddy to show up in case I die? No we can’t wait and I have to sign the consent for surgery before they’ll give me the morphine.
The next thing I remember I was lying on my back watching the holes in the ceiling tiles go by in long lines of blurred black and my dad is walking along side the gurney looking down at me. He’s wearing a hat, quite sporty, and a turtleneck and his eyes are teary. I am so high and even through that I can feel the railroad spike pain in my ankle. They do that transfer thing from the gurney to the bed, it is better not to try to help while this is going on. I catch a glimpse of my left lower extremity and I am relieved to see that although it is drenched in blood my foot is still attached.
I have 26 screws in my ankle, no cartilage left to speak of, and Dr. F. tells my parents that he doesn’t know if I will be able to walk again – that he wished he’d had permission to do a full ankle fusion before he went in because what I am left with is not a stable limb. I miss this part of the conversation though because bless their hearts they left that morphine IV in and I am off in a far, far better place…
TO BE CONTINUED