By Sandy Burgham
Like most-mid lifers I swing from thinking I should live like there’s no tomorrow, to ensuring I am making prudent choices that might see me through another 30 to 40 years. So as I was sauntering along in a carefree manner to get coffee at the airport recently, wearing what I thought to be boots of a durable design to last a long lifetime, these two states of mind literally collided. Caught in my own thoughts, I tripped over the suitcase of a slow-walking man. While my grippy-soled Doc Martens stopped, I didn’t, and I broke my leg. They say you are only as young as you feel, and now that I have ‘had a fall’, I am feeling every one of my 55 years. This is not anything manageable like an annoying sprain or a broken wrist; this was your two-hour-operation-leg-in-a cast-for- six-weeks-further-operations-to-remove-pins-needed debacle.
People have one of two immediate responses to my predicament. “The universe is trying to tell you to slow down.” Really? I have gone deep searching for a spiritual lesson and all I find is recognition of a certain clumsiness. Or, “at least you’ll have fodder for your next column”. That’s true, but how could I make this helpful, rather than a self-pitying whine?
So, from the vantage point of being motionless, from the airport floor, to the ambulance, the hospital bed and now the couch, where I am currently stationed with my leg raised, here are some observations that I am compelled to share.
As much as I believe in the kindness of complete strangers — like those who stayed with me through the initial stages of the ordeal — be wary: there is also another lot, the types who shamelessly filmed me on their phones as I writhed around in agony, screaming for an ambulance (I am probably trending on social media: #traumaatairport).
I am anti-drugs and hate taking any medication, and I noticed how easy it would be to form an addiction to opiates if left to my own devices. Once settled in hospital, I’d take anything offered. Not necessarily because I was in agonising pain, I just wanted to feel less uncomfortable. The sleep was better than anything I have experienced, and I can well imagine forming a happy little addiction to pills that efficiently erased the annoying, modern-day niggle, of not being able to drop off to sleep on demand. Once home, my husband took me off Tramadol and poured me a gin instead. Party pooper.
I know now the best things to bring someone in hospital. When my friend turned up on day one with a bag of kiwifruit, I thought it odd. But, trust me, it’s the gift that keeps giving . . . I also received beautiful peonies, already in a vase! That saved everyone a lot of time and hassle.
You can divide friends into two camps – those you love and a smaller subset whom, if really pushed, might give you a sponge bath. “Can I be in the first camp?” I hear my friends cry. Even one of my sisters said she’d need to break into the stash of Tramadol to be on sponge bath duty. Actually, the real line that separates my girlfriends into two distinct groups is about tolerance of mess – there are the anal types who immediately start cleaning up (they’ve been dying to sort out my slovenly lifestyle for years) and the others to whom it doesn’t even register. Thank god for your friends. Family are okay of course, but your offspring’s willingness to help out is related not necessarily to your needs, but to how much weight the other sibling is pulling. Husbands . . . hmmm, they try. Mine focuses on grand gestures like champagne and oysters for lunch, and ordering new-fangled mobility devices when all I really want is another cup of tea and the conversation to be about me, me, me.
But probably my biggest insight is about how incredible our health system is. Stop whining about the hospital food, people! Come on, you self-entitled prats, we were raised eating meat and three boiled veg. There’s nothing wrong with it, and there are more choices than you’re offered on an airline. We are patients, not clients or customers. How lucky are we in New Zealand to have ACC, and how lucky are we all that there is a particular breed of amazing person who wants to go nursing? Our nurses are amazing. Can we please stop deliberating and just pay them 20 per cent more by taxing fat cats and corporates just a little bit more? Seriously.
Perhaps this column has been no help whatsoever but if you retain one thing, it is not about the perils of solid footwear, or giving friends a hug or slowing down to smell the roses. It is simply a reminder to bring kiwifruit — it’s a truly moving gesture.
— Sandy Burgham
This article first appeared in the December 2018 issue of The Hobson Magazine.