My Left Foot
Ok, here I am, ten days into a hospital stay after smashing my left foot into a door frame in a drunken stupor at home. My darling neighbour Trish brought me to the hospital after her hubby Rob found me at home, sitting round denying anything was really wrong. “That's broken!” she insisted. So here I am in a bed with a weird vinyl structure in my bed called a 'James Pillow' designed to keep my left foot raised. It's like a ramp you might see kids run up and launch themselves in the air, it's about a metre long, half a meter wide and it's in my bed! Sleep is sporadic and broken by the usual noises of an orthopaedic ward: loud beeps, bells, chatting doctors and nurses waking me for 'obs'.
My room mate in this public ward is a lovely policeman called Terry who's hurt his back by falling backwards off a balcony. He can hardly move, he's a big guy, and when he does it's with help as the nurses do the old “One two three roll” and Terry cries with pain. But he's improving now. We talk a lot, and for a few days all we knew were each other's voices. It's a strangely comforting intimacy to chat into the night and hear each other piss in bottles, fart and groan with every movement.
My prognosis is rotten: three smashed bones in my foot that have to be operated on, followed by many weeks on crutches, then another operation to remove the metal pins, followed by months on crutches. This is a big blow as the next four months are my big earning time, as I work as an actor, clown, comedian, stilt walker, uni-cycle rider, MC and casual bus driver. At this stage it's looking like all that work's going down the gurgler and I'll be on sickness benefits of $490 a fortnight! Last time I was that frugal was at a meditation camp in Sri Lanka. Here in boomtown Perth it'll be a friggin pittance. How do unemployed folk do it! Lucky I like minestrone soup. It's what a mate of mine calls dolefood: soups, spaghetti sauces and stews that last a week.
The latest on the operation is that my foot still has red marks and swelling, so they're reluctant to cut in case of infection. Fair enough but the way they've gone about it today has been bizarre: prepped last night for an operation today, starved all night then given a pre-wash, then a surgeon called Dr Lim came in, looked at the foot and said 'No, too swollen', so it was all off. An hour later the orthopaedic registrar said 'No, that's fine”, so it was back on. Then they all got together another hour later, with me lying there in the surgical stockings, texta arrow on my knee pointing to the correct foot, ready to go under, and they decided to call it off! Doctor Lim casually said, “That's OK, give it a few more days” and they swanned off to the next room. A few more days! Shit.
I attempt to console myself by thinking about folk who spend months in bed (and in the old days a whole year in things like kidney machines) or men wounded in wars or disasters. And I do the old 'it could've been worse, might have fallen and smashed my head' routine, but that kind of thinking simply brings up frightening and demented imagery that consoles nothing.
Suggestions by relatives and dear friends on Facebook all seem to follow the line of “Now this is your chance to write and create something interesting....new material for comedy etc”, and maybe they're right, it's just at he moment all I feel is despondent, depressed and furious at myself for causing the accident in the first place.
But the cricket's on the TV, I have two Murikami novels, many editions of the New Yorker, games on the computer, a free local phone, and my friend Ross has loaded a pile of TV on the laptop. And tomorrow I look forward to many hours of Mozart or Brahms while I wait on the Centrelink sickness benefits line.
Okay, it's now three weeks in hospital! That's right. The operation 'went very well' – what else is the a surgeon to going say? (and I'm surprised I didn't pick up the irony of my orthopaedic surgeon being called Dr Lim!!) But the wound (wounds) haven't healed properly. They are actually three cuts, two of them about 10 centimetres long, like two large caterpillars going up and down my foot, the other a smaller cut at the base of the foot. The doctors and nurses keep changing the bandage, looking at the wound and saying 'No, he can't go home with that'. Now, ten days after the operation, and the wound just isn't healing. Two days ago they put on what's called a PICO bandage. This is a large square bandage with a suction tube in the middle and a pump about half he size of a mobile phone that sits in my pocket. So far the PICO bandage hasn't worked, in that it hasn't really formed a proper seal. This evidenced by the orange light on the pump which means 'not sealing' or leaking. Various nurses have come by, looked at it and attempted to seal it by putting more and more tape on different parts of the foot which now looks like it's ready to post in the mail!
So, after three weeks in one bed and movement limited to going to the shower and toilet with crutches, I lie here, foot still in the air on the James pillow (if ever I meet you James...!!). It's become a strange sensation, a little like a really really really long aeroplane flight but the hostesses give you drugs and prod and poke you with needles. Yesterday my pulse was down to 55. That's lower than I've ever recorded it. The nurse who took it decided to do it again manually because even she was shocked. Sleeping isn't so bad because I'm on some fairly heavy pain killers, but these are being reduced so I'm withdrawing a little.
I've found that I've developed a kind of mental hibernation; time goes by quickly even though I'm NOT having fun. Breaks between meals seem to race along as I read, play bridge online, watch movies, check my emails and Facebook, eat, sleep and take long showers involving plastic bags for the foot and a chair for me. My sister suggested that perhaps I should call this my long service leave – long service for a self employed clown, comedian, actor. And yeah, I suppose it will be that, but the $490 a fortnight sickness benefits is a little less than half pay, and the resort I'm in is pretty boring, although the workers are good people.
So, tomorrow being Monday, the doctors will decide once again if I stay or not. I've had moments when I've thought 'bugger this' but what can you do? Run out of here and end up with a mangled, unusable foot? No, this is a big lesson in patience and time-killing. Strange, the idea of killing time like it's the enemy, it's more a case of just sitting in a big bath of time and letting it just move around me and down a drain made of mindfulness, meditation and meandering thoughts.