I Definitely Didn’t Have A Fall

I wrote this a while ago and somehow forgot to post it.

Just before Christmas I had an accident. I’m emphatic I didn’t have a fall – old people have falls – but I did fall, tripping whilst carrying a box and, not to put too fine a point on it, hurling myself face first into a house wall. It’s not something I’d recommend.

I’m not often accused of being a positive person (I’m generally the one wondering, saying out loud, yes, but what if…) but there were a lot of positives about this experience, and a few lessons learned. So I share these with you below.

Positive: the bottles of wine in the box didn’t smash. All hail the power of a good cardboard box or I’d have had multiple cuts, some possibly serious, and been really pissed off that I’d wasted good wine. Neil assures me his only concern was for me and possible injuries, that he wouldn’t have cared if the wine had drained away. I couldn’t see if he had his fingers crossed as he told me this.

Positive: I was lucky to fall at the house of my best friend, Julie, who is also an ED nurse. (The best. But I may be biased.) She patched me up, comforted my freaking-out husband and accompanied me to her place of work, Wellington hospital. She works with a great bunch of wonderful people. Nurse Laura, who triaged me, noticed I was ‘protecting my neck’ and made me lie flat with strict instructions not to move my head – I saw a lot of strip lighting and ceiling tiles for the next seven hours. Dr Emma took half an hour to stitch the wound in my cheek, carefully sewing under the skin to leave as little scarring as possible, despite me telling her my beauty contest days were long past (they never existed). In between were nurses checking my vital signs (although one seemed most unconcerned when my blood oxygen registered zero, telling me the dead generally don’t talk), experts working x-ray machines and CT scanners, porters wheeling me between them. Everyone was kind, caring, professional and a credit to the health service. I’ve always believed that anyone who works on the front line in the health service is a special sort of person, heroes everyone, and I met a few of them on the afternoon and evening of 21st December. (And given the current circumstances I can’t imagine anyone would disagree.)

Negative (thankfully) turning positive: initial reading of the CT suggested I’d cracked a vertebra in my neck. Cue a collar, uncomfortable after five minutes, and me fighting back tears at the prospect of wearing it for four weeks when we were supposed to be packing for a house move. Neil offered sympathy and looked concerned. I’m pretty sure a lot of his concern was whether our marriage would survive. I’m not sure which of us was most relieved when an orthopaedic surgeon reviewing the scan saw nothing to worry about and the collar was history. (Of course, I then felt guilty about the waste of a perfectly good collar, and the cost to the health service.)

Lesson: If you’re unfortunate to suffer an injury that looks as though you’ve come out the wrong side of ten rounds with Anthony Joshua it’s a good idea to warn people before they see you. Five days after the accident I opened the door to the smiling face of my friend Eileen.

‘Jesus!’ The smile dropped.

‘No. Tracy.’ I said, deadpan. ‘Let me introduce myself.’

She laughed. Then her face turned serious again. Or horrified, it’s hard to work out which. I can’t blame her – I wasn’t a pretty sight. By this stage the pain had subsided to the extent I’d largely forgotten about it and each time I caught sight of my reflection even I jumped in surprise. Although I did think I was rocking quite the shade of purple around my eyes.

Positive: I live in a country where people care. ‘They’ll probably ask you how it happened and if you’re okay,’ Julie warned at the hospital. They’re supposed to, you see, family violence being not okay. They didn’t but I think Julie being with us was probably the reason. (Maybe they thought they could quiz her later.) A few days later an acquaintance did though, her eyes wide, a shocked: ‘Oh! What happened?’ Then her face changed. She glanced at Neil, looked back at me, her gaze intent, her expression the most serious I’ve ever seen her wear. ‘Are you okay?’ she asked, her tone calm and level. ‘I am,’ I replied, ‘but I know why you’re asking and thank you.’

‘Yeah, me too,’ said Neil, sighing deeply. ‘Does everyone think I’m a wife beater?’

‘Not the ones who know us well. They all know it’s more likely the other way around.’

Positive: I was wearing sports rather than fashion sunglasses, which took the brunt of the impact and flexed rather than shattering into my eye. It was their last act as a useful accessory – they were wrecked, deep scratches on each lens, but it’s better than an eyeful of glass. I’ve had them a few years, worn them around the world, loved them, was gutted that I destroyed them. They saved my eye and I kept them for weeks, useless, unable to say the final goodbye, in the end asking Neil to do the awful deed when I wasn’t looking.

Speaking of Neil… Apart from providing endless cups of tea and painkillers, help me wash/shower/dress, he had to do a lot of pre-move prep on his own. As I started to feel better, he then had to cope with me trying to do things I probably should have left alone, exasperation in his voice occasionally turning to murderous intent if I didn’t ‘leave it and sit down!’ As he always is, he was my rock and how someone copes with the aftermath of injury without such support is beyond me. (I also look after him – before Dr Emma began stitching my face I was insistent he leave the room. He doesn’t do blood, or needles, or any sort of medical procedure and I feared if he stayed a busy ED would have one more patient and we’d both need care.)

The worst injuries turned out to be my neck and my hands. Timing never being my strength, I fell just as everything closed down for the summer break. So for three weeks I had a stiff neck (anything could have crept up on me – I’d never have seen it coming) and was unable to hold much (although, a positive: I could manage a wine glass, and, with a two hand hold, a mug of tea). Turns out thumbs don’t really like being forced to bend the wrong way when a heavy box and an even heavier body land on them.

I don’t write this for sympathy. I write to acknowledge the selfless service given by doctors and nurses throughout the world, not just where I need them; I write to acknowledge the value of love, from friends, from my family, especially from my husband. I want to say that it’s important to put an experience like this into perspective, to see the positive side, to appreciate how much worse off I could have been. Mostly I write to say: try and stay on your feet. I can assure you there will be a lot less pain and a whole lot more fun to life if you do.

Two months later I was down to fortnightly chiro and physio and as back to normal as I ever was. I managed to get back on my bike after seven weeks, although pushing a lot more than I was happy about. (Another lesson – impossible to ride a bike when you can’t turn your head to see what’s behind you and can’t grip the handlebars. Or the brakes. Don’t try this at home.) Otherwise I have nothing much to show for my experience except a scar under my eye. Which some have said they don’t even notice, despite that it glares at me every time I look in a mirror. Maybe I’m still looking for some of that perspective.

The more observant amongst you will notice the lack of any photos of this experience. I hope you’re not surprised. But I don’t like to disappoint so we chucked in some random shots.

(For those of you concerned, the house I hit is still standing and no structural damage has been reported.)

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