There are worse accidents to have, but a busted ankle is bad enough for me, thank you very much.
Ironically, it happened minutes after leaving the doctor’s office in Brooklin, north of Whitby. It was my annual physical. I’d gotten a clean bill of health, more or less. There was some blood work left to be done, but otherwise fine.
I needed to get to work. My wife had dropped me off at the doctor’s office before going to work herself. My plan was to walk from Dr. Libby’s office, which was on Winchester near Thickson, to the other side of Brooklin, and catch either the 302 or the Go Bus on Brock Street down to the Whitby Go Train Station.
Earlier that morning, when I first stepped outside, I had been happy to see that the ice had receded. Sidewalks and roads seemed mostly clear. Still, I was careful as I walked along Winchester, sidestepping any areas that looked dangerous. It was about minus three with a light wind blowing. Not too bad a walk. When I got near the rink, I crossed to the north side, which seemed safer. At Brock, I considered whether to go north or south to find a bus stop. I crossed to the west side of Brock and decided to head north, which led into the downtown core and seemed more promising with all its shops.
I remember peering ahead, trying to spy a bus stop sign. I don’t even remember falling. I just remember suddenly finding myself flat on my ass. My backpack protected me from hitting my head. When I went to get up, I spotted my left foot, encased in an ankle high-winter boot, twisted around in the wrong direction. So twisted that I gasped aloud upon seeing it. “Aaagghh! Aaagghh!” The sight was worth a good two gasps.
I couldn’t stand on that. It was wrong. It needed to be right. I reached out, grasped the boot, and started to twist it back in the right position. It resisted, giving me time to realize that wrenching my foot back into the proper position myself was probably a bad idea.
What to do? I couldn’t stand. There was traffic along Brock but no cars stopped. There was nobody on the sidewalks. I considered trying to crawl forward along Brock with no real plan other than to move. I was, I realized, in a bit of a pickle.
Initially there was no pain. I anticipated a physical reaction, figured I’d go into some kind of shock, but having never experienced a similar injury I didn’t really know what to expect. Would I have some kind of panic attack? Right then I felt pretty calm about it all, just trying to work out some sensible course of action. I thought, maybe I should start calling for help.
I managed one half-hearted “help” before a woman stepped out of a store across the street. Traffic had paused, so she ventured into the street. “Do you need help?” she asked.
“Help!” I said. “Yes!”
She came closer, caught sight of my foot. “Oh my God,” she said.
A man came out of another store and jogged over. He wasn’t dressed for the weather. “Do you need an ambulance?” he asked.
“Yes,” I said. “I think that would be good. But you should put some clothes on.”
“I’m fine. Did you hit your head?”
“No. My backpack protected me.”
“Good. Just to be sure…” He held a finger up before my face. “Follow my finger.” He moved it back and forth. I followed it with my eyes.
“Are you a doctor?” I asked.
“No. Just had First Aid training.”
“What’s your name?” I asked him. I wanted to remember the names of the people who helped me.
“David,” he said, getting out his cell phone. He began talking to the folks at 911, got them up to speed. Then he went back into his store, quickly retrieved some coats, and covered me with them. He put some under my head too. I noticed that I was still lying on the patch of ice that had done me in. I laid my head down on the coats and felt well-looked after.
A fit, outdoorsy-type stepped up. “I’m a trained ski instructor,” he said, sounding a bit like Patrick Warburton. “I can snap that foot back into position for you if you like.”
Briefly, I considered it. For like a fraction of a second. Sure would be nice to have it facing the right way again. “I appreciate the offer,” I told him. “But I think I’ll wait for a doctor.”
He accepted that.
Another fellow seemed to take over, a younger fellow, maybe around thirty. He asked me how I was doing. I told him fine. I asked him his name. “Anthony,” he said.
“Thanks for sticking around, Anthony. Thanks everyone,” I said, craning my head around to see who else was there. I couldn’t see anyone else. Perhaps they’d moved on, confident that Anthony had everything under control.
Anthony stepped out into Brock Street and waved his arms like someone directing a plane on a runway. I don’t remember any sirens. An ambulance pulled over and two paramedics got out.
“Careful,” Anthony instructed. “Pretty icy.”
Seconds after that one of the paramedics (Derek, I learned shortly afterward) slipped and almost fell. I wondered how many others had fallen victim to that treacherous patch of ice.
Derek the paramedic cut the laces on my boot and gently removed the boot. With the boot off, it was even more obvious how badly broken my foot was. Later, a nurse would describe it as twisted 180 degrees. It was probably closer to 90 degrees in the wrong direction, but still.
“Ever broken a bone before?” the other paramedic asked me.
“No,” I told him.
“You’re handling it pretty well,” he said.
I resolved to continue handling it well.
We negotiated how to get me on a stretcher. I suggested that if they helped lift me, I could get up on my good foot and get on the stretcher. We were all concerned that my good foot would slip on the ice, but with the help of the paramedics I managed to get up and lay down on the stretcher.
“On a scale of one to ten, how’s the pain?” Derek asked me, once ensconced in the back of the ambulance.
I considered. “Four.” It was quite manageable.
“It’ll probably get worse,” Derek warned. “Any allergies?”
“I’m gonna give you some Ketorolac,” he said. “It’ll help for a bit.” He injected me with a needle.
As we drove along, again no sirens. Not a big deal, taking a guy with a broken ankle to the hospital.
In the Oshawa hospital, Derek parked my stretcher in the hall and waited with me as we waited for a room to become available. “It’s busy,” I observed. Emergency was crowded with patients and paramedics and nurses and other hospital personnel.
“Most of them don’t need to be here,” Derek told me. “You need to be here.”
After only a few short minutes someone directed Derek to push my stretcher into an emergency room. Derek and I parted ways. Two nurses took over, one experienced, the other a student. I believe the student’s name was Kristin. I don’t remember the other nurse’s name. Events get a bit blurry here, because the pain and discomfort suddenly ratcheted up enormously.
I was taken for an X-Ray. Deb, the X-Ray technician, had partially blue hair. Young and confident, she directed a team of two other technicians how to properly X-Ray my twisted foot. It took some imagination to figure out how to get the proper angles.
I lifted my head to have a look at my naked twisted foot.
“Don’t look at it,” Deb commanded.
I decided Deb was right. I didn’t need that image burned into my brain. Still, I caught a glimpse of it before lowering my head. It was so much worse than seeing it while still in the boot. I longed for a time when it would be facing the right direction again. Old enough to know how time works, I reminded myself that this too shall pass.
The pain was now a solid nine out of ten. I’d had no medication since the Ketorolac. Back in the emergency room, the experienced nurse took a look at my foot and drew the curtains. “No one needs to see that,” she remarked.
Later, Kristen, the student nurse, told me that she’d said to the other nurse, “I don’t understand why he’s not screaming his head off.”
I wasn’t screaming my head off because I was doing my best to contain it. I had one arm behind my head and my good leg drawn toward me, trying to reduce the discomfort and pain. It helped a hair, but not much. I wondered how much longer I could stand it. As long as I needed to, I decided.
Kristen started setting up an IV. The IV included both Saline and Morphine. She apologized for the needle, but it was nothing compared to the rest of the pain I was feeling. The morphine wouldn’t flow. The vein had collapsed.
“He’s in shock,” the other nurse said. She tried the other arm, then a second location on the other arm. Every vein she tried collapsed. “Three’s my max,” she said.
“Don’t give up,” I encouraged her. “Go for the gusto.”
She tried the first arm again. No luck. I was starting to feel like my luck had run out. I overheard one of the nurses say it was Friday the 13th. I’m not superstitious, particularly. Still…
“I can only stand this another seven or eight hours,” I joked.
The experienced nurse chuckled. “I’ve decided you’re my favourite patient,” she said.
“You tell all your patients that,” I said.
“No,” she said in a way that convinced me that she didn’t. Later, I would overhear several patients moaning and complaining and carrying on outrageously, and I realized that in comparison I was probably not a bad patient to have to deal with.
The nurses conferred. “We need such and such a nurse,” the experience nurse said.
“She’s been called away,” the student nurse said. “What about so and so?”
“No, not her,” the experienced nurse said in tone that suggested Dear God, no, not her. I felt like this nurse was looking out for me.
They finally got ahold of the one they were looking for, the talented IV nurse. It took her two or three tries. I believe between the three nurses it took eight or nine tries before they got a vein that didn’t collapse, before the morphine flowed.
I felt it going into my arm. “My fingers are tingling, if that’s useful information,” I said.
“Normal,” the talented needle-nurse said.
Somebody arrived with some forms. “Can you sign these?”
I signed them. Something to do with giving the hospital the right to treat me.
A doctor showed up. “We need to straighten your ankle,” he said. “I’m going to give you Fentanyl. It’s ten times stronger than morphine.”
“Go for it,” I said.
He injected it via needle. It burned going in. Later, my wife, who’s a pharmacist, reminded me that Fentanyl was the drug killing everyone in British Columbia. Of course, they weren’t using it correctly.
I became drowsy almost instantly. I closed my eyes. When I opened them again, all was quiet. I glanced at my foot. It was swathed in bandages. It was straight again. I couldn’t believe it. I had only closed my eyes for an instant.
Nurse Kristin spied me awake. “When did this happen?” I asked her, indicating my bandaged, straightened foot. “Did I lose a couple of hours?”
“It’s just been a few minutes,” she said.
I checked my watch. Time was acting funny. It was about two pm. It didn’t feel like four hours had gone by since I slipped and fell, but it had.
“A few minutes ago this room was crowded,” Kristin said. “The doctor straightened your foot and the sound it made… everyone in the room cringed. It was horrible.”
I was glad I hadn’t been awake for it.
My wife Lynda arrived. I brought her up to speed. She was (not surprisingly) sympathetic and waited patiently with me. I’d texted her earlier but she hadn’t received the text. The nurse had phoned her at work, but hadn’t talked long. “I have to go straighten his foot now,” she’d told my wife, who hurried over shortly afterwards.
I had another X-Ray from Deb and her team to see how well the doctor had done. Turned out he’d done pretty good, but the break was too bad. Both bones on either side of my ankle completely broken. I’d need surgery, followed by weeks of no weight on that foot, and then physio and several more weeks if not months of recuperation. It was a severe enough injury that the surgery had to be done pretty soon, but there were no beds left in the hospital for that night, so they sent me home.
I slept uncomfortably with a leg I couldn’t straighten because the temporary cast went up to my knee. I couldn’t get clothes on or off my bad leg and could hardly get about anywhere. I couldn’t even use the washroom properly because our bathrooms are tiny, with the tub close to the toilet. Unable straighten my leg, I had to prop my leg over the side of the tub to sit on the toilet. Hard to get a good seal that way. (Too much information, I know – sorry).
The next day, Saturday, my angel of a wife waited on me hand and foot while we waited for the hospital to call me in for day surgery, which they finally did around supper. But after three hours back at the hospital, they sent us home again. No more surgery that day.
Surgery finally happened the following day, Sunday. The surgeon inserted a long, narrow metal plate and eight screws on one side and an enormous screw on the other side. Afterward, I could bend my leg with the new cast; a huge relief.
All told, the care I received from the people in Brooklin, the paramedics, the nurses, the doctors, the technicians, Lakeridge Health, the Oshawa hospital, has been superb. The whole ordeal has been handled compassionately and professionally. I must thank especially my lovely wife Lynda, who has been nothing short of an angel throughout all of this. Honestly, I feel worse about the impact on her than I do about the impact on myself.
Surprisingly, there’s not much pain, although at night my foot sometimes winds up in a bad position, forcing me awake on the verge of a scream. During the day it’s fine, as long as I keep it elevated. I’m not sure how that’s even possible with two broken ankle bones and screws inserted into my foot, but I’ll take it. The worst is the lack of mobility. I have crutches and a rolling chair and I can hop and crawl, but what a pain in the ass. Still, it could have been much worse. Could have hit my head, or broken my hip.
It’s going to be a long road to complete recovery, but I’ll get there.
Yes, this too shall pass.
Great tale of woe (grievous distress) Joe. I felt every prick and prod and correction. The advice “don’t look at it” was really good and I’m glad you took it. May you be well enough to do a reading from your book this Autumn, while standing.
I’m sorry Joe. Sheesh, that sounds really bad. I hope the rest of your recovery goes well.
Hang in there Joe! You will gain a great appreciation for mobility after this. Hope you recover well, and looking forward to hearing about the other ‘positive’ things that will surely come out of this unfortunate experience!
Hello Joe, great story.
Too bad it had to come with such painful angst. Glad to hear you are on your way to recovering and looking forward to your follow up on this story.
I hear that sunshine and warm weather heals much more quickly than winter weather.