Thunder Down Under: Part IV
Continued from Thunder Down Under: Part III
WARNING: The following is graphic, at times disturbing, and true with plenty of TMI to go around. Part I doesn’t include anything too disturbing, simply the events leading up. If you’re squeamish, easily disturbed or simply aren’t interested in the details of a serious medical fiasco, I recommend not reading beyond Part I. This entry covers the details of the past several days, starting around 2 PM Monday afternoon when I first experienced an inguinal hernia rupture while working as a ski instructor.
Everything I know about hernias, I learned working in a pet store.
Which is to say, I know nothing about hernias. They happen. They’re medical. They’re taken care of by a vet. A small part of me prays I’m not taken care of by a vet. A larger part of me thinks that small part of me is an idiot.
I am one with my pain. Each gurgle and shift in my bowels is another tick of my biological clock. Every twitch of my leg, shiver up my spine, or sudden sigh is a sharp pinch followed by a slow and tense moment of relaxation. People weave in and out of the room, checking up on me, joking about dino nuggets, expressing disbelief that this really is something more. They offer solidarity, words of wisdom, consolation. It’s all background noise to the pain. I wonder if the meds would help clarify, make everything more lucid, but I know it’ll only dull everything.
My supervisors make arrangements for my things. My skis, left on the bus along with Avery’s, are collected and stashed. I have no clue where. I don’t really care. My boots are buckled up and moved back to the locker room as I rattle off the order of notches I keep them set at: 4 on top, then 5, then 3, then 2. Alicia notes her husband Larry the Bootfitter would be pissed if he saw unbuckled boots in the locker room. Tzvi is slightly surprised by this, but he doesn’t understand. He’s a snowboarder.
They take down my locker combination and collect and organize my things. A few minutes later, my jacket and the jovial flower backpack appear. I swear that for the first time there’s a certain sinister twinge to the way it’s winking at me.
“It sucks getting old,” Liz jokes, rounding off her second visit to FAR.
“Woo!” I holler half-heartedly, my left fist raised in the air. “First major injury of my Thirties!” She smiles with her mouth, but her eyes belie her levity.
“I’ll see you down there,” she explains. “I just need to finish up some paperwork.”
“Ok,” I reply. I don’t know why she’d come down, but I’m hardly in the magnanimous mood to argue.
“Is there anyone you want me to get in contact with?” she asks.
“No. I’ve already spoken to my parents,” I tell her.
“Where are they?”
“Oh.” I can hear the worry in her voice.
Personally, I’m not feeling fear. Resignation, perhaps. Concentration for sure, but not fear. Fear is for the unknown. At this point, fear does me no good.
“I’ll see you at the hospital,” she reiterates as she exits, leaving me once more to my own devices.
The wind howls outside as darkness descends. I wait, stuck in a half-fetal holding pattern, waiting for the pain to recede, my knees tucked at a ninety degree angle while my back remains far from flat.
I feel the chill blow into the room as the bay doors are opened. My chariot awaits. Two EMTs enter, a mobile gurney rolled alongside my cot.
“I’m going to turn you over to the care of Liz,”Jon tells me, indicating the newly arrived EMT with the oddly coincidental name. He rattles off my current state and shows her a form. I catch a few phrases here or there, things like “declined medication,” “prefers to remain more upright” and “nearly lost consciousness,” as her partner prepare my new saddle.
They offer me options, assistance, and assured words of certainty. Their delivery is impeccable. I wonder if I sound so calm with my students when they get hurt.
I grip the edges of the bed and lift myself gently, sidling my shaking body back and to the left, arranging myself according to instruction. The pain almost feels an afterthought. I can’t tell if it’s getting worse or if my standards are just expanding.
It’s frigid as they back me into the ambulance, my things tossed idly aside, my phone clutched in my hand. It’s an awkward angle, the ambulance clearly slanted slightly downhill. With almost 4,000 feet of vertical to descend, I know I’ll spend most of the ride sliding down on my back. Even with the slight angle of the cot my knees are at a higher elevation than my head.
The rear window offers only darkness as a view. I concentrate on trying to figure out where exactly we are based on the twists and turns of the road. I feel us exit the shelf road as EMT Liz repeats many of the same interview questions I’ve had before. I’m starting to understand what celebrities feel like when dealing with magazines and reporters as they market their latest release.
“On a scale from one to ten, one being no pain and ten being the most you can image, how bad does it feel?” she asks.
I stifle a laugh, my eyes snapping open with a twinkle.
“Do you read XKCD?” I ask, unable to make the joke without giving some sort of credit.
“Well, I would say it’s about a two, but only because I have an awesome imagination.” Apparently I can still deliver a joke through clenched teeth. I pause momentarily as I consider the pains I’ve experienced, from stubbed toes to the couch dropped on my head. None of it compares with the irregular bursts of burning in my stomach. “Really though, out of pain I’ve experienced, it would be about an 8.”
The vehicle cuts through the center of Ned and begins the winding descent down the canyon. I can feel myself slide toward the edge of the cot despite the belts buckling me down, my right elbow pushing against the wall as my arm remains draped over my forehead like a swooning belle dame, my phone clutched in its grip.
I remember the battery sucking powers of the canyon and turn off my phone. I don’t want to arrive and be unable to contact anyone due to a dead battery. I have EMT Liz place it in my flower along with my watch, the emptiness on my wrist a welcome respite.
She tries to make small talk with me as we roll ever downward. “It hurts to talk,” I tell her through gritted teeth, trying not to come off as rude.
“Ok,” she replies, unperturbed. “I’ll let you rest.”
Every clench of my stomach muscles is pure agony, each gurgling shift in my abdomen bellicose and vindictive. My breaths are ragged, and not for lack of trying. I feel calm mentally; endorphins, adrenaline, focus my ever-present companions. Physically, however, I’m fighting not to allow my body to shake and shiver, racked with discomfort.
“Can I ask a strange favor?” I chime, having finally worked up the energy to speak.
“Sure,” she tells me.
“In my left pocket, I have some chapstick. Could you get it out for me?”
She fumbles into my unzipped pocket. “Is this it?”
“Yes,” I say, excited at the chance to at least temper the parched feeling. I haven’t been allowed food or water since my arrival at FAR and I don’t expect to be any time soon. I can’t imagine sending anything else roiling through my abdomen and coursing through my twisted intestines.
My lips soak in the slick softness and I press them together, languishing. It’s not quite water, but the sudden comfort helps me relax a bit. I’ve been awake since 3:15 this morning, having collapsed far too early the night before. The pain and wonder are the only things keeping me awake.
I try conjugating in French in my head, hoping the task will help take my mind off the pain. My Latin teacher would be appalled at how poorly I do it, regular verbs quickly becoming irregular in my pain-addled brain. Or maybe it’s not the pain; maybe it’s just that English is my first language.
Time seems inconceivable to me. I’ve completely lost track of where we are, how long its been, how fast we might be going. I hear the radio up front crackle with brief conversation and Liz announces we’re about 10 minutes out. I want to smile at the revelation, but instead I notice a light-headed feeling being to take hold. I can’t quite tell if I mention it or if EMT Liz simply notices. Either way, her response is quick and firm.
“I’m going to give you an IV,” she tells me. I twist my arm around, trying to give her the best vantage point and hoping that motion sickness doesn’t overtake me. She rests a bag on my chest, its white mouthpiece and clear sac wholly unlike an airline sick bag. Here, they may need to see the contents, so it makes sense. Still, the idea of examining my upchuck is far from the most pleasant thought.
The needle stabs through my vein. It’s quick, simple, relatively painless. I wonder how much my visits to the gym have helped, visions of stringy blue rivers running down my arms flashing through my memory. Given the rattling ride, I’m sure EMT Liz’s skill is a greater influence.
It takes only a few moments before the sweet saline nectar begins to course through my body. I can feel my clothes heavy on my skin, laden with the weight of sweat. I can’t tell if its sweat from the pain and the effort or from skiing all day. It’s the most visceral sensation I’ve had besides pain since the chapstick.
I feel the ambulance begin to back up light flooding the windows.
“Ok, we’re here,” Liz tells me. “We’re just backing in.”
“I know,” I say. “I could feel us pull up.”
We slowly come to a halt, no jerk, no sudden stop. They pull the doors open and I can feel myself begin to roll. Cold washes over me, the winter air flowing rapidly over my body. “It’s cold,” I rasp.
“Yeah, it is,” they tell me. “It’ll only be a minute.” I hear the gurney’s wheels click down as they arrange themselves for my exodus. “You’ll feel a bump.” The wheels beneath my head click down as I slide out the back into the night. It’s the smoothest bump I’ve ever felt.
Crossing the threshold takes forever, my body shivering from the cold and writhing from the pain of shivering. It only takes a moment to get inside.
Near the desk, a collection of five men and women in scrubs stand talking. An older gentleman in green scrubs glances my way as we roll by. On the far side of the group, a young women with short hair perches. It’s an impeccable style, vibrant reds and purples evoking African sunsets and Gothic velvets.
“Nice hair,” I rasp as I’m rolled by. If she hears me, she doesn’t acknowledge it. I don’t bother to offer the compliment again.
They slide me into a room with a curtain divider. EMT Liz gives a rundown of the IV and any meds I might be on. “He seems to prefer being at a 45 degree angle,” she informs him. I’m a little surprised when I hear there’s still no pain meds. Given the rapid improvement in how I felt, I had assumed the IV had more to it than just hydration.
The nurse begins to quiz me as the EMTs take their leave. “When’s your birthday?’ he asks. I answer him. “Do you smoke?” No.
There’s silence as he hangs my IV. He repeats the same questions. I repeat the same answers.
“Are you asking me the same things because it’s policy or to check my lucidity?” I ask. The question seems to catch him off guard for a moment.
“It’s just policy,” he tells me.
“Ok,” I say.
“We need to get you in a gown,” he tells me. “I can help you out or we can cut your clothes off.” I glance down at my uniform pants, at the base layer I have on. I could give a shit about my undershirt or underwear, but there’s no way in hell I’m letting him cost me my uniform deposit or end up short another base layer.
I begin sliding my suspenders off my shoulders. Pushing on my heels, I lift my stomach and butt. It takes all my concentration to keep from collapsing back down before I’ve pushed my pants to my thighs. He grabs the cuffs as I lift my feet and peels my pants off. As he tucks them into the corner, I arch my back, instructing him to roll my shirt up to my armpits. With effort, I lean forward and we slide my base layer off. I’m shaking at the strain.
Pain sears through my abdomen as I push my hips forward once more, rolling my underwear, both long and short, down below my ass. I can’t imagine doing more. He strips them from my legs, leaving my socks and scrunched undershirt my only garments beneath the blanket.
“Cut the shirt off,” I tell him. “I don’t care.” He tracks down some shears and slices through the worn cotton, shoulder first, then side, pulling it off my right arm when it’s done.
The stylish haired nurse arrives to double-check my information. She punches it in on a device not much larger than a phone. “The doctor will be with you shortly. Please call if you need anything,” she says.
I take a deep breath, letting it out slowly. The curtain slides shut leaving me alone with my pain. There’s no rushing anything at this point. This is always the game we play: waiting, fighting, waiting some more.
Now, I wait.
Continued in Thunder Down Under: Part V