It started as a regular day at work. Well, an unusual day in that nothing was out of the ordinary; the norm at any barn.
We had just taken over the care of the huntsman’s gelding for the two months that their groom was away, and I continued his program by turning him out in the pony-ring where I stayed watching to ensure he wouldn’t do something horse-like, like hurting himself by running, or jumping out – particularly since he was recovering from injury. I left his halter on for extra safety.
He looked longingly, a little too longingly for my liking, over the fence down towards the grass paddock and I decided it was time to bring him in before he made that decision himself. I went into the paddock, clipped him onto the lead rope, and we started heading in together. Feeling good about life, he begun to shake his head and hop about. Fifteen hundred pounds of unpredictability on a rope. Yay, you might think. But this is what we do every day, twenty times a day. It is such routine, so I thought nothing of it, but took a step back so he wouldn’t accidentally jump on top of me, slacked the lead rope and gave it a quick, hard tug to inform him his antics were not a part of the program I had in mind that morning. At that same instant I saw in, what seemed like slow motion, his hind leg come forward. He struck me hard in the back, and I stumbled, or was thrown to the ground; I’m not quite sure of which.
For the first time ever, I remembered not worrying about the loose horse, and screamed not “loose horse” but “DAMN THAT HURT” as the gelding ran, luckily away from me. I tried to bring him down with my angry gaze, but he kept running so I must improve my technique for the next time. I clutched my torso as I lay on the soggy ground squealing like a stuck pig. “HURT” “Ah that HURT” I screamed, like I believed the pain would ease the louder I bellowed. It did not. I phoned my coworker, but she couldn’t hear the phone over the noise of hooking up the trailer. Nobody else was nearby and I suddenly felt extremely lonely. Scared of getting up, having concluded my injuries definitely involved broken ribs, but not knowing what else, I stayed on the ground whaling until someone responded “Are you ok?” Suddenly I realized I needed help. Informing people that I was in pain seemed pointless, so I changed my tune from “hurt” to “help”. Help was approaching, and consisted of the Budweiser beer delivery man who had heard me over the sound of his truck, some three hundred feet away. With that kind of a lung capacity, perhaps I should consider a career as an opera singer? In tow came the huntsman with the runaway horse, asking fervently what he could do. My one reply, repeated over and over was “get rid of the horse! NOW!” He was not even ten feet away and I was more petrified than I think I had ever been of anything in my entire life. All I could picture was him getting loose again, and running over me where I laid, clutching my midsection in pain, unable to move.
The huntsman returned sans horse. After some serious contemplation on my end, of what my next move was going to be, or not to be, I made the decision that I needed to go to the hospital immediately. Immediately meant “before the pain set in”, and the clock was ticking rapidly as I had already lost at fifteen minutes on the ground. The huntsman helped me up and into the barn.
Feeling the pain setting in I refused to sit down and repeated that I needed to go to the hospital right away. It seemed like an eternity until the huntsman grasped the concept. My initial thought was of course to drive myself, so I wouldn’t have to inconvenience anyone with a pick-up when I was ready to go home, but a quick rewind of what had just happened, coupled with the increasing level pain deterred me. For those of you who know me – it tells you a lot about the state I was in, doesn’t it? The huntsman offered to drive, but wasn’t sure of the way. At this point, feeling like I was in a comedy, I saw the next scene flash in front of my eyes: The two of us getting lost, and me, doubled over in pain, trying to give directions to the emergency room. Re-take! The huntsman called over to maintenance to see if they could take me. Cut! Again, please!!! Can someone come up with a good script for this? Quickly? Maintenance gave the order to call 9-1-1 – ah, what a brilliant idea! “How do I call 9-1-1?” said the huntsman. Damn foreigners! I walked him through what to say… and shortly thereafter the fire engine showed up, then my boss, having an ability to always show up at the right time, and at last, the ambulance. Having done their assessment of my injuries they loaded me into the ambulance, on my insistence, on my side. The last face I laid eyes on was Heather, and as they shut the door my face imploded with fear. I began walking down “Pity Me Lane” and soon the tears were streaming down my face, and my body turned into a convulsing mass. If you ever find yourself with broken ribs, this particular exercise is one you want to avoid. So instead I closed my eyes and focused on my breathing, which earned the admiration of the paramedic who thought my bravery was remarkable. I was not brave at all; it simply hurt too much to do anything else. Yet again, my body and mind amazed me with it’s actions, and put me in a better place than if I had decided for myself.
With my boss on our heels I counted and winced as we drove down the driveway, over the six speed bumps, noted the left-hand turn onto Rt 1A, the first set of train tracks, and then the second set before we made the last turn into Beverly Hospital Emergency Delivery Dock. As of yet, I had not had any pain medication and was acutely aware of the unspeakable pain pounding through my body. The paramedics rolled me off, yes; you read that correctly – rolled me off– the backboard and onto the gurney of the hospital. Still with no pain medication to alleviate the tremendous pain, and it made me wonder how pain is measured… on a scale from one to ten? According to who? Under what circumstances?
Finally I was in the emergency room, stationary, and surrounded by action: Concrete action ensuring first, my safety and second, my comfort, at this stage a very relative concept. The trauma surgeon, naturally a former client, took charge and the film started rolling. I felt like a junkie, laying there anticipating, craving the injection I knew was imminent. The pain medication sent a tidal wave of nausea through my body, but most importantly, dulled the pain. The shock set in, in full force, making me shake in a fashion similar to those machines that shake up and mix paint: Uncontrollably. I was cold as a corpse, but clearly the shaking prevented anyone from thinking I was dead. Because, has anyone ever seen a dead body shake like a paint mixing machine? Frosty cold, I had heaps of warm blankets thrown on top of me, with a continuous flow of new warm ones replacing the cold, my boss massaging my feet; nothing helped. Another injection of “I don’t know, I don’t care” seemed to help. Luckily without throwing off my vital signs.
Before long I was on the move again, for x-rays and a cat scan. The report was gloomy: three to five broken ribs and an acute liver contusion. Even though it is always better to know than to float in uncertainty, this report scared me. “Internal bleeding.” I have broken many bones in my lifetime but had not yet damaged the things that actually keep me alive and functioning. Those things you can’t live without. Grim. It frightened me terribly, yet I was comforted by the fact that I know a doctor on a personal level who specializes in livers. Wishing I didn’t have to call in the special favor, I swallowed my instinctive reaction of “I don’t want to inconvenience anyone” and requested he be consulted. Within five minutes we spoke via phone, and based on the blood counts I read to him he assured me I should not require surgery but be observed for three days. The trauma surgeon in charge had ordered four days of observation, so I felt safe.
I barely recall being wheeled up to room number 507, where my body, now completely controlled by others, was moved again from one bed to another and hooked up to IV morphine with my own regulator. Thinking it would be just my luck to survive the horse kick and overdose of hospital supplied drugs, I made sure it had a safety measure built in so I couldn’t. I never hallucinated or experienced any strange dreams, which of course was everyone’s question, and my concern. If anything, I was disappointed in how poorly it managed my pain, this, so highly sought after pain drug. In hindsight, I ask myself if I gave myself enough.
I should not have been surprised when my unsuspecting friend rang to say hi. He seems to always call and/or show up at the right time, and as soon as I told him what had happened he was on his way to be by my side. The other hero, who knows me better than anyone showed up with a cell phone charger and books, shaking his head at this all too familiar situation. Of course they both showed up when I was in the midst of experiencing what bed rest really means. Since I had dreaded the moment and held off for as long as I could, I impressed the nurse by filling three full bed pans.
The six days that followed were a blur of countless visitors, Percocets, and checks for vital signs. On day three, I was allowed to eat real food, which prompted me to ask about restroom privileges. I wasn’t keen on the known results of solid food paired with a bed pan. Fortunately the answer was yes (or I would have continued fasting). The food at Beverly hospital is excellent: A couple of choices per meal, good quality and prepped, cooked, delivered, and cleaned up by someone else. Admittedly, under these conditions, almost all food can be classified as good in my book.
Day four I was allowed a shower and felt like a million bucks. Ok, a million bucks in pieces. Day five brought on a visit by physical therapy who worked with me primarily in getting me in and out of bed, which was my biggest challenge. After much painful trial and error, we found a way, which, aided by the automated bed’s ability to raise my torso, took only twenty minutes and didn’t bring tears to my eyes.
As a result of aforementioned “success”, I was told the next morning that I was being discharged. REALLY?! Livid, and petrified, as I still couldn’t get in and out of bed unassisted, I summoned anyone and everyone who could have something to do with this decision. The Wise had concluded, since only time, not technique would improve my condition, I was no longer in need of hospital services. The minor detail of immobility, they seemed to have forgotten, in the bigger picture of insurance regulations. Surely I could have someone move in with me, or I could just live in the sleeper chair I don’t own…!
They kept me one more day and ordered a hospital bed to be delivered to my apartment. This I felt was a realistic solution, and looked forward to going home. Gentle movers and wonderful friends arrived and packed up my books, stuffed animals, balloons, and flowers. I had more luggage going home than I do when I travel abroad. Dressed in my friend’s dress shirt, since they had cut my clothes off in the emergency room, yoga pants and stable boots I declined the unstable wheel chair which would have only shook my ribs around and caused pain. As the perfect car, already set up for my friend’s elderly and physically impaired mother, was fetched, I took my first fresh breath of air in six days. Full of exhaust or not – it felt wonderful. I felt alive.