August 13, 2004
The Poor Little Me Diaries

I read somewhere, not long ago, that the three worst types of bone fracture -- in terms of pain level/recovery time/*sympathy value* -- are broken toes, broken ribs and broken knees, not necessarily in that order. I imagine it's because you can't completely immobilize a toe or a rib or a knee, the way you can other broken body parts, so it takes longer to heal. I can certainly vouch for the broken toe. Many times over, as a matter of fact. Over the course of my lifetime, I have dropped everything from a four-pound rotary telephone, to a wooden warehouse pallet, to a six-pack of Hire's Root Beer onto my poor unsuspecting feet, fracturing my toes more times than I can actually count. I can absolutely attest to the fact that a broken toe is one of the more miserable and inconvenient fractures a person can suffer.

And now, thanks to karma and the AC Transit System, I can also vouch for the broken rib.

Late last month I broke two ribs when I fell off a platform seat on a #51 AC Transit bus. Two varieties of irony at play here: one, that the accident occurred while I was riding home from a routine doctor's appointment (my annual mammogram-and-pap-smear combo platter),  and two, that just moments before it happened I was congratulating myself on the efficiency and all-around grooviness of my life. I remember sitting there on the bus, riding along in the Alameda sunshine, listening to Social Distortion on the MP3 player, looking forward to the weekend ... thinking Everything is in order. Everything is good.  And then all of a sudden I saw my stop coming up, a little sooner than I'd expected, and I grabbed my purse and slid off the seat and stepped out  ...

...  onto nothing.

I'd forgotten that I was sitting on a platform. An integral feature of AC Transit's recent bus re-design ("Bus of the Year!," proudly proclaims the sticker in the front window), the new platform seats are  staggered throughout the bus in groups of four, facing each other: one set at the front of the bus, one in the middle and one near the rear.  Ordinarily I eschew the platforms and sit on a 'regular' seat, lower to the ground -- call me snooty, but something about sitting an extra foot off the ground just strikes me as undignified, especially when one is wearing a nice suit and uncomfortable heels and carrying 20 lbs. of laptop bag slung over her shoulder -- but on that particular afternoon I slid into the closest platform seat without even really thinking about it. (Mainly I think I was interested in distancing myself from the group of noisy teenagers in the back of the bus. My music was much cooler than theirs.) When I distractedly stepped off the seat, twenty minutes later, I expected the floor to be right where it always is  ...  but instead, my foot *connected* with solid air. I lost my footing altogether and fell sideways, smashing chest-first into the metal frame of the seat directly across the aisle from mine. 

For one long moment I actually saw stars. Dark, rabid, shrill little stars with sharp teeth and pointy spears, shrieking in anger.

"Are you all right, Ma'am?" the bus driver said.

"I think so," I gasped. I wasn't sure, actually. I was winded. I was hurt, somewhere: I wasn't sure exactly where, yet, or how badly.  My MP3 player was in pieces on the floor. (Thank GOD I didn't have the new laptop with me that day. I knew in advance that I would be doing a lot of walking, to the doctor's office and back, and I didn't want to carry the extra weight around.) Still, I think I was more embarrassed at that point than anything:  I just wanted to get off the bus, right now, and go home. I could hear the teenagers snickering the evil PLATFORM SEAT in the back as I gathered up my stuff and exited the bus, one excruciating step at a time. The driver idled at the stop for an extra minute while I stood there, doubled over on the sidewalk. 

"You're sure you're OK?" she asked again. I waved at her -- It's OK, go ahead, I'm fine --  and a moment later the #51 blew off in a cloud of diesel fumes and indifference.

I hobbled home from the bus stop --  it took me forty minutes to walk three-quarters of a mile -- and the minute I got to the apartment I started damage control.  I was more concerned about my wrist, just then, than I was about my ribs: the wrist was shrieking like a 500 bagpipe orchestra, whereas the ribs were more of a muted cello solo.  Luckily David and I still keep ice bags in the freezer, a holdover from the bike-riding days, so I grabbed one of those and wrapped it around my wrist. Then I called David at his office to let him know I was home.  

"I had a little accident," I told him sheepishly.  

After that, I called Jaymi at her office at the hospital in TicTac. She's not a medical professional -- she works in customer relations, designing newsletters and organizing fundraisers -- but she's the closest thing we've got to a doctor in the family at the moment. I told her what happened, and I endured her good-natured jabs about her clumsy doofus of a mother, and finally I got around to the purpose for the call: asking whether I should take acetaminophen or ibuprofen for my injuries. I can never, ever, EVER remember which to take as a headache remedy and which to take as an anti-inflammatory; I ask her this same question at least once every other month.  

She told me to take some ibuprofen -- "Take three of them, with some food," she said -- and she also told me to call the doctor, right now, and make an appointment for an x-ray.  

"I'll consider it," I told her.

Then I crawled into bed with my laptop and my ice pack and my Motrin bottle, and I waited for David to get home from work.  He came through the door around 6:00, looking all cute and concerned and flustered.   

"Are you sure you don't want to go to the hospital?" he asked repeatedly, and I kept telling him no, let's wait and see how bad it gets. My ribs were definitely beginning to hurt by that point, but I wasn't sure it really warranted an emergency room run. 

"Let's see how I feel in the morning," I winced.

I woke at 5 a.m. feeling as though a truck -- or an AC Transit Bus of the Year, maybe -- had run over my midsection. I tried rolling over in bed to turn on the headboard lamp, and I literally SCREAMED out loud.  

"We're going to the hospital, aren't we?" David said from his side of the bed.  

I nodded. Fifteen minutes later he was loading me into the passenger seat of the Subaru, like an antiques dealer loading his prize Empire Period Meridienne into the auction van.

Another fifteen minutes later, we were signing me into the Kaiser Permanente Emergency Room in downtown Oakland.

I don't need to relate the specifics of the next few hours. Anyone who has ever found themselves sitting in a hospital emergency room, in pain, at an odd hour of the day or night -- in this case, a sleepy early Saturday morning -- knows the drill already. It's a lot of stop and start and hurry up and slow down and "May I see your member card, please?" I spent most of the morning laying on an uncomfortable exam table in an ugly hospital gown, listening to the elderly woman in the bed next to mine berating her adult children for allowing her to be catheterized.  ("It was that or a bedpan, Mother," her son told her sternly. "You remember what happened the last time.") For nearly four hours I tossed and turned on the exam table -- trying to find my comfort zone, wishing I had something to read, waiting for David to bring me a breakfast burrito from the hospital cafeteria -- as a veritable parade of Kaiser doctors and nurses and respiratory therapists came and went, poking at my ribcage, asking me to rate the pain between 1 and 10 ("8.765," I said pleasantly), ordering me to breathe into bizarre plastic contraptions to measure lung function, asking endless questions about the accident. I must have told the story of the platform bus seat at least 43,897,621 times that day.To their credit, not a single Kaiser Permanente Health Care Professional snickered at my tragic story (although two of them asked me if I planned to sue, and another suggested that I take BART from now on).   

At one point I was rolled downstairs to the chilly basement radiology department for X-rays.  As I climbed off the guerney and stood to pose against the lead curtain backdrop, the rear of my hospital gown suddenly flapped open, exposing my goosepimpled derriere. The horrified X-ray technician flew across the room and re-tied my gown, "so all your goodies ain't hangin' out."   

"Are you kidding?" I told her."In the past 24 hours I've had a mammogram, a pap smear, and now this. I don't even care anymore."  

Eventually, after hours of tests, I was released in a flurry of paperwork and last-minute instructions. The diagnosis? Two broken ribs. The prognosis? 4-6 weeks' recovery time. The prescribed course of treatment?


That's the thing about a rib fracture: there is no real way to 'treat' it.  Rest -- and time -- are the only treatment. They don't even "wrap" the injured rib any more ... there's the danger that it will inhibit breathing and lead to complications, like pneumonia.  "Go home and go to bed," the ER doctor told me. "You won't be going to work on Monday." 

I don't need to relate the specifics of the next couple of weeks, either. Anyone who has ever found themselves stuck at home, unexpectedly recovering from a ridiculous injury for a prolonged period of time (hiya, Bev!) knows the drill already. Let's just say that the weeks passed in a blur of lumpy pillows and hydrocodone 5/500. In an extraordinarily serendipitous development, our new cable TV and high-speed Internet service were installed the second day I was home with my injury. I basically spent those two weeks propped up in bed with the remote control in one hand, surfing through a bazillion channels' worth of garbage -- "Sixteen Candles A to Z!" "The 50 Hottest Blondes of the 20th Century!" Forty year old episodes of "The Andy Griffith Show!" -- and the computer mouse in my other hand, mindlessly downloading Sims furniture off the Internet. No alarm clocks. No ringing phones. No Main Nerdy Geotech Guy. No Maybelline or shoes or uncomfortable undergarments. 

It was like my *dream vacation.*  Except for the brutal, agonizing, sick-making pain, I mean.

I missed nearly two entire weeks of work altogether. JoAnne was really great about the whole thing, right from the beginning. I called her at home that first Saturday, after we got home from the emergency room, and I told her exactly what had happened.  

"I have good news and I have bad news," I said. (The "good" news was that I wouldn't be taking the following Wednesday afternoon off for my dental appointment, after all.) 

For the first week I was home from work, my contact with the office was virtually nonexistent. I called JoAnne every couple of days, usually at home in the evenings, mostly to catch her up on my 'progress' and to snag the latest office gossip (The Suit turned in his resignation!! The Main Nerdy Geotech Guy is getting a divorce! The new photocopier broke down!) ...  but there was no expectation, those first few days, that I would so much as log on from home to check my Dirt Company e-mail. 

"We're handling it," JoAnne assured me.  

By the second week after the accident, though, I'd decided that I wanted to try coming in to work at least part-time. Mainly I was worried about the financial ramifications of all those sick days ... especially since I'd used all of my available vacation time and most of my sick time for the TicTac trip in June. (My paycheck this week wouldn't cover a triple-cheesburger and the latest issue of "US Weekly.") 

JoAnne is the one who suggested that it might not be such a good idea for me to come back too soon. "If you're going to file a claim with the bus company," she said -- an idea that I have not completely discounted, even though 1.) I'm not sure the bus company is at fault for *my* inattention, and 2.)  the legal logistics of such a thing seem more than I'm interested in dealing with right now -- "it might look better if you've missed more than a week of work."  

And the truth is that I still felt absolutely wretched at that point. It still hurt to breathe. It still hurt to laugh or sneeze or pee or sit in an office chair and type teeny-tiny numbers into an Excel spreadsheet. So I did a couple of half-days that second week, just to put something on the paycheck -- mostly I just came into the office at lunch and sat around reading magazines until 5:00, for those two days -- and the rest of the week I was back in bed with the laptop and the remote. 

This week has been closer to a "normal" work week: three full days (Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday), plus two half-days (Monday and Thursday) to accomodate follow-up medical appointments. Next week will probably be my first full work week in over a month.  I'm not sure I'm ready for a fullblown forty-hour week, but I don't have a lot of choice.

Somebody's gotta pay the CABLE bill, after all.

In the meantime, I'm struggling this week to get back to 'normal' in all of the other important areas of my life: my family obligations, my finances, my laundry, my personal hygiene regimine  ...  and yes, my website.  I didn't write anything while I was recovering from the platform dive, obviously.  I thought about it -- I certainly had the time, the opportunity, the warm glowy Vicodin-induced creative *spark* -- but ultimately I held off because I knew it would be just one pathetic mewling entry after another, all about how "sore" and "achey" and "bored" I was feeling from day to day. I don't want *FootNotes* to turn into The Poor Little Me Diaries. I've never wanted that. So whenever I felt the urge to do something *FootNotes*-related, during my extended convalescence, I stuck to behind-the-scenes stuff: adding ancient high school journals to the archives, for instance, or messing around with The Cast of Characters page. (And yes, the Vince and Ryan pictures are coming soon. Stay tuned.) I figured I would get back to the regular journal narrative as soon as I could catch a good deep breath again. 

And that's pretty much where we are now.  

I'm determined to get back on track with *FootNotes* as soon as I can.  We have so much catching up to do, after all.  There are so many interesting, relevant, IMPORTANT subjects I would like to write about. (How about that Big Brother 5, huh?  Can you believe how fast The "Dream Team" went down the tubes??  And what the heck was up with Jun's eyeliner in that "Where Are They Now?" segment last night: is she applying it with her FEET?)  So, starting in the next week or so, I'm really really really going to try and get back into the swing of things, writing-wise ... and in the interest of keeping things from deteriorating into The Poor Little Me Diaries, I'm deliberately going to keep things as non-medical as possible.

 Unless I fall off a sidewalk and break my knee tomorrow. Then I might not have any choice.

Have a great weekend, everybody.  Talk to you next week.

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