This cruel waiting

For the first time in my married life, I’m not wearing rings. Not as a statement of intent, but simply because the fingers on my left hand with its broken wrist could not abide any extra weight.

The moment the triage nurse took one look at my rapidly swelling hand, she told me to get those rings off.

It was easy enough to peel down my eternity ring, the one my husband made several years ago, a Russian wedding ring of three bands in white gold, yellow gold and rose. But my wedding ring itself was beginning to hold firm behind the pressure of my swelling fingers.

Just as the nurse went to get some lanolin to help shift it, my husband managed to stretch it off against my cries of pain every time he so much as tweaked a finger. He removed it in the nick of time.

Had we not been able to get them off, these rings would most likely have needed to be taken off with a saw. There they are now in front of me on my desk, three lonely rings waiting for fingers on which to keep them warm again.


The day after my fall, when they tried to reset the bone manually under anesthetic – not quite as they wanted – they decided on surgery.

And so it was on the Sunday I found myself waiting in the pre-surgery holding zone. Typically you wait in this area for only a few minutes in which time the anesthetist visits and sometimes the surgeon, and all this in readiness for your surgery.

When I first arrived, the orderly propped my bed against a wall, between two other spaces, which were soon occupied by other patients also on their way to surgery.

As each patient came and went and I half-enjoyed overhearing the conversations about their surgery and circumstances as a way of killing time, I also began to feel forgotten.

The nurse in charge, Brigid, who stayed in the holding bay area the whole time was busy with paper work and greeting new arrivals, of whom there’d have been four or five during my wait.

Brigid had greeted me on my arrival, taken my details and promised the anaesthetist would be there shortly.

Two hours later, no anesthetist and I was beginning to feel sad beyond measure. I didn’t like the idea of being a nuisance patient so I didn’t want to ask ‘what’s going on?’ or make a fuss. I just flopped on top of my bed and felt helpless and sorry for myself.

This was made worse by the fact there was a television screen propped above my bed at my feet and running the whole time. I had nowhere to look but at the screen or beyond to the periphery of the holding bay.

At one time, soon after I had arrived there, the TV showed these scenes of snakes caught in a drain and being pulled out by some bloke trying to impress his children.

But the worst involved this scene set somewhere in the Galapagos Islands I think, or in similar terrain where a hatchling lizard with short stumpy legs sprang forth out of the sand into the daylight.

The Richard Attenborough type voice over talked about the hatchling’s dangerous climb up the rocks to safety from the moment of its birth.

This little lizard was surrounded on all sides by an army of black slithering snakes, which advanced upon him, managed to catch him and bound themselves, snake over snake, around him. Somehow the lizard managed to escape and ran on determined across the sand, and up the rocks with still more snakes in pursuit. It seems he survived.

I’ve never seen anything like it.

I’m not phobic about snakes but this one sent shivers through me and left me in awe of the awesome awfulness of the natural world.

It felt like a way of remembering my surgery forevermore.

And then there were scenes of this gigantic spider, a black thing as big as your fist. The animal dramas went on and on.

Eventually, I couldn’t stop myself and the tears ran down my cheeks, in spite of my determination to hold it together. All these people attending to other patients and I didn’t feel I could complain or ask for anything.

One of the surgical assistants, or it might have been an anesthetist, noticed my distress and came over. I told her I’d been waiting a long time and the television in my face was distressing me. She was dressed from top to toe in blue overalls, with a shower type cap on her head and covers on her shoes, like everyone else, including me, all with hairnets over our hair.

‘The worst of it is not knowing what’s going on,’ I said.

She then went off in search of a tissue for me, which she couldn’t find anywhere, but also obviously talked to Brigid who came over with the TV remote, which meant I could turn the TV off.

I told the kind woman that I’d have preferred to read and she brought over a tray of magazines and we rifled through them hoping to find one of interest, but after she’d gone and I began to flick through the magazine she’d chosen I realised, without my glasses, I could only look at the pictures.

So I stared into space and listened to the frustrations of another surgeon who’d come to operate on a young woman who, from my eavesdropping, seemed to be in enormous pain from something within or around her abdomen.

The surgeon wanted her to pee before surgery and he sent her off to the toilet, and she struggled to walk as she leaned into her husband’s shoulder. She took forever to give up the required pee, probably because of the morphine, one of the nurses said, and the surgeon who stood outside the toilet door, which was to one side of the waiting bay area – I knew because I’d gone there myself after the first hour of that interminable wait – grew impatient.

Eventually, the surgeon all but banged on the door and told her to give up. He was on a schedule and couldn’t wait any longer. He’d catheterise her, he said, once she was under.

I could tell her English was not terrific, this beautiful dark haired Madonna whom I watched stagger past the foot of my bed, with her husband’s assistance, and back to her bed in the holding area, ready for surgery.

And the image that stayed with me: her pink underpants hanging loose over her husband’s shoulder.

This Madonna also wore a regulation backless hospital gown but she’d told one of the nurses earlier she preferred to keep her underwear on. I’d given up on mine a long time earlier. What was the point?

There is no dignity when you’re a patient in hospital.

They wheeled Madonna off and soon after a person from my surgical team came to say that my surgeon, was operating still on his first patient, a man in his forties, who had fallen from a ladder and broken both his wrists. Surgery on the first wrist had been straightforward, the surgeon’s associate told me, but the right wrist, which was the man’s primary hand, was proving much trickier and needed more time.

I wonder what became of my Madonna, and of the man who fell from the ladder, about whom a friend said later, after I had shared some of this story,

‘He won’t even be able to wipe his botty.’

I settled down then, just knowing what had caused the hold-up and soon after they came for me. My anaesthetist, a small spectacled woman who reminded me of my favourite nun from school, was not too fussed about my low heart rate. But when they strapped me up on the operating table and the assistant nurse noticed my skyrocketing blood pressure she came up close to my face.

‘Your blood pressure is at 200 ‘ she said.

It felt like an accusation.

I wanted to say, I’m sorry. I didn’t plan for this. My blood pressure soars when I’m under stress.

Perhaps she did not realise this. Nor could she or any of the other nurses and doctors abide my consistently low heart rate.

It must be an anomaly, they said, to be so low and with no symptoms.

And so it went on. My body refusing to cooperate, deviating from the norm.

My mind was a mess from this sudden break and interruption to my life, unplanned, unpredictable and filled with the horrors of the sudden accident and Bad Fortune. But my manuscript, which sent me to the stationers in the first place, still sits near by my rings.

Forlorn but hopeful.


Bad Fortune or a slip out of line

I had planned to go to the stationers in the afternoon to drop off my manuscript for printing and binding on what seemed an ordinary enough Saturday towards the end of spring.

The skies were heavy with the threat of rain but it wasn’t cold, only no signs of summer yet.

We’d missed the two hot days earlier that month when the mercury climbed above thirty while were away in Japan and it still felt as if we were in the middle of the year rather than hurtling towards the year’s conclusion.

I was travelling with my husband in a car bound home after our visit to the Telstra shop to sort out a new service line for him, when I mentioned my afternoon plans.

‘Why not go together now?’ my husband asked and I thought, why not indeed?

Let’s get this job over and done. There can be queues. You can wait for ages. Maybe this way I could drop off the manuscript and return later for collection.

In the store, the queue at printing department was short and my husband wandered off to look around. This store was like the lolly shop of stationary. A huge barn of shelving dedicated to the sale of all things business, and schoolwork, writing and typing and beyond. They also sold chair mats, one of which I’d been thinking about buying for under my new office chair.

I stood for only a few minutes before the woman at the desk took my USB, identified my document for printing, established the type of job I wanted and suggested it’d take about ten minutes. No point in going home with only a ten-minute wait.

I found my husband midway through the store. The shelves were pitched at a height that made it possible for someone of my height, 168 centimeters, or taller, to see over the tops of them and locate the grey haired, red capped head of my husband and together we strolled through to the chair mat section to take a look.

There were special shelves built to house the chair mats, which were several centimetres wide and long, with two varieties available, one that was smooth for hard surfaces and the other with a series of spikes worked into the surface to help grip onto carpeted floors.

One of the mats designed for carpeted floors had been left out on the floor below the shelving, smooth side up, and given its location I had no choice but to stand on it to get into the shelves and with my husband who stood at one side we dragged out a sheet to take a look.

‘I think maybe we should go for the smooth one, ‘ I said, picturing the floor in my office as part carpet only. The rest hard flooring. My husband was not so sure about this but happy to oblige.

As we tried to push the mat back onto the space allocated along the shelves where several mats lay piled one on top of the other, mats that were heavy to shift and gave resistance as you pushed them in or out, I found myself lose traction on the floor below my feet.

It happened in slow motion. I saw my husband reach out to grab me but it was too late. The mat beneath gave way. The spikes on this mat were designed to rest against carpeted not flat floors and so I lost my footing and hurtled backwards onto my bum.

I put out both my hands, palms flat on the floor to brace my fall, but the bulk of my weight went straight onto my left wrist, which must have snapped with the impact.

I knew as soon as I struggled back onto my feet, unhurt except for the sudden ache in my left hand and although I could wriggle my fingers and imagined therefore my wrist could not be broken, something felt very wrong.

‘We have to go to hospital,’ I said to my husband and sensed his annoyance, as if I had been clumsy.

‘Two hands for beginners,’ he likes to say, whenever he reckons I’m not thoughtful enough in trying to shift something. But any annoyance soon softened.

We went straight to the woman printing my manuscript.

‘I’ve hurt my hand,’ I said. ‘I slipped over back there and need to get to hospital.’

Alarmed, she ran off to get someone more senior from the store, a young man who asked what had happened and offered to call an ambulance.

‘It’s easier if I take her in the car,’ my husband said and within minutes we were onto Bridge Road on our way to the Epworth Hospital, but not before my husband had needed to open my door and strap on my seat belt.

I could not bear to stop holding up my hurt hand with my free hand and so avoid further pain.

It looked as though a bulge was rising along the ridge of my thumb and I could only think of my mother who in her late sixties, maybe seventies, when she was married for the second time, this time happily, collided with a trolley in the Safeway store car park and fell.

Although they set her arm in a cast, it never healed properly and her hand was deformed for the last twenty years of her life.

She hated the look of that hand, the bone jutting out along the end of her thumb, as if her wrist bone had travelled down and refused to sit in place.

I could go into all the details of what happened over the next three days, my time in hospital, the experience of having the bone in my arm ‘pushed and pulled’ back into place by the emergency doctor and his assistant doctor.

They put me out for it with the type of anaesthetic they use for colonoscopies, the sort of anaesthetic that leaves you with no memory of the event. But I can imagine the two men each pulling back my arm, one at the fingers, the other at my elbow yanking onto it so hard they’d given me a short shot of morphine, so that unlike in the movies, I didn’t need to clamp my teeth down hard on a clump of whiskey soaked cloth.

A second x-ray after this procedure established that further surgery to put in a plate and screws was necessary and scheduled for the next day.


They wheeled me down for surgery on the Sunday around ten in the morning and by one in the afternoon I was still waiting.

This is another long story and one that might need telling another day, the horror of it all, the loud and sudden breaking and all the time telling myself, this is what it is, an accident, misadventure, a chance fall.

To comfort me, my daughter in Japan who has an imagination as wild and free ranging as my own, when she first heard of the accident, predicted I’d fear the worst: that Bad Fortune had befallen me, as foretold.

So she took herself off to a shrine somewhere in Tokyo – I suspect the shrine close to the Imperial Palace, nearby to where she works – and ‘undid the curse’, with a written request for its reversal.

It all helps, these strange attempts to get a sense of control over something that was completely out of my control, which in my weakest moments I imagine was pre-determined by fate, some proof of my Bad Fortune, even as my rational mind tells me it was nothing other than an accident, one perhaps waiting to happen given the location of that chair mat on the flat floor, but an accident nevertheless.

It was not a sign of my inevitable Bad Fortune.