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.