One split second is all it took: head spinning, sense of falling, no controlling, BAM!! And just like that, I was on the floor with a level of pain I didn’t think possible.
That one split second determined my life for the next three months. It sent me to the emergency room with a broken hip, to the operating room, to walking with a walker, to two weeks in a rehab facility, and when I finally got home, to many weeks in physical therapy.
What a pain in the butt.
It’s been a wild ride. Once the pain subsided (thank you, drug companies), the 2½ weeks spent in the hospital and rehab facility were actually somewhat… interesting. Maybe I should write a book about how to survive – even enjoy – hospital life.
The first chapter? “Rethinking modesty in a hospital setting.” Forget everything your mom taught you about the privacy of your body. In the hospital, nothing’s sacred about body parts or bodily functions. Everything is out in the open. Literally.
Think of it as taking your car to the mechanic, who carefully probes everything under the hood, inspects the underside, and flips your trunk wide open, just to be sure. In the hospital, you’re that car.
It starts early. The nurse comes in as cheerful as a bluebird in springtime. She asks you how you slept, if you ordered your breakfast, and how long since your last bowel movement… all in the same bluebird voice. So what do you do? You answer… all three questions. She checks your blood pressure, makes her notes, and flits out to the next room.
In rehab, my occupational therapist came in for our very first session. OT, she explained, is re-learning the normal things of everyday life, given your injury. Things like putting your shoes and socks on, getting up from a low chair, and taking a naked sponge bath with the help of a young woman you don’t know. (I was praying that none of my son’s female friends worked as an OT there.) We went from the sponge bath to putting my pants on, to standing up from a low chair. There was a chronology to it, I guess, but she could’ve warned me.
Since l had a broken hip, I was forbidden to get up by myself. For anything. That’s what the nurse call button is for. It’s also why there’s an alarm on the bed that loudly sounded if I got anywhere near the edge. That alarm ensured that I never went to the bathroom by myself; I always had to bring a friend. I got used to it. (At home now, I get kinda lonely going to the bathroom by myself.)
The second important skill for hospital survival is learning how to eat. Nobody goes to a hospital for the cuisine, so I had low expectations going in. But I figured if I was hungry, I could eat institutional food.
I was wrong. Even when I ordered the things nobody could ruin – scrambled eggs, hamburger – it was inedible. So I had to make a plan.
Breakfast was pretty easy. I ordered things they couldn’t cook: cold cereal, fresh fruit, and cartons of milk.
For lunch, cold sandwiches were not on the menu. I called the kitchen and asked if they could make me a simple sandwich: PB&J, ham with lettuce and mayo, toasted cheese. They were happy to do it.
Dinner was toughest. No way was I going to try the meat loaf. That’s when I hoped Carole would bring me something.
With some planning, I ate okay. Corn flakes haven’t changed since childhood, PBJ is still the essential comfort food, and I could always improvise for dinner. The key is to figure out how to get around that menu.
The third and most important piece to know about survival in the hospital? It’s all about the nurses and nurses’ aides. Your interactions with them, including inquisitive bluebirds, will determine whether your stay is pleasant or rocky. Mine was wonderful because of the nursing staff.
My first day after surgery, the nurse on duty took me through orientation: nurse call button, TV control, not getting out of bed by myself, etc. And then, “Okay, hon, let’s get you into a clean gown.” Many of the older nurses called me “hon.”
I quickly complied, removing shirt, t-shirt, and pants. I left my undies on, as any self-respecting, God-fearing gentleman would do. “No, hon, underwear, too. The doctor wants those incisions to get air. Don’t worry, I’ve seen it all.” So much for respecting myself and fearing God. Off they went, my underwear and my modesty.
The young nurses didn’t call me hon; that would have been strange. But some of them called me “Mr. Larry,” which was strange in a different way. I was uncomfortable with it. More often than not, those young nurses were from India. I finally asked one of them about Mr. Larry. She said that back home, that was the regular way of addressing someone with respect. Similar to Mr. Mitchener here. I wouldn’t have learned that if I didn’t feel comfortable enough to ask one of my nurses.
The entire nursing staff at the rehab center, especially the assistants, were hard working, competent and very welcoming. I was never embarrassed by anything, and neither were they. Their job was to make my time there as comfortable and therapeutic as possible, and that’s exactly what they did. At the end of two weeks, I was dying to get home. But I also realized that I’d made some friends I’d never see again. It made me want to go to the bathroom one last time for a group hug.
That one split second is fading into the rear-view mirror now. The bones have healed, the pain has lessened, and I’m becoming more mobile. I’ve learned a lot from this experience. The biggest lesson – the most important gain from all this pain – is that a broken hip is nothing. It’s fixable. This time next year, I won’t even remember which hip it was.
As a close friend and part-time philosopher has told me many times, what we think are pains are not serious pains at all. It’s not living in the Ukraine.
A broken hip’s just a pain in the butt. For a while.