I’ve used this aluminum ladder for years. It came with the house. Going up to the roof has always included leveling the ladder, jumping up and down on the first rung to test it, then taking several careful steps up the rungs until I can place my left hand onto the sloping part of the porch roof for support. The difference this time is that the ladder is on a 4’ x 8’ piece of fiberboard left over when the contractor brought the new kitchen appliances onto the back porch. Since I’ve already been up and down a couple of times, I figure it’s okay. Big mistake. Several rungs up, a split second before my arm reaches the safety place, the ladder abruptly slides out from under me backwards.
“Oh my God, oh my God!” I cry as I fall. I feel myself twisting and bumping my head, my nose rubbing against wood, and add, “I’m dead, I’m dead!”
I land in a patch of periwinkle, dry sticks and dirt, perpendicular to the ladder with my legs stuck under the fiberboard. I’m still trying to work this landing out in my mind. Did thirty years of aikido falls, many of them aerial, have something to do with it? Was I trying to flip myself to a safe place? Maybe.
Wayne rushes out from the kitchen. “Are you okay?”
I look down and see that my left thigh is somewhat misshapen, and my left wrist is bent at an appalling angle.
“Should I try and pull you out?” he asks, beginning to put his hands under my shoulders.
“No, this looks really bad,” I grunt through my teeth. “I think we’re going to have to call 911.”
While Wayne goes inside to get the phone I wiggle my toes and fingers, relieved to feel sensation in them. My head and back feel okay, too.
My poor husband. He doesn’t come from a medical family like I do, plus he struggles with anxiety/depression, a veritable taffy-pull of emotions under stress. But I hear him speaking with the 911 dispatcher and he sounds confident before ringing off.
“Honey,” I call from my spot in the periwinkle, “can you please load a pipe and bring it out here? I think I’m going to need it.”
Several minutes later my pain is reduced by that great, naturally medicinal Oregon pain reliever which has become legal.
“Can I at least lift the fiberboard off ?” Wayne asks.
I nod, and he gently picks up one end, exposing my feet. He upends the fiberboard and carries it off.
The Talent-Phoenix Fire Department arrives shortly after that.
“Brian, I’d like you to meet my wife, Leanne,” Wayne says to the first one who comes around the back of the house.
They survey the situation, ask me about my head and back, what day it is, where I think I am and who is the President, all which I answer correctly. They call an ambulance. I’m making jokes now, resigned to my injury. I can’t help it. That’s how I was raised to deal with trauma. My father was a doctor. We always cracked jokes to relieve tension.
The EMTs arrive moments later.
“Don’t worry, we’ve got some great drugs,” they assure me.
“Whoa, go easy at first,” I say. “I’m not used to the hard stuff.”
By now the afternoon sun is beating down on us in the backyard. My nose is covered in blood on the outside and a fly keeps trying to land in it.
They splint my left arm. The hard part will be straightening my leg to get a splint on it.
I can feel the bones in my thigh shifting and bumping around. I’m morphine-infused now, so each time they shift me I try to relax into the new position.
“Am I in shock?” I ask.
“No,” Brenda, the female EMT answers.
Wayne returns with some big pieces of cardboard and holds them over us, shielding us from the sun.
“Isn’t my husband the greatest?” I drawl.
It takes a little while to get the splint to fit me, but they finally do. I shriek as I’m lifted out. They set me on the stretcher, strap me in and we’re off. No one’s watching when I grab the fly, who has successfully landed on my bloody nose, and throw it into the periwinkle.
Being carried on my back through our backyard is dizzying and scary, but I have the presence of mind to call out to Sofie, our shy tuxedo cat holed up in my office, “I’m okay, Sofie! I’ll be back soon!”
I’ve been here since 2002. Totally on my own until 2009, when Wayne moved up here from Texas. I’ve painted both buildings, cut my own firewood for the wood stove with a chainsaw, and performed a number of other property-maintenance duties (such as climbing up on the roof dozens of times). I never once slipped or got hurt. As they load me into the ambulance I look out at the oak trees and breathe a deep sigh of gratitude to my property for protecting me during all those years I was here alone.
Wayne ducks in the side door to tell me that he will be right behind us.
“I’m sorry,” I tell him.
“Don’t worry,” he says, kissing me.
They close the doors and I looked up at the female EMT attending me. “Is it okay if we don’t turn on the siren?”
The trees over our road fly by. I briefly wonder how an accident like this will impact our kitchen renovation and our finances at large, then forget about it. Apparently morphine doesn’t take the pain away as much as it makes you not care about things.
When we arrive at the hospital they slide the gurney out from the ambulance and everything begins to spin. Contrary to my drug-induced joviality a few minutes ago, I’m instantly terrified. The only thing I can think to do is mentally call out to my late father, the doctor, to please come and be with me. “Dad! I’m really, really scared!”
“What the hell were you doing on the roof anyway?” they ask.
“Hey, it’s me, remember?” Sigh…
I tell the doctor to just cut my funky old work clothes off. I was going to throw them away after today anyway.
They all look at my x-rays, but I can’t. It’s enough just to see my husband and friends looking at them, shaking their heads and gasping in disbelief. Apparently I’ve shattered my left femur and broken and dislocated my left wrist. Moments later a surgeon arrives.
“We can fix this,” he tells us. “We’ll get you walking again in six months. You’re lucky. When this happened in the past, people usually just died.”
Walking in six months?!? You don’t understand! I have a season pass at Mt. Ashland!
They take me up to my room on the 5th floor, where another painful, teeth-gritting transfer to my bed takes place. Wayne helps me get settled. This purports to be a difficult evening. I’m not allowed to have anything more than a few pieces of ice to suck on, I’m very high on drugs and seriously bewildered. Strangely enough, the one image that keeps reoccurring in my mind is the little purple raspberry icon from Candy Crush Saga, like the very simplest of mandalas designed to keep me distracted.
After Wayne leaves, a young male nurse comes in and carefully asks my permission to wash me. Twigs and leaf bits are still clinging to my hair, and I’m too terrified to even try to move, but I say yes. Then, during an attempt to turn me onto one side to wash my back, I finally burst into tears, crying, “I can’t, I can’t!” The nurse holds me for a moment, and then manages to reach under me and sponge my back. Afterwards, I throw up. They have these new throw-up bags that are more reminiscent of airline sickness bags, where you can just hold it over your mouth and not spill any.
A visiting nurse tells me, “I want you to remember two things: Brush your teeth after each meal, and breathe in deeply through your nose and out your mouth and often as you can.”
I attempt to use a bed pan and fail miserably. Trying to fit a plastic tray 3” deep under my sagging, middle-aged butt with just one hand while being scared to roll even 1” over to my bad side, then lying there waiting for something to happen… not a chance. So they hook me up to a “foley,” which is another word for catheter.
There isn’t much sleep to be had in the hospital, as people come into the room every hour at least, to check on me. Plus I’m on major pain killers with an IV needle in my right hand. But they have warm blankets! Terrified and alone in a hospital, these warmed-up blankets calm my nerves and keep me from bottoming out completely.
The next morning they wheel me down to the operating room and I have a fleeting image of meeting the anesthesiologist. My needs are basic: All I have to do is get through this and I can get more water.
Then… I’m in the recovery room. “Water! Water!” I think I’m yelling, and wonder why the nurses are going about their business, ignoring me. Most likely they just don’t hear me due to my cry actually being a faint sigh. Soon I get a tiny amount of water.
My wrist is splinted and bandaged but there’s no cast on my left leg. Eventually they wheel me back to my room where I get more water! I guzzle it gratefully, then promptly throw it up.
Later I wake up to Wayne quietly decorating my room. I look at the clock and see that it’s 7 p.m.! “Long surgery,” he tells me. "Nearly six hours." He’s brought a framed picture of my father and placed it on a shelf overlooking my bed. Then he pins our Cat Identifier poster I made for the cat-sitters, with pictures and short descriptions of all our cats onto the bulletin board. Several friends have stopped by during the day, leaving an array of flowers and candy. I doze off…