Terry Prone: Falling over backwards to give me a hand with my broken arm

The stool went out from under me and my brief flight ended with me on my back, with the crystal clarity that my arm was broken in two places
Terry Prone: Falling over backwards to give me a hand with my broken arm

Terry Prone broke and dislocated her elbow and wrist after falling off a stool trying to reach cat food.

If I admit I was standing on a barstool when it happened, you will go judgmental on me, but that’s the truth of it. 

It was a tall kitchen barstool with a small back on it. Safe as houses, that barstool, except when a fool stands up on it in order to get cat food out of a high press. That’s the point where things can – and in this case, did – go wrong. 

The stool went out from under me and my brief flight ended with me on my back, possessed of the crystal clarity that my left arm was broken in two places and the two cats were impatient over non delivery of their snack. Now, normally I am an action-oriented individual, but I couldn’t figure out an immediate solution for either problem.

This was last Sunday, eight days ago, at 10.45am. In the direct aftermath of the crash, apart from yelling at the cats not to be so goddam selfish, I mostly gathered information. 

Bouncing left and right established my hips were intact. My right hand probed the back of my head. No lump. That arm and hand intact. Almost the best of all possible outcomes, then.

I asked the friend who was visiting if she could take dictation. She sat at the computer and, from the floor, I dictated the second half of my Irish Examiner column to her. She worried aloud about not being a good speller. I told her my son would take care of that and he was due any minute.

When he arrived, he stood in what might have been awed silence, assessing the damage. 

He didn’t look disgusted, but when he took in the untypical angle of my wrist, for just a second, his face took on that expression of astonished distaste you expect to see on someone who suddenly finds themselves downwind of a slurry tank.

“Right,” he says. “Beaumont?” 

“Blackrock Clinic,” I reply.

“Why?” 

“What’s VHI for?” 

He doesn’t call me a smoked salmon socialist. He just rings them and starts giving them the details like he was a guard radio-reporting a random accident to garda HQ.

“I have a woman here who’s experienced a severe fall.” 

He adds a year to my age in the process, which enrages me but does’t seem a priority for correction right then. A pause indicates they’re telling him something and his face indicates he doesn’t like it.

“Sorry?” he says, sounding startled. “An appointment?” 

I’m kind of startled, too. It seems oddly formal, for an emergency department in one of the private hospitals. Paul Reid recently relinquished, to set up an appointment to see someone one of whose arms is twisted into roughly a Swiss roll configuration. 

But that’s Covid-19 for you. Changed everything. The hospital say they can offer an appointment at 12 o’clock. It is now 11. Seems reasonable. 

My son gets me upright - no easy task. I bellow with agony and he puts me in his car, securing the Swiss roll arm in a bedsheet which acts as a sling. 

He drives a vast Merc that’s nearly as old as I am. He drives it well. But every time the new road bypassing Donabate veers to the right even a little, the pain is spectacular. I try for silent stoicism. Epic noisy fail.

Once they have me on a trolley and x-ray me, they tell me the orthopaedic consultant has been called but action must happen before he arrives. 

I take this with suspicion. But not much suspicion, due to the morphine they’ve hit me with. I find morphine tends to eliminate the evils of life more completely than prayer. They explain my elbow is dislocated and broken, but that’s not the immediate problem.  

I tranquilly agree to this proposition. The immediate problem is that the wrist is also broken and dislocated. That sensation of icy coldness I mentioned earlier is because the broken bones are sitting on an artery and have cut off the circulation to the hand. 

Oh, I say with the serene bravery of a Beau Geste, gangrene. Well, not in the next hour or so, they say, but still. 

But still what, I ask, labouring a little with the narrative thread.

"Look, they need to yank your hand forward to get the bones off the artery," my son offers, cutting to the chase. 

I venture the view that local anaesthetic would be good but Dr Michael Quirke mutters something about Fentanyl. Oh, I say. The thing Prince died of. Or was it Michael Jackson? 

The gathered experts agree on Propofol as the sleep-inducer that did Jackson in. I ask about the differences between Fentanyl and Propofol and get blank stares because without me noticing, they’ve knocked me out, yanked my arm, and now Eric Tyrell, the best nurse since Nightingale and a whole lot more civil than she ever was, is taking me back to x-ray where they find the wrist bones are now where they should be, so gangrene has receded as an issue, but the elbow continues to be rubbish. 

That’s close to what they say, although they are blame averse and only reluctantly state that it’s my unstable joints are causing the problem with the elbow. I open my mouth to argue and they knock me unconscious again, before bringing me back to a radiologist who must be getting good and sick of my repeated visits on an otherwise quiet Sunday afternoon.

Eric, the nurse I am nominating for the Nobel prize, shows me the wedding ring he has slid off my finger before swelling would force them to cut it off. 

A new guy in the room says his name is Fintan, thereby establishing him as that rare thing, a consultant who doesn’t want to be reverentially ‘Mistered.’ 

He outlines three treatment options and I wait for him to tell me which he’s going to deploy. He doesn’t. When I look puzzled, he shrugs. ‘It is your arm,’ he says fair-mindedly.

I pick, briefly meet a cheerful anaesthetist (has to be another first) and wake up in a bed. I text a surgeon pal to impress him with my destruction, but then get beneficiently distracted by a beaker of coffee and a chicken sandwich. 

Does any food or drink taste as good as what you ingest after a surgical fast?

Just before sleep, a porter arrives with a presentation bag of varied de luxe chocolates; my surgeon friend’s response to my text. This means breakfast the following morning consists of coffee, a coconut Lindt truffle and mild narcotics. Great combo.

Later on Monday, I arrive home, accompanied by two halves of the dress Eric regretfully cut off me. The whole thing had been a win/win. 

Nothing is as much fun as a Sunday spent with unpompous experts who clearly know what they’re doing and love doing it.

This Bank Holiday weekend is a bit dull, by comparison.

More in this section