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A Foot of Pain

by Terry Groves

part 1

Bones make a particular sound when they break; a handful of spaghetti snapped before being dropped into boiling water. That is what I heard just before I slammed into the floor.

One moment I am walking down the stairs, talking trash over my shoulder with my nephew, and the next, my cheek is pressed to the laminate floor, that awful spaghetti sound reverberating in my head.

Everything seems unnaturally calm, as though everyone in the room has sucked in a breath at the same time. Maybe everyone does, for just a moment, and then the screaming starts.

I think it is my wife. She’s like that, overreacting to little things. I try to speak up, to tell her to shut up or something, but I can’t do that. It is me screaming. I am looking at my foot, twisted and bent at a strange angle, and I guess the thought of seeing my ankle touching my calf is too much for me to keep quiet about.

Somewhere in the back of my mind I think, Someone needs to wash this floor, because I can smell the dust on it. Another part of my brain notes that the fresh paint smell isn’t as strong down here. I’ll have to tell my son; he hates the smell of paint. “Oil paint,” he’ll scoff; he’s a watercolour man.

I lie there, looking at my crooked foot wondering why I am yelling, because it doesn’t hurt. I blink a couple of times, and the action of the past few seconds registers in my mind. I’ve fallen and broken my ankle, badly, but it doesn’t hurt. So why am I screaming like a teenage girl in a horror movie?

Then life returns to the world, and the noise of the room rushes into my ears.

“Oh, my God!” my brother-in-law says.

“What happened?” my nephew asks.

“Are you all right?” That’s my wife. No screaming, but the concern in her voice is real.

Music is coming from a paint-speckled boom-box. I am now at eye level with it. A tinny voice squawks about a long-necked bottle that won’t let go of his hand, as if he really wants it to.

My wife runs across the room so fast I think she is going to crash into me. She is a slight woman but not light on her feet. It is never hard to figure out where she is in the house as long as she’s moving. Stomp, stomp, stomp, a minor stampede.

I flinch and pull my knees up, and then the pain slams up my leg in a searing jab of agony. I scream again but only a short bark this time, not my initial fire-engine wail. I stop moving and clamp my mouth shut. I am scaring myself. I blow a hard breath though my clenched teeth.

My wife drops to her knees and looks at my face. “Are you all right?” Her eyes plead with me to say yes. She is not one who takes tough news well, and her love for me is enormous. Anything that hurts me hurts her even more.

She appears calm, kind of how I feel inside. The whole thing seems to be happening to someone else, and I am just looking on; perhaps a movie on my plasma TV. The pain has leaked away, leaving a strange numbness at the end of my leg.

Her brow scrunches when I don’t answer her right away, and I know she is about to ask me the same question again. That is one thing that infuriates me about this woman who loves me so much; she never gives me time to put an answer together before she prods me again. As though she expects me to know what she is going to ask next, she wants those words out of my mouth right away, before I have time to gather them. Rage pushes away the last tendrils of pain from my foot then charges up my throat.

“Are you kidding me?” I scare myself again with the volume and fury behind my words. Air escaping from an over-filled balloon, the words blast out of me. “Look at my foot; does it look like it’s all right?”

Her head snaps back as though my words are attached to my hand. Then the water pools in her eyes, and I regret giving in to my anger. But it feels good to have somewhere to direct what is seething inside me. The only other person I have to blame is me, and I am already in enough pain.

“I’m sorry.” I get a grip on the fire in my emotion. She didn’t deserve that, even if it was the stupidest question in the universe at that very moment. I know she’s scared, concerned and just doesn’t know what else to do or say. “It actually doesn’t hurt that much right now.” So why was I yelling like a wimp? I feel pleased with the calm I hear in my voice considering the black that was there a moment ago.

“Can you stand?”

I look at my foot and wonder why everyone thinks that the best thing to do is get people up after a fall? What is it about standing up that is so important? I recall coming upon a motorcycle accident outside of Ottawa. The rider’s face was a mass of blood and gore from slamming into the shoulder, but the first thing people wanted to do, what the rider wanted to do in fact, was get him to stand up. Stand up! He’s just dumped his bike at highway speeds, smashed his face into the ground, no protection in those beanie helmets Harley riders prefer, and he should stand up? People can be so stupid when they really need to be smart.

I decide I’d better be smart, chomp back my words and say, “I don’t think so. I don’t think I should.”

“What should I do?” She has calmed down while the rest of the crowd draws in closer. They realize it is safe to move forward; I am rational again and ready to listen to their sage advice.

“Go boil some water. I might need it.”

She turns toward the kitchen. Her brother-in-law, Conan, takes her place. He has a strange smile on his face. I gather he understands my intention: get her busy doing something.

“Pain?” he cocks one eyebrow while placing a hand on my ankle. I tighten my jaw at his motion, but he just touches the skin, more pointing than anything.

“We can carry you,” my nephew offers. Good lad, eighteen and probably smarter than the rest of us put together.

“Get him a chair. Doesn’t look so bad.” Had I just thought the lad was smart? There has been talk of him becoming a doctor. He better do some work on his diagnostic skills.

“Just leave me a second. Give me a little space. It feels like everyone’s on top of me.” Which, of course, they are, leaning in; vultures over a carcass. They shuffle back a few inches.

After a few minutes I am certain I am in deep shock. There is still no real pain, and my rage has retracted to a small point in the back of my brain; a black hole sucking in all my anger and panic.

My wife has returned to tell me the kettle is on the stove. I am glad she’s back, because it allows the rest of them to return to their duties. They are on the clock, and no one works for free except my nephew; he’s working for Cokes, but at the rate he’s been sucking them back, he’s pretty expensive, too.

Conan is cracking jokes about amputation and such and actually makes me laugh a bit.

“Bring me a chair.”

“You sure?”

“Can’t lie here all day.”

Conan helps me struggle onto the chair. I feel the bones grind, and I moan even though there is no real pain, just that blank feeling at the end of my leg.

Once I’m in the chair, I pull up my pants leg.

“Doesn’t look bad.” I look around for the source of the echo but only see a master of the understatement. He sips at his cola.

At “not bad,” the black hole in my brain flares into a supernova; the foot is lying at a right angle to my leg, and the skin is deep blue. I can see the points of bone just below the skin. The only way it could look worse would be if it was across the room from me.

“It’s a bit swollen,” my wife observes.

“What’s the matter with you?” I feel the rage building in my throat. “A little swelling?”

They look at me and then at each other. Their faces are closed, stoic, calm. It dawns on me; they are underacting so they don’t panic me.

“I need to get to the hospital.” Panic or no, something more than first-aid is necessary. I get the process moving.

“Can we get you to the car?” Conan asks.

“What about an ambulance?” I can’t imagine getting this foot to the door.

“That’s about $200, you know,” Conan warns.

“He’s got good extended medical,” my wife advises.

“It’ll take at least twenty minutes for them to get here. I can drive you in ten.”

“We can carry him to the car.”

“All right.” I lose control of the calm in my voice. “Let’s get going before the bones start to heal.”

“It’s not broken.”

“It is, look at it.”

“Doesn’t look broken.”

“Get me to the car. I’ll lie across the back seat.”

With Conan under one arm, nephew under the other, they lift me, and I hobble-hop to the car. I use my good foot to support the dangling one as I slide across the back seat. I struggle to fasten the seat belt and snicker at the irony. A million ways to die, and the best protection our government can come up with is to make us wear our seat belts. They’ll let convicted murderers out on the street while they wait for their appeal, knowing seat belts will protect the population.

The vehicle rattles and shakes; I am certain Conan is aiming for every pothole. I try to not watch my foot flopping against the seat, my stomach gurgles as the bones continue to grind. Pain seeps through my shock, radiating up my leg in prickles. Sharp jabs cause me to suck in my breath during the more violent jarring.

Conan keeps up his usual banter. “Really doesn’t look that bad. I’ve seen bad... blah blah.” Is he trying to make me feel better? Distract me from the gravity of my injury? Could be. Every once in a while I’ve seen some wise depth to things he does that just seem cruel at first glance.

“Guess I should drop you off right at the emergency entrance?”

“Unless you want to carry me from the parking lot.”

“Well, I was actually hoping to avoid that. If I go in there, I gotta pay that parking fee.”

Is he kidding me? My foot’s dangling by a few threads of skin, and he’s worried about a buck and a half parking fee. Whatever.

After a few moments of staring each other down, Conan gets out and opens my door. Then he stands there as though waiting for me to leap out and dance.

“Get me a wheelchair,” I demand. His head snaps back.

“Whatever,” Conan waves a hand, “but this needs to be quick. I can’t leave the car here long.”

He returns with a chair. I slide across the seat and climb on. It’s not a conventional wheelchair. I recall a news article revealing new-style chairs designed to deter theft and corridor races. The occupant of the chair can’t make it go; the wheels are too small. Conan pushes me inside.

The waiting room is full. Conan speaks for a moment with a nurse at the desk then says, “They will get you through. Call if you need a ride home.” Then he points his index finger at me and smiles. He looks like a cowboy about to gun down a desperado. “You got your cell, right?”

What’s racing through my mind is: “If you need a ride.” What does he think? That the hospital is going to fit my cast with rollerblades? I want to bite off his finger, but I draw back my rage. “Whatever.” I dismiss him with a wave.

The chair is uncomfortable; there is no way to keep my foot from dangling unsupported. I feel like vomiting, seeing it wave and waggle on the end of my leg. I expect to be rushed in once someone looks at it. When the triage nurse finally pulls up my pants leg, she gives me an odd look. “We’ll get to you as quick as we can; we have a bit of a rush.”

My confidence in emergency handling of patients wanes as I watch patient after patient be led through the red doors. I know that’s the treatment area; this isn’t my first trip here. Some of those led through the red door arrived after me. One was a kid wiping his runny nose on his sleeve. A cold, a cold gets treated before a severed limb? Maybe the emergency doctor is new and needs something easy to work on as a warm-up. Maybe it’s the kid’s brains leaking out his nose and not just a gob of snot.

The wait becomes intolerable. My head lolls on my neck, my eyes heavy from fighting the pain. I doze off; my head falls back waking me with a start. This causes me to jerk my foot. Pain flares in a red hot line from heel to brain. By the time a smiling attendant jerks my chair, moving me toward the red door, I don’t recognize any of the faces in the waiting room. Busy day for serious cases, indeed.

Proceed to part 2...

Copyright © 2018 by Terry Groves

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