‘What’s the matter with your leg then?’

The day before the Hartlepool Festival I had an accident, my knee dislocated and it was the worst pain I’ve ever experienced in my life.  If you are a bit squeamish then it’s probably best not to read on at this point – to be honest, for the last two weeks even telling people about it (everyone wants to know) makes me feel faint.

I’d been in Hartlepool for all of an hour, been round a few of the venues we were due to use for the festival and I was hungry and bursting for the loo, so we headed back to Crump’s house for refreshments.  I got through the door and her dog jumped up to say hello, I must have been at the wrong angle because his little jump knocked my leg and my knee popped out of place.

I shouted something like ‘ahhhhhhh dislocated knee’ and it took Joan and Jonny a couple of seconds to realise what I was saying. One got me a chair and the other put the dog out of the way.  My knee has dislocated many times before –  the first was nearly 20 years ago, the last about 9 or 10 years ago, this is probably number 18 – but for all but two it has put itself back in. The only exceptions being the first time, when I popped it back in myself, not knowing that you shouldn’t, when I was 12 and the other time when I dived into a pool and hit the water at the wrong angle popping it out when I was about 14.  That time I had to knock it back in, tread water and get to the side without drowning.  The lifeguards were at the far end of the pool chatting.

This time it didn’t go back in and so I said they needed to get an ambulance.  I tried to slow my breathing down and I kept trying to wiggle my toes in my left foot because I was worried that I might have cut off the circulation a bit. I’ve seen way too many medical dramas.

Jonny was on the phone to the ambulance dispatcher, had to hand it over to me. ‘Are you breathing ok?’ ‘Well yes, I’m talking to you.’ ‘Is your chest hot and clammy?’ ‘Yep, I’ve got a coat and scarf on… look I’m going to faint in about 10 seconds and so you’d better send someone to get me.’  I think after saying that I must have fainted because the next thing I remember was coming out of a dream with Crump holding me onto the chair.  I couldn’t feel my hands, they were just pins and needles.  Apparently I’d been unconscious for over a minute, clasping and unclasping my hands and going a bit blue.  Probably clasping my hands wasn’t the best of options because my left hand was on my patella, which was in the wrong place still.  At some point Joan shouted ‘Do they want to know her favourite f**king colour?’ which I thought was funny, but the dispatcher apparently didn’t.

They kept apologising for the dog, but it wasn’t his fault, I think I was just stood at the wrong angle.  I told them I was really sorry if I wet myself on their chair and floor.  Luckily I didn’t. The pain in my leg was almost unbearable, I saw the ambulance draw up through the glass to the side of the door, which was closed and I was sat behind. I started to panic, how was I going to get out?

I didn’t really see the paramedics, one was behind me, the other one gave me gas and air, which helped a little bit, and tried to get me to calm my breathing down, I guess I was going into shock a little, and that’s not really a good thing.  They asked me some questions and they told me I had to get onto the wheelchair to get me to the ambulance.  I had to manoeuvre myself because they couldn’t lift me, so I had to try and pivot (Pivot!) onto my right leg and shuffle along, but every time I tried to move I just creamed in pain.  I’m not a screamer, I couldn’t stop myself, the pain shooting through my leg and then my thigh muscles started to twitch.  My knee cap started moving a bit which just made me scream and sob even more.  She just kept saying ‘If it goes back in then you’ll feel much better’ which I know is true, but I was so scared of the pain and the thought of it moving that I could do nothing but cry and almost give up.  I don’t know how long it took to get me onto the chair, the gas and air made my head feel lighter and I remember my voice sounding like reverse helium.  They got me out of the house and up into the ambulance, every single little knock – and there seemed to be a lot of them – was agony and kept me screaming. I have no idea what the neighbours thought was going on.  Crump as going to come with me to the hospital, but I told her to stay.  I already felt bad that I was disrupting the festival prep and I know it would have been worse if she was sat with me and unable to keep doing stuff ready for the next day.

The next challenge was when I was in the ambulance, I had to get myself onto the gurney from the chair and they couldn’t lift me onto it.  I was exhausted and scared, a little light headed from the gas and air and I just wanted to go to sleep and for it all to be done with.  I couldn’t stop screaming each time I moved even a millimetre. One of the ambulance ladies said ‘All this screaming’s getting you nowhere, pet.’ I said sorry, I couldn’t help it. I couldn’t work out how to shift my weight to the right.  I’m the sort of person who can’t walk downstairs if I start thinking about it halfway down.  I don’t know how I did it, but I got on the gurney, they propped my knee up with pillows or something and we started the half hour drive to Stockton to the nearest A&E that can deal with dislocations.  I felt every twist and turn on that journey.  No nee-naw sirens and lights for me either.

I must have been almost slipping out of consciousness because she kept asking me questions, I think she was filling in forms too, I just sobbed to myself and kept my eyes closed because that was the only way to pretend that this wasn’t happening.

Eventually we got to the hospital, I saw both paramedics for the first time; I had the impression that one was dark and the other blonde, but both had brown and seemed almost indistinguishable to me. I was wheeled into the A&E, they had to transfer me to another breathing thingy, as I’d almost used up the one from the ambulance. A doctor called Chris introduced himself and said they couldn’t give me any morphine yet as they didn’t have my medical records.  I assured them that the only thing is that I’m allergic to plasters and it would be fine. I begged them to knock me out but he said that they’d not give general anaesthetic for a dislocation; that can kill people! I told him that would be fine with me! They wouldn’t.  The nurse put a cannula in my left hand.  I kept sucking on the gas and air, they gave me some anti-sickness medication and then the morphine.  It didn’t work straight away like I thought it would but it did help a bit. They put the little clip on my finger that measures your pulse and blood oxygen.  I could hear the blip that represented my heartbeat, mostly quite slow, but then every time I thought about my knee (still out of place at this point) it sped up loads and I had to calm myself again.  I kept my eyes closed the whole time, when I did open them again there was a female doctor near my head, saying there were lots of them but they were just watching if that was ok.  I said it was fine, they had to learn somehow and I would guess that this was not something that they saw every day. I kept asking them not to put me into a full leg cast – that’s what the doctor said would have to happen when I was 12, but he put me in a tubigrip instead.

I closed my eyes again, kept breathing in the gas and air, screaming into it as Doctor Chris did something to my knee cap to get it back in place – I think he just sort of ‘walked’ it sideways back into place.  I kept on crying to myself with my eyes closed, they were talking about what sized splint I needed and 18 or a 20. I told them that actually I’m about a 16. They said no, it’s more about the length, I replied that I knew that but I was being funny. They didn’t laugh. I would have done.

After that the morphine must really have kicked in, combined with the fact that my leg was back together because I know I was drifting into sleep a bit.  That or passing out, because the nurse said something and put me on an oxygen mask for a bit.  I tried opening my eyes, but it really was like in films and tv shows where everything looks a bit blurry and odd.  I don’t know how long it took, but I kept fading in and out a bit. The nurse tried to reassure me that I’d be taken to x-ray soon to get it checked.  A cleaner came in to empty bins and was chatting to me about the cruise he and his boyfriend had just been on. He was fun, I liked him.

I got wheeled to x-ray and left in a bay next to a girl sitting with her mum.  On the way through a man in scrubs walked past me saying ‘Was that you doing all that screaming? Just because you dropped a handbag on your knee!’  He didn’t sound like he was joking, he just made me really angry and want to cry more.  People kept walking past and staring at me.  I started to feel sick, two ladies came to take me through and I told them I was going to be sick.  They got me a basin just about in time for me not to vomit all over myself.  I apologised some more, I seemed to be apologising a lot – for disrupting the festival prep, annoying the paramedics, not being able to move myself quickly enough for them, for being a nuisance, for screaming, for crying, for being sick.  They were concerned about not getting a good enough picture with the splint on my leg and after a quick nervous looking exchange decided that they probably shouldn’t remove it. I agreed with them.

More wheeling, this time back to my A&E bay to wait for results, that took a little while and then after being reassured there was no break or fracture, I was taken around to a little room on my own.  I was vomiting a lot now, apparently a reaction to the morphine.  So that’s good to know.  One nurse handed me over to another – do I have to know her history? – no, she’ll not be here for long, just waiting until the sickness passes then she can go home.

Other patients passed the open door, one woman who had fallen from a horse and had no memory of it, and older woman who had had some sort of fall and had an issue with her hip.  A drunk guy who kept trying to go out for a smoke and kept being ushered back to his bed.  Each time a nurse checked on me I was sick again.  I did want to leave and just go to sleep but each time I felt better a wave of nausea hit me again.  I tried calling for a nurse, but no one heard me. I heard someone asking why 7 hadn’t left yet (that was me) and there was a reply about being sick.

Eventually a nurse came in with some crutches for me, saying I needed to get up and about a bit.  I explained that I’d not been to the toilet since about 8 that morning so I’d need to go really soon, but that I’d also not eaten for about the same length of time so I’d probably need something otherwise I’d be so shaky I’d not be able to make it to the toilet.  She went away and took what seemed like ages to bring back a snack bag for me.  I managed to eat a biscuit  and drink a small orange juice, which gave me enough energy to get moving, but no one thought to tell me where the toilet was and then one lady seemed annoyed that I’d asked.  I managed to hobble over there in time, but it was difficult, the splint was from my ankle to half way up my thigh and wouldn’t allow my knee to bend at all.

I got back to my room and tried to eat half a sandwich but couldn’t keep it down.  It took a couple of hours for me to manage to keep down the packet of crisps, I texted Joan to fetch me please and they said I could get going.  I asked what I was meant to do, should I sleep in the splint? Did I need to get referred? Should I keep off it entirely? ‘Oh, has no-one spoken to you? I’ll find a doctor.’  Doctor Chris came back and said it was funny because my pupils were still really small, apparently when they give people morphine it wears off a lot quicker because they have a higher tolerance to drugs.  Obviously I’m a clean living kind of girl. He said that usually they would refer me to orthopaedics and physio, but since I’m in a different medical region my GP would need to.  But I could leave and just had to take it easy.

After sitting in the waiting room for a bit (again, I had to find it myself, there was a lot of assuming that I knew my way around) Crump came to fetch me and we had pizza at her house.

There was no point in me coming back so I stayed for the festival, I did palm off a bit of work to some of the others and Sandra very kindly drove me home on Sunday night, instead of Jo driving me on Monday, so I could speak to the doctors.  I rang at 8.30 in the morning, got a call back from the triage doctor, she said she’d find the best way to refer me and then called me back at half seven in the evening to say she’d managed to get me referred to orthopaedics, via the fracture clinic.  So for the last two weeks I’ve still been going to work, mainly because I don’t like being invalided out and also because I’m too poor to take time off. Arrangements have been made at the shop so that I’m not standing the whole time, even with a crutch and I’m saving my sick days in case I need an operation.  I’m down to using one crutch and keeping my knee bandaged.  After two weeks I can manage a few steps un-aided, so take the crutches out with me but I’m too scared to try and put weight on it without some form of bandaging on.

I’m due into the fracture clinic on the 2nd November, so then I should hear what can be done about this.  It’s not happened in so long that I thought I was past it.  I was saying to my mum only a few days before that I’ve been feeling the best I have in years, not feeling depressed or full of despair, feeling confident in myself again, like I can actually do things without worrying about failing. I don’t want to be afraid that my body is going to fail me again, so I’m going to have to throw myself into physiotherapy and hopefully strengthen the muscles so that this doesn’t happen again.  After two weeks I’ve mostly forgotten the pain, I don’t feel like I’m going to faint re-telling it here.  I’m sorry if I’ve made any of you feel ill by reading it, but then I did give you a disclaimer at the start, so it’s sort of your own fault.  And let’s face it, you’ve not had to physically go through it all, so you’ve come out on top really, haven’t you!

One thought on “‘What’s the matter with your leg then?’

  1. I remember the time at uni whe your knee went. This sounds so much worse. Good luck at the fracture clinic, and lots of sympathy.

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