A Slight Intermission Before Returning to the Broken Ankle Saga
When we last pondered broken bones and other bodily harm, I confessed about Mom…not just about her propensity to fracture her ankles, but her tendencies to concoct wild-ass stories about them. Before I displayed the inherited trait of clumsiness-resulting-in-destroying-one’s-lower-limbs, I never considered altering the facts behind the injury. Mind you, I had many boo-boos under my belt at a fairly early age. Not once did I think to lie about exaggerate the cause of my injuries…until later in life. At one point, I channeled my inner Clara, and did so with great ease.
My injuries, prior to the Year of Mari’s First Broken Ankle, were varied and numerous. I can categorize them: concussions; blood and guts; and broken bones. Ian Drury and the Blockheads had sex and drugs and rock’n’roll. I had thump and slice and snap’dem’bones. Methinks I will need to return for a concussion discussion. Unless I forget about that before circling back around to the topic. You know, really, I suffered a lot of concussions. I was not a dainty flower of a girl growing up. No sirree…I was a rough and tumble tomboy and, unfortunately, have some head trauma to show for it. My mom should have locked a helmet onto my head for the first 35 years of my life.
The blood and guts category has slightly fewer entries in it. I think I mentioned in a previous blog that Mom and her evil consort Fulldemerde (my late, former stepfather) found it prohibitively expensive to haul my young ass to various Emergency Rooms. Leading up to the decision to move to Kaiser Permanente (stat), I had already visited the ERs of Marin County for several injuries. Generally, we would not make the trek unless I was spurting blood like a Monty Python sketch, or seeing birds tweet around my head after concussing myself as if I were an NFL player. One particular injury was the culminating point of Mom and the Spawn of Satan not being able to perform their fiscal duties of paying for emergency room care.
It was a hot summer day. July in northern Marin could be brutally hot. Thankfully, we had a pool in the backyard. We were all frolicking in the water, with the exception of my brother. He was seven years old and could not swim, so his pool play involved a rubber swim vest called Tommy the Turtle. He was not overly amused, but without Tommy, he would sink or flap around and claim he was drowning. (The method of teaching my younger sibling to swim may be discussed later…if I remember).
The crowd in the pool this day consisted of Mom, Fulldemerde, my brother, likely our next door neighbors, and our 180lb Saint Bernard, Muttley. After splashing about for a few hours, I decided that the kids and canine needed Otter Pops. I jumped out of the pool and darted into the house without drying myself. I ran into the kitchen entrance, through a sliding glass door, rather than going through the carpeted side entrance. As I careened onto the tile floor, I slipped and fell headlong (or leglong) onto the treacherous stepstool. This horrid thing was a weapon, lurking in wait to cause bodily harm. Who had a stepstool with a sharp metal edge, anyway? Wet feet, dripping water, tile floor…a formula for mayhem. I slammed my shin straight onto that razor edge, cutting myself down to the bone. And, oh my, was there blood! I was a sanguineous, spurting mess. It was just a flesh wound, I thought, and certainly wouldn’t keep me from enjoying the pool or my Otter Pop. I simply ran to Mom’s bathroom (leaving a trail of blood in my wake), patched myself up with some gauze and ran back poolside.
At which point, my mom shrieked. She probably cried out in alarm because her spidey sense already deduced the gory mess I’d left inside. Mom removed my dressing, wide-eyed. The conversation that ensued was brief:
Mari, the Wee Princess of Denial (MWPD): “It is but a flesh wound. I’m fine. As soon as I finish my Otter Pop, I’ll just jump back into the pool and wash off both the sticky blood and the OP remnants.”
Saint Mother (SM): “Like Hell you will.”
MWPD: “Really. It’s hot out and I hear chlorine is good for wounds.”[In the background, my brother fainted at the sight of my blood and was momentarily left bobbing on the surface of the pool, buoyed by Tommy Turtle.]
Most Vile Fulldemerde (MVF): “Oh, let her back in the pool. It’ll be cheaper than hauling her injury-prone heiny to a hospital. Hey…is anyone gonna eat her Otter Pop”
Large Dog: “Woof. I just ate it. I think I’ll cannonball into the pool and take the OP from the unconscious boy, too.”
SM: “Mari, honey. Don’t be a fool. You have seriously slashed your leg. You need medical attention.
MWPD: “Pshaw…I channeled my inner Clara Barton. I’m fine. I even got to see my shinbone.”[My brother, who finally regained consciousness, fainted dead away again. Somebody hauled him out of the pool at this point.]
SM: Everyone leave. No, not you, Mari. You may need stitches. Saddle up…the rest of us are going to the ER.”
MWPD: “Stitches? STITCHES??? NOOOOOOOOOOOOOooooooooooooooooooo.”
MVF: “Stitches? Nooooooooooooooo. My poor wallet.”
And off we went. Muttley stayed home. But first, Mom did a much better job of patching up my gaping gash. For good measure, she wrapped my lower half in a beach towel. Our damp, chlorine-scented, bedraggled group tromped into the ER which, thankfully, was empty. I was whisked into a vacant room, where a crotchety old doctor tended to me. The laceration on my leg was not only deep, it was jagged. I think my brother fainted again.
Rather than just sew me up and let me go home, the doctor decided he needed to trim the wound. He determined that, since I was a girl, I would someday care about how my leg looked. I assured him that I would not. (I was right, BTW). He said that no young woman should have a jagged scar, so he’d fix it to make it a straight, hairline incision. I opined that a jagged scar would be cool – if a lightning bolt was good enough for Thor, it was good enough for me. I lost the argument.
So, Dr. Dingbat scooped out a lot of meat. And commenced sewing. Now, I was not a doctor, and this was before Holiday Inn Express came into being, but I didn’t think this was a good idea. My precocious, eleven-year old opinion was not desired. I was sent home with orders not to get my leg wet for two weeks. Two weeks without swimming. The horror.
Dr. Dingbat should have known that removing that much flesh on my shin would prolong the healing. My skin was stretched taut, and when the stitches were removed, the wound opened right back up. Dr. Dingbat said I should go to see a Plastic Surgeon, to fix my leg so that the scar wouldn’t be even worse than a cute little lightning bolt. I didn’t get a chance to refuse…Fulldemerde’s wallet did that for me. So, the medical staff applied far too many butterfly bandages to try to keep the wound closed and told me to stay out of the water for 2 – 4 weeks. Are you kidding me?
I mostly obeyed their orders. I devised all sorts of ways to get wet without soaking my leg. The simplest solution was to lie on the side of the pool and contort myself into such a position that I could get my upper body into the water. The most satisfactory solution was to get into an inflatable canoe (we did have some rockin’ pool toys) and prop my offending limb up on the gunwale. That worked well…and I could eat Otter Pops. My brother and Muttley wanted to join me when the Otter Pops appeared, but I repelled all boarders.
As a result of the horrendously expensive medical bills for one measly leg, Fulldemerde signed up for Kaiser forthwith. The big bonus, for me, was that the Kaiser ER was much, much closer to where we lived than the other county facilities. It was not long before I became a regular at Kaiser.
In addition to the aforementioned concussions (a discussion for later), I apparently decided at some level that bleeding profusely was overrated and I subconsciously channeled my klutziness into broken bones (and concussions).
I loved that house with the pool. It was in Northern Marin and was in a fun neighborhood, where I knew lots of kids. I wouldn’t be permitted to go to junior high and high school with my friends, but I didn’t know that then. We lived on a loop with a tennis court in the middle. How cool is that? I didn’t play tennis, but I liked leaping over the net. My noggin did not like this, but, again, another time…In addition to our pool, there was a huge community pool. This was a Tomboy Wonderland.
But, Fulldemerde decided he wanted to live in Southern Marin. He’s always been obsessed with labels and such. A San Rafael address was nowhere near as prestigious as a Tiburon one, so off we went. Truth be told, this (first) house in Tiburon was much nicer than the one we left. But, it had no pool. It did, however, have a flat cul-de-sac, where I rode my unicycle and indulged in other non-girly antics, with reckless abandon.
Because I was the quintessential tomboy, I hung around with the neighborhood boys. The girls didn’t warm up to me. No surprise there. One of the boys, Mike, was a dirtbike savant. This was well before BMX, Canondale, and readily-available mountain bikes. Mike built mountain bikes for himself and his friends. I badgered him enough to get him to build me one. Off we went to the dump and rifled around for bike parts. Fulldemerde drove us because the cost savings to make me happy with a frankencycle constructed from discarded parts clearly surpassed the cost of gas to get us there. There was an area in the neighborhood that we called “The Plateau.” We would race down the long street from the top of the cul-de-sac, take a hard left down another hill, pray there were no cars coming in the opposite direction, then fling ourselves into the dirt beyond the end of the street. From there, we could either head left across some open, bumpy fields towards a different neighborhood, or we could pump our pedals like maniacs to get to the top of The Plateau. This was a forerunner to single track, which was not a term at the time. Mike and his other bike-crazed buddies had made a large course, with dips and turns, crazy roller coaster swoops, blind drops and the like. I was in heaven. I used the crap out of that bike. I fell, I was launched out of the saddle, I got no sympathy from the big boys, and I usually made it home covered in dirt with a perma-grin. I didn’t even break any bones while riding my frankencycle like crazed fiend. I should have stuck with that activity.
Mom, on the other hand, broke an ankle and blames my bike and unicycle riding. [See the previous blog post entitled “Broken Ankles Run in the Family (Part One)].” We carted her off to the Kaiser ER (which, ironically, now was much further from our domicile), where her broken ankle was diagnosed. She also had to have surgery to insert hardware. This was the start of my new nickname for Mom: The Queen of Hyperbole. It was also the time that I learned that telling imaginative stories about the cause of broken bones was much more satisfying than the boring old truth. [“Broken Ankles Run in the Family (Part Two)”] will provide further enlightenment.
This was also the start of the Era of the Broken Bones. In short order, I broke three ribs. Then, two weeks later, I broke a thumb. Both of these injuries were dealt with at my new favorite hang-out, the Kaiser ER. As luck would have it, the same orthopedic surgeon was on duty in the ER for both my ribs and thumb. During the first visit, he looked at my X-rays, looked at me, and asked what I’d done to break ribs. I told him I’d had a unicycle mishap. He nodded, acted as if that were a perfectly reasonable explanation, and sent me home with strict orders not to ride my unicycle for six weeks. The horror. Actually, it wasn’t terribly comfortable to breathe or laugh for the first couple of weeks, so the unicycle ban was not initially torturous.
After a couple of weeks, ennui set in. No unicycle. No touch football. No single-track riding on The Plateau (parental restriction). No backyard pool. What was a girl to do?
The boys in the ‘hood were next door playing basketball. I didn’t excel at that sport, but it was better than nothing. To make it more interesting, I went next door pretending that I was a gymnast (this was the late summer of 1972, and the Olympics were in full swing). I left common sense in my wake, channeled my inner Cathy Rigby and OIga Korbut, and walked along the curb as if it were a balance beam. No matter that there was a large juniper bush planted in the yard, covering much of the curb with prickly branches. I had my arms out for balance and went for it. I caught my foot under the damn juniper and fell off the curb and splat onto the street. The boys laughed. I borrowed from Mom’s vocabulary and joined them to play hoops. Pretty soon, it was apparent that I had broken something. Again.
Off we went to the Kaiser ER. Again. By this time, the staff knew not only my name, but my Kaiser medical number by heart. I kid you not. I still remember my number, all these years later. Off I went for X-rays. Imagine my surprise when the same orthopedic surgeon waltzed into the exam room. I believe he may have been more shocked to see me than vice versa.
Orthopedic Surgeon (OS): “You again. What is it this time?”
Mari the Clumsy Misreant (MCM): “I fell. Look at the nifty colors on my hand. It looks a little big, however. Do you think I can forego a baseball mitt with a hand this big?”
OS: “You may need a psychiatrist.”
MCM: “Nah. Just wrap me up so I can get out of here.” [Brave words for a 12 year old who needed parents to driver her everywhere.]
OS: “You did a number on your thumb. We’ll have to cast you, then you’ll have to come back in a few days, after the swelling goes down, so we can determine if we need to operate and put in pins.”
MCM: “I’m sure pins won’t be necessary. The cast will be a real bummer, though. I guess that means I can’t go swimming.” [I said this for effect, as I did not have easy access to a pool.]
OS: “By the way, didn’t I tell you to stay off your unicycle? And, yes, swimming is out, too.”
MCM: You did tell me that. But the joke’s on you. I wasn’t riding my unicycle.”
OS: “Then how on earth did you do this to yourself?”[I regaled him with the balance beam routine, complete with a mini-reenactment, sans curb.]
OS: “You’re a menace. Not only should you stay off your unicycle, I think you need to stay off your feet. Perhaps you can find another ER next time.” [I’m sure he didn’t mean that. I was charming and fun. He probably still misses me!]
The broken bones didn’t end there. I did, however, refrain from breaking anything else (other than numerous ribs and a toe) for many moons. No more unicycle-related injuries, even though I got back on and continued to ride it for a few years. I got cocky. So what, I broke some more ribs and a phalange over the years. These breaks don’t even require casts. I was in the clear and borderline bulletproof. Maybe the klutz gene really hadn’t been passed to me. Maybe I had a period of clumsiness and outgrew it. I laughed and jumped back into the adventure that is life.
As the old commercial said, “It’s not nice to fool Mother Nature.” I flew too close to the sun and needed a reality-check. The earlier breaks were warm-up injuries. Twenty years down the road, I found out just what fresh hell orthopedic injuries could really be. Turns out that I took after Mom in more than just the art of appendage destruction – I, too, learned the joys of hyperbole. I was about to channel my inner Clara and love it.
1 May 2017