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Snap, Crackle, Pop.

Several sheets of paper blew in the wind and wrapped themselves around the fence. They looked most untidy and I determined to remove them. To think is to act. I strode across the grass. My left foot trod awkwardly into a hole in the lawn and twisted underneath me. I fell to the ground; my foot bearing the whole weight of my body at a most awkward angle. Something inside went CRACK and an excruciating pain shot up my leg.

"Expletive deleted!" I shrieked at the sky, and clutched my ankle.

Slowly and painfully I crawled on hands and knees back into the house. Vague memories of first aid lessons surfaced in my brain. Ice! Cool my ankle down and prevent swelling. I raided the freezer and sat for an hour or so with a packet of frozen sweetcorn pressed to the bottom of my leg. It was almost more uncomfortable than the pain had been. Water dripped onto the carpet and saturated my sock.

I poked experimentally at my ankle. Big mistake. When the world stopped twirling, around me I put the sweetcorn back. Maybe it would help…

After a time I attempted to stand. Success! I could even put my whole weight onto my left foot. More first aid lessons reappeared in my head – the ends of broken bones rasping together make a most distinctive noise. It is called crepitation. I listened carefully. No crepitation. Perhaps the ankle was just badly sprained.

From the corner where it lives I retrieved my walking stick; the one with the secret compartment for hiding brandy in. Unfortunately there was no brandy. Oh well, you can’t have everything. With its support I limped around for a time. Things got back on to more of an even keel. I sat for a while with a book.

As the day progressed, the pain in my ankle increased. I kept expecting that it would even off, but it didn’t. It just went up and up, there seemed to be no top to the scale, just an ever-increasing agony which became more unbearable by the minute. Nauseating pain travelled up the whole of my leg. It was centred on the ankle, but it throbbed sickeningly all the way up to my thigh. The ankle itself began to swell again. By now I’d run out of sweetcorn (it was completely defrosted) and I began to contemplate the dubious virtues of a packet of peas; but the ankle was swelling up like a football and I started to feel that it might possibly be beyond even the power of frozen peas to affect a cure. It was time to give up. I rang some friends and asked them to drive me to the emergency clinic.

The doctor poked my ankle. "Does that hurt?"

I climbed down off the ceiling and he said, "I see it does."

"I can actually put my whole weight on it," I said. "I think it’s only badly sprained."

"If I was a betting man," said the doctor, "I’d put $20 on that. There’s no crepitation. But I’m not letting you out of here without an X-ray."

The nice lady in Radiology said, "It costs $15, you know."

I nodded wearily and handed the money over. She gave me a receipt and took me through. My leg was placed at various awkward angles and mysterious machinery hummed ominously. I limped back to the waiting room and about five minutes later the nice lady reappeared.

"Well," she said, "you’ve definitely broken it." She frowned at me. "You really shouldn’t be walking on it, you know."

I shrugged and she gave me an envelope with the plates in it. "Here – take these back to the doctor." I limped away…

"You lost your bet," I told the doctor. He looked surprised.

"Really? Let me see." He examined the X-ray plates closely. "Oh yes, there it is. See that dark line?" He indicated a shadow on the plate. I nodded. "That’s the break – just at the bottom of the fibula, where it joins the ankle. Hmmm – a bit higher up and you’d have to go into hospital to have a plate screwed on. But I think you’ll be OK with a plaster cast and a set of crutches."

A nurse took me into the plaster room and I lay on a trolley.

"How tight are your jeans?" she asked.

I demonstrated.

"They’ll have to come off," she pronounced. "Now – how do you want to handle this? Do you want to go home in your underwear or do you want to send one of your friends back to pick up a pair of shorts or something?"

I professed myself quite happy to go home in my underwear, but I was eventually persuaded to send my friend Martin off for shorts on the grounds that I didn’t really want to frighten the impressionable or induce an inferiority complex in those who were currently quite self assured. Martin was given instructions on working the burglar alarm and descriptions of where the shorts were to be found and off he went. I passed the time chatting to the nurse.

"You can’t have a shower for six weeks," she informed me. "The plaster we are putting on now is not a walking plaster. You mustn’t put any weight on it at all or it will crack and we’ll have to start all over again. In a week or so, when the swelling has died down, we’ll change it for a fibreglass one. You can walk on that. But meanwhile you’ll be on crutches, I’m afraid." Like all medical people, she appeared to take a gloomy pleasure in telling me the bad news.

Presently Martin returned bearing a pair of black shorts and a pair of vivid Day-Glo shorts that could only be squinted at even with the protection of sunglasses. "Which would you like?" he queried.

I wimped out and took the black ones.

The nurse soaked some plaster-of-paris impregnated bandages and wrapped them around my foot and ankle and half way up my leg. She finished the job by covering the cast with a crepe bandage that she fastened in place with a patented gadget. Then she covered the patented gadget with a strip of sellotape, and it was done. "I’ll go and fetch your crutches," she declared.

Martin wandered over and stared at the X-ray plates which were pinned against a viewing screen on the wall. He spotted the break straight away. "That dark line doesn’t belong there," he said authoritatively. "That must be it."

"That’s right," I said.

He examined the X-ray closely. "Nice cartilage," he said. "See that gap there between the bones? That’s cartilage. Nice resilient surface, that. Wish mine was that nice." He relapsed into gloom, contemplating his lack of cartilage.

The nurse bustled back and I was fitted to my crutches, then I manoeuvred my way out to the reception desk where vast amounts of money were extracted from my shivering wallet. Clumsy in my crutches, I clomped one-leggedly towards the door, wishing for a parrot for my shoulder. I had an overwhelming urge to yell "Avast me hearties! Yo, ho ho and a bottle of rum," to the beleaguered hordes in the waiting room as I departed, but I resisted the temptation.

Martin took me home.

Over the next few days, the crutches lost what little charm they had once had. Walking on crutches involves persuading your body to perform a series of semi-controlled forward falls caught (if you are lucky) on the crutches themselves. Blisters soon developed on my hands and my shoulders and upper arms began to ache. But more importantly, I discovered just how many things you can’t do when both your arms are gripping crutches and neither is free to manipulate the world at large.

You can’t take a pee in the conventional way and you can’t wash your hands afterwards (not that you really need to).

You can’t pick up the corpses of birds and rats left as presents for you by grateful cats, and neither can you chase the gifts that are still alive. The score is currently two and a half cadavers and a live thrush with no tail but with a completely undamaged arsehole. You can’t clean up bird poop either.

You can’t clean your teeth. You can’t chop things up in order to cook them. You can’t go upstairs to play with your computers and most importantly, you can’t pick up the cats bowls in order to feed them (not that they need it, given their depredations on the local wild life). It would appear that some ingenuity would be required.

Blisters and aching muscles just had to be put up with, but all the other problems proved solvable. Strategically placed chairs allowed all the day to day functions to be performed. Once I was sitting down, both hands were free again. After that, the only major obstacle to progress was the depressing (and hazardous) realisation that every time I tried to walk through a doorway my black cat Milo was sitting in it, and every time I approached one of the strategic chairs, my black cat Milo was asleep on it. He got a little annoyed at being constantly crutched out of doorways and turfed off the nice comfortable new places to get his head down.

Going upstairs to play with my computers was a problem of a slightly different order. Eventually it was solved by pulling myself up backwards, bouncing my bottom on every step. The first time I tried this I was watched by a very puzzled Ginger cat who finally decided it must be a game. She came up to join in.

After a week of stumbling I was starting to get used to my plastered ankle and I was coping quite well with the vicissitudes of life on crutches. I’d only tripped over Milo fifty three times and somehow I’d managed to avoid sitting on Ginger as I went upstairs. But all good things must come to an end, and so I returned to the fracture clinic to find out what fate awaited me.

"Just hop up on the table," said the jolly nurse, "and I’ll take the plaster off."

The table was at about chest height and I couldn’t for the life of me see how to get up onto it when I only had one leg. The nurse took pity on me.

"Kneel on this chair with your injured leg, stand up on it with your uninjured one, swing round on your foot and then down on to the table." She demonstrated these actions with a grace and fluidity that made it more than apparent that she had done it many times before. I followed suit, somewhat more slowly and clumsily, but eventually I was on the table.

"Make yourself comfy. I’ll be back in a minute. I’ve just got another one to remove first." She equipped herself with goggles, earmuffs and a circular saw and trotted off to another cubicle. Presently there came the sound of a hundred dentists’ drills as someone’s plaster was extracted. I began to wonder what was in store for me.

She came back into the cubicle and stripped off all her protective gear. "That was a tricky one," she remarked. "Now let’s have a look at you." Mine, it seemed, wasn’t nearly so tricky. She simply took a large pair of shears to it. Soon the cast fell away.

"My goodness me!" she exclaimed. "That’s colourful!"

I looked down at my newly nude leg. Most of my foot, all of my ankle and part of my lower leg shone purple, red, blue, and yellow in the most extensive bruising I have ever seen in my life. The ankle was still grotesquely swollen, giving the entire leg an oddly lop-sided aspect. This together with the rainbow patterning made the whole organ appear decidedly surreal.

"I’ll go and fetch the doctor now," said the nurse. "You just relax and enjoy the view. Pretty as a picture that bruising is – best I’ve seen all month!". She bustled off.

Presently the doctor appeared, clutching my original X-ray plates. This was a different doctor to the one I had seen previously; this one was a fracture specialist. He frowned thoughtfully at my bruises.

"Well," he said, "it looks like you’ve actually done a lot more damage to the soft tissues than you have to the bone. There’s been an awful lot of bleeding into the immediate area around the ankle. The fracture itself is quite minor and it should heal up nicely, but the tissue damage really is very extensive." He poked a particularly succulent blue bit.

"Ouch!" I hinted.

"Can you stand on it?" he asked. "Walk a few paces?"

On the face of it, it seemed like a mad request. Of course I couldn’t walk on it – it’s broken, for goodness sake! But I remembered that even before I was encased in my cast I had actually been able to put my whole weight on to it. No crepitation. Thus encouraged, I clambered clumsily down from the table and stood on my own two feet for the first time in a week. It felt most odd – I’d become so used to the plaster that I felt naked and unprotected without it. I tried a couple of steps. It worked!

"We’ll just put an elastic bandage on it," decided the doctor. "Take it slow and steady and you should be fine. Come back again in two weeks and we’ll see how you are getting on."

He turned on his heel and left. Meanwhile the jolly nurse was unwrapping an elastic bandage which she layered on to my leg with a special gadget. "You haven’t got a device like this," she said, "so what you will have to do is treat the bandage like a sock. Put it on and take it off in the same way you would with a sock."

I returned home and indulged myself in an orgy of hedonistic luxury. I took a standing up pee, I had a shower, I cleaned up a corpse.

Life was good. It is the sum total of all the little things that make up the pleasure in life and I hadn’t realised how much I missed those little things until they weren’t there any more.

I still couldn’t walk properly without support and I limped to the shops with my walking stick. "Chuff, chuff…me old war wound playing up, don’t you know...chuff chuff…remember it well, up to me neck in muck and bullets…"

Over the next few days the bruising started to fade to a much less startling shade and even the swelling started to go down. Getting out of bed in the morning remained agony – the ankle stiffened up overnight and even moving it (let alone walking on it) remained problematical until it loosened up again. This generally took twenty minutes or so of limping (I still needed crutches for this bit; "Pieces of eight! Pieces of eight!"). After that it became bearable and I could attend to the usual morning tasks. Showers remained difficult – one slip on the soap would probably snap the leg in two and clambering in and out of the bath was a scary balancing act. But I managed it. One day at a time.

Wish me luck for future recovery. Break a leg…

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