Monday 22 December 2008

If we all broke our femurs we’d never complain about pain again!

For the first time in the 16 years I’ve been spouting drivel and dribbling pomp onto the pages of this Noble Rag, today I am fearful. I have been worried for days about sitting here and writing this colyoom, because I am in pain.
Before you go off on one of those patronising anti-man rants about how poor little diddums says he’s in painy wainy, presupposing that because I have a penis I therefore inflate the effect of any illness or bodily malfunction (apart from impotence, naturally!) I say save your breath.
Okay, so I might at some point in my past have fulfilled my bloke-ish destiny and claimed a cold was worse than it felt, but pain I do well.
Worth a mention at this juncture is the complete disappearance from Irish life of the common cold. All those decades and legions of scientists researching into how to defeat that pesky tiny mutating virus, and nobody thought to consult that august and imaginative body of folk, the Irish people. Nobody in Ireland has a cold. It’s a miracle! Call the Vatican. I cannot think when I last heard somebody here say
“Sure, it’s only an auld cold. It’ll go away in no time.”
Nope. Uhuh. Milking life for all its manky melodrama, the Irish only have da ‘flu.
“Sure I had the ‘flu yesterday, but I’m fine right now.”
Of course you are mate, ‘cos you had a bleedin’ cold. If you had the ‘flu yesterday, you would not be fine today. The ‘flu can kill. A cold makes you feel shitty and snotty. End of.
So, where were we? Oh yes, sitting here in my office chair, where I have sat for thousands of hours, comfy and productively scribbling away.
Yet today just finding a single painless sitting position is proving impossible. I know that the longer I stay sat here, the more my reward will be agonising when I finally stand, so I’m writing like the clappers.
As I say, I’m good at pain. When I was 17, I was taking my mate to visit his sister Bev, who was recovering from an operation in hospital, when a car hit my Yamaha 250. I broke my tibia and that biggest boniest Daddy-of-’em-all, my femur, into two clean halves. Like all the best tragedies, there ran through this episode a rich vein of irony, because Bev told us later how she had heard the sirens of the ambulance that came to rescue us from her hospital bed.
Hang on a mo, that doesn’t sound right. This pain is affecting my brain. The ambulance didn’t rescue us from her hospital bed.
Uh, you got it first time? Fine.
Anyway, there I was in the emergency room, being quizzed by this excellent bouncy bearded young doctor called Bill. Straight-talking and decent, he spared me no false protection.
“So we are going to have to operate. Couple of questions. You haven’t eaten in the last few hours, right?”
“Well, I had steak and kidney pie, chips and beans an hour ago.”
“Bugger. Okay, please tell me you haven’t got a cold, cough or anything like that.”
“Sorry doc, but I’ve got a bloody terrible cough, chesty and rough as the backside of a pineapple.”
“Bugger bugger bugger. Okay, well, we’re still going to have to operate, but none of that helps. You are a mess of broken bone, sinew, gristle and tendon, and it’s all floating around your blood. You lost three pints of that too. So when you wake up, you’ll be on oxygen, and if any of those fatty or gristly lumps finds its way into your lungs, you’ll be going out of here feet first. Okay?”
”Er yeh.”
“Oh and your leg will be up in traction, so each time you cough it’s going to hurt like the blazers. And your cough will be made infinitely worse by the general anaesthetic. Okay?”
“Err right.”
“Okay, let’s get him on the slab and try and save that leg.”
Save it they did, and between himself and my consultant surgeon, a Mr. Rolls, who spoke like David Attenborough and pumped charisma, they cured me.
Well, they made my leg better, and over the next six weeks of hospital life, in no small way, I cured myself of childish whingeing.
At first they were giving me pethidine injections every four hours, turning me into that bloke you never want to share a ward with. I was high as a satellite, screaming blathering moaning and keeping everyone awake all night. Eventually I realised that they were turning me into a junkie, so I asked a nurse if I was going to be in pain for long.
”As long as you keep coughing and shaking that leg in traction, it’s going to hurt, yes. A lot.”
Accepting my fate, I took myself off all painkillers and accustomed myself to an altered state. It wasn’t as if the drugs had made the pain go away: they just made it easier for me not to care about it. Instead I achieved a level of bodily awareness that allowed me to feel the pain, and understand.
So last weekend, when I dropped off my rental car at Luton Airport and started my lone return journey to Galway, only to find my back and legs gripped by the fiercest pain I had endured since the seminal hospital sojourn of ‘77, I was able to suffer it simply.
All pain since my bike crash had paled into insignificance, compared to that cocktail of broken femur and chest infection, but this new pain was quite breathtaking. After two paces I could barely breathe. Each movement ripped through me like a machete, yet I still had to lift my suitcase onto the check-in desk; place my hand luggage on the X-ray conveyor belt; bend down to undo my boots at the security counter; bend down to do them up again afterwards; lift and put down my bag a hundred times in the Departure Lounge, toilet, shop and toilet again; hoist my hand luggage into the overhead compartment; lift it down again; lift my suitcase from the carousel, and hoist it, finally, into my home.
I survived the trip by seeing pain as something fascinating and different.
“Interesting!” I said to the Snapper, as dizziness swamped my consciousness.
“My poor bear!” said she.
“I’m alright!” I offered as a brazen lie.

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