“Ambulance service, is the patient breathing?”
"Yes, she's breathing."
My sister was standing next to me. She was on her mobile phone making the 999 call. I was lying on the floor, my head on a pillow.
“Yes, she’s awake.”
“It’s my sister.”
By listening to her answers, I could work out what the questions were.
“No, there’s no bleeding.”
“Yes, she’s conscious.”
“It wasn’t a fall, no.”
I was lying there, just listening. I’d been there for well over an hour. It’s odd when you’re lying in that position for so long, unable to move. You start to notice the small details around you. All I could see was my sister. She was standing in front of the heater. She was wearing her work uniform – a Christmassy top and black leggings. She had good legs; very slim and shapely. How odd to notice the most bizarre details in the middle of a 999 call. You expect these things to be all blue flashing lights and mad panic but actually there was a surreal calmness.
You might be wondering what my accident was. Perhaps some major risky occurrence. An adrenaline-fueled sports activity. A tragic car accident or a spine-chilling slice of the kitchen knife.
No, not quite. It was very simple. I was hoovering.
Who knew that housework could be so dangerous?
I bent down to scoop up some dried cat food with my hand-held hoover and *crack* - my back just went. Something snapped and I keeled over on the floor. My spine just stopped working. As though a short circuit had cut and the power refused to flow.
I lay there on the ground, thinking that this would surely pass. A little rub of deep heat on the pain might sort it out. But I couldn’t move. I couldn’t straighten my back out and I certainly couldn’t weight bear enough to walk. I could only crawl.
So, there I was, ten o’clock on boxing day morning, crawling on all fours towards my bedroom to retrieve my phone. I waited for a while, hoping that it would pass, but forty minutes later, I still couldn’t move. I couldn’t straighten my back.
My anxious mind started to play tricks with me.
Maybe you’ll be paralysed forever.
Perhaps this is it. Perhaps your time is up.
Oh dear, well you did have good innings.
* I can be a bit of a drama queen, can you tell?
I phoned my sister. Luckily, she is a care assistant. Luckier still, she was at work and sitting next to a nurse. She put the nurse on the phone to me.
“Can you move your toes?”
Oh good, perhaps I was just a major drama queen after all and this was nothing.
“But you can’t stand up and you can’t weight bear?”
“You’re going to have to phone an ambulance.”
Oh no, really? I didn’t want to waste the ambulance time. And I didn’t want to spend a day in hospital. I had editing to do; work I wanted to get on with.
“Yes, you’re going to have to. They’ll assess you. Can you crawl to the front door to let them in okay?”
What a fabulous boxing day morning. Crawling to the front door to enable access for the paramedics.
No sooner was I off the phone to my sister, than she sent a text two minutes later: I’m on my way up x
Bless her. She was going to clock off work and take the time to drive half an hour up the road to help me.
She arrived in and saw me lying on the floor.
“Awk Rose…” her face was full of sympathy. Immediately she clicked into care assistant mode, putting a pillow under my head and fussing gently around me.
When she got off the 999 call, she said, “Right, a paramedic will be phoning you back soon. They need to determine what kind of chair to carry you out in. And you’re not allowed to eat or drink anything.”
Oh jeepers, I thought. The neighbours will be all agog. A big bulky ambulance rocking up in our quiet cul-de-sac on a lazy Boxing day morning. They’d all assume I was on the drink on Christmas day.
“And I need to put the outside light on for them so they can find us okay.” She was all biz, whizzing around the place, full of life and vitality. She whipped out a piece of paper and a pen. “Now the cats, what food do they need?”
I relayed all the information. Soots has the tuna in spring water. The tins are in the cupboard next to the fridge. Toots has one of the Whiska pouches.
She was writing everything down dutifully.
“Right,” she nodded, all breezy. I could see why she’s a care assistant. There was no moping about here. No anxiety or fear. She brought a whiff of energetic vibrancy with her, dispelling any despondency or depression.
I heard the kettle being switched on. “Are you making yourself a cuppa?” I called. “There’s some chocolate in the cupboard if you want some.”
“No,” she said sheepishly. “I noticed you had some dishes so I’m just going to give those a wee wash.”
Bless. That was the second job I was going to do this morning. After the hoovering.
I continued to lie there, listening to her bustling around in the kitchen, washing the dishes, feeding the cats, chatting to Toots and Soots as she worked.
When she sorted the cats and the dishes and the lights for the paramedics, she was back at the heater, nursing a coffee in her hand. Her phone rang. It was the paramedics phoning back. A guy called Stephen. She passed the phone down to me.
“Hello Stephen,” I said, lying on the pillow. This wasn’t the kind of pillow-talk I expected on boxing day morning.
Stephen sounded very pleasant. He asked me another heap of questions. I think he was trying to determine if I’d had a stroke or if I was lying in a pool of blood.
“Hmm, okay, we have two options,” he surmised, after he finished the questioning. “We can either give you gas and air and carry you out on a stretcher. Or we can phone the out-of-hours doctor and get him to give you an emergency prescription. Sounds like your back has gone into spasm and you’re going to need something to relax that.”
“What do you think is best?” I asked. Clearly, I’d lost the use of my decision-making skills as well as my back.
“I think the doctor’s prescription would be best. No point carting you into hospital if you can be comfortable at home. If you had been on your own, obviously we would have sent the ambulance out. But as your sister is able to drive and get the prescription for you, you might as well stay put.”
He was on loudspeaker and my sister could hear all this. Ruth was nodding eagerly; she was happy to do the drive to Forestside to get the script.
“I’m just worried about you lying on the floor so long,” Stephen added. “Do you think you’ll be able to crawl on to your bed or get a bit more comfortable?”
“Yes, I’ll do that,” I replied.
When I got off the phone, Ruth helped me on to my bed. It was well seeing she’s a care assistant. Her handling and moving training came in to play. She had one arm under my armpit and another under my leg. She was manoeuvring me onto my bed and I couldn’t help but giggle. I felt about ninety-one. She started giggling too and then she let out a snort.
“You snorted!” I laughed, nose-diving onto my bed in a fit of giggles.
She pulled my duvet up around me and tucked me in.
“Jeepers, whatever they’re paying you, it’s not enough,” I told her, gratefully.
Then she was away off to get my prescription but not before she phoned my family to tell them the news.
“Get Voltorol!” my dad advised.
“You poor love!” my mum soothed.
Ruth returned shortly with the prescription and checked if I needed anything else. She brought me a glass of water with a straw and my chocolate stash.
And that was her. Away back to work again to carry on with her shift until eight o’clock that night.
I lay cosied up in bed, making calls and talking to friends about what happened.
What had happened exactly?
Well, I had to think about how I had been treating my back. My poor posture. Sitting on the bed with pillows propped up behind me; too much pressure being placed on my lower back.
I had to start thinking about solutions. Natural remedies that wouldn’t involve addictive medication.
The more I talked about it with friends, the more I learned about solutions.
Voltorol, Tiger balm, Ibuprofen, a tens machine, walking, yoga.
It’s about two weeks now since the accident. My back is much better. I can bend over and everything! I’ve even been out walking and I’ve managed to hoover the apartment successfully.
If I think back to that boxing day morning, my body told me it was about to seize up. I felt stiff and sore and thought briefly to myself that I could do with some yoga or gentle stretching.
That one quick movement was too much and my back just went into spasm. Too much lying around on Christmas day and not enough moving.
I listened to my body and I responded. I’ve been treating it with tiger balm and gentle walks. Every day I wear my tens machine which is basically a gentle massage on my back, neck or shoulders.
Apparently, you can even fix the pads to your abdomen and let it massage your abs into a six pack. You know what they say, every cloud has a silver lining!