Wandering the World
I want to share with you 3 days of memories I wrote while laying in a hospital bed in Japan but first I should give you a bit of context as to why I was laying there.
I have skied since I was 6 years old. When I click my rigid boots into the bindings on my flexible skis, they feel like an extension of my body. They allow me to fly! Now, in my 40s, I am not is as good shape as I was in high school when I raced through slalom gates to a finish line, but I am showing my daughter how to ski and it is exhilarating to see her learn how to turn and stop. She is discovering the joy of flying on snow, just like I did at her age. We are skiing in Nagano Japan, staying at a guest house in which the owner prepares us sumptuous meals and shares his experiences and space with us so graciously we feel like friends.
Towards the end of the first day, my husband urges me to try out the upper lift that we have been eyeing all day. It is unusual in that I have not seen a single person board that lift, all the chairs are parading up to the top of the mountain empty, it is like something out of a postapoctaliptic movie. Curiosity got the best of me and I climbed up on one of those empty chairs alone.
I have a great fear of heights, sometimes I dream that I am drawn to the edge of a cliff and for some reason I can't keep my balance and I fall over. These dreams always leave me panicked and sweating. I have however, never felt even a prick of this fear on a ski slope. As the chair took me further and further up the mountain, the incline became steeper and steeper, I twisted my body around to look back and saw nothing but huge expanses of air around me plunging down to the beginner ski slope which now seemed impossibly far away. Was I just down there a few minutes ago? How is it possible that it is so small now? I began to feel that familiar panic creep up my spine, I spun back around and looked at the mountain ahead of me but it was too late. I began to sweat in spite of the cold and my breath was coming in short spurts.
This is crazy, I tried to calm myself. I had been on chair lifts thousands of times, there was nothing to worry about but I couldn't shake the panic that had by now spread all the way to my fingertips.
I made it to the top of the lift but the feeling of panic was still with me and after a short traverse through the trees I came out on a slope that seemed steeper than anything I had ever been on before. I was acutely aware of the fact that there was no one else up there with me, I was all alone. I stood on the top of that slope and worst case scenarios started to run through my head, if I had an accident up here it would be a long time until anyone could help me. My husband and daughter were skiing down below and would probably start to worry but not for a while. I did have my cell phone but there wasn't any reception up that high.
All of my confidence left me and I started to side slip down that mountain. My thighs were screaming within a few minutes but I was too scared to actually ski. I side slipped all the way down, it took me forever and by the time I met up with my family, my legs were shot but I hadn't been injured so I considered it a win and we all went back to the guest house.
The next day when we arrived at the mountain, we made plans to go to an onsen (a natural hot springs where people soak, usually in beautiful, natural settings) after skiing and before catching our shinkansen (high-speed train) back to Tokyo. We packed up our suitcases and everything was ready for an efficient exit after our day on the slopes.
It started to snow as we took our first run. It was a truly beautiful place and the skiing was spectacular. My husband was super happy because he was snow boarding and the fresh powder was making it even nicer for him. My daughter and I were skiing though, and the powder was becoming difficult to push around. After lunch we took a few more runs and it started snowing even harder so my daughter and I went back to the cafeteria for some hot chocolate. We were both cold and tired so it was a welcome respite. My husband wanted to get the most possible snow boarding in so he kept at it. He found us a while later and urged us to take just a few more runs before calling it a day and heading for the much anticipated onsen.
His Enthusiasm was contagious so I rallied my energy and we headed back out. My daughter, in spite of only having been skiing for a total of about 6 days in her life, had become super speedy. I struggled to keep up with her but I wanted to be there for her if she fell so I pushed myself. I was after all on a beginner slope but as I went into a turn I felt my ski hit something under all of that fresh powder and I went down. My body flipped over itself, I felt myself become airborne and I came down with all of my weight on my right foot.
I was laying face down in the snow crying and screaming when my husband who had seen everything from further up the slope got to me. I knew my leg was broken even though I had never broken a bone like that before. I didn't know which bone, I didn't know where but I knew it was broken.
Ski patrol came, they tried to talk to me but I don't speak very much Japanese on the best of days and this wasn't one of those. They took my ski off, bundled me up, and put me on a sled. I had never been on a sled and I remember thinking that it must be scary on one of those things with no control over what was happening. I squeezed my eyes shut. I don't remember the ride at all.
The next thing I knew I was in the medical building my daughter was holding my hand and crying. She had never seen me hurt before and it was quite traumatic for her. She pulled herself together though and translated for me while they took my boot off.
Our host at the guest house came right out and drove me to the local clinic where they took an x-ray and declared that my fibula was broken (this turned out to be wrong, it was my tibia), put a cast on me, and sent me on my way. I was wheeled through the train station in a wheel chair and deposited on my seat for the long ride home, where my dear friend was waiting for me with a set of crutches.
A few days later I was in the hospital waiting for surgery to screw my bone back together. As I lay there, I wrote.
I checked in with Kerem and we had some trouble finding the right room. We had to go up and down the elevator because we were in the wrong building but once we got there things went more smoothly. They put me in a private room but when we requested the public room, they were able to accommodate within the hour. My new space is a bit like a room but with pink curtains instead of walls. I am in the space nearest to the door and there are 5 other people here with me. This is good and bad because I am close to the bathroom but I am far away from the window. I wouldn’t be able to pick my roommates out of a line up because we are all curtained off from each other so as to preserve our privacy. The curtains change from pink to a kind of net about 2 thirds the way up so that the florescent light illuminates my room quite brightly. It is lights out at 10:00 and lights on at 7:00. my bed is great, I have controls that I can use to elevate and lower different parts of my body and a nice Japanese pillow made of little plastic beads. The pillow is not soft but it does mold into shapes very nicely. As I type this my head is propped up well and it doesn’t get hot like other pillows do. I also love the table that rolls right up to the bed so I can type this with ease.
“Hi, my name is Erika.” my nurse introduced herself in beautiful English. This was great as my Japanese is sadly lacking even after being her for over three years. It turns out she is the head nurse and she was in need of a change of pace so she told everyone that she was going to devote herself to me for a few hours and she took me around the hospital in a wheelchair to get my various tests. We had a great time chatting in between blowing into tubes, getting x-rayed and CT scanned. Then it was back to my “room” where I spent the rest of the afternoon reading and writing.
In the evening the lights went out abruptly at 10 and I had to leave a chapter unfinished. I was strangely not sleepy but my companion across the curtain was and I was delighted to hear her snore. My husband is always complaining about my snoring so it was a relief to hear that I would not be the only one disturbing the absolute silence that reigns in this room. I have rarely had the pleasure of spending time with 5 other people who make no noise at all.
As people began to drift off they started farting. I wonder if I fart as I am falling asleep. I found it greatly amusing. The absolute silence only highlighted all of the little noises bodies make as they relax.
Lights on at seven o’clock!! I wasn’t quite prepared for this, but so it was, so after trying to hide from that bright florescent light, the long ones you know, that take up several feet of ceiling space, I sat up and was just about to grab my crutches to hit the restroom when my breakfast suddenly appeared so I held it, ate my breakfast and then visited the privy. Then came the long wait for a shower. I considered putting my bra on and maybe even getting dressed but I smelled so bad I didn’t want to sully my other clothes so I waited. I had to wait a long time because even though they made a special effort to schedule my bathing time as 12:30, I think they forgot. At 1:00 I called a nurse and asked her, via my smart phone translation, if my shower time was coming. That prompted them to usher me into the bathroom post haste. I had no idea what to expect but what I found was a chair with a hole in the middle so the water could drain through and a sparkling beautiful empty tub. The chair was for me. My leg, bagged in plastic was safe from the water. They told me they would come back for me in 10 minutes. I finished early and had nothing to do but look longingly at the tub. The basket on the rim held a sponge and a spray bottle that contained something orange. The spray part on the top was the exact color of a rubber ducky.
Then it was time for physical therapy. A wonderful woman named Tomo showed me how to lift my leg so the muscles wouldn’t waste away. I don’t know why I hadn’t been doing them before since they really aren’t hard and even with a broken bone, they are totally doable. I guess I had given my entire leg a pass to do nothing at all since the glute muscle had seized up that first day after the break when I had to sit in a hospital waiting room for 6 hours.
Now I am waiting for my family to arrive or Etsuko to arrive so they can explain anesthesia to me. I think I may prefer not to know since it just makes me feel kind of nauseous whenever they show me what my bones look like or what they want to do to me or what my risks are. I guess I should want to know but I don’t really think I have a choice in all of this. I want to walk again.
I woke up nervous. It was the day of the surgery. I knew it was coming at 3:00 so from the moment the lights snapped on at 6 am (they were early today) I was on alert. They came for me at about 10 am with the needle for my arm. The young man, who I can only assume was a doctor in training, looked in vein for my vein. He couldn’t really see it I could tell but took a stab at it anyway. He fished around in there for a while while I closed my eyes and bit the index finger of my other hand. Finally he decided to give up on that particular site and try again. Luckily his second try was more successful and I had an IV drip. This made it so that I had no choice but to take in liquids but it was much more difficult to go to the bathroom as I couldn’t use crutches and hold onto the rolling drip at the same time. Now I needed to call a nurse to wheel me in a wheelchair every time I needed to relieve myself.
My writing ends there. The following days were too painful for me even to consider writing or reading and I just lay there trying unsuccessfully to will the pain away. I remember being taken to the operating theater and laying on the table looking up at at least 5 male faces looking down at me. They were all happy and relaxed, I was trying not to have a panic attack. I had never been under general anesthesia before. I focused on observing the myriad of lights pointing down in my directions, the shine on the stainless steel. I didn't want to make my surgeon feel bad by showing too much anxiety.
Someone put a mask on my face and I faded out for what seemed like a split second before I was being shaken awake. I opened my eyes and a searing pain in my ankle started. I was groggy and trying not to cry, surely the pain must be just temporary until the pain killer kicked in. I was wheeled back to my bed with the pink curtains where I tried to sleep but the pain didn't abate.
A while later, I have no idea how long, the surgeon came to talk to me. He was super happy and proud of his work. He showed me the x-rays but I was having trouble showing how much I appreciated his work through the haze of anesthesia and pain. I tried to smile but I don't think he was convinced so he left saying he would be back later.
I buzzed the nurse to ask for a pain killer and she gave me a pill. I took it but it didn't seem to have any effect. This was repeated every few hours for a couple of days and I was despairing of ever being out of pain. When one of the nurses suggested that I might take a different kind of pain killer but, she warned, it was a suppository. She was quite emphatic about this and repeated it several times, clearly expecting me to turn it down. I didn't! The resulting relief was reminiscent of when, after 30 or so hours of labour, I asked for an epidural. I could think again, suddenly life seemed worth living again. It was lovely. Shortly thereafter I was sent home to convalesce.
A few weeks later, after being cleared to walk, I headed off to Vladivostok to take the Siberian Express all the way across Russia but that is a story for a different post.