Thursday, December 31, 2015

Winter Break(s)

This winter I was off for two solid weeks for the first time since leaving college, and a lot happened over that time: we set a house occupancy record with 6 guests, shared a turducken with my sister and her family, gave and received gifts, and hosted my Mum for her first Alberta Christmas in over a decade. There are a few things I could blog about, but in terms of prominence, Mum breaking her arm yesterday probably takes the cake.

After a small lay-in and light breakfast, we had all intended to go to The Duchess bakery on 124th street. Mum wasn't feeling up to an outing, so we said we would bring her a macaron or two. When we arrived, I was disappointed to discover that the whole operation as closed from December 24th to January 2nd, but also glad that the business was successful enough to enable them taking a bit of time off. We stopped in briefly at Happy Harbor, grabbed lunch at Burger's Priest (an irreverent diner that is home to 'Peter's Denial', a chicken burger with gravy and corn), and returned home.

When I pulled up to the garage, I was a little surprised to see Mum sitting on the back step of the house, with her dog Willow on the leash, and Nitti wandering the back yard. She had taken both dogs for a walk a couple of times the previous day, combining their needs with her own ironic desire for (cough) fresh air, but sitting on the cold concrete step seemed a bit odd, given how cold it must be.

I let everyone out before pulling into the garage, but had barely exited the Flex when Audrey came back saying something about Mum's arm, and when I asked her to repeat it, she just said, "See to your mum."

Mum was a little shaken but thinking clearly, and was a bit embarrassed to have taken a spill. The city had plowed our back alley early that morning, and as she was stepping over the edge of the scraped area almost a block away, her left foot slipped out from under her, caught the right one, and down she went on her left side.

She says she heard something 'go' when she landed, but managed to avoid massive contact to her head, which was covered by two separate hoods for extra padding in any event. The tough part was getting to her feet one-handed and then, cradling her injured left arm, making her way back down the alley to our back yard. She swears she hadn't been sitting for more than five minutes and was just beginning to formulate a plan to extract her phone from her left-hand hoodie pocket with her right hand (because of course she is a southpaw; they don't call it Murphys Theory, right?) when we pulled up.

Glory dashed in and grabbed a scarf, and Audrey and I improvised a sling as best we could, and reclined the front passenger seat of the Flex. We got her situated, and after a brief discussion to factor in distance and busy-ness, drove her to the ER at the Sturgeon Hospital in St. Albert.

In the end, I think the University Hospital might be a little closer, but is also much larger and busier, and generally more chaotic. I parked right outside the emergency entrance at the Sturgeon and grabbed the first wheelchair I came across, then took it back and grabbed a proper grown-up sized model. It took longer than I would have liked (i.e. not instantaneously) to get Mum into triage (I really hope that one nurse wasn't just catching up with that EMT, but...) and once they started the interview, I dashed out to park the car. When I came back, they had checked her pulse and blood pressure, and directed us to registration to get her bracelet and charts.

This meant we could leave the big waiting room, and take a seat by the desk in the ortho ward to wait for an X-ray. Mum was generally comfortable, but every now and then a slight shift in position would bring a sharp intake of breath. I texted Audrey to let her know we were in, and she replied that Tara had left work and was on her way. I had mixed feelings about this, since I was already feeling a bit in the way as soon as nurses showed up, but when she got there, it was great to have another pair of hands to help Mum, and another person to keep up conversation with. Besides, Tara said when she got there, it's not like she cold focus at work anyhow knowing Mum was hurt!

It took over half an hour for Mum to get into her examination room, but her X-Ray was ready not too long after that, and Dr. Lee, so young she looks like she could be a university classmate of my nephew's, called us over to have a look.

Now, I'm not a doctor, and I don't even watch a lot of medical dramas on the teevee, but even I could tell this break was a bonafide humdinger.

Seeing how close this was to being a compound fracture is enough to make my guts roil even a day later, and bear in mind, Mum's greatest exclamation on the drive to the Sturgeon was perhaps, "Oo".
The doctor told us that she was waiting for an orthopedic consult, but that in cases where the break was more than 40 degrees, surgery was a fairly common result. There was a chance it mightn't be required, but she wanted the expert to weigh in before suggesting a course of action. It turns out she was already waiting for a consult from this individual, so hopefully it wouldn't be too long, although there was a chance he was performing surgery as we spoke, so there was no way of telling.
The consult was for a nice lady in the curtained area right next to Mum, who had also broken her left arm, was also a leftie, and was also fervently hoping that the injury wouldn't waylay her travel plans, but neither of us heard from the orthologist for a couple hours, unfortunately. Mum was doing great, all things considered and refused pain medication because she figured if they did try to re-set her humerus, the meds would be more needed then.

After a couple of hours, Dr. Lee came back, having finally spoken to the orthopedic surgeon, and said they were going to apply a cast and then take another X-ray of her arm. Since this meant at least the chance that surgery could be avoided, Mum was all for it.

An ortho tech named Maureen came in and outlined the process: they would give Mum a type of cast called a 'slab', which would not only stabilize things a bit, but also add weight to her lower arm and help pull things back into alignment. She explained that the spasms Mum was feeling were the nerves and muscles of her arm trying to shift things back into place on their own, because because that is what the body does; this slab would help. Frankly, she admitted, it would be a miracle if surgery could be prevented, but this was suggested because it could only help. What it wouldn't be was easy, and she showed Mum where she would have to maneuver her arm during the process.

On the plus side, though, she added, there shouldn't be a need to cut off her t-shirt at this point, although she might have to do that once the cast was in place. "No matter," said Mum, "I know where I can get another one, and usually only wear this one as an undershirt 'cause of what's written on the back." Maureen came around to take a gander and chuckled at what was written there:

Getting the slab into place was a genuine team effort, and I cannot say enough good things about Maureen. Firm, gentle,and compassionate, answering all of Mum's shocked gasps with a simple but empathetic "I know." I held the top of the casting material at Mum's shoulder, another nurse suppported her arm, and Tara sat on the floor in eyeshot of Mum, holding her hand, while Maureen wrapped the rapidly hardening plaster form in tensor bandages.

I won't lie: it was tough to watch, because you never like to see someone you love in such discomfort and pain, but I was also proud of Mum for being such a trooper. No yelling, screams or tears, just one series of "Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear." When it was all done, she of course apologized for making a scene or being a nuisance or some other nonsense, generating reassurances from not only Tara and myself, but also the other nurse, who said, "No, you did awesome", with true admiration in her voice.

"Well, you're lucky enough to be working on the toughest one in the family," I said. "I'd have maxed out the morphine deductible on my Blue Cross and be weeping in a ball on the floor by now." Mum clucked her tongue in obligatory dispute of this while the nurses laughed, but I think I am on the right track with that one.
A little while later, Tara took Mum for another X-ray while I emailed an update to the family. When they returned, Mum was in even better spirits than before, so I grabbed a picture of the two of them for posterity (and to get the front of the t-shirt, even obscured by the collar-and-cuff style sling).
Dr. Lee had gone off shift by this point, so Maureen and a Dr. Stan took a look at the second X-ray, pulling up a copy of the original for comparison. He had a slight Caribbean accent, which made his statement of, "Now dat's much betta," even more enjoyable to hear. The bones were nowhere near set, but at least now looked like they belonged in the same arm.
He told us that Mum would get a call within the next 5-7 days to arrange a follow-up X-ray and that is when they could make a decision as to how to proceed, but she could do that in B.C. just as easily as Alberta, so nothing was preventing her from returning home on schedule on the 2nd.

You know, except for the part where her Jeep is a standard and waiting for her at the Penticton Kelowna airport... but even that got sorted out in short order this morning with a friend from Osoyoos.

Last night was a festival of adjustments, including sitting and rising, getting her jacket on and off, washing hand (singular), and just generally getting comfortable. Because she wasn't on any opiates or antibiotics, she could have a beer after dinner while we watched The Untouchables, which she enjoyed greatly. Afterwards we got her set up in the upstairs recliner for sleeping, and the night passed without incident. Today she continues to adapt admirably, and we are taking it easy for New Year's Eve, with Tara and the Leducites coming for brunch tomorrow.

It's a tough way to be reminded of it, but the whole affair has made us even more grateful for the many helpful people in our lives: family and friends, and doctors and nurses especially.


  1. Heh.. Dr Stan and Dr Lee. Both of whom could be considered superheroes for sorting out your mum. Well played, fate.. Well played.

    1. I'm ashamed to say that I never caught that; well played indeed, sir!