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Fidelma Cook: From birthday to hospital bed

AFTER last week’s column, did you think of me on my birthday? Wonder if I were dancing around the kitchen table shouting, ‘Stick another bottle of that Champagne in the fridge.’?

Wonder if Laura, Pierce, César and myself were sitting outside at midnight dreamily looking up at the Milky Way in all its splendour with the air still as warm as a summer’s day?

Talking of past times, past lives and laughing loud enough, if not to wake the dead, then the early-to-bed farmers as they turned in sileage dreams?

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Yes? Well come with me now to an old familiar hospital bed in Moissac; to an old familiar surgical ward.

That’s me there in the leg brace, immobile for the two days before B-day.

Me, groaning, shivering, struggling to breathe with every rough touch of an aide determined to drag me further up the bed as my body naturally slides to the bottom.

It could have been worse; it could have been worse; I keep repeating to myself, but the words aren’t helping much this time. Worse, because as well as the broken knee, initial x-rays suggested the neck of the femur was broken too.

‘I’ll leave the knee braced to heal naturally without intervention,’ said the surgeon who’d operated on me five years ago and inserted a plate and several pins for my broken tibia in the same leg.

‘If the femur neck is gone then it’s straight to a new hip but I want you scanned to confirm it.’

Thank God the scan confirmed it was intact, hence: it could have been worse; could have been worse.

Oh, I’d love to tell you that Laura and I had started the dancing early after her Friday arrival and I misjudged a kitchen table step after one too many glasses.

But not a Champagne cork had been popped, not a loudspeaker turned as high as it could go, not a voice raised in quaky chorus.

I still don’t quite know what happened. I was walking back to the kitchen table then tripped – probably over the open laces I kept meaning to tie before there was an accident – and smashed down the hard edges to the tiled floor.

My arms and one leg, because of the steroid-thinned skin, have rather magnificent purple to black bruises. There are two smaller but similar ones on my forehead and cheek.

All was made much, much worse than the last time because of the COPD. I’ve trembled violently for days, struggling to breathe as the shock and stress went straight to the poor failing lungs.

Fear of losing oxygen altogether terrified me into a state somewhere beyond mere panic.

I became the nightmare patient, snarling in a corner of the bed, warning nurses and aides to back off if they attempted to move or help me.

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Multiple examinations, though, had to take place as my blood pressure soared to very dangerous levels and my heart raced as if in the final gallop.

But gradually I made the brusque aides, who stood either side of the bed to turn or lift me, realise that speed and their opened arms struck further terror into me.

‘Tell me what you’re doing,’ I begged. ‘Just explain and then do it slowly at my pace. Let me pause to control the breathing and then the trembling will lessen.’

It has taken until now, Wednesday, for them to understand. Today they forced me to the shower where, all dignity stripped along with my hospital gown, I sat in a chair as they showered and shampooed me.

They made me stand and walk, timidly and painfully with a Zimmer, the handful of steps to the loo and at last I was able to wipe my backside after days on the bedpan.

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Two still had to stand either side of me as I grabbed the Zimmer and painfully shuffled to a chair not a bed. They didn’t pull me on as I paused to do the rescue breathing and I only shook at the beginning not the end.

An hour later, though, the physio who had started on me almost immediately arrived and I was back to snarling with the old pain as she lifted my leg off its footstool.

I dread the coming tasks of loo, shuffle, Zimmer, bed, but I’ve demanded stronger painkillers and I know now I can, sort of, control the breathing if I control events.

I will, within days, be moved to yet another rehab for daily intensive physio; hopefully this time for only three weeks.

Laura is now on a plane back to America; Pierce, who arrived the day after, is even more determined I must get out of Las Molieres. He too believes I am cursed if I stay here. Cesar is deliriously happy. He’s with Trudi at the kennels playing with the other dogs.

The surprise birthday lunch complete with cake was cancelled; the bottles of Champagne both brought remain untouched and their time was spent staring pityingly at me as I was rude and ungracious.

Of course, apart from LM always ruining any fun I have with others, the explanation of why it happened is really quite simple.

I wrote about it in advance and so did what I never do – tempted the fates and forgot that the gods laugh when man makes plans.

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