So, on Sunday Kirsty came home at about half past four. She went into the garden to kick a ball about with Eva while I switched the coffee maker. I looked out of the window, and saw her laughing. About a minute later, however long it takes the caffeine gizmo to produce a single cup, Eva came running to the patio doors shouting for me. I looked out and saw Kirsty lying perfectly still on her back in the neighbour’s garden, arms over her head, her head lying at an angle. A splintered plank of wood from the fence dividing the gardens lay on the grass.
When I got there, I saw her glasses lying shattered beside her head. There were cuts on her face and the bridge of her nose, and blood running into her eye, then weeping back out as tears to soak into hair.
She was conscious, crying, and terrified. She told me she couldn’t feel anything below her neck, and didn’t know where her legs were. About then, I started to feel very scared indeed.
The end of last week was a little more relaxed, in a busy sort of way. On Thursday and Friday, we decided that the ground floor of the house needed redecorating. We weren’t making any major design changes, just freshening the place up a bit. We would give it all a lick of paint, and call it good. The effort was actually in advance of having a new oak floor put in next week. Better do it now, than try to make a clean job of it when the floor’s down.
We miscalculated, slightly, in terms of the timescale involved. Our ground floor is all one open plan space. In our heads, this translated into one room’s worth of painting and decorating. We had failed to take into consideration that, although one space, it’s still effectively three rooms â€“ living room, dining room, and kitchen.
We go it done, though it took us into Saturday and a third coat of paint to make it happen (our frequent self-reassurances that ‘the second coat will sort that patchiness out’ proved to be unfounded). We were up and down ladders with paint, balancing precariously on kitchen surfaces, and generally being far less careful than a health and safety inspector might have recommended. Despite this, we came away unscathed, and the downstairs is now a thing of rarefied beauty.
Kirsty had climbed onto the plank in the fence, a foot or so off the ground, to find out whether a piece of roofing had blown free from the top of the shed. She was leaning out into the neighbours garden, craning her head up to look, when the plank broke and she flipped over. She landed on her head and neck, smashing her glasses as the rest of her body followed.
Time’s obviously a bit of a blur for Kirsty after that. She remembers spitting out the mouthful of crisps she had been eating because she was sure she was going to pass out. She remembers having no feeling below her neck. Around then, I turned up, and she told me this was the case. I called for an ambulance.
It wasn’t the clearest telephone conversation I’ve ever had, because I was also trying to keep back a distressed two and a half year old, who didn’t understand why she couldn’t touch mummy. My head was also a mess. I’d like to be able to tell you that I snapped into cool, efficient action, but that would be untrue. I’m perfectly aware that so small a fall, at the wrong angle, can break a neck or cause permanent spinal injury, and just couldn’t get that out of my head.
The ambulance was fast, though the crew were more nonchalant than felt appropriate. I was a little more relaxed myself when they got there, but only because Kirsty was getting some sensation back in her legs. We kept her very still anyway.
Personally, I felt the crew did a lacklustre job. After checking that her neck wasn’t snapped (it wasn’t, thankfully), they pretty much hauled her straight to her feet, despite her protestations. There was nothing in the was of a check up, they just walked her inside and told her the staggering pains in her arms were just pins and needles from lying so awkwardly for so long, and would fade away in an half hour or so. Then they left. Kirsty was in pain, and deeply distressed, but we knew that once the shock wore off it would be business as usual in the household, and we would have a moderately dramatic story to tell next time we met up with friends.
Four hours later, the stabbing pains were still there, and getting worse. I called NHS Direct, a very handy 24 hour advice service, and spoke to a senior nurse. She wasn’t at all happy with the state of play. Initially, she told me there was a four hour backlog for ambulances, due to the bank holiday excesses happening in pubs and clubs across the city. By the time I finished the call, she told me that Kirsty had to stay absolutely still, flat on her back, and we’d have an ambulance in an hour.
Not what you want to hear, and we were both shaken up by the implications of the advice.
Two hours later, no ambulance had arrived. I called back. Apparently, every time an ambulance freed up, it was diverted to a new 999 emergency call before it got to us. With Kirsty in agony, we decided to drive to Accident & Emergency ourselves. The Senior Nurse agreed.
We got to A&E at just past midnight, and found it surprisingly quiet. We were taken through very quickly, and though we then had to wait a half hour for a doctor, we were glad just to be in a hospital. When the doctor did turn up he did a series of simple checks that took maybe two minutes, and made me wonder why the hell the ambulance crew had not done the same thing.
Kirsty has damaged some muscles and nerves in her neck, as well as cutting up her face (when her glasses broke during the fall). Because the nerves are misfiring, they’re telling her brain that she is being stabbed repeatedly in the arms and hands, when in fact she isn’t. There’s not much to be done except let it heal, and the doctors can’t give us a timescale for that. Hopefully, it should be days, rather than weeks.
In the meantime, after yet another doctor saw Kirsty today, she is taking three types of painkiller, not one of which seems to make any difference at all to the pain. She can’t use her hands at all, and so I’m looking after her. Because there’s no let up to the pain, she’s sleeping poorly, and is frequently very distressed. She keeps telling me that she’s sorry she’s not braver. I keep thinking about what would have happened if her head had been at a slightly different angle, and think she’s being very brave indeed. Eva still doesn’t quite get what has happened, although she knows that mummy is very sore, and she can’t touch her in certain places. She’s being brave too, and I’m very proud of her.
As for me, I can’t look at the broken fence without picturing Kirsty’s body on the other side of it. It’s surreal. A small fall, that happened in seconds, and everything went from fine, to not fine at all, like a switch being flicked.
Some malevolent little god somewhere has clearly decided that our lives shall be plagued with a continuation of the recently Interesting Times.