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Hospital with a broken back for a week

February 7, 2016

20160208_110547 (2)Continued from

The day faded outside. The surgeon gave me pictures of my broken back. The black and white printouts showed the shattered vertebrae. A trodden on Tim Tam in a stack of good ones. The gravel of the broken pieces stuck in the discs that sandwiched the T12. 30 percent wedge compression fracture. Crushed anteriorly because I was in a slouching sitting position when the sandbank drove up my spine to meet the wave’s pile driver.

Ct scan 1

No way to contact friends

I’d arrived at hospital in wet board shorts. Nothing else. A total cell phone dependent: not a phone number in my head. My mother was in hospital, my sisters in Brisbane and my daughter in India. Who can help me? Finally I came up with a plan how to get my phone and wallet. I called information for my neighbour’s number. Gary’s wife Anne answered and was concerned. Gary called back.  Thanks to him my car and board was picked up from the surf lifesaving club in Burleigh. He used my key to get into the flat. That evening he brought my phone, laptop some clothes and books. I sent a delirious email to work and my students, typing with my left hand. i brok my bak, cant work tomorow


In the room the regime of Endone began. Like slow death on my back. Broken and aching , I watched TV on the claw that raked across the bed from the wall. My finger and thumb found the nurse button. They’d knock and enter. Beside the bed, their eyes on me in a chute of dim light. The nurses followed the protocol. What’s your full name and date of birth? Michael Smith … Are you allergic to anything? No. The nurse parade above and before me ranged from sweet to funny to friendly to dispassionate to humorless. Some missed some feared.

Every two hours I woke. Asked for pain relief every four. The plastic pillow and the plastic mattress sponged my sweat glands. My hair was wet and my voice dry. Nurses questioned my rolling eyes. Everything they did hurt. They rolled me. Harped on my oxygen saturation. They made me breathe. The ligaments that held the vertebra hadn’t ruptured. Saved from an operation. Bending my knee I rolled on my side. Reached for whatever was in reach like a man trapped a week in a car down an embankment. Things. Books, food, cutlery, water, urine bottles.

Over the week I had a cat scan, an MRI and a farewell Xray. Only ceilings I saw. The faces of wardsmen, who shared their jokes, discontent or larrikin masks on the way to the technicians, floated below the white ceilings at my feet. Using the dreaded tablecloth trick they transferred my useless body to the machine. I cursed. The Endone and Tramedo drugs made my moods dark. Hell blurred day and night. Visitors and professionals visited. I was hoarse and nodding, but thank God they came. Without them the black fish of broken surfers would have filled my ward like a sweaty grave. Sometimes depression replaced the courage they’d given. But more than ever attitude was everything and I tried to stay positive.


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  1. Nathan McCoy permalink

    Great story mate. Just heard half of it on 91.7 ABC Radio on the Goldy. At work so I missed half of it, but I retained some words ‘dinner plates on concrete’ so I found it on here! Engaging, you should be a writer. Hope you’ve recovered well and ar back in the water mate.

    • Thanks Nathan, great to get some feedback. The CT scan makes the vertebral body look like a smashed dinner plate and thats what it felt like too.

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