It was about 7:30a, December 6th, 2018, a regular Thursday morning, and I was home alone, except for the animals. I was in the great room talking to adult Son on the phone about Christmas when my new 6-month-old puppy, Pumpkin, indicated she needed to go outside. I finished the call quickly as puppy potty training is no joke, and reached to put my iPhone down on the end table beside me thinking I would just leave it there while I ran the dog outside... but something stopped me (thank you ancestors, or Gaia, or God or Dog or Zoroaster or Allah or who/whatever that still, small voice is!) and I placed the phone in my pajama pants pocket instead, thinking you never know when you might need to have your phone on your person. I hesitate to say it was a premonition, but more like a nudge from a guardian angel -- something I've experienced before and will tell you about sometime, as that's a good story, too. But I digress. I scooped up the 30 lb. puppy because she hadn't yet mastered the basement stairs and I started walking down the first flight before the landing toward the basement where I would let Pumpkin out. Two or three stairs shy of the landing, I stepped off and suddenly realized we were going to fall and fall hard. I honestly don't know exactly why I fell. I think I thought I was at the bottom, but I can't say that with 100% certainty. I am an English Major, not a Math Major, so numbers and counting (stairs, in this case) aren't my strong suit, okay?!?! It wasn't Pumpkin's fault because she was being still. I braced myself for the landing, softly exclaiming, bad word, bad word, bad word as I fell.
It was a hellacious impact that I somehow registered but didn't feel. I knew my right leg was broken at or near my ankle the instant I fell, though I couldn't tell you how I knew it. I don't remember hearing a crack, I didn't see it break, and I didn't feel any pain at all. Pumpkin, while terrified from the fall, was perfectly fine, though I didn't know that until later, because she screamed and barked and cried as she instantly jumped free from my arms and tore back up the stairs. And, just so you know, and to be sure I get a little credit here, the reason she was fine was because I made a conscious decision to protect her as I was falling and chanting the f word like a mantra, so I kept my arms wrapped around her instead of dropping her to break my fall. She landed on top of me before she scrambled off screaming and no amount of calling her could get her to come back down those stairs so I could check her over. I don't blame her, she had just been severely traumatized on those stairs through the clumsiness of the person who was supposed to protect her. I would have ignored me, too. Smart girl! Clever girl! Very!
I sat up, but was afraid to look at my leg, so I didn't, except in a glancing way to check for bleeding; none. I knew I needed to stay as calm as possible and I was afraid that what I would see if I examined it too closely might freak me out. Instead, I said a quick thank you to the ancestors for prompting me to put my phone in my pocket and then I pulled it out to call 911. The problem was, I couldn't make the phone call for some weird reason. Maybe I was just too freaked out? I was definitely in shock. But I actually think something maybe happened to the phone when I fell, because I remember it was showing words in a foreign language somehow. So, after trying several different ways to manually press the screen to dial 911 and seeing the words in Elvish or whatever language it was, I thought, how else can I solve this problem? I wasn't wearing my Apple Watch which has an emergency call feature and I had forgotten that my phone also has that feature, duh. Though, even if I had thought to use that, I really didn't want to send out a blanket bat signal SOS without any context, 'cause then the police might come roaring up, guns drawn and that is NOT what I needed. I briefly considered trying to drag myself up the half flight of 8 stairs, but I didn't have anything to use to splint my leg, so I thought that was a bad idea, especially since I wasn't even sure I could reach our land line once I got upstairs as it might be sitting perched atop the upright piano far out of reach for all I could remember.
That's when I thought of the "Hey, Siri" feature, which I had enabled and barely used. I don't know why I said,"Hey Siri, call Husband," instead of "... call 911", but I guess it was because I had decided calling Emergency Services was not possible somehow? Yeah, stupid, I realize now, but, again, my brain was struggling because I was in shock, so... anyway, Siri graciously bypassed all the malarky on the display screens and dialed Husband. (Apple folks, you're welcome for the free advertising, so feel free to send a check along if you're so inclined.)
Husband works nights and was just leaving to come home, so answered right away. I told him that I had fallen and I thought my leg was broken. I explained that I couldn't get my phone to call 911 and asked him to do it. I asked him where he was and he said he was just then leaving work, which is 45 minutes away. This meant the EMTs would likely arrive at my locked house before he would, so I reminded him that he had brought the hidden, spare key inside when he was painting the deck last summer and not replaced it, so he would have to have them break in to get to me. I wasn't sure how long it would be before the shock would wear off and I would start feeling what was sure to be some class A, superlative pain, so I was unwilling to wait the 45 minutes it would take him to get to the house and let them in. Replacing a door or window once the EMTs broke one was going to be expensive, so reminding Husband he was the one who had removed and not replaced the spare key was a smart move and proof I still had some modicum of brain function. Hey, we've been married 29 years, I have learned to take the blame when I must and avoid it when I can!
My conversation with Husband was short, because neither one of us thought of adding 911 to the call, so he hung up to call them instead. In the meantime, in an effort to try to avoid having the EMTs break in, I called adult Daughter to see if she might by chance be somewhere near the house and thus, able to swoop in like Wonder Woman and save a window or door from decimation. I mean, we live in Minnesota and it was meteorological winter! You do not want a window or door broken and thus, not keeping out the cold that's always lurking just outside, waiting to kill you! Seriously, people, I'm writing this on February 4, 2019 and the current temperature, which has moderated from the extreme temperatures of last week, is 7 degrees. Sev-en! WAY up from -29 last week! Unfortunately, Daughter was asleep at her abode and did not hear her phone. Drat.
Mmm-kay. Not surprisingly, I, like you, hate making an embarrassing spectacle of myself (shut up, Steve!!!! Nobody wants to hear about me falling off that stage again, you eejit!!!), so I steeled myself for the necessity of the EMTs breaking into the house. That's when I realized I needed to try to call 911 again. I remembered a recent news story about a police officer shooting some woman's dog when they responded to a 911 call because the dog barked at them as they approached, and I started to worry that poor, traumatized Pumpkin might get hurt by accident in an encounter with strange people breaking into her house. I did pause and again consider waving the EMTs off until Husband got home to avoid the possibility, but I didn't think the police would be responding anyway, so firearms were unlikely to be present. Probably it would just be EMTs and Fire Personnel. (Husband later told me there was one police officer present, though I have no recollection of that.) And, again, while I do actually have a high tolerance for pain, that doesn't mean I like experiencing it AT ALL, so I decided to try to call 911 to give them a better picture of what to expect when the first responders arrived.
I would like to pause here and say how very appreciative I am of our fist responders. They run up the stairs when everyone else is running down, they face the gunfire, they talk the suicidal off the edge of the bridge, they dive into the rushing, freezing waters, they charge into the flames, to name just a few ways they step into the fray. They are our heroes and heroines, and I have the honor of counting some of them among my friends. Thank you for doing jobs that are sometimes harrowing and always challenging. (That endorsement is free! In fact, I'm pretty sure I want to write YOU all a check for what comes next in this story, so be watching for a donation in the mail soon.)
So, I took my phone out again and attempted to call 911 for the fifth or sixth time that morning. Whatever problem I had earlier was now resolved, because I simply dialed 911 and the call went through. (Yes, yes, I know, there was probably nothing ever wrong with the phone and everything wrong with my brain! SHUT UP STEVE!!!) I explained to the operator why I was calling, told her that my husband had already called earlier and then gave her my location in the house and told her that the EMTs or fire personnel were going to have to break in to get to me unless the old garage door code which I somehow remembered, worked. I went on to say that my six-month-old puppy was wandering around scared upstairs and that she might be alarmed and bark at them when they broke in, but she was only a puppy and wouldn't hurt anybody so please, please, please tell them to please not hurt my puppy. I don't really remember what she said back to me exactly, though it was something along the lines of ma'am they are going to have to do their job, whatever that entails, which wasn't terribly reassuring, but I wasn't in any position to do anything about it, so all I could do was thank her and pray that Pumpkin would be alright. She asked me for the first of many, many, many times that day and the next, if I had lost consciousness or hit my head when I fell. Nope. She then reassured me that the EMTs were on their way, so I hung up and settled down to wait.
At this point, I had been sitting up on the landing for 10 to 15 minutes or so, and I realized it might be a while yet before the EMTs arrived and gained access to the house, so I decided to try to scoot backwards and lean against the near wall in order to save my energy until help arrived. I was surprised and a little weirded out, to be honest, when I was able to do this without pain as well. I figured moving my injured foot/leg/ankle would aggravate it -- and by moving, I mean dragging it backward in a virtually straight line without trying to lift it -- but I guess the shock was doing me the favor of shielding me from the pain. I got myself as comfortably positioned as I was able to under the circumstances, then texted my co-worker to let him know I was not going to make it to work that day. Turns out, that was the understatement of the year.
I heard some noises outside and realized the cavalry must have arrived, so I checked the Drone app we use on all our cars to pinpoint Husband's location. For all I knew, he might have been driving like a bat out of hell and could be nearly home, so I was a little disappointed when I realized he was still about 20 minutes away. (Drone folks, feel free to send along a check also!) I briefly debated asking the EMTs to wait for Husband to arrive and let them in instead of having them bust in like the Kool-aid guy, but I quickly decided they probably wouldn't appreciate that request. Not to mention the fact that, as I mentioned before, I don't particularly enjoy pain and was afraid that the shock was going to wear off and I was going to be screaming bloody murder in agony. I didn't think anybody needed to see that s@*t.
I was startled by one of the first responders knocking on the basement sliding glass door, just across the room from where I was sitting on the stair landing. He tried the locked door and said the code I had given the 911 operator for the garage door hadn't worked to open it, then asked me which window he should break to get in. That set me back for a sec, I tell you. It hadn't occurred to me to think about this or discuss it with Husband, and I wasn't in a state of mind to have to make any kind of big decision like that. I took a second and thought it was probably best if they didn't break a window on the front or side of the house because that could be seen from the street and wouldn't be secure until it could be repaired, which would probably take days. (Ha! What a fool I was! It didn't take days. It took effin WEEKS!) I then took inventory of all the windows on the back of the house and decided one of the windows on the deck flanking the sliding glass door would be the best option. I said as much to the nice, patient man by hollering across the basement and through the closed door and he went off to confer with his cohort.
A few short minutes later, all hell broke loose again as someone began smashing their way through the designated window, hitting it repeatedly until I began to wonder if we had inadvertently had bullet proof windows installed when we built this house. I mean, when I kicked a ball too hard and it smashed a neighbor's garage window when I was child, that thing shattered with one blow from a rubber orb! How is that fair? Have the window engineers really stepped up their game that much? At any rate, it seemed to take SO LONG for them to break through that window that I really began to wonder if they were going to be able to get in before Husband got home. It was very harrowing hearing that level of glass-shattering destruction and knowing that Pumpkin and our parakeet, Calcifer, were hearing it, too and couldn't understand what was happening. I also realized that Calcifer could quickly and easily get chilled and die if he was exposed to too cold a temperature for too long. All this upset me, and I had to steel myself to endure it and to trust that Pumpkin and Calcifer would be okay. Thank goodness, someone thought to use a rug from the kitchen to block the opening right away, so Calcifer was fine. Husband told me later that when he arrived a few minutes after the EMTs had gained access to the house, he found Pumpkin standing in the office, hiding her head in the corner of the window frame, clearly traumatized, but physically unharmed. Poor baby, she wouldn't even look at him when he approached her, so he just picked her up and held and petted her until she calmed down.
And now that I have wrenched the hearts of all my fellow animal lovers with that part of the story, I will go ahead and tell you that, as of this writing, Pumpkin is happy and healthy and shows no signs of post-traumatic stress. Husband likes to say she doesn't know how lucky she is that she won the lottery and got to come live with me because, just in case you haven't already realized this from the part of the story where I didn't drop the dog to protect myself from the fall, I am the biggest animal lover that's probably ever lived, and my puppy is extremely loved and spoiled. We did, however, immediately work to train Pumpkin to handle the stairs on her own -- and by we, I mean the rest of the family who were still able to negotiate stairs normally.
Once the EMTs had access to the house, they came and checked my condition. My first question was is my puppy okay. Yes, they said, she's fine, just scared and hiding from us in the other room. That was a huge relief. I had been so worried she might have been injured in the fall. Next came blood pressure, injury assessment and slipper removal. Is it okay if we cut off your sock? Yes. Did you lose consciousness or hit your head when you fell? No. Someone placed an IV in my left arm and asked me if I was allergic to anything. I gave her that list of things, none of which are pain meds, and she told me she was going to push fentanyl. I remember thinking fentanyl!!! That's the drug I keep hearing about on the news that's laced in so many illegal drugs and is killing people right and left! WTF?!?! Maybe I should ask her to give me something else, especially since I'm not actually in any pain at the moment? Then I thought better of second guessing my rescuer and just said, okay. I mean, she had actually looked at and assessed my injury while I had barely glanced at it with my eyes deliberately unfocused, so I trusted that she knew what she was doing and wasn't going to kill me. Turns out she did and she didn't.
The discussion about how to get me up the stairs then began in earnest and it was soon decided that they would carry me up on an evac chair made for stairs. It was about this time that I heard Husband arrive home. I think I hollered something inane up to him, like, "Hi, honey!" (Shut up Steve! You try making appropriate repartee when you're injured in your pajamas and surrounded by strangers who've just broken into your house!) They got the chair down to the landing and positioned beside me, then they started debating how to get me into it in such a confined space. I realized I could probably lift myself into it on my own and said as much. That seemed to surprise and impress them that I was able and willing to participate in my own rescue, so they agreed that I could try it. Ba da boom, ba da bing, I was in the chair. Next they lifted it and began carrying me up the half flight of stairs. I remember being surrounded by people and being maneuvered around so I was facing backward as they carefully hauled me up, one stair at a time. I felt like I had been liberated from hell.
When I got to the top and the EMTs set me down to regroup, the first thing I did was look to see where Husband was. He was on the other side of the room, looking straight at the floor, avoiding looking at me. I knew what that meant, and I just broke down and started to cry. If he couldn't even look at me, I knew my injury had to be really, really bad. And, indeed, it was.
*Stay tuned for Chapter 2 -- in which the first hospital I go to is woefully unprepared to handle such extreme injuries.