"Patrick, something is broken."
"The bike is fine," he confidently replied, greasy from putting the chain back on.
"No, I'm broken."
Feeling the pain but feeding off the adrenaline, I had stood up and climbed back on my bike after crashing and sliding across the tar into a motorbike during the Crono des Nations time trial. I put my foot down to clip in but I didn't hear the cleat engage. I heard a sudden loud crack from my hip.
While my husband stared at the empty finish line on live streaming, waiting for my arrival, I called him from the ambulance to tell him I had a suspected broken hip and I was on my way to the emergency room. I've crashed before. I've broken bones before. But there's no place farther from home than a foreign hospital.
Suddenly, I was painfully aware I didn't speak any French. Everything seemed like it was happening in front of me, like I was just a spectator. The hospital was very busy but eventually I was taken for x-rays and then a doctor told me I was absolutely fine and I could go home. Actually, that I had to go home. They needed the bed.
Leave? The pain in my hip didn't just suggest otherwise, it was screaming it. The doctor approached to assist me out of bed but one move and I was in agony. "No," I told the doctor knowing he would understand, "there is something wrong". Turns out, I had a stable fracture of the iliac blade but the second round of x-rays did little other than correct my diagnosis. Since there was nothing to do for a stable fracture, I was told I still had to leave. I couldn't believe what they were saying. Again. I didn't want to stay in the hospital but, with the pain I was experiencing, I couldn't conceive that it would be safe to leave, let alone possible.
After many phone calls to insurance, overhearing numerous debates in French, and my team director rejecting their proposal for me to spend the night in the hallway, finally they found space for me in a shared room, called in the orthopaedic surgeon and gave me some much needed pain relief.
Once I was upstairs in my room, the drama seemed to settle. I was still in pain but it was more manageable and I knew, mostly, what was going on. But then I had to pee. Some of the nurses caring for me ventured a little English but mostly our communication was silent as we passed my phone back and fourth with Google translated English to French and French to English. I still couldn't get out of bed so I called the nurse and passed her my phone. Let me just say that peeing laying down is not as convenient or as easy as it sounds. First, the nurse turned on the tap. That didn't work. Then we tried tilting the bed. That didn't work. "Let go!" she kept saying in English with her thick French accent. There was nothing I wanted more!
Then there was the food. Before you get any romantic visions of what hospital food is like in France, let me stop you. A bread roll for breakfast…and that's it. Lunch wasn't much better and dinner, if that's what we're calling it, was nothing short of awful. I was thankful for the care I was receiving but when the decision was made to transfer me back to South Africa, I was so happy to be heading home.
I was taken by ambulance straight to the airplane. Turkish Airlines had flattened three rows of economy seats and fitted a stretcher on top. It wasn't the upgrade I had always dreamed of, but then I was also given Norbert. With the risk of thrombosis and other complications, Norbert, a nurse from Austria who spoke perfect English, would fly with me all the way from Paris to Istanbul to Cape Town.
I got a lot of stares from other passengers but I could only lay and stare at the ceiling. I still couldn't move a lot so Norbert even helped me with my dinner, cutting it up and handing me the fork. You're always desperate to lay down on a long haul flight but I spent hours wishing I could sit up. I was beyond uncomfortable and Norbert, ever vigilant, could tell. At 3am, somewhere over Africa, the turbulence was just too much and Norbert put in an IV. I wanted the flight to be over. I just wanted to be home.
I was never so glad to be home in my life. When we landed in Cape Town I was transferred by ambulance to a local hospital. I was surrounded by smiling faces the entire way and I could understand what everyone was saying. I could feel a weight coming off me as the familiar rushed in.
I was still in a lot of pain when I arrived at the hospital but this time I knew what was going on and I could communicate properly. The doctor ended up admitting me for another three nights and, by the time he sent me home, the pain was under control and I was ready and happy to leave. People might assume a South African hospital isn't up to standard but the care was beyond amazing…and the food was much better.
It's been a month since I crashed and looking back on the situation it felt so much longer than a week. It was incredibly stressful, physically and emotionally, and I'm so grateful for everyone who helped me. From my DS Thomas riding in the ambulance with me, to all the travel and medical staff, especially the patient nurse when I had to pee and Norbert for being so sweet and caring. To everyone who reached out with encouragement and of course my family and friends who have continued to care for me after the hospital. I'm on the mend now, even on the home trainer, and there's nowhere I'd rather be.
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