The Day I Broke My Rib

broken rib personal story
Just a bad day.
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I’ve got my long pajamas on. They’re too long for me, I know it…I don’t care. I’m determined to hang these Christmas lights. It’s already the middle of December! My husband is in the other room watching a Bing Crosby movie.

“Come on and watch this with me – I’ll put the lights up later,” he calls out. “You’re going to fall.”

“I won’t!” I shout.

I’m standing on top of the oven. I want to hang these lights across the window but the sink is right in my way. I don’t want to stand on the sink… I’ll just step one foot onto the edge and keep most of my weight on the oven. OK. So I do that – and then I stretch up to the top of the window with the lights in my hand… but, like I say, my pajamas are too long. My foot is sort of trapped inside the fabric.  As I reach my arms up, my foot slips off the edge of the sink and I fall and hit that sink hard. I hit it with all my body weight. BANG! I have never felt so much pain so fast.

I know my husband has heard me fall and I want to avoid the “I told you so” part of this whole thing…I hear him getting up and coming out to the kitchen. I want to head him off, I want to shout out “I’m fine!” I want this pain to ease off so that I can get back to hanging these lights. I try to call out but I literally cannot say a word. I am gasping. I’m in so much pain I can hardly breathe. I think I need to sit down - I think I need to lie down… I can’t lie down, it hurts too much.

Now he’s here in the kitchen and he looks shocked. He crouches down beside me. “Lie down” he tells me. I tell him I can’t, it hurts to move. He helps me to lie down flat on my back. It feels so absurd, to be lying on the kitchen floor in between the fridge and the oven, right beside the cat’s bowl. I’m looking straight up at the ceiling, at the unpainted underside of the shelves…the plugs and cords of the toaster and the kettle look so different from down here… It’s sort of bewildering… I feel like I’m experiencing things in a completely detached way, as if I’m just observing all of this, noting to myself how odd it is… but at the same time I’m right here, feeling this intense pain and actually feeling pretty scared… How bad is this? I don’t have insurance. Why isn’t this pain subsiding as these kinds of things usually do? Why can I not bear to take deep breaths?

My husband is asking me a lot of questions. Do I need to go the bathroom? Can I push down with both of my feet? Can I take a deep breath? No. Yes. No. Then he runs his hands down my left side. Ouch!! He feels it. My rib is broken. I can hear it clunk whenever I try to take a breath. And when he puts my hand there, I can feel the bump of the break too. As I lie on the floor, answering his questions, I start to feel a little bit calmer. The pain seems to be lessening. He says I’m going to have to go to the hospital. I don’t want to!

“I’ll be fine, I just need to rest here for a minute.” I’m obviously not thinking straight yet… I have to get dressed, we’re meeting our friends for brunch. “OK I’m getting up-, ”  oh my GOD! That hurt! I lie back down, feeling a sort of panic rising in me. It’s been about twenty minutes. If I’m still like this now, this means I’m probably not going to be right for a while. I ask my husband to call our friends to say we’re not going to make it to brunch. I hear him making the call, and telling them what happened.

One of our friends is a nurse – he starts asking a lot of questions and I can hear my husband telling him everything. Yes, I can move my feet, no I can’t breathe without pain, yes it’s definitely broken. Our friend says I have to go to the hospital for x-rays. What if I’ve punctured my lung? I say I haven’t, but the truth is I don’t know whether I’d know or not. Still, I don’t want to go to the hospital. Apart from the insurance, I don’t want to have to move. How would I get there? A cab? I’d have to get dressed…ugh..  I’d like to just lie here on the floor for the rest of the day. 

I try to make the case, but my husband is having none of it. I hear him calling 911. Oh the horror! I can’t bear the drama! As soon as he gets off the phone I ask him to help me to get up and get me dressed. I slowly move into the living room and sit down on the floor again. He goes into our bedroom and comes out with one ridiculous outfit after another in his hands. “Just get me a pair of leggings and a shirt that buttons up the front” I say.  When the ambulance arrives and the EMT workers buzz the apartment they ask if I want to be taken down on the stretcher. No way. I tell them I’ll walk down the stairs and see them outside. It takes me a few minutes… I live on the 6th floor, and it’s a walk-up. I meet two of them on the stairs and they come down with me and guide me into the back of the ambulance.

I ask my husband to come with me, and he rides in the front beside the driver. I want to just sit still and not move much at all, but they insist that I lie down on the stretcher. It’s safer and apparently they want to keep my neck and spine straight. I dread the act of getting into the lying position. It really does hurt to move. I don’t have a choice…holding my breath, I lie back down and the next thing I know I’m being taped onto the stretcher. Tape around the ankles, tape around the knees, tape round the hips, tape around the shoulders, tape around my chin and tape around my forehead! It’s so tight that I’m beginning to feel horribly claustrophobic. I won’t think about it. I don’t think about what’s happening. It’s all out of my control now.

I’m silent, I’m breathing, I’m trying not to think. I look at the ceiling of the ambulance. I look at the EMT worker’s hands, his uniform, the equipment that hangs everywhere. I wonder how much longer this trip is going to take. I can hear my husband arguing with the driver. We’re not taking the fastest route, he says. The EMT guy in the back with me asks me how this happened. He asks me why I look so scared.

I say I’m worried about some stuff. I’m worried that my husband is going to get kicked out of the ambulance. I’m worried about how much all this is going to cost. I’m worried about work. I’m a bartender. Will I be able to work this weekend? The EMT worker asks me on a scale of one to ten how much pain I’m in.

“When I’m not moving, I’m ok,” I say. “Maybe a five. But when I move, it’s a nine.”

“You’re pretty quiet about it,” he tells me. “I’ve had people screaming all the way to the hospital with less pain than that.”

I smile – or at least, I try to smile – hard to do with my chin taped into position like this. I can still hear my husband arguing with the driver. I realize that now he’s the one who’s freaking out. I’ve given in to the situation, but now I think it’s hitting him. We don’t have any insurance. How much is this going to cost? How long will I be out of work? I can hear him telling them that they’re taking the longest possible route, and that l’m in pain. He’s telling the driver to hurry up. We do seem to be taking forever to get there … are we hitting every red light? I’m starting to feel really panicky again. 

I tell the EMT guy that I’m getting claustrophobic. I hear my husband telling them again to hurry up. By the time we get to Bellevue I’m sure he’s going to get himself arrested. So here we are – we arrive at the hospital and the back of the ambulance opens up and my stretcher gets whisked out and I’m surrounded by new people. I can’t see my husband anymore but I can hear his voice. The EMT worker tells me I’ll be seen immediately because I’ve arrived on a stretcher. I think he’s trying to make me laugh. Or maybe he’s telling the truth.

They wheel me inside and just as soon as I can get anyone’s attention I ask them to take off the tape. I call my husband and ask him to take it off for me. He starts to peel it off, then some hospital staff take over – oh the relief! I go from a stretcher to a bed, I answer many, many questions. The curtains are drawn around my bed.  I’m given a gown to put on. I dread the movement involved, but I change into it. A group of young doctors and nurses arrive and stand over me, clipboards in hands. They are all very, very nice. They seem kind and interested.

A very friendly young doctor asks me what happened. Asks if I’ve ever had a broken bone before. Whether I’ve ever had to come to the emergency room before. Whether my husband was in the room when this happened… It starts to dawn on me that they seem to think my husband did this. I am so shocked I don’t know how to respond.

“No!” I say. “I fell. It was my own fault! He warned me that I was going to fall and I ignored him”.

I see them looking at each other. I can’t tell whether they believe me. I don’t know who is in charge and I don’t know what happens next. Nobody seems to be able to tell me. People come and go. Various nurses come by my bed to check on things. I’m brought in for an x-ray but when the radiologist asks me to lift my arms over my head, the pain sweeps through me again and I feel everything going black and the next thing I know I’m on the floor being helped up by two people. Apparently, I have fainted… oh how embarrassing!

This episode adds an extra layer to my file… I have to wait until someone else sees me about this fainting thing before I can go home. After some time, my husband goes home. He’s going to come back to pick me up when I’m done. It’s been hours. By the time I’ve been spoken to by everyone who needs to speak to me, it’s 11 pm. I leave the hospital with two Tylenol and a prescription for painkillers in my hand. 

Apparently, there’s nothing to be done for a broken rib. You just have to wait for it to heal itself. It takes about six or seven weeks, I’m told. I can’t go to work for about a month, at least. And during this time, I’d be best advised not to cough, sneeze, hiccup or laugh unless I want to experience excruciating pain. Oh man.


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