The Unexpected Downfall of an Upright Man

Brian Steel

 Copyright © 2003 Brian Steel

(I've possibly stumbled, literally, on a palliative for flu, not of the pathological process itself, but a way to stifle one's irritated resentment at its nasty effects: the semi-trailers driving up and down your backbone, the bones on FIRE, the spiders' nests behind lacklustre eyes ...)


There I was on the return half of my stubborn walk into town for more anti-influenza medical supplies (gargle, lozenges, Vitamin C, and a couple of Vicks products; all the good old-fashioned remedies). In spite of my grogginess, I had deliberately not taken the car, in order to be able to bombard the despicable bacteria (gorging themselves on my poor suffering fevered body) with strong solar rays: fry the bastards! Let THEM suffer a bit for a change.

I was quite close to home, on the cliff path beside the main road, deep in slightly agitated thought, when, suddenly, I tripped (on a tree root, it seemed). Then came that weird split-second when you realise, powerlessly, that your body is falling and, FEARfully, that some bits of you are probably going to get very hurt. At least this agony of uncertainty is not prolonged: Ker-rump! The die is cast.

As I lay for a few seconds spreadeagled across the path, I could feel that the main damage was to the blade of my right hand and the right side of my body. Thank goodness my thrice broken weak left wrist seemed OK (not wearing a watch is another plus at such moments). A bit of bruising and grazes on the palm of that hand also seemed encouragingly minor. I distinctly remember noticing that across the dirt path where I had fallen there was a slim piece of concrete, slightly projecting I think. (Later I thought I'd have to go back and look one day - sue the local Council maybe. But then I realised that, although this may be an unusually logical attitude these days, I can hardly sue the Council for not watching more carefully where I was going, can I?)

After those seconds of lying still, I slowly and gingerly start to get up, as I hear a car come to a sudden halt on the road and see a young lady approaching. "Are you all right? I'm a nurse." How kind of her to stop! I survey what is left of my right hand, lots of nasty and slightly dirty grazes, and bright red bloody patches, already swelling, but the blood is not actually flowing and certainly not gushing. It doesn't look at all good - but it could have been much worse. I gently wiggle my left wrist. Seems OK. Bruise on upper right leg. Picking up my plastic shopping bag of medicines, I mumble thank you for the second time to the nurse and slowly walk home, cradling a numb right hand and constantly monitoring the angry red bits on it. I feel "all shook up", as well as really stupid for falling in the first place! I realise that since it is Sunday I will have to go to a hospital 15 km away. What a bore!

A slow half kilometre later, in the bathroom, as I carefully wash and re-wash the wounds in water fortified with liberal doses of disinfectant, I change my mind about the hospital; there must be an emergency doctor somewhere in the vicinity - just to make sure the wounds are clean enough, and for a tetanus booster shot. Just then I notice something new, and a bit odd, about my breathing, a sort of pain in the chest (right side). It gets worse, my rib cage is hurting as I breathe in. Oh dear! And that is all my resident Drama Director needs to hear to take over the emergency: broken rib(s), possible punctured lung. Crumbs! I poke my finger around my upper chest area. It suddenly doesn't look at all good. I search for the phone number and ring the emergency doctor. His answer machine promises to phone back within "a few minutes". I impatiently wait those few minutes and then phone again, since the breathing and discomfort is getting a bit worse. At last: a live doctor is speaking to me. I explain my predicament and my concern. I think he only decides to see me because of two crucial facts: my age and the breathing difficulty. He sounds rather grumpy (and I am far too apologetic, but they are in command, aren't they!). We are to meet in fifteen minutes.

Before driving off for this important engagement, I take my Drama Director's advice and leave a pair of clean pyjamas on the bedroom chair for my daughter to bring to the hospital if that is where I end up, as is looking quite likely. I also switch off all the fires. Nothing like good forward planning. Just a little stiff upper lip too. I have not informed anyone, so no one else need worry: YET!

Getting into the car is slow and painful; driving is made slightly more awkward because I eagerly accepted the doctor's advice and have clumsily wound a plastic bag with a few ice cubes around my lacerated right hand. It gets in the way as I drive.

At the surgery I have to wait five minutes before the doctor drives up. Then it is all over very quickly. He swabs the wounds, sloshes on a lot of dramatic orange disinfectant, plunges the tetanus dose into my right upper arm. He then pokes around my ribcage gently for a while, and finally says there is no clinical evidence of a break (phew! but what is he insinuating there?). It could be a popped cartilage (up there?), or even a cracked rib: three weeks or so of possible pain, and lots of care! I may need analgesics at night. Still, compared to the vistas offered by my gifted Drama Director, the verdict and sentence seem extraordinarily generous.

And then comes the bonus for all my anxiety: as he fills in his forms, it becomes obvious that we are both from UK, both from the same county (Hampshire), have both been in Australia since the late 1960s and that during the 1940 German blitz of WWII we were living on opposite sides of much-bombed Southampton.

We both agree that it's always nice to go 'back' for a while - well, mixed perhaps - and that UK is hopelessly overcrowded. I might even make him my new GP - if he'll accept me on his list!

As I leave the surgery, I realise that my close encounter with the mud and the lump of concrete only happened just over an hour before. Another of those little ironies of time and relativity.



There was quite a lot of discomfort and minor pain for the first 48 hours, especially at night, and the chest pain was aggravated by my coughing and sneezing B but at least I wasn't wasting my nervous energy thinking of the flu any more; I was busier worrying there might be a rib breakage. The tetanus triceps entry point swelled to the size of a grapefruit, perhaps the body's ingenious way of reducing my concern about the ribs. On the second day, My Drama Director suddenly emerged triumphantly from his sulking fit, when the kind man in the Pharmacy who was showing me the cough mixtures gave me the unwelcome and totally unexpected advice that my rib condition made it vital that I SHOULD cough every now and then, to stop pneumonia setting in! You wouldn't believe it, would you! Still, I think I can understand why God didn't allow guys to have babies!


Psychologist's report:

"I am quite worried about this man's anxiety levels."

(July 2003)


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