By Jill Wild

    My back garden was looking shabby. It had been weeks since I’d been out in it. Snip, snip went my secateurs. Just one more job before I head off for my morning coffee. My gutters had been taken over by giant, evil looking weeds. They had to come out! I looked around for something to stand on. The step ladder? I couldn’t quite reach the gutters. My outdoor table? I still couldn’t reach them. The stack of barbeque chairs? Damn. No luck there either. I looked around the yard in desperation. I’VE GOT IT! THE WHEELIE BIN! BRILLIANT IDEA! As soon as I climbed up on it, I knew I was dicing with death. It was all too late though, my dogged stubbornness and determination had taken over.

    I hit the ground with a thud as my body crumpled around me. I knew I had broken some bones; just how many I wasn’t sure. The pain was excruciating as I dragged myself through the outside door and into the garage. By pure luck I had opened my roller door that morning to let some fresh air through. The pain was now next level as the grim reality of what I’d just done set in. WHO IN THEIR RIGHT MIND STANDS ON A WHEELIE BIN TO CLEAN OUT THEIR GUTTERS?

    I could feel my body going into shock as I dragged myself up onto the steps leading into my laundry. My phone was on charge in the kitchen. I couldn’t risk doing any more damage to myself, so retrieving it was not an option. Now felt like a good time to say a few silent prayers and practice my ‘full yoga breathing’. My only hope was to wait for a passer-by. A young girl with headphones on strolled past, completely oblivious to my cries for help. ‘Take those things off’ I thought. I said another prayer, this time out loud. I then started wailing again. ‘Help. HELP. HELP. SOMEONE’. 

    Help arrived in the form of a guardian angel named John. A granddad out for a walk with his little granddaughter. John ran inside and rang 000. “The ambos are on their way. Hang in there sweetheart, you’re going to be okay”. 

    I looked up at the handsome triage doctor; he was a dead ringer for Michael Hutchence. “So, tell me, WHAT happened?” For a moment I thought of telling my INXS front man a little white lie. “I fell off my wheelie bin”. “I see” came the reply. I was relieved that there was no judgement from him; in fact, he was completely unfazed by my reckless act. I wondered how many wheelie bin casualties he had patched up. Perhaps I was his first?

    “I’m going to do a set of full body observations on you. Just tell me where you have pain”. I looked into his seductive brown eyes as he prodded and probed every square inch of my body. “So how much damage do thou think I’ve done?”, I blurted out.

    “Possible fractures of your arm and leg, X Rays will tell us more. You’re lucky you know, considering the height that you fell from; you could have killed yourself”.

    With that sobering thought, my long, painful hospital journey began.

    My diagnosis was in. A tibial plateau fracture of my left leg and a fractured left wrist. Until the swelling on my knee went down, my surgery would be delayed. I quickly let go of my vanity as I came to grips with my new reality. My lame hospital gown that I couldn’t tie at the back, my lank, messy hair, and my ‘Au naturel’, no makeup look was how I now presented to the world. The dehumanizing act of having to perform all bodily functions in bed within the confines of a four-bed ward, saw my dignity also take a huge battering.

    “How’s the pain lovely?” chirped the bubbly nurse as she plunged a beeping thermometer into my ear. “Shocking”, I shot back. “On a scale of one to ten, with ten being the worst, how would you rate it?” It was a question that I would hear many times over and became an expert in answering. “A TEN DEFINITELY”. “I’ll get you some Endo”. I had no idea what ‘Endo’ was, but it sounded good. Anything to stop the agonizing pain. It wasn’t long before that magic four lettered pain killer became my best friend.

    The lady in the next bed to me bellowed down her mobile phone. ‘MUM, THERE’S NO VISITORS ALLOWED COS OF BLOODY COVID’. I looked over at my other roommates. One was complaining to the nurses about his cold cup of tea and the other was snoring his precious head off with the midday movie blasting through his sky-high TV set. We were all doing our best to survive; none of us wanted to be there. There would be no peace and quiet for me today, just like all the other days. I had no choice but to suck it up. Tomorrow I would be transferred to another hospital for my big three-hour op.

    After eight long days laying in two different hospital beds, I got the all clear to get up and have a shower. Not a shower in the usual form; more like a highly planned surgical manoeuvre. “I just have to get some garbage bags for your leg and arm, then you can hobble as best you can on your good leg on the gutter frame,” said the nurse. The very thought of getting out of bed terrified me, as did the hobbling on one leg. Somehow, I managed to get to the bathroom in one piece. I tentatively pivoted my bagged-up body onto the safety of the shower chair. The feeling of the warm, soothing water cascading over my body was exhilarating as was the luxury of having clean, freshly washed hair. I had taken my first wobbly steps in my recovery and in the coming weeks I would master the tricky arts of ‘bagging’, ‘pivoting’ and ‘hobbling’ on one leg.

    The doctors gathered around my bed in deep discussion. “Your operation went well. I’m really happy with it, said my surgeon. All eyes were on my heavily bandaged braced leg and my arm in a blue cast. “No weight bearing for eight weeks. You’ll be here for another few days then we’ll ship you off to rehab. AND no more standing on Wheelie Bins hey.” I loved a doctor with a sense of humour. There were no arguments from me on that subtle piece of practical advice.

    The view from my two-bed rehab ward was spectacular. A beautiful old oak tree set on a manicured lawn with rolling hills in the distance. It was the perfect setting for the start of my difficult journey ahead. 

    Word had got around about me; I was the talk of not one but three hospitals. There was no escaping my infamous tag, ‘The Wheelie Bin Lady’. The nurses were all intrigued as to why I would step on one in the first place. My reply was always the same, STUPIDITY. I was humbled that most of them had some degree of empathy for me and replied, ‘We’ve all done some silly things in our time’.

    I learnt quickly that there’s no lolling around feeling sorry for yourself in rehab. It’s rise and shine at 7am when the blinds go up and the lights go on. 8am is breakfast, encouraged to be taken sitting out of bed, 9am is the start of bed sponges and showers; a choice of either MUST be made. There is zero tolerance for unwashed, smelly bodies. 12pm is lunch; again encouraged to be taken out of bed and dinner at 5pm whilst the sun is still shining brightly and the birds still chirping away.

    All of that interspersed with hard core physiotherapy, occupational therapy rounds, doctor’s rounds, pain management rounds and a constant round of ‘obs’ (temperature, pulse and blood pressure). Any wonder that most of us were nodding off by the time Home and Away started.

    With the long days turning into weeks, the dilemma of how to constructively ‘fill in a day’ became a huge problem for me in rehab. Watching daytime TV is not my thing, as is doing Crosswords and Sudoku. After reading all the dated Woman’s Weekly’s and House and Garden magazines I had to find other ways to break the boredom. That came in the form of three things. Filling in my daily meal order; the Mac & Cheese or the Cottage Pie? Big Decision. Talking to the nurses about ANYTHING other than the royal funeral and getting dressed by 10am to wheel myself down the corridor to get my latte from the coffee van and raid the vending machine.

    I had been home for two weeks as I sat in my wheelchair desperately staring at my shower. My personal care lady wasn’t due until the following day. Could I do this on my own? Manoeuvre my wheelchair close enough to pivot onto the shower chair, wash myself without the full use of both arms, then pivot my bone-weary body back again to safety. I reminded myself that after six weeks I was now a MASTER pivoter. The adrenaline surged through my body as I uttered the manoeuvres over and over in my mind. ‘JUST DO IT’, I told myself. But the monkey on my back told me otherwise. ‘JUST DON’T DO IT.’ I felt an overwhelming sense of hopelessness as I backed away in tears. No way could I risk everything that I’d been through. Sadly, there would be no shower for me today. I consoled myself with the fact that I had gone eight days without a shower. What was one more day to wait?

    My reckless act of stupidity on that fateful September morning taught me some humbling truths about life and myself. 1. That the virtues of tolerance and resilience are essential when you’re a patient in hospital. 2. Never take the simple act of having a shower for granted. 3. A good cup of coffee can do wonders for the spirit. 4. All health professionals are angels. 5. And the most important one: NEVER EVER STAND ON A WHEELIE BIN TO CLEAN OUT YOUR GUTTERS.

    A month later I had my second outpatients’ appointment. Everything was healing beautifully, and I got the all clear to fully weight bear on my left leg. After three long months I could finally say goodbye to my leg brace; that ugly contraption with its itchy Velcro straps and heavy buckles. I could at last see light at the end of the tunnel and my life returning to some sort of normality. With a cheeky grin, I asked my orthopaedic surgeon if there was a Wheelie Bin close by that I could toss my leg brace in. 

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