Experience – Unexpected, Part 1

2014 had started quite bleak for me. My last colleague and friend at my previous company had left us in January, one of 9 people who had moved on to greener pastures throughout 2013. I was completely on my own and the mercy of a somewhat unreasonable boss.  I was doing the work of 3 sales persons, monitoring all of the projects the veterinarians had started and doing grunt work like delivering product because our teams couldn’t dispatch anything in time.

I was at wits end come February 2014, travelling more than 8000km (5000 miles) per month. On one particular journey in February, I was rushing from the small town of Swartruggens to Zeerust (another small town) when I got a tyre puncture. Now, something I have to add is that this is quite a regular thing for me. I considered waiting like a damsel in distress on this dirt road in the middle of nowhere but then I realised that I a) didn’t have the patients to do so and b) didn’t want to risk being mugged. So, I got into my overalls that I normally keep for farm visits, changed the tyre and set on my merry way. I didn’t even think about it twice, apart from the grumbled realisation that I was going to have to replace another tyre.

The next morning however, I woke up in pain. I had been in an unfamiliar bed and had thought that I had simply slept the wrong way on my left shoulder. The bed and breakfast lady, (who treats me like a daughter rather than a client) volunteered to rub my shoulder for me. I allowed her to do so for about a minute but upon manipulation of the joint the pain was so excruciating that I soon bid her to stop. I drank an anti-inflammatory and went to my car where I discovered another problem. The shoulder refused to move. I couldn’t lift it, couldn’t change the gears, couldn’t even raise my arm to the steering wheel. As I sat there in my car, more than 300km from home, I began to suspect that I might have a problem. I went to the local doctor, hoping for an emergency consultation but the good town of Zeerust has only 3 doctors and on that particular day, only one was working. The secretary immediately pinned me for a foreigner and sweetly said that she could only help me the next morning. I explained that it would be a very quick consultation, but no. I had to wait till the morning. The pain in my shoulder was getting worse at that stage and because I had to drive home, I didn’t want to take too many pain medication so I lost my temper with Zeerust and decided to head back to civilisation. I called my friend and physiotherapist on the way home and requested that she sees me when I returned. She was able to fit me in immediately.

As luck would have it, with only one arm and no way to safely change gears, I was struck in one of the worst rains storms I had ever driven in that day. A journey that usually took me two and a half hours now took me four and I’ll be the first to confess that I was crying from frustration and pain by the time I reached my friend. She looked at the shoulder but her prognosis wasn’t good or comforting. I either had bursitis, an inflammation in the shoulder joint, or I had somehow torn my rotator cuff ligaments. I had to go to the emergency room but as I didn’t have the strength for it that evening, I stalled till the next day.

Which happened to be a Friday.

In hindsight, my timing probably wasn’t as well thought out as it should’ve been, but I still feel that regardless of what time one arrives at an emergency room, the level of service should always be professional. As it was, my experience hadn’t been very pleasant.

For one thing, because I’m not in the habit of putting up a performance, the emergency staff didn’t take me very seriously, thinking that I was there to waste their time. My shoulder was in agony, I could hardly close my hand from the pain, but I didn’t sit there with a moaning expression on my face declaring how much it hurt. I was friendly to the admittance staff, joked a bit and very clinical with the doctor as I described my symptoms. Her doubt was clear immediately and I would never forget how she had looked at me and said:

“Well, you realise that we will have to do a scan. And take x-rays. If it’s not serious and we don’t admit you, you will have to pay for it.” She had said it with so much doubt, implying that I was lying that I was angry immediately.

“I’ve brought my credit card,” I had told her and gave her its limit. “I’m pretty sure I’ll be able to cover whatever expenses I have. And I know that I’ll be scanned, that’s why I came here because despite my many talents it’s the one thing I can’t do on my own.”

In hind sight, I might’ve been grumpy because of the pain that I was in, but with a sceptical look, the doctor had taken me to radiology and left me at their Friday staff’s mercy. They were the ones who had the pleasure of delivering the blow of bad news to me. A hasty scan later, the radiology department confirmed that I had indeed torn all of the ligaments in my shoulder. The only treatment was surgery and I was lead back to the emergency room, with the knowledge that my life had suddenly changed in the blink of an eye.

You see, I knew that this surgery was complicated and it took months to recover from. The icing on the cake was that a few months prior, my CEO had fired one of our previous employees because had he had torn all of the ligaments in his knee and the CEO didn’t want to allocate him the given amount of leave. With my left shoulder out of action, knowing how difficult it as for me to drive, I couldn’t imagine that my CEO would spare me.

The emergency room doctor had turned a corner in her behaviour however. Upon seeing the results, she was suddenly concerned, even asking me in how much pain I was exactly. Despite my shock, I couldn’t help but be a little bit snarky.

“As much as I was in when you first saw me,” I had said. “More so now that my shoulder’s been moved for the scan.”

She had the grace to apologise to me and even offer pain medication. But, it was a very thin salve for a deep wound. They wanted to admit me to the hospital immediately, to schedule surgery but the orthopaedic surgeon was out of town and none of the other alternatives were available. I was scheduled to see the hospital’s orthopaedic surgeon the Monday and booked off for a week. Surgery was tentatively scheduled for that Tuesday and I was send home for the weekend to sort out my life that felt as if it had been irreparable turned upside down.

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