Leon’s Poetry


No More Pain

   The emergency room doctor looked down at me with the obligatory expression of concern and said, “It’s pretty serious sir, we’re calling in an orthopedic surgeon. I won’t do anything until he gets here. Are you doing OK?”

   I glanced at my left arm. The hand was twisted up at the wrist in a position that nature never intended. Was I doing OK? What a stupid question. My arm was obviously broken and the more I looked at it the worse it hurt. “Can you give me something for the pain,” I asked?

   “We’d better wait for the ortho doctor,” he said. “If he decides you need surgery tonight, it wouldn’t be good for me to give you anything right now.” As he spoke, a nurse started an IV in my right arm. I laid there on the bed and waited, trying to pay attention to my surroundings instead of my arm. Thinking about the arm only made the pain worse.

   The room looked like every emergency room you ever saw on television, without the hustle and bustle. It must have been a slow night for emergencies. They had taken me in as soon as I arrived.

   Looking across the room over my feet, I saw a man sitting up on a bed. He had a huge wad of white gauze wrapped around one of his fingers. A young woman sat in the worn metal chair next to the bed, holding his uninjured hand. She had short blond, almost bleach-white hair and a pleasant, peaceful smile. I wondered for a second if they were married or just good friends but I couldn’t see if either of them wore a wedding ring.

   I silently wished I wasn’t so alone. My ex-wife had driven me to the emergency room after the accident and then gone home. I had a cell-phone to call her if I needed anything, but it felt odd to think about involving her in this. Watching the other patient across the room with his companion made me feel abandoned, alone and very afraid.

   This was the first time I’d ever broken a bone. It happened while I was roller skating at the local rink for a fund-raiser. I should have quit after the first fall, but I’m stubborn. My right hand and hip sore from that first fall, I got up, brushed myself off and tried again. Just because I hadn’t skated in 35 years didn’t mean I’d forgotten how. 

   Thinking back, I’ve learned there should be exceptions to the saying “Try and try again.” The second time I fell, I knew on impact I’d made a terrible mistake. There was no sound of bone snapping, I just felt something break. I had fallen hard on my back with my arm underneath me so fast there was no time to react.

   I immediately rolled over on my right side and looked at my left arm. I hoped against hope I was alarmed over nothing, but the bizarre shape of my wrist and hand told the story. My hand was bent up and back at the wrist, the top of my hand almost touching the top of my forearm. My fingers were twisted in different directions. I wondered at the fact that there wasn’t any feeling of pain. I was probably in shock.

   A teen skated up and asked if everything was OK. I said, “Oh, I’m OK, I just broke both bones in my forearm.” He looked at me in disbelief. I guess kids don’t understand sarcasm. I reached out to him with my uninjured arm and asked him to help me stand up. He took my offered hand and started to pull me up, but when he saw my injured arm, he dropped to his knees and started gagging.

   Using my uninjured hand, I untucked my shirt from my pants and tried to hide my left arm under the shirt tails. More teens skated over to see what the commotion was.

   It gets a little blurry after that, but I remember them helping me walk to the locker area and take off my skates. My daughter helped me into my tennis shoes. My ex-wife, who was also there with our son, then drove me to the hospital emergency room. I remember hoping she wouldn’t hit any bumps on the way as the pain in my arm started drawing more and more of my attention.

   The ortho doctor arrived and examined my arm. He called the X-ray department and ordered a portable unit so he could X-ray the arm in bed where I was. He told the attending nurse to start me on morphine.

   The nurse inserted the morphine syringe into my IV tube and warned me I might feel a burning sensation. I didn’t care, I just wanted the pain to stop. I’d never had morphine before, and I speculated about the effect. I relaxed a little as I felt the coolness of the morphine solution flow into my vein. I waited for the euphoric effect to replace the pain, but nothing happened.

   The developed X-rays came back. The doctor studied them and told me he needed to “reduce” the fracture. Whatever that meant, I surmised “reduce” translated into “inflict more pain.” I told him the morphine wasn’t working. He ordered the nurse to inject more. I made up a story. I told him I had been given morphine before and it didn’t work on me.

   He asked the nurse if she had a different pain killer available. I don't remember the name of the drug he requested. The nurse told him it was available but required a ton of paperwork to prescribe for use in the emergency room. He considered the options for a few seconds and told her to double my dose of morphine instead.

   The doctor then placed my hand and arm in a traction device. The pain got worse. He told me when the arm and hand straightened out, he would put a cast on them. It took about 30 minutes of increasing traction and two more doses of morphine to straighten out my hand. The morphine never worked. I could only grunt in response to the stabbing pains. I wished I would pass out. No such luck.

   The traction finally straightened my wrist and the doctor began wrapping wet cement gauze on my arm and hand to form a cast. He told me he needed to apply manual pressure on my arm to form the cast into the right shape while it dried. “It might feel a little uncomfortable for about 15 minutes,” he said.

   I'm no dummy. I’ve been treated by lots of doctors and the occasional dentist in my life. I know when a doctor utters the word “uncomfortable,” that means “you’re in for it now!”

   He detached my arm and fingers from the traction device, put his foot up on my bed, laid my arm across his lap and applied pressure to bend the cast into the shape he wanted. The pain overwhelmed me. I grabbed the bed railing with my right hand as strange noises escaped from my throat. Tears started to flow down my cheeks as my whole world exploded into agony.

   Through the delirium of my pain I barely noticed the woman from across the room walking toward my bed. She was looking at me as she walked. I tried to focus on her eyes as she came to the side of my bed and stood over me. I couldn’t imagine why she stood there or what she wanted.

   My senses blurred by pain, she looked like an angel in a vignetted photograph, the edges out of focus but her face very pretty, and her eyes sharp, strong and riveting, yet soft.

   She looked down at me with an expression of sadness that made me think she was feeling my pain. I could tell she wanted to say something. She looked apprehensive, almost as if she feared what she was doing but couldn’t stop herself.

   With a quiet voice, almost a whisper, she said, “I saw you were all alone. Do you need somebody to hold your hand?”

   I was dumbfounded. I couldn’t do anything but stare at her as the words played over and over in my mind. I had never known such an unselfish act of compassion. She probably thought I didn’t hear her because she asked the same question again.

   Trying unsuccessfully to smile through my pain I said, “I have a pretty strong grip, I’d probably hurt your hand.”

   “That’s OK,” she said, “I don’t mind.” Her expression turned even sadder as she waited for my answer.

   I wanted so much to hold her hand, to feel the compassion of her touch. I wanted to lose myself forever in those eyes. My thoughts turned to the prospect of her and me, something more. I fought back a sudden urge to ask her name. I felt almost ashamed at my thoughts. She had only offered to hold my hand, to help me endure my pain.

   “Thanks,” I said, “You’re sweet but I need to handle this myself. I really wouldn’t want to hurt you.” As I said it, the doctor applied more pressure to my arm. I arched my back, tightened my grip on the bed railing and braced for more pain, but the pain was strangely absent.

   I stared into the woman’s eyes, confused and awed at the same time. All I could see was her. All I could think about was her. Without even the touch of her hand, all I could feel was her.

   Smiling faintly, she said “I understand.” She looked disappointed and relieved at the same time.

   She turned and walked back to her companion at the other side of the room. I closed my eyes and imagined her still standing at my side. I didn’t feel the pain any more. I was lost in her compassionate eyes, feeling only warmth and wonder. I fell asleep, or passed out, I don’t know which.

   I awoke in the same bed, wearing a hard cast reaching from my hand to several inches past my elbow. I didn’t know how long I’d been “out.” Remembering the woman, I felt a sincere need to thank her for trying to help me, but she and her companion were gone.

   I became angry with myself. I should have held her hand. Maybe she somehow needed that as much as it turned out I needed her. I had used her and given nothing in return. I didn’t know her name. I would probably never see her again. How could I ever thank her for the special gift of compassion, her gift of love?

   My arm and wrist are healed now. A week after the accident, my doctor performed surgery to “reduce” the fracture. For five weeks I wore an external metal pin device that held my bones in the proper position while they healed. A few weeks after that, the three metal pins inside my wrist were removed (with some “discomfort”), and after a few more months of physical therapy, my wrist was back to normal.

   My roller skating days are definitely over. My daughter claims I perfected the sport of “Roller-Falling” and should retire from that sport. I agree. I don’t think I could ever top my final performance.

   I rank this experience as one of the least pleasant in my life, but I gained something extraordinary from it that will always be with me.

   I remember an angel standing at my side, taking away my pain and striking down my agony. I will always remember her, the softness of her face, the sadness in her eyes, the quiet voice, the selfless compassion.

   Now whenever I experience pain, I imagine her at my side. I close my eyes and see her, feel her holding my hand and watching me with her sad but compassionate eyes. And the pain goes away.

   I wish I knew her name. I wish I could thank her for her beautiful gift. I wish I could be at her side to return the gift if she ever needs it. I wish it could be something besides my pain that brings her to my side. But most of all, I wish . . . I wish I wouldn’t start to cry every time I think of her.

   I console myself with the thought that somehow, somewhere she already understands the way I feel.

Copyright ©1999 by Leon D. Schlossberg. All rights reserved.

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