I’m not the sort of woman who walks into doors. I used to be, but that’s another story. I’m stronger now and this is about what happened when I was loading a door onto the back of a pickup. It should have been an easy gig. But I stumbled, lurching forward alarmingly. Briefly, I flew. Still holding the door, which landed first, bouncing back up towards me as I was hurtling down . . .
The immediate sensation is overwhelmingly one of diagonals. Of the dynamic of the line of thrust as I spreadeagle, facedown. And my ears are wet, or maybe just ear but I couldn’t say which. And my face is on a diagonal too. My bottom jaw displaced. Like I’ve been belted with a fist, a cricket bat, a spade.
My first animal instinct is to stay down. Eyes shut. Make myself small. Make a pause in the fabric of time in the vain-foolish hope of slipping back to redo the last few moments, but better. Not stumble. Definitely not faceplant a sixty-kilo slab of oak. Not be so stupid. Drip, drip, drip. My chin is gashed open.
‘Let me look at that,’ says the friend I’m supposed to be helping.
‘You need stitches.’
‘No, just give me a minute.’
‘You need stitches.’
‘No. Got any Steri-Strips?’
‘Get in the car.’
No mention of the blood trickling from my ear. He can see it; I can feel it. While he drives, I furtively check it with my finger.
Sitting alone in A&E waiting to be triaged, a stranger peers at me a while, then gets up and raps on the glass at reception.
‘See her over there, she’s got blood coming from her ear. Is that alarming? Should you be doing something?’
I am called straight through to cubicles.
Did I pass out? Was I unconscious at all? No, I vividly remember the diagonal sensation and the wetness. Am I feeling faint? Nauseous? Light-headed? Do I have blurred vision? Ringing in my ears? Am I allergic to anything? When did I last have a tetanus? Follow my finger. Wait here.
While I wait, I google ‘broken jaw’ on my phone and realise I have already researched it. A couple of years ago, I wrote about a rent-boy called Callum, I’m a writer, did I mention that? Callum gets his jaw broken ‘to remind him to keep his mouth shut’. He has his jaw wired, and lives on a diet of tinned soup and sloppy instant whip.
Hours later, I am x-rayed. Brow here, chin here, hold that pose.
‘Oh, sorry, didn’t we say? You can relax now, sit back.’
I haven’t had instant whip in years, decades really and I was never keen on banana. My best friend ate a lot of Angel Delight. Other whips may be available, but she was a brand-name girl. And a faddy eater: Angel Delight and Sun-Pat peanut butter sandwiches were her main forms of sustenance. She was an only child, had riding lessons, dancing lessons, a tree house and a rabbit. I got slapped legs and told to finish what was on my plate. A visit to A&E gives ample time for these recollections.
A porter collects me in a wheelchair. He moves me – as if I were a parcel – up several floors and along dreary pastel corridors to the CT department, and parks me next to an old man in pyjamas – another lost parcel – who wants to know the difference between CT and MRI. How would I know? I’m too stupid to carry a door.
I climb on the bench, and they shunt me back and forwards through the polo mint.
Back downstairs, they stitch my chin. I lay back under a paper shroud with a hole in it, close my eyes and drift away to another time and place. Angel Delight. Butterscotch. My friend’s rabbit was called Trudy. Six stitches. After nine days the skin will join up and be once more whole, after another few months there will be only a silver scar.
Isn’t skin amazing?
Eventually, (I’ve long since breached their four-hour target) someone makes a decision: I’m to be shipped to another, bigger hospital with more everything, including waiting. Outside the new hospital, which is literally new and shiny, a row of ambulances, each occupied by a patient and two paramedics is a grim statistic. The waiting room is large and crowded. I’d be back at square one, but I’ve a trump card, an appointment with Max Fax (Maxilla and Facial, don’t you know) which allows me to skip triage and cubicles. After only another hour-and-a half, I’m called.
They look at my scan, ghostly images, slices of my head. I have a fractured jaw. It is now official.
The thing with fractured jaws – apparently – is that they are tricky to fix. There are three possibilities. Surgery: a nasty, invasive operation with only so-so outcomes. They have kept me nil-by-mouth all day, just in case. The second option is wiring the teeth shut – like my Callum. Would I look like a cabbage patch in braces? Or more like a gimp in a Hannibal Lecter mask? Or a dog in a Baskerville? The third option is ‘conservative’.
The Max Fax man says, ‘Hmmm’. He thinks my bite might be ‘off’. He waggles my jaw about.
‘Try to relax,’ he says.
I absorb the excruciating pain, willing myself slack and compliant in his grip.
He fetches his colleague; she says, ‘Hmmm.’
She fetches the consultant.
Obviously on more money than the others, he rocks back and forth on the balls of his feet, hands in his pockets and says, ‘conservative’. Mr Paid-more-for-doing-less explains that a conservative course of treatment involves doing jack-shit to my jaw, and leaving it to fix itself. If I could stick to a liquid diet for six weeks, he said, it would knit back together just fine.
Isn’t bone amazing?
Perhaps we should be careful what we write about, what with the tendency of life to imitate art and all. When I wrote about Callum, I didn’t know how his teeth would feel filmy, that he would have earache. I will not, I think, have any instant whip. Too sweet. Callum craved pop-tarts. For me it will be toast. But apparently, if it needs to be chewed, I shouldn’t be putting it in my mouth.
Being relentlessly optimistic, with a truffle-hunting nose for a silver lining, I declare that I love soup. What am I? Some sort of Pollyanna? Or Doctor Pangloss declaring that we live in the best of all possible worlds? I have a broken jaw for Chrissakes.