Twelve days after the Big Ouch event I was back at the hospital for a follow-up appointment. My first stop was the Information desk, to find out how to get to the Fracture Clinic.

The small grey-haired lady behind the glass pointed the way. The clinic was clear across the hospital. About two city blocks. I needed to have left yesterday to get there on time. “Do you need help, dear?” she asked. “No thank you,” I said. But I had to stop six times. Not from fatigue; I stopped only once for that. I stopped and moved to the side of the wall because people were running up my backside trying to get around me.

There are a number of small instructional signs on the glass inside the clinic, one of which tells you to take a number and take a seat. I pulled the little slip of fragile paper to get 37 which is 3+7 = 10; 1+0=1. One is a number of starting over. New beginnings. I asked how close to schedule the day was. An hour behind. I found a seat

I pulled out the book I’m reading about randomness and read for bit; then got bored and played a game on my I-Touch and eavesdropped as best I could on three people having a conversation in Italian: an older woman and her adult daughter who lived in the neighbourhood but are originally from Genoa, and a man who said he spoke Italiano nero. Now he might have said that because he’s black. Or because he learned Italian in Africa and more in Germany. His accent was unlike any I had heard and to my ear, totally gorgeous, warm, round and soft; even better than African French.

In time both my number and my name cackled over the loudspeaker with instructions to go to the cast room.

The orthopod resident, a dark haired and earnest man possibly in his very early 30s, was waiting in the hall. He came to walk beside me. Well, he walked. I … was doing whatever it is called when you use crutches because it is certainly not walking. Walking is freedom. It is a body making confident, sensual, carefree contact with solid ground and in less than a heartbeat moving to propel itself to the next step. I was not doing that.

We entered the cast room. He guided me to the bed at the far left corner of the room, and once I was  settled he called up the x-ray of my pre-surgery ankle, furrowed his bushy dark eyebrows and said, Wow. He then called over the other resident to see the x-ray. He, slightly older, straight-faced, red haired with glasses came over to look. He stood there looking for a long time and then turned to me and said “HI-FIVE! Wow!” My last high five was to a dog, but I held up my hand anyway, wondering if it was a good thing to have a medical professional look at your x-ray and say “wow” in front of you.


Dark-haired orthopod resident was cutting away that fluffy cotton stuff, and with Herculaen effort pried apart my plaster cast. I apologized for my unshaven leg and because I was a bit embarrassed, my eyes were on the boxes containing various colours of fibreglass wrap. I was in the future, deciding which colour I wanted for my new cast. He didn’t comment. He was sort of futzing around my ankle, and because I wasn’t paying attention, I did not notice him taking the edge of the gauze that covered the incisions on either side of my ankle and rip them off my skin in a single movement. A rather SHARP UNHOLY and entirely unladylike expletive with many exclamation marks exploded quietly from my lips before my decorum could stop them, followed immediately and to my eternal dismay, a flood of hot tears.

The resident stood at the foot of the bed, quiet.

“Take your time,” he said.

He went off for a minute, returning with one of those horrid little plastic quarter cup things filled with fake orange juice. “Drink this, it’ll calm you,” he said.  I wasn’t not calm, I was simply crying. But for some reason, as much as I knew he was awkward and trying to be helpful, I was now deeply embarrassed.


Adults are expected to bear their pain, ideally in silence. Or maybe just the English: stiff upper lip and all that. Men can wince, but not cry. Women are allowed to cry or get snarky with the pain of childbirth, because apparently childbirth is the ultimate pain experience, as if pain can be reduced to a competition. Well, maybe in the days of fiefdoms and kingdoms and of freelance executioners, torturers, warlords, or gangleaders, who as part of the Request for Proposal (RFP) to Provide Services to kings, lords, ladies and government agencies, would include testimonials from former  recipients who survived their services, and the tough ones COULD compete. Hmmm. Curious how certain aspects of the past is repeated in seditious ways (which does NOT make it representative of the future; however that’s a significant tangent and I will stop now).


Those tears came unbidden and from an internal place I did not know existed. Until that moment in the cast room I understood my pain tolerance without tears to be quite high. But this day I officially met my pain threshold. And I want to know why the tears are so hot.

I thanked him for the (crappy) juice and apologizing to my tastebuds, drank it. He asked me if I needed more time before he took the staples out. I asked if he had any Emla, a topical anaesthetic, because the confluence of my ankle, my deeply bruised leg, the incisions and surrounding tissue, all of which were throbbing, was causing constant and significant pain. There was fresh blood — MY blood — on the sheet and I confess I was a bit worried that the staple removing was only going to hurt more. He looked at me a bit blankly and said, “well, we don’t usually do that.”

Now, under normal circumstances, I am annoyingly polite and benign with stupidity in all its glorious forms. But WTF kind of answer is that?


In which it is amazing how people who do not listen provide answers to questions that were not asked, telling you everything you need to know.

If I wished to know the clinic’s usual process or practice or care path or care map or whatever they freaking call it these days, I would have asked, “Do you use Emla as part of your usual process before removing staples from a very sore and hurt body part?” I did not ask that question.

“We don’t usually do that.” Because I have heard that answer more times than I care to in business settings and in life, I am beginning to wonder if that response to the question not asked is nothing more than a passive aggressive way of saying: “NO. I will do it the way I know how to do it, the way I like to do it and no other way.”

But this was NOT a normal circumstance. And I did not do what I wanted for one deep and fierce moment wanted to do: zero in on him with ice queen precision and cauterize his left jugular vein so he could forever more justify his stupidity by pointing to a lack of blood and oxygen to his brain. No, did not do that. I just blinked slowly gathering my calm and said, “Oh. Okay then. Well, let’s do it.” (And in case you’re wondering: yes I do possess that evil ability. I just never use it on mortals.)

Really; Back to the Story

He suggested I lie back and put my heel down. I did. My heel was sore, my ankle throbbing and the incisions burning but I was breathing evenly and deeply, and it was tolerable and the first few staples came out ok. Then he removed one that was BURIED which meant ripping it through the healing skin. Immediate response again of hot tears running into my ears. I couldn’t wipe them away fast enough. I couldn’t calm my stomach with my breath because I was too congested. And I was berating myself: When did I turn into such a baby..? And then I heard him counting, three more, two more — more tears — one…and done. All in all it took 10 minutes.

There was some additional machinations around the incisions and new bandages wrapped snugly around my calf and ankle and then a new cast, which all together and miraculously, eased some of the pain.

The resident turned gentle then…helping me off the bed, guiding me to my crutches and walking with me to the door to show me the way to my next stop: X-Ray Department. WAAAAY down the end of the hallway and to the right.

Thirty minutes later, my name was called in flawless Canadian and I looked up: a stunningly beautiful x-ray technician with a colourful hajib waiting for me. She smiled gently as I came close and guided me to the room with the equipment and had me sit in a chair with my leg under the X-Ray machine. She looked at what must of been earlier x-rays because she said, “WOW, how did you do that?”

I told her how it happened as she positioned me into what seemed like some odd lap dancing poses: holding one side of the chair with both arms, torso twisted, my core tight and my damaged ankle on the platform under the light.  After about five shots, she told me to relax

She told me that the surgeon would tell me if the cast was good or would need to be redone.


She helped me onto my crutches and pointed me toward the waiting room where I was to sit until called to see the surgeon.

In short order I was called to go to room number four. Hmmmmm  In the west, four is considered a number that means setting a foundation.

Dark-haired resident number one showed up to escort me.


And as I was sitting on yet another bed waiting to meet with the surgeon to do a full debrief of the injury, and what it meant, my eyes landed on the lightboard holding my post surgery X-rays. I blinked. Cleared my line of vision. Counted…seven screws. Seven is a number associated with spirituality and mysticism.  Oh right:  the screws. One REALLY long one four smaller ones and two mediums ones. Plates and something I didn’t recognize.  So because he was passing by, I asked the High-Five resident what it was.

He came in to take a look, peering closely. “A broken drill bit,” he said.

“Oh” I said, pausing for a beat and then asking, “Titanium?”

He shook his head no. “Stainless steel most likely.” And when he left I felt tears well up again. I was NOT going to cry.

I asked the surgeon.  He confirmed…a drill bit broke deep in my shin bone. I did not cry.

Then he explained that I will require another surgery to remove that one big screw, because when I fell, and landed on my ankle I managed to somehow shatter ALL of the bones holding, oh, guess what?  All of the ligaments. The screw is there to assist healing and me should I wish to walk again. The screw provides the muscles and ligament something to hold onto, but apparently there is some art to knowing when the exact time is to taking out that screw. It can’t stay in for too long…because it (the screw will break,) or if I have not healed enough, then it won’t give the ligaments anything to hold onto as they heal.

I don’t know very much about a lot of things, and what I do know, I often question, but I have read that while there are general principles, healing is quite and individual process. I thought about it for a minute and calculated that mid January would be the optimal time for surgery.

“We’re booking surgeries for March but I want you in before then,” he said.  “I want to do it in January.”

“How will you know?” I asked him, the surgeon, the man of medicine and science.

“Luck,” he said.

Maybe he’d had a long day in clinic or maybe I was spinning.

“I don’t believe in luck.” I said, hoping I sounded more cheeky than I felt.

Papers to sign, waivers, discussion of physiotherapy.

I am reeling. Or perhaps numb. Not sure which. Another surgery in the midst of recovery is disquieting to say the least. The thought of more pain isn’t all that appealing either. The good news is that this cast comes off December 23rd, and will be followed by an air cast for four to six weeks: I can also start to bear weight on it again. I asked about physiotherapy and what to expect in terms of time to full recovery. You might have heard the sigh. The good news is that I can go to the gym again for upper body only. The gym has a thousand stairs to the women’s change room, so I have to get creative.

It is, however, the broken drill bit deep in my bone that somehow most disturbs me. I will find it amusing one day, I’m sure.  Just…not today.

Surgical drill bits


About FS

Toronto, Canada. Writing about slices of life, the moments and minor details of which come into awareness or out of imagination and the spaces inbetween.
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2 Responses to A DRILL BIT INSIDE ME

  1. letempspasse says:

    What a great post that was. Like your sister, I got a good laugh out of your sarcasm.
    That “we don’t usually do that” tangent was hilarious, and oh so true.
    I’ve been told by a anonymous source that people who work in the public arena, within government organizations especially, have to turn off the part of their brain that controls initiative and judgement when they punch in, in the morning. It’s part of their job description. From what I gather, it’s meant to increase compliance to standard protocol….
    I hope your ankle healed all right.
    I also hope that resident learns a thing or two about pain management.
    If you are ever in a situation where you need to go for the neck again, go for the carotid instead of the jugular. Way more effective: arterial blood!…. pffffffff….. pffffffff….. pffffffff….. 😉

    • FS says:

      Ahem as someone who worked within the public sector, I never turned off my brain, I challenged the status quo….and talked truth to power. I’m no longer there :-). The sad fact is that there’s NO standard protocol — it depends on the politics of the day, the administration, and the political masters.

      My ankle has healed to 95 per cent. Um pain management is one of those funny things….another topic for conversation.

      Gushing blood??? EEEW!!

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