How it started = Rare disease (27.05.2016)
During the winter of 2016 I slipped on a patch of ice in a parking lot, and broke my arm; snapped the radius clear through. I’m right-handed, so of course I broke the right arm! The next part of this story won’t surprise anyone who knows me… I could see that the bone was broken, but neither edge had pierced the skin so I figured it’d be fine to drive home. It was obvious that my arm was going to end up in a cast, but I was wearing my favorite suit and didn’t want it to be ruined by the casting plaster. Besides, home was (kind of) on the way to the hospital so it made sense – to me – to head home before going to the hospital. Based on my years-ago military first aid training, it was a clean break, and the pain was bad but tolerable.
So I drove home, and stopped at a doughnut shop to get coffee as it was late evening – and I figured we’d be at the hospital for a while. Parked, pulled some cash out of my purse with one hand, got out of the car, waited in line, got coffee, walked back to the car, and drove the rest of the way home. With a broken arm. I’d loosely wrapped the broken arm in a scarf, to avoid scaring anyone at the coffee shop, so it wasn’t immediately obvious when I got home.
“Uh, sweetie, I need you to help me change and then drive me to the hospital.” Looking over while adding milk to his coffee, while I was unwrapping the scarf from my arm, “Why do you need to…? Oh no… How did you…? You DROVE home?!!…”
He helped me change into some comfy old clothes, and we headed over to the local community hospital. We live in Canada, so we can walk into any hospital in our province and be treated at no cost. Well, aside from parking fees at some hospitals. I’ll write about taxpayer-funded universal healthcare another day, as my field is bioethics (sometimes called medical ethics), but for this post it’s only relevant that we didn’t have to worry about treatment costs, or about which institution would accept our insurance, or vice versa. We chose to go to our local hospital as it was ‘just’ a broken arm, rather than drive to one of the larger university hospitals in the downtown area that have better reputations.
I was triaged fairly quickly, and the emergency physician on duty was both efficient and kind. One of the nurses assisting her took a horrified look at my husband, still calmly drinking the take-out coffee I’d picked up on my way home, and asked “Her arm looks like that, and you stopped for coffee?” He explained that I’d driven myself home, and had stopped to get coffee as I knew – from having worked at another hospital, years ago – that the coffee in the waiting room would be horrid.
The physician asked my husband to leave while she examined me, and then she and the nurse went through a protocol to check whether I’d been a victim of domestic violence. Research in 2011 showed that over 75% of “domestic violence victims who report the incidents to police seek health care in emergency rooms, but most of them are never identified as being victims of abuse during their hospital visit”. (1)
That wasn’t my situation, and I told them both how pleased I was to see that this suburban community hospital had a protocol in place to address this gap.
It was a quiet evening in a small hospital, so the clinical grapevine had already kicked in by the time we got over to the radiology department for X-rays; the radiology technicians were already calling me the “coffee lady” and joking with me about not bringing them donuts. Even when I’m in a difficult situation, or in pain, I tend to be lighthearted and upbeat.
By the time we left the hospital after 4 hours I’d been diagnosed with a snapped radius near the wrist – a Colles’ fracture – and had a cast on my arm from the fingers to the elbow. The emergency physician had reset the bone, showed me the reset on X-ray as she knew I was an interested patient, and then casted the arm herself to be sure that the bone didn’t move. The bone healed well, and that should have been the end of this story. It wasn’t.
(1) The Perelman School of Medicine. Three In Four Domestic Violence Victims Go Unidentified In Emergency Rooms, Penn Study Shows. News Release. 16 Mar 2011. Web.