Written by:

Not Waving But Drowning

Nobody heard him, the dead man, But still he lay moaning: I was much further out than you thought And not waving but drowning. Poor chap, he always loved larking And now he’s dead It must have been too cold for him his heart gave way, They said. Oh, no no no, it was too cold always (Still the dead one lay moaning) I was much too far out all my life And not waving but drowning.

– Stevie Smith

I have discovered in the last six weeks that medical procedures and care have advanced quite a bit since I first saw the local “Medicine Lady” at work. That Lady was my Mother, who had somehow gotten tagged with skills she did not possess nor want.

My small family was living in hastily built company housing deep in a swampy area of Georgia called PAULK’S PASTURE while my Stepfather worked for a sawmill. When the mother of a five-year old boy brought him to Mother to “fix his broken forearm, she calmly set about doing just that!

With absolutely no way of knowing how badly the arm was injured, she practiced the medicine she had vaguely heard about, from she knew not where. She wrapped the arm in a towel, rigged a splint from two pieces of thin apple crate boards and tied it all up with strips of torn cloth – “Not too tight,” I heard her say, and that was that!

And now, my tearful tale of being careless, paying the price with pain and a thousand pound cast! And painful surgery – no apple crate slats for me

On December 15th, I stumbled on the sidewalk outside our house took a few running steps to try to catch my balance, failed and went splat in the street. “Fortunately”, I was able to break my fall partially with my left hand so that when my face hit the street I only smashed my nose, banged and scratched up, but not break, my head. It was agreed that I provided some grand theater for my neighbors.

And, by the way, breaking my fall meant breaking both bones in my wrist. Afterwards, every UCSF Doctor and nurse said to me that afternoon: “Better a broken wrist than a broken head!” (A CATSCAN revealed no damage to the noggin.)

Since this is the major fact in my life at the moment and since everyone is thrilled to read of others’ misfortunes, I’ll go a little farther into my fall and rise and into the other many steps to following the treatment of old guys!

This is all tongue in cheek, because I want to say right now that I am the luckiest guy around in the area of medical care. I have two good health plans (which I earned) and I am in the UCSF Hospital and Doctor Program.

So, to speed up, I broke it on the 15th, saw the UCSF Surgeon on the 18th, when they did the cast thing. The Surgeon did warn me that surgery might be needed if the wildly splintered Radius wasn’t healing. Yes, I broke both bones!

On January 17th, it was not healing, so the Surgeon scheduled surgery to fix both bones. He was to remove the two-ton cast and place tiny metal plates and teeny screws into the non-cooperating bone.

Now, some background on the dramatic fall and developing scene. Two ladies from across the street were immediately at my side, stenching the flow of blood from my nose, dialing for an ambulance and just generally being great neighbors.

After talking the paramedics out of taking me to SF General (They KNOW me at UCSF Hospital! I said let me out and I will catch a cab! ), I arrived at UCSF Emergency and they did all the right things to get me home temporarily – Splint on the arm – etc. Three days later, the Bone pros at Mission Bay took over – The Orthopedists did their stuff, placed the arm in a cast and started the hopeful treatment, with a warning that surgery could be necessary..

Newest update (and here I jump from the 19th to the 21st Century practice of medicine.)

Last Friday the 18th, I reported with my necessary Helper/Driver (Lee) and a backup – our Son Mike from San Jose. An attendant checked me in and right away, you’d have thought I had become the most important person in the City.

She recorded my Helpers’ phone numbers and informed us that they would be getting regular updates on the old guy. She also gave them a secret code number to read messages regarding my progress – displayed on a screen!

Feeling good then but it started downhill right after.

“The Team” decided that since old guys sometimes don’t wake up after surgery, , or were crazy when they did, they would do a ”Nerve Block”…sticking a needle down my neck/Clavicle probing and somehow deadening only the nerves for my left arm.

About half way through, the machine used to position the needle wehenthe screen went blank. So there I sat with a needle in my neck and two experts did not know where it was pointed. Crisis solved when one of the nurses turned off the power and then turned it back on.

And it worked! My arm turned into a heavy block of wood before they wheeled me in, cut on me and put in the plates and pronounced me patched!

After three hours of cutting and an hour or so of waiting, they sent me home with powerful pain pills (which I assured them I would not need.) Wrong! At about 7 AM Saturday morning I yelled for Lee to bring on the pills! I got the pain down to barely bearable…and took a pill before bed, And Slept well.

Yesterday (Sunday) the pain was bearable all day so I laid off the pills, taking one at bedtime and none since.

That’s the boring story, but some day I will tell you about the heavy paper throwaway gown they gave me for the ICY operating room. I freeze in operating rooms, but here I found there nurses hooked me up to a warm air blower and it was just heavenly.

Or maybe I’ll tell you what the two surgeons talked about as they cut me open, patched me up and sewed me together again. I was awake for those three hours – very interesting.

Read about: