- I can’t believe I’ve just snapped my leg by jumping off a child’s playground swing
- This couldn’t have happened at a worse time
- Don’t let the kids see
And all the while, my body was having ideas of its own. Looking back, I am amazed at how I coped with what was actually an enormously traumatic event. It is difficult to describe how it feels to look down and see what should be a perfectly straight, normal leg doing its own thing. About halfway down my lower leg it was bent at a 90 degree angle to the rest. Whilst my mind was trying to sort through the influx of thoughts, I saw my hands reach out and carefully grip this rebellious part of my body and move it back into a more normal position. I’m not entirely sure if this was because it hurt slightly less by doing this or if it was because the sight of its weird angle was simply not acceptable to my brain and therefore had to be sorted out. Either way, as my hands were performing this horrific task another thought popped into my head and merged itself with the rest: ‘Oops!…be careful not to pop the skin…‘
It was Saturday, the sun was shining and I’d walked down to what used to be my home and collected my kids for a trip to the local park. I would be moving to another county soon to embark upon a new career as a singer/songwriter and I wanted to squeeze in some extra time with them before I left. Their mother and I had separated the year before and I was finally beginning to construct a new life from the ashes of my broken marriage. As the three of us were walking across the expanse of field towards the play area I was feeling a wonderful sense of freedom, excitement and confidence about this new life I was forging for myself, completely oblivious to the fact that life had plans of its own for me.
The play area has one of those ‘Nest Swings’ that you can stick several kids on at once. It’s kind of like a tyre swing but with a mesh of rope spanning the hole in the middle that stops kids from falling through and removing most of the skin from their little bodies on the ground beneath. This piece of playground equipment is by far the most popular in any playground with all ages so, for it to be not in use upon our arrival was a pleasant surprise. My 8-year-old daughter, Millie, went straight to it as fast as her little legs could carry her shouting “Daddy, come on the swing with me!” Not wanting to disappoint her – and secretly pleased that I would get to have a go also – I climbed on with her and spent the next five minutes or so giggling with delight as my 14-year-old son, Noah, pushed us as high as it would go.
When it was time to get off, I waited until the swing was at a manageable point and jumped off at the crest of its arc as I’d done a million times before. I’m still not sure what went wrong exactly but the moment my bottom left the swing I knew that something wasn’t right – my body was in a horizontal position instead of vertical as it should have been. I became aware of a small group of kids who could have been no more than five years old, waiting to get a turn on the swing and thought, ‘Great….now I’m going to land on my ass in front of these kids and make an idiot of myself’.
Then the ground and my person met with disastrous effect. I heard, as well as felt the snap as most of my bodyweight landed on my right leg which was bent beneath me. Milliseconds before that tangled flood of detached thoughts hammered through my brain, my eyes met with those of my son and I knew that he had heard and seen the break too.
Everything happened quickly after that; the re-positioning of my leg, the tidal wave of thoughts, and I heard my voice say “Son, call an ambulance, I’ve just snapped my leg.” I remember feeling surprised at how calm I sounded despite the noticeable tremor in my voice. Wide eyed and pale as a sheet, Noah blurted, “Oh my God, Dad, are you serious? Is it really broken?”. Although he had seen it happen with his own eyes, his brain was doing its best to deny what it had just witnessed. I figured it would be quicker to show him than to repeat myself and so I took one of my hands away from my leg and immediately regretted it because the lower part of my leg flopped to one side and the pain increased tenfold. It had the desired effect though because Noah whipped his phone out of his pocket, exclaimed that his battery was almost dead, then dialed 999. Whilst he was doing this, I struggled to re-position my leg into a more comfortable position. The margin was very narrow – the slightest deviation to either side and the pain became intolerable.
During this rather painful process, I shouted in both pain and frustration. The word that escaped my lips was a powerful one that I felt adequately expressed my concerns at this point. It began with the letter ‘F’ and is most commonly heard at football matches and in movies with a 15 certificate upwards. The group of five-year olds were still huddled together waiting to climb aboard the swing which I had so recently, and painfully disembarked. One of them, a little boy with glasses who reminded me somewhat of the Milky Bar Kid (despite the fact that his right ear was pierced), frowned at me with disapproval and said, “That’s a bad word Mister. You really shouldn’t say that”. After briefly considering employing the word again but this time as a precursor to the word ‘off’, I took a deep breath and replied between clenched teeth, “I’m dreadfully sorry little boy but, I’ve just snapped the bone in my leg and it hurts rather a lot you see.” The Milky Bar Kid considered this briefly then simply nodded as if this explanation had satisfied him for the time being.
Meanwhile, my daughter had gotten off the swing with somewhat more success than I had managed and I became aware of her stood next to me giggling and telling the group of waiting kids that Daddy was only joking and that he hadn’t really broken his leg. I started to correct her but then thought better of it – it was better that she didn’t see me in this state – so I told her to go off and play with her friends while Daddy had ‘a bit of a rest’. Meanwhile, the group of kids, most notably the Milky Bar Kid, were eyeing me with new suspicion.
Most of my focus was on keeping my leg held in place and keeping my breathing slow and steady. Every now and again I would curse rapidly under my breath whilst trying not to feel judged by the Milky Bar Kid and his posse. A detached part of me could hear my son talking rapidly to the emergency operator: “JLC playing fields!….Road?….What road?….I don’t know!….hang on.” He crouched down next to me, “Dad, what road is the park on?” I didn’t know so I suggested he ask one of the two adults present, a man and a woman I had seen sitting on a bench on the other side of the play area. Noah ran off, spoke to the couple and the man ran off to find out. While we waited I asked Noah to gently roll the football we had brought with us under my knee to take some of the weight of my leg. This helped slightly and I could focus on keeping my leg straight whilst relaxing my knee and thigh. The man returned and shouted the name of the road to Noah who relayed the information to the operator. By this time, a good five minutes had passed although it felt like hours. I could feel sweat pouring down my face and my back and I was beginning to shake. I knew that shock was beginning to set in.
“Dad, he wants to talk to you.” Noah had to hold the phone to my ear as I couldn’t release the grip on my leg – to do so would’ve been unbearable. “Hello sir, we’re trying to get an ambulance to you as soon as possible but there’s been an accident on the M5….” My heart sank. Typical. ‘”but I need you to just confirm for me your name and date of birth….” I went through the details with him and gave a brief description of my injury, punctuating each sentence with the odd swear word. I was trying so hard to keep myself together for the sake of myself, my own kids and the growing group of small children nearby that it almost blocked out the pain.
After what seemed to me to be an eternity, but was actually about another 15 minutes, I heard Noah say, “Dad the ambulance is here!…oh crap, it’s just a car!” I looked up to see a paramedic car driving past the park. “That’s fine Son,” I said, “As long as they’ve got drugs on board”. The car drove out of sight and reappeared in the car park on the other side of the playing fields.
The car park at JLC playing fields is fenced off with wooden posts, each about six feet apart with a single length of chain connecting them together. I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw the car attempting to drive between two of these posts and over the connecting chain. I heard a loud clunk as the chain got caught beneath the wheel arch and an even louder crunch as it tried to reverse back out of the predicament it had driven into. My heart sank even further and I almost began to cry with frustration at this point – to see help so close yet still so far away was absolute torture. The man who had found out the name of the road ran over to help guide the paramedic through the fence posts. Of the two adults who were present in the park at that time, this was the only help I was offered throughout my ordeal. Nobody approached me at any point to offer comfort or even to stop their kids from gathering around me as though I was an interesting specimen in a jar. In fact, it was these children who were doing their level best to comfort me by saying things like, ‘It’ll be alright mister, the doctors will fix your leg, you’ll see’. It amazes me that sometimes, when it comes to the crunch, kids can be so much more empathetic and responsible than adults.
After negotiating his way across the field, the paramedic finally arrived and apologised for taking so long. He stuck a plastic tube in my mouth and told me to keep inhaling deeply which I did like a good boy. It was gas and air – it tasted like flip-flops and didn’t really help with the pain much but it gave me something else to focus on. He said, “We need to straighten that leg mate”, and went to do so. I protested loudly around the mouthpiece and said that there was no way in hell he was touching my leg. Whether he understood my words or not I don’t know, but I’m pretty sure the tone of my voice communicated my feelings well enough. I allowed him to peek at the damage through my fingers and he quickly changed his plan of attack by saying, “Righto. Back in a mo….I’m going to get you something stronger for the pain.”
Around the mouthpiece, I told Noah to call his mother to come and pick him and his sister up. Poor chap. It broke my heart to see his pale face so lined with worry. I tried to imagine how I would have felt at his age seeing his father in such pain and I almost cried for him. The paramedic returned and, before I knew it, he had stuck me with several needles and was emptying vials of clear liquid into me….this was my first experience of morphine and I was to form a somewhat tumultuous relationship with this drug during the next week.
My whole body was beginning to shake with the effort of staying in an awkward sitting position but still I could not allow the paramedic to straighten my leg. The morphine was good, but not that good. So he stuck me with more morphine.
Suddenly, I was aware of arms slipping around my shoulders and a familiar scent in my nostrils. A soft voice in my ear whispered, “It’s okay baby, everything’s going to be okay.” It was my wife, Heidi.
Since our marriage break up, things had been tense between us. During the last year, our relationship had ranged through a whole spectrum of painful emotional phases – mostly an intense hatred and a deep regret coupled with an acute sense of loss. Neither of us could communicate without it becoming a shouting match – the solicitors terminology, ‘an irretrievable relationship breakdown‘ summed us up perfectly. Yet, the smell of her, the sound of her voice in my ear and the feel of her arms around me was more comforting than I could ever have imagined possible. For the briefest moment, I loved her more than I’d ever loved her before and, finally, I felt that I could relinquish control of myself. I buried my face in her neck and sobbed for a while. It was a feeling of total surrender and I knew even then that doing so would leave me with a broken heart all over again. Right then, I didn’t care. It was such a relief to let go. This part of the whole incident is still the most vivid in my mind and I will always be grateful to her for being there for me when I needed her the most, despite all that had occurred between us during recent months.
Meanwhile, the ambulance crew had turned up and, through a haze of morphine that had wrapped my senses in a fuggy cloud of cotton wool, I could hear them talking with the paramedic who gave them a rundown of my injury and the drugs he had administered. Then came the words I’d been dreading to hear: “Let’s get this leg straightened out”.
By now I was resigned to the fact that this course of action was necessary and unavoidable and I spat the plastic tube from my mouth to say, “Okay….let’s do this thing…” In my mind, it sounded brave and tough – the kind of thing a hero would say in a movie. The fact that the words came out sounding cracked and shaky, like a teenage boy on the cusp of puberty, kind of spoiled it a bit. I had been in a half sitting position for all this time and it felt to me as though I should be lying flat for them to do what they needed to do so, letting the paramedic take over the grip on my leg, that is what I did.
The paramedic looked past me and spoke to my son: “Son, you’ve done a great job
so far but I can see that this is upsetting for you. Maybe you should move away for a minute until we’ve done this part.” I was filled with pride and gratitude for Noah at that point. He had risen to an unexpected and stressful challenge and had coped better than I could ever have hoped for. He was becoming a man. This helped me cope with the next part.
With the plastic tube clamped between my teeth, I did my best not to scream as the ambulance crew straightened my broken leg and lifted it onto a contraption with straps. Heidi held me tight all the while and again I was filled with gratitude for this woman whom I had convinced myself that I had hated less than half an hour ago. Once my leg was secured and strapped up tight, the pain lessened considerably. My phone had been going off in my pocket for a while now and now that my hands were finally free, I could take it out. Without even looking at it I passed it to Noah who had reappeared next to me and asked him to ‘do the admin’.
Unbeknown to me at the time, Noah had used the remainder of his own phone battery power to execute what I now consider to be a stroke of genius. Once the ambulance crew and his mum had arrived he understood that certain others would need to know of the accident. He used the most efficient and effective tool at his disposal to spread the word: Twitter. Knowing that his tweets would post onto his Facebook wall he tweeted one simple sentence – ‘Holy shit! My Dad’s just snapped his leg in JLC‘. He understood also that this would cause some panic among those who would read it but he also knew that this was necessary to get those people talking and to find out for themselves what had happened when he had neither the time, nor the resources, to do this himself. His priority at that time was to get back to my side.
At the time, Noah was criticised by some for his brief report of the account and what was considered as unnecessarily causing panic by not providing more detail but, in my opinion, his actions deserve a medal for quick, concise thinking.
Noah rode with me in the ambulance and, due to my inability to string a sentence together without dribbling, answered my phone each time it rang, providing a more detailed account to concerned callers. One of these was my older brother, Lee who had, only eighteen months before, broken his right leg by slipping up on ice. I don’t remember much of the short conversation I did have with him but I do remember him joking about my always following in his footsteps. I probably laughed uproariously at this, I don’t really remember, but I do remember being secretly proud of myself that my leg break had been so much worse than his. Sibling rivalry is a peculiar thing…
In the meantime, the ambulance crew stuck me with so much morphine that the whole episode was beginning to take on an air of hilarity – I began to feel like I was in a Monty Python sketch. I found myself giggling each time the ambulance drove over a bump in the road – the pain each jolt caused seemed somehow detached from me and this in itself seemed amusing. I vaguely recall telling Noah that although I was thoroughly enjoying myself under the influence of the morphine, drugs are not a good idea and that he should avoid them at all costs ….unless of course he happens to break one of his own limbs in which case, morphine was just the ticket. I also explained that Isaac Newton was a cad for inventing gravity in the first place and that if he were still alive, I would gain no end of satisfaction from hurling apples at him on a daily basis. Noah sat opposite me in the ambulance with a bemused expression on his face as I swiftly removed any remaining doubt in his mind that his father was not the wise and respected individual he was cracked up to be and instead replaced his perception of me with one akin to a cartoon character. To me however, it was a moment in which I bonded with my teenage son and I took the opportunity to impart all of the pearls of wisdom that I had accumulated over my years on the planet, such as:
- Don’t eat yellow snow…
- Women are like cream cakes….um… I forget why, but just take my word for it son…
- The thing with legs son, is that you just can’t trust ’em….one minute they’re there for you, the next, they snap…
- Don’t eat yellow snow….oh…I’ve told you that one already have I?…
…..He has not looked at me with an ounce of respect since…
So, by the time I had arrived at the hospital, I was feeling not only euphoric but I felt as though I had learned some very important life lessons too:
- Playground swings are dangerous animals that should be respected at all times
- My bones were nowhere near as strong as I thought they were
- I should drink more milk
- Kids can be more empathetic and grown up than we often give them credit for
- My son was becoming a man
- Morphine was my new best friend
- I still cared very deeply for my ex-wife
- Isaac Newton was an absolute bastard
I have, during my recent crash-course in blogging, been pointed in the general direction of a great blogging site called DudeWrite – if you are a seasoned blogger you will have no doubt heard of them – their reputation of being champions of some honest-to-goodness damn fine writing precedes them… As the name suggests, they are Dudes….and they like to write… So, as they all seem like such a nice bunch of guys and I am after all, a Writing Dude, I thought I would enter this – my first ever post – into their contest in order to see how I measure up to the seasoned pros….and I won these!:
So, please check these guys out and, while you’re in their really cool tree-house, read the posts and vote on your three favourites…it would be nice if you would leave a comment, share and/or tweet on the ones that grabbed you by the proverbials too… DudeWrite
Increase The Peace,
Jamie R Hawkins
Jamie R Hawkins is an Award Winning Singer/Songwriter whose songs have won him critical acclaim around the world – visit JamieRHawkins.com to find out more…