Falling Through a Ceiling

3rd of January

This post was initially published on Medium, and that was one of the reasons for creating this new blog. It feels better to now have my own content on my own servers instead of some company somewhere making a profit out of it. 


A very unpleasant event for myself, but I think it’s worth to keep in written form nonetheless. On December 21, 2017, I met my current colleagues from my office community, as well as many alumni of it for a Christmas party in the office at Planckstraße 7a, as we have been doing every year since 2013. In everyday life you have little time to get to know each other properly. Many are absorbed in their conference calls and Espresso making, others are in the zone at the computer, which includes myself, so that it can be tough to get to know the newcomers. So these celebrations are worth their own weight in gold and are always a pleasure to be part of.

It probably started in February 2013, when I moved into our first office space with Vera and her vierfotografen colleagues Boris, Keno, and Gustel, in addition to my old schoolmate and like me also self-employed web developer Andy. The place was a former metalworking shop at Bernstorffstraße 72, large blue door, 200 square meters, no heating. We made ourselves comfortable and celebrated a lot.

Up until the building was to be demolished to make place for a bigger and better building, a plan which kept being postponed for a months. In August 2014 we moved into the first floor of the backyard building on Planckstraße. Nice condition, similar size, heating. The heating was especially important for us after a cold winter in the previous poorly isolated building.

The combination of people working with us had already changed a bit by then, but the core had always remained. From the inner core, Andy was the first to take off when he accepted a permanent position at Finanzcheck in early 2017. A little later my friends Krischi, Maddin, and I had to downsize our company. There was not enough turnover for the salaries of three people, unfortunately. They both looked for other jobs as I continued running the smaller company with a reduced salary at first. Only the four photographers seemed immune to change. Therefore the community was mixed up with numerous new people, almost all of whom were able to become a real part of the community.

Traditions

On December 21, 2017, about 20 people were invited guests in our office, where otherwise only about 12 people are actual tenants. As always, we improvised. Keno has taken over the organization of the evening, which should consist almost exclusively of our self-created traditions. The food was homemade, everyone brought something, Keno most of it.

After we all had stuffed our stomachs, we sat together in the conference room. All 20 in a circle. There was more laughter than has been in a long time. Digger had some left over beer from his aunt’s brewery, Crailsheimer Engelbräu, from his Craft and Caviar launch event two days earlier, Keno had instigated a whiskey tasting. He had three quality bottles with him, all those interested tried, and then he held a little auction for the bottles where we laughed and cheered even more. It was beautiful. Tears in our eyes. Unfortunately, I just missed the Teeling whiskey win.

We went over into the big open room of the office, the Christmas tree was taken to the side, everyone sat down in a circle on the floor, and the Secret Santa began. Another one of the traditions. With 20 people, some of whom had never seen each other ever before, it was all the funnier. Some had to buy secret gifts worth a pre-determined 10 Euros for to them completely unknown people. Each gift is distributed in turn, unpacked, and then it is the recipient’s task to guess who’s the gift-giver. Sometimes it is obvious because of insider gifts, sometimes it is almost impossible.

I was given vegan snacks by Björn, which I guessed pretty quickly, and I gave Alina a nostalgic flipping book as a present, which she also guessed quite quickly. Again, there was a lot of laughter.

Then followed another tradition, playing hide-and-seek. When Keno first suggested this a few years ago, we looked at each other in surprise. Playing hide-and-seek? What a weird idea. Then we gave it a thought. Are there even hiding places? In this plain office? It’s impossible! But it never is. There are always possibilities, if you just give it a serious try. And it’s a lot of fun. So it became tradition. Again, this year.

Playing Hide-And-Seek

Karla was allowed to search for the first round for three minutes because as an office rookie she did not know the classic hiding places yet. I was sitting under one of the office desks, an unoriginal hiding place, and as expected it didn't work well. But Karla was busy with the rest of the people for a few minutes. The winner is the last one found. Adrenaline is released, just like in small children. I think Vera won that round.

Round Two

For the second round Micha was sent out, another newcomer, only a month in the office. In the cubby, also called Waste Room 3, the photographers’ storage room, I took a step ladder to climb over my own HoneyPower packaging materials shelf up onto the photographers’ storage area, where tripods are stored and Keno and Martin had both been hiding in the last few years.

A Good Hiding Place

But unfortunately it’s very unstable. I sat backwards on the vertical lightweight wall, which I thought was strongly built, and then moved backwards with my hands, leaning on the reinforced polystyrene panels, which were held up by a thin metal frame. That’s when it all went South. I had no chance to react in any way, and I hardly felt anything. From the moment the panels gave way, I have no memory.

The remaining panels. Approximately as strong as they look.
The remaining panels. Approximately as strong as they look.

Blackout

I must have first swung my upper body downwards, so that my legs remained upwards, feet up vertically against the wall. Apparently I tore the IKEA toilet paper holder out of the wall with the back of my head and then hit the toilet with my chest before I landed head-first on the tiled floor. Lying on my side with my head next to the toilet bowl, I came to a halt and could then turned on my back by myself. I don't know anything about all of this anymore.

The IKEA toilet paper holder got bent by the back of my head and torn out of the wall
The IKEA toilet paper holder got bent by the back of my head and torn out of the wall

I couldn’t feel any pain at first. The first thing I remember were the two faces of Boris and Keno above me. I lay flat on my back and something unpleasant had just happened to me, that became clear to me at once. My head was situated at the back of the small bathroom, my feet towards the entry door of it. Above me I could slowly see the hole in the ceiling: my own work. Two of the polystyrene panels were missing, above which the old orange painted ceiling of the photographer’s storage area was visible.

The room a few days later. No more toilet paper holders, no more blood, no more panels in the ceiling.
The room a few days later. No more toilet paper holders, no more blood, no more panels in the ceiling.

What's the Situation?

Slowly I realized from the worried faces of the two photographers and my horizontal position that something unpleasant must have happened here. But still no pain. Funny. So I’m lying down. Reflexively I answer the questions of the two and try to report how I feel, I suppose.

Then a dark thought creeps into my brain: shit, hopefully I am not paraplegic! I move my toes and my hands. It feels like it’s working, but I can’t see all this because my head can hardly be moved. It all feels weird to me, so dazed and numb.

I lift my head slightly, it works. At that moment Boris sees something and looks at me with a facial expression saying “holy shit”. I turn my head and to my right I see the edges of a puddle of blood. Obviously flowing from my head. Not good. But I’m still too dizzy to react emotionally to it in any way. I also know at the same time that it doesn’t help to react with strong emotions. A strange Zen state is spreading in me: it is as it is. Nothing can be undone here anymore, whatever it is. Now it’s time to find out what’s going on and take the appropriate measures. But how do I do that? I can’t articulate my thoughts in my current state.

The boys are talking to me to calm themselves down, primarily. Boris puts a towel under my head. Keno holds my hand, squeezing tightly. Clearly worried. He’s with me. Someone says Laurent is calling an ambulance. Whew, so it’s real. And the boys seem to be estimating the extent correctly. Nevertheless, when I hear the words, I think that it will probably be expensive and I am annoyed.

Wait and See

Later I heard that it took them what felt like forever to get the paramedics to show up, but time seemed completely unreal to me at that point. I was in a different place. A little dim, definitely. It’s hard for me to focus my eyes. Again and again I see the hole in the ceiling above me, still lying on my back on the floor. I slowly realize that I must have failed. Yeah, right when I was going to hide in there. The information situation in my head is improving just very slowly.

Digger enters the room, kneels down by my legs. I feel that and hear his voice, but I don’t see him. I keep looking up, I somehow know it would be too painful to move. He talks, I can hear him fine. Asks if I can move my legs. I say I think so. Lift both legs individually in the hope that I really lift them individually. Yes, he confirms I do. I feel a bit relieved. Then I remember Samuel Koch, who in a ”Wetten Dass” tv show episode a few years ago had an accident while performing his act, which paralyzed him from the neck down – in the first hour after the accident it was also said that he still had feeling in his legs and one should not worry. It turned out that paralysis does not occur until the spinal cord is damaged by the creeping swelling. So I’m not off the hook yet, I know that. I’ll have to wait and hope.

I’m thinking of Sophie, who I’m disappointing. The children. I hope I won’t be a case for continuous care. But now the damage is done, there’s nothing I can do to change things – I also realize that at that moment. It oddly feels a bit Zen.

The Rescuers

The orange-red shining uniforms of two young paramedics light up the area my eyes can observe. The color bites with the ceiling color. They have arrived, good. Talking to me, asking questions about my name and age. I have a slight problem with one of the answers, I remember. I can’t remember which ones. They say I seem to have kept my humor, I don’t know why. I can smile, good. I’ll get a saline drip into my veins right away to make up for the blood loss, I guess. That’s good, I think, it certainly helps me to reduce the amount of whiskey I might have drunk too much, even though I didn’t feel I was above my limits. Far from it, I think. 

What they do after that is not clear to me, but it still takes a few minutes until they have decided on a plan. They put a temporary neck brace on me, as well as a head bandage to stop the bleeding at the back of my head. They ask me to help them to get myself into a transport chair, but they help me a lot. I realize that I am actually able to coordinate something limbs. I see myself definitely holding on tight to the sink and I can hold some of my weight on my own feet. I’m surprised. Very good. I still see blurred and don’t really understand what happens, but now I briefly look directly into the room, the men’s room, where I landed and lay for probably 10 to 15 minutes. I don’t notice the big puddle of my own blood, but the general disorder on the floor. These are the parts of the broken ceiling tiles. Apparently, there’s just been a lot on the floor, and I on top of it.

Off to the Hospital

Apparently I’m still pretty dizzy and I’m only marginally aware of everything. While I’m being driven backwards out of the kitchen, I see Björn saying something like ”goodbye”, to which I somehow reply something. Maddin walks around me, tells me that he has packed my things and is going to the hospital with me. They have contacted Sophie, she’ll go right to the hospital, while Vera will come to our house to keep an eye on our kids. Wow, they got this organized fast. I understand the plan purely in terms of information content. I notice that and feel very reassured.

On the transport chair the paramedics carry me down the stairs, which is good enough for such a transport type. I can’t feel a single step. It’s cold and raining outside. Unpleasant actually, but I’m enjoying the fresh air right now. I can’t remember how I got on the ambulance bed, being pushed backwards into the ambulance van that was parked in the courtyard. One of the paramedics says that he is now activating the suspension of the bed in the van, and it is swinging around quite a bit. Every curb, every unevenness of the street, I swing up and down. It happens a lot here in Hamburg-Ottensen.

Pain

Above me there are two drips, both of which must be flowing into me, maybe they are painkillers?

The ride is short. All I see is the top of the car. Still no real perceptible pain. I’m just worried that I’m probably in a lot of pain, which I somehow can’t feel it right now. And the level of discomfort is of course very high.

Arriving at AK Altona hospital it is nice and quiet outside again. It must be around 1:00 AM. There’s nobody around. I hear Maddin and Sophie talking. Sophie’s already here, which makes me really happy. She seems calm and composed. Professional. It’s her profession, after all. Here in the central emergency room she had been working for a while during her medical training to become a doctor.

The Treatment

Maddin goes back home. I am being pushed into the building, into one of the rooms. Sophie and I wait. We talk, it’s quiet. But I don’t remember what we’re talking about. Whether I can tell her clearly what happened or how I felt, probably. What had happened. I don’t know. It all feels blurry, but it’s getting better. An orthopedic surgeon is coming in. Weighty, bald, competent. I think I’m half sitting. He pushes me around, spine seems ok, pain in the right thorax is noticeable. He presses certain points on my head, asks if I have pain. Repeats the same with my spine. No, no real pain. But how meaningful is that?

It still seems to calm him down – probably not a fractured skull, like when I fell down the basement staircase head first when I was just two years old.

Stitches

The amount of blood in my hair and on my neck as well as on my clothes cannot be overlooked. Another doctor walks in, washes and disinfects something. The orthopaedist comes back a little later and offers to sew. He says it may not be necessary because there are still some tissue bridges in the cut. I say I’d like it better if he sews anyway. So he inserts two small anaesthetic injections into my skull and says that unfortunately they often don’t work at all – I should prepare myself for some pain.

Okay. Not too bad, actually. I get through it. After all, I just fell directly onto my head from 2.5 meters up, probably. That’s supposed to be painful. He starts to sew and I really don’t feel any pain that can be attributed to sewing. I do feel the pulling and tearing at the skin of my skull. But it is bearable. After a few stitches it is already done.

Blue threads in the head
Blue threads in the head

X-ray

Wait a bit again, then X-ray. I can even go into the room myself with an escort, that’s surprising me and feels like a small victory. But I still feel very dim. I have to stand in front of the device so that my chest can be X-rayed. The escort has to get out of the room again because of the harmful radiation, and I have to stand alone. After a few seconds I find that quite difficult. And I also manage to articulate it. The lady understands my troubles to stand upright and hurries up. Next photo: the elbow, right side. I also have pain here, so this one is getting photographed as well.

Result: Elbow okay, but right ribs 8 and 9 broken.

Urine sample. Result: Actually okay, apart from blood in it. Not good, could mean that my kidneys were also affected by the fall and that I might have further internal bleeding. But you can’t do much about it now. My lungs are probably fine, the destroyed ribs don’t stick out and didn’t collapse my lungs. So I got away with quite some luck.

Meanwhile it’s three or four o’clock at night. Sophie got me some iced tea from a vending machine. It’s hard for me to drink, but I’m very thirsty. Small sips work. There’s another doctor coming in to ultrasound my kidneys because of the bloody urine, but he can’t find any ruptures, fortunately. 

Sleep?

After some more waiting time I am taken up to the 10th floor, area 10A, accident department, where there is a bed. I get another sack of paracetamol on the drip and Sophie makes it a bit comfortable for me. A nurse also gives me a painkiller with opiates. The stronger stuff. The head is still buzzing. My neighbor is awake, the light is switched on. He doesn’t speak German, you can’t tell his kind of injuries. I just want to sleep. Sophie puts my pants with my mobile phone in them between my legs to keep safe, and then she drives home soon to replace Vera and get some sleep herself.

How lucky am I to have them all in my life.

Hopefully I can get some sleep.

Unfortunately not. Not only is it now very painful to lie on the right side with the broken ribs, but also straight on the back with the back of the head injury. In addition to the cut I probably got some throbbing bruises on the back of my head, which are very unpleasant when lying down. The head hums, the painkiller doesn’t seem to work. Or it works very well and in reality I would feel much harder pain? I don’t want to imagine that.

Only the left side I can lie down. This works with little pain, but to have to always lie on only one side in the long run is so unpleasant for me that I have to change to both more painful sides from time to time: the right side and straight on my back as well.

To top it all off, it sounds like my neighbor is jerking off. Very unpleasant and inappropriate. Of course, I don’t react to it, and after a few minutes it stops. What a disturbing situation. 

The Day After

At six o’clock in the morning, only about two hours since I was brought into the room here, the day in the hospital seems to begin. Cleaning personell storm in, turn on the lights, create a stressful atmosphere. I am friendly and try not to annoy anyone. I don’t remember exactly what is happening now. Probably my old drip was be removed and replaced with a new one. Maybe my neighbor was helped somehow. Not quite clear in my memory.

The day slowly starts and I realize what happened here. It’s all been a weird experience so far, but now I’m part of reality again.

Shit, man. I fell through the ceiling. While playing hide-and-seek. So hard that I had to go to hospital as a patient. What an unnecessarily crappy situation.

I write some messages so that people know that I survived and that I am safe. Even though I find it very unpleasant to look at the glowing screen of the mobile phone, it seems more important to me to get that information out. Sophie writes that she visits me as soon as she has dropped off the children at the kindergarten. The day passes quickly, I sleep again and again for 1-2 hours in between. The skull hums, I notice the throbbing at the back of the head. The pain in the head clearly outweighs the pain in the chest. Again and again I think of the deep cut in the back of my head and would like to see what it looks like.

Hospital Routines

I accidentally skip the breakfast. When I realize that, there is probably no chance for a backup breakfast either. I’m not really hungry anyways. Some time in the morning a lady visits me, who writes down special food requirements: no allergies, but please vegetarian, I say. But I am allowed to choose even more things: which kind of bread for breakfast, which kind of cold cuts, how much of what type. But she is clearly just following a strict protocol while behaving like a robot. This makes the conversation bumpy and she is easily annoyed by the fact that I can’t read her thoughts. But maybe this is really my mistake, and I answer imprecisely because of the concussion? It’s not quite clear to me, but the conversation is haunting me. Stupid people don’t know they’re stupid. Am I on a lower level now and don’t realize that? Terrible thought. Hopefully it’s her who has behaved in a difficult way and it’s not me who’s the problem.

A doctor visits, too, but shows little interest. I’m probably not an exciting case. I don’t remember the question she asked me, but it was insignificant and my answer didn’t lead to any reaction. I suspect that my injuries are quite trivial and the doctor therefore does not pay much attention to me. Maybe she read what happened to me in the doctor’s letter from last night and has only contempt for such an accident. I can imagine everything. This is not really important to me, but I find it very interesting to observe the behavior of the employees here. For me it is absolutely new to experience this from the patient’s point of view, I only know the numerous stories of Sophie, who also worked here at the hospital. That’s why I have a lot of understanding and indulgence for the people who work here every day.

Then I am asked to give some urine. Finally something happens. A practically formed plastic container is being stapled to the side of my bed for this purpose without any kind of comment. No problem, fortunately. A little later the sample is gone again. I don’t hear anything about the results. In between I sleep lightly again, and I can hear a nurse say to a colleague: “Leave him alone, he celebrated yesterday” - very good, thank you.

But by sleeping I miss lunch. I am notified of this, as a nurse later tells me: “Would you like me to warm it up again and bring it to you?” – “Yes, with pleasure! That's nice.” – I try to be as friendly as possible. However, I never get to see the promised warmed-up lunch. Too bad. Slowly I get hungry.

New Neighbor

My neighbor is released and his son helps him onto his crutches and they both disappear silently from the room. He keeps all the lights on, the front door open, and the television running as well. Pretty ruthless. It takes me strength to pick myself up to close the door, turn off the annoying TV and find the light switches. But I am glad that I can walk upright on my own, as I find out now. Slowly and wobbly, but it works.

A short time later I am transferred, room 8 to room 9. Lying in bed I get pushed. This is actually not necessary, but I take the service, whatever. At first glance, the new room neighbor seems friendlier, smiles and greets. He is probably in his mid-forties, his injury not clearly visible at first glance (abscess on the foot was surgically removed), but then speaks in the first sentences he says to me about his father as “Daddy”. There is something off about this guy. He is slow, but apparently has a job at the Port Authority. I suppose he has a slight mental disability. Poor guy.

He talks loudly and slowly with the caretakers, who in turn ignore his restrained requests somewhat, because he is also quite whiny in his formulations. The man is a mystery to me, what exactly is the matter with him? A colleague visits him, then his girlfriend. Both are similarly slow and peculiar in their dealings. But the fact that he has a colleague at all who visits him, and then even a girlfriend, surprises me and makes me happy. Nevertheless, he has himself hoisted into a wheelchair by carers for the bowel movement and wiped off later. Why? He had an operation on his foot – actually he should be able to walk easily on crutches. A real mystery. Later, his “Daddy”, white hair, but stocky tall man with some charisma, visits him and talks less slowly, but still a little different. He brings him food, “you like the liver sausage very much”. Then there is the sentence: “And if you behave yourself well, who knows, then I might even bring you a salmon roll tomorrow. How would that be?” – Mh, good! – Yes, that’s what I think, too,” says the 80-year-old to his mid 40-year-old son. What’s going on? Is this a weird dream I’m having?

Communication

I notice how the staff react to my questions in the course of the day in a similar way they react to his questions. They seem to put me on an equal level with him. That feels really bad – so helpless and ignored. Is this how Alzheimer patients feel? So misunderstood?

For example, I want to know things like what active ingredients are in the tablets I’m supposed to take. Or what could be seen on my x-rays. Whether there are any findings from my urine sample. But I only get answers like: “Yes, I’m happy to find out for you”, which then never happens. I don’t get a single useful answer to any question I ask.

Maybe the employees here are just hopelessly overworked, understaffed, as it’s just a few days before Christmas? Or simply incompetent? In any case, something is wrong here, and that doesn’t help me. Why should I stay here for two nights at all? Obviously, because then it can be better settled with my health insurance – since the privatization of the hospitals in Hamburg, the health care system has been like this. I don’t feel like going home alone now, but I’m never told what’s going on with me and what exactly they want to test or observe. I just don’t know which purpose it serves to keep me here, apart from the money the hospital will get out of my insurance.

Instead of food and answers, however, I am forced to receive another rather spontaneous service: “Thrombosis injection! Leg or stomach? ” – but I don’t think fast enough and simply accept what happens. Leg, please. It’s heparin, I suppose. In retrospect, I don’t see any danger of thrombosis at all – I can move well, my legs are fit and fresh, my veins are not calcified, my blood is good. I’m a fit and young endurance athlete after all. There is nothing to suggest that I need it. But it seems to be routine, maybe a precaution, maybe even from an insurance point of view. My weird neighbor also gets one rammed in.

Sonography

Now I shall receive a sonography to make sure there are no further internal damages. I am believed to be able to go up to the first floor on my own and have myself examined there. Yes, I can do this, but the people making that judgment are barely able to tell because the don’t ask questions. Just few hours ago I couldn‘t really move. After all, they just pushed me from one room to another in the hospital bed, seeing the thick blood stain from last night on my pillow. What makes you think that I can go this way alone without any problems? Do they even care? What if I fall down somewhere on the way – is it in their interest to prolong my stay, because of the money?

Anyway, they are right, I can manage that walk. I get dizzy again, and it’s not pleasant, but it works. Putting clothes on works quite well so far, under pain. But standing in the elevator I don’t have a good feeling. It’s good that there are doctors everywhere.

Arriving at the sonograph I have to wait on very uncomfortable wooden chairs for about half an hour. This is very unfortunate and I often have the urge that I should break it off and go back up to bed. Hopefully I will not pass out. The lack of food since yesterday evening doesn’t help in the current situation.

Much seems to go wrong here.

But then I get the examination. This doctor knows his way around very well, thankfully. Right at the beginning I tell him that I am very curious and that I would like him to tell me what he is doing and what he sees at every step. I have a thirst for information, especially after all the other questions have not been answered and I know almost nothing about my own status. However, this gentleman is taciturn, mumbles something and then does not follow up on my small request. So I remain in the dark. In between he says things like: “This will hurt for a moment now, because I have to press something with the ultrasound probe”. He is right, but no new information comes to light, either. At the end of the examination he at least arrives with a verdict “Everything looks fine so far”, but I’m almost as smart with it as before. What kind of hospital is this? So far I was of the opinion that it wasn’t so bad at all. Completely deceived. Or just caught a bad day and had bad luck with the people?

Afternoon

Since I still have some cash, I go back through the building and aim for the baker on the ground floor. A tomato mozzarella sandwich moves into my sight. Food works, that helps a lot. I slowly get used to walking through the house, still wearing my bloodstained clothes, looking straight out of a horror movie.

The Hamburg Sadness seen from the 10th floor fits perfectly to my mood here
The Hamburg Sadness seen from the 10th floor fits perfectly to my mood here

Sophie picked up the children and visits me with all three of them. That feels so good! Finally I can talk to a normal person who answers my questions! The children are a bit surprised to see me like this. This is probably not my strongest moment for them. I hope they will forget this soon. I try to be as normal as possible, to explain everything neutrally, but I can hardly stop myself from hugging and cuddling them all the time. I missed these little ones so much and I am so sorry that I let them down by this stupid accident. Sophie understands my remorse immediately. I knew that. She makes it very easy for me. I am so grateful to her for that. I can imagine many wives who would accuse their husbands of something in such a situation. Unnecessarily, of course, but emotions are sometimes hard to stop, and the situation is difficult. Sophie had to drag the three to the ophthalmologist routine check alone this morning (if you waited six months for an appointment, you don’t want to cancel it). Nevertheless, she is calm, rational, as always. That is so helpful and makes it so much easier. I feel very lucky having her by my side. 

But unfortunately we can’t talk really openly because of my strange neighbor. Sophie and I exchange a cautious look at him when she realizes what his situation is. After all, he sees it in the corner of his eye and you don’t want to be rude or upset an unstable person like him. Damn, that’s all so bad in here. I want to leave this place.

Sophie has brought me lots of delicious things, so kind of her. That makes the difficult situation better immediately. The children start painting after hugging and asking questions. They get along well, but it‘s easy to see that they feel a bit uncomfortable in this unfamiliar situation.

After about half an hour the visit is over again. The loneliness is back, I feel more and more like being in a prison here.

The Pain Scale from 1 to 10

I still have pain and I am surprised that the painkillers all seem not to have worked properly. After all, they have given me three or four different, and quite strong, painkillers. I ask one of the nurses about this. She in turn asks me the classic question, how strong my pain is on a scale of 1 to 10. This is a difficult question because pain is very subjective. Everyone feels it differently, everyone has had different experiences in their lives. Sure, if I mention a high number, I might get stronger painkillers, but maybe that’s not really true?

I try to remember when I last had really strong pain. Did I ever have any strong pain at all? If you start from this knowledge, I would be at 10 out of 10, of course. Strongest pain ever experienced by me. But how much stronger pain can I theoretically imagine? Of course, much harder. After all, I was present at all the births of my three daughters. Hardly any man experiences such pain in his life, I presume.

So I choose carefully and land on 4. I can endure it, yes. Could even sleep a little, now and then, albeit uncomfortably and with buzzing head.

But the nurse reacts to the answer only with a tender smile and leaves again. So 4 means no more painkillers? Learned something again. Should I have demanded it? These little games start to annoy me. There is so much time to think about all these little interactions and exact wordings of the communications and its results. Surely, some patients here are looking for the drug high of strong painkillers and try to cheat the nurses out of it, but can’t they tell I’m not one of those? They have evidence I am in pain – blood is still everywhere since no one cleaned up here, and the x-rays of my chest speak a clear language as well.

But now I actually get a meal for the first time: an evening meal. Two slices of brown bread, some honey and coffee or tea. Who would drink coffee in a hospital? What reason is there to keep awake?

Sleeping is probably the best, so I try to fall asleep early.

Still blood
Still blood

The Second Night

Fortunately, the night comes and goes with much less disturbances, I sleep from 21 to 6 o’clock in the morning, nice and long. It is not restful sleep, but in direct comparison to the night before it is very solid.

In the morning I am given a pill to calm the stomach. That’s funny, why do I need that? As I am very tired and just barely awake, I’m in the mindset of “I trust all doctors blindly” and just swallow them. Minutes later I realize that this is strange and I should have asked or at least googled or asked Sophie what this is all about.

A few minutes later the same nurse comes back into the room with his shoebox full of pills – probably meant for the entire ward – and gives me another register of pills that he had forgotten. He just says: “Oh, almost forgotten. Potassium. Good for the heart!” and leaves it on my table. Here, too, I’m still too tired to ask. But now I am finally no longer just in agreement with everything that goes on. There are 8 potassium pills in the register. Two each, in the morning, at noon, in the evening, at night. I am to be released today, why so many? Why at all? What is wrong with my heart? My diet is good, potassium should definitely be enough in my system, especially as I easily reach the recommended daily requirement of it just by my very high consumption of coconut water in the last few months.

Where did they get this idea from, are my blood and urine results back? Is it from the night before yesterday? Shouldn’t that look different now anyways?

I ask Sophie. She explains to me that this is really strange and tells me to ask for the results before I take the pills. Apparently too much potassium is not good either. What is going on here, are they just carelessly making me sicker?

The Last Hours in the Hospital

Meanwhile I can walk quite well, I feel much better. The breakfast with fresh rolls is even okay, the tea warms me up. The strength returns.

I am told that I should have one last examination, namely another X-ray. From my chest, again? I don’t know, no one says. When and where? Nobody can tell. “When they have time for you down there.”

While the time passes, I start to feel so trapped again. Helplessly at the mercy of arbitrariness. I ask about the potassium results value, again the same: “Oh, the doctors will have thought something of it.” – I doubt that now. At least I would like to hear a real justification. My blind trust is as good for good.

The bloodstream-access in my arm, through which the painkillers and the saline solution were initially administered to me, is still inside me, although I haven’t been able to get anything into it for more than 30 hours. What else do I need it for, I ask another nurse. Yes, you don’t know. Wait some more, he says.

Like my daughters after their births, I also got a bracelet like this so that I can be identified.
Like my daughters after their births, I also got a bracelet like this so that I can be identified.

I text with with Sophie, who plans to pick me up with the children today. I tell her how I feel less and less comfortable here, as if I was in the wrong film. That I don’t get any information about anything, that my questions are smiled at or plainly ignored, and that this x-ray appointment is probably the last thing between me and the discharge.

The Last Rebellion

She recommends that I just go down where the examination is about to take place and introduce myself in a nice way. Maybe they’re cool there and will take me in. Okay, I’ll try that. We contact our friend Malte, who normally works here in the radiology department – I hadn’t thought about it – but unfortunately he finished his shift a few hours ago and recommends the same course of action as Sophie.

So I just go downstairs after I couldn’t get any new information in the doctor’s room on my ward either. I arrive downstairs, the door to the x-ray room opens, on the bench sits a half-naked man, visibly injured. There is no doctor to be seen. I don’t want to talk to the poor patient there, in his exposed situation.

There are a few doctors running around, but they all avoid eye contact and quickly disappear into closed rooms. Is this the Truman Show? Somewhat aimlessly, I walk through the corridors in search of someone I can approach. But it seems as if this is exactly what people here want to avoid: being approached by patients.

Then I am approached from behind by a man who looks more like a janitor, judging by his clothes. He looks grim and asks what I want here. Suddenly an older, more experienced looking doctor appears behind him and at the same time pays attention to me. I say that I’m registered for an x-ray and hope to get it here soon. “Then you are wrong here. The x-ray room is back there. Sit in the waiting area there.” The doctor behind him nods in agreement. The waiting area is just about ten meters away. Both of them are visibly annoyed and turn away from me again, and don’t allow any further questions.

Shit, that’s exactly what I wanted to avoid. Sitting in a different waiting room with no doctor knowing where I am. I prefer to lie on my ward 10A on the bed and wait until they call me. Or do I? Not quite sure. Both options are very bad.

Anyway, the conversation didn’t give me the confidence that I could somehow speed up the process here. So my thoughts go in the other direction: why do I need the examination at all? The ribs are certainly still broken, nothing will have changed about that. Worsened? I don’t think so, because the pain is on a stable level, even considering the lesser amount of painkillers I’m getting. Do they perhaps want to x-ray another part of my body? Also unlikely, there is no reason for it, except maybe making some more money from my insurance.

For a few minutes I sit down in the otherwise empty waiting area. A few doctors and nurses walk through the corridors, but ignore me and continue to avoid eye contact. One can hardly blame them either, surely they are all in complicated processes that they have to work through. I feel it would be very rude to shout at them and forcefully stop them to ask the questions I want answered, but the urge in me increases.

In any case, I decide after a short time to leave it at that and to dismiss myself. What else is there to help me here? If the problems should become bigger, there are still other established doctors who can help me. No one here can help me in any way, I think. Do I even need help? 

The Departure

So I go back to my room and take a shower, very carefully. For the first time since the accident. The amount of dried blood flowing out of my hair frightens me. It is very much and takes a very long time to wash out. It’s good that the stitches hold up and I can even stand and shower with it. That feels so much better. I text with Sophie again, who tries to get the three bad-tempered children into the car. It works, but her and my nerves are close to be gone. It’s time for me to come home.

I still brush my teeth with the herbal paste that is available for each patient individually. Seems a little wasteful to me, one tube per two nights, then into the garbage. There’s an awful lot thrown away here – mainly for hygienic and thus justified reasons, of course, but nevertheless it seems to me as if there’s a lot of potential to handle the material more carefully. The eight potassium pills on my bedside table will now go into the trash untouched, I’m sure.

Carrying my own baggage I say goodbye to my room neighbor and wish him a quick recovery for his foot, then meet two caretakers in the hallway, whom I tell I’ll go home now. I get the answer: “Do you have everything?” –

“Yes, everything’s fine,” I lie.

Of course I didn’t get any discharge papers, if there even was such a thing, nor my doctor’s letter, my x-rays, my blood results. Nothing. And asking for them now would lead to being told to wait again for an undisclosed amount of time. I’ve learned that in the last few days here. Somehow everything will work itself out, I think, and say goodbye in a friendly way.

When arriving downstairs, I breath in the beautifully fresh air. In 100 meters distance I see my little Vera climbing out of the van. She recognizes me immediately in the distance! That’s so nice. I’ve got my children back again, big hugs. Sophie is relieved as well, and the stupid hospital stay is finally behind me.

Conclusion

Except for the quick and good first reaction after the immediate accident and the medical care that followed that same night, everything in this story was absolute shit.

What’s Next?

Almost all my injuries are trivial and healed quickly. Bruises, even the stitched wound on the back of my head are history in just two weeks.

But there is one thing I still have some fun with for four to six weeks. Waiting until my ribs are healed. This means that I have to endure pain for a long time and am less mobile and useful. What particularly affects me is that the sports fall flat. I like to run a lot and I have a slot at the Challenge Wanaka, a half-distance triathlon in New Zealand, pretty much eight weeks after the accident. It will be very tight to have reached the necessary fitness levels at that time.

Everyday life is very unpleasant with broken ribs, because whenever I move a bit too much I receive a harsh shot of pain through my ribcage. Persisting pain. Putting a child into the car seat: two hours of pain afterwards. Shopping bags carried from the trunk to the kitchen: same thing. What’s most annoying is sleeping. I can only position myself straight on my back for it to be bearable. If I turn on my sides for more than a few minutes, I have much more pain throughout the next day.

So absolute protection is called for. Fortunately, 800 mg of Ibuprofen per day help me to relieve some of the pain. There are no other forms of therapy. Hope and wait. 

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