Chapter Nine – X-Rays
Sister Mary Agnes was like the Swiss Army Knife of the Mercy Hospital Staff. In addition to handling admitting and patient evaluation duties, she was also an assistant to the radiologist. At 7:50 PM, she arrived in my examining room with the good news that I was now ready for x-rays. She was accompanied by a large, black orderly.
Now, at this point, I must admit my knowledge of exactly what Catholics believed was lacking. I was raised a Southern Baptist. This is a small Christian sect in the Southern part of the US. Southern Baptists believe in the literal interpretation of the Bible. Whatever is written in the Bible – no matter how non-sensical – is the truth. Southern Baptist women are, in general, inferior to men. And the use of mind-altering substances like alcohol are strictly prohibited.
Every Sunday, mom and dad dragged my sister and I to worship service. We went through the motions of singing hymns and appearing devout. I don’t really think either of my parents had a strong belief in God. I certainly know I didn’t.
Both of my parents drank alcohol – although never together or in public. Mom drank gin. Dad drank vodka. They kept bottles hidden from each other at various locations in the house. I had learned the locations years ago. By the age of 14 I was pretty adept at draining an inch or two of booze from a stashed bottle and adding a little water back in the bottle in case mom or dad were keeping track of volume levels.
“Ok, Lynne.” Sister Mary Agnes said cheerfully. “Let’s get some pictures of your leg.”
The orderly removed the safety break on my examining table and pushed me out into the brightly lit corridor. My leg hurt more than ever. The tile floor was uneven, and I was bouncing around like a Mexican jumping bean. Sister Mary Agnes’s rosary beads were making that damned clicking sound again as she walked. She was now humming something.
“You’ll be good as new in just a bit.” Sister Mary Agnes said as I was wheeled into a huge elevator for a trip to the basement radiology department.
I was skeptical about being ‘good as new’ soon since I had been here for three hours already and not a god damned thing had taken place to fix my leg. My pain level was through the roof. And now I had to pee.
“I have to use the bathroom.” I told sister Mary Agnes as we entered the x-ray room. If the good Sister heard me, she did not acknowledge. She began talking to a tall, pale man who I assumed was the radiologist.
The x-ray machine was massive – taking up almost the entire room. It was green. Hanging from the ceiling was the photograph part of the hideous device. A table lay under the camera. The table was attached to the machine. First deduction. I would have to be moved from my relatively comfy examining room table to the x-ray table.
Sister Mary Agnes was now smiling at me. “We’re going to take four pictures. Top of the leg. Both sides. And bottom. We’ll be done in a jiffy.”
“I have to use the bathroom.” I repeated. I looked at the two foot gap between my examining table and the x-ray table. This was going to hurt.
Again, Sister Mary Agnes ignored me. Without warning, the black orderly scooped me up like a load of firewood and dropped me on the x-ray table. I screamed as I felt the jagged bone ends move in my lower leg.
And then I peed. Not a little dribble. A copious amount. Six hours’ worth. Like a gallon worth. All over the x-ray table. Urine was dripping over the sides of the table onto the floor.
If Sister Mary Agnes was upset with me, she didn’t show it. She used a sheet to dab the urine from the table while giving the orderly a nasty look. A nurse was summoned. She was a cute little red head in her early 20’s. My shorts, jersey, and panties were removed. I was dried off as was the x-ray table and floor. I was placed in a hospital gown. I would have been humiliated except for the intense, unrelenting pain I was experiencing.
Then I thought about Sister May Agnes’s last words and I suddenly became terrified. Four pictures of my leg from different angles. The horrid green x-ray machine was fixed to the floor, ceiling, and walls. It did not move. That meant that the patient had to do the moving. Holy shit!
No wonder everyone was being nice to me. I was about to be flipped like a taco four times with a leg that had jagged raw bone ends digging into fresh muscle. We put a man on the moon three years ago and this is the way we take x-rays of a broken leg!
Sensing my fear, the x-ray team jumped into action. An x-ray plate was inserted in the side of the x-ray table. Laying on my back, my leg was extended and placed in the proper position for the x-ray. I screamed loudly when my leg was moved. A heavy lead blanket was placed over me and the x-ay team – Sister Mary Agnes, the pale radiologist, and the perky nurse – left the room. I heard a whirring sound as the x-ray was taken.
The x-ray team returned seconds later. The x-ray plate was removed and replaced with a fresh one. I was flipped on my side amid massive screams, tears, and pleas to leave me alone. My leg was positioned. The x-ray team deserted the room. Whirr. And everyone returns.
This process was repeated four times.
I was nearly comatose by the end of the x-ray session. Drenched in sweat. Shaking like an autumn leaf on a windy day. And absolutely unable to talk. I was transferred back to the gurney amid animal like screams. And pushed back to my examining room. Sister Mary Agnes – who apparently enjoyed torturing helpless patients – whistled as she accompanied my gurney on the journey. Those god damned rosary beads were still clicking as the woman walked.
Sister Mary Agnes was the first nun I had ever spoken to. I was vaguely aware of the concept of celibacy, but it didn’t make a whole lot of sense. Later, I learned that nuns give their earthly bodies to Christ. No sex allowed. No impure thoughts. Fasting on feast days and Fridays during lent. Prayer times morning and evening. Community service of some form every day.
Back in the examining room, I was left alone for a few minutes. There was a pain chart on the wall. It had descriptions of pain levels on a scale of 1 to 10. The numbers were color coded and the descriptions of pain were translated into five different languages. I was in the red color zone and quickly approaching level 10 – ‘Worst pain imaginable’.
In the hall, I could see my mother talking to Dr. Reading. They seemed to be in agreement about the topic of discussion which was probably my mangled leg. Conversation over, they both entered the examining room.
“I actually have some pretty good news, Lynne.” Reading said sliding a large x-ray from a brown envelope and placing it on a light box on the wall. You didn’t need a medical degree to locate my broken tibia on the x-ray. The bone was broken at mid shaft and the jagged bone ends overrode each other by an inch.
“This is your tibia, Lynne. You can see it’s clearly broken.” Reading then pointed to the top of my fibula. “This break is harder to see. Your fibula is broken in two spots just below the knee.”
Reading turned off the light box. “Now here’s the good news. There is a very good chance we can get the broken bones back into position without surgery.”
Mom took my hand and squeezed it. I could tell this news pleased her. At this point I didn’t care what they did to my leg as long as long as they made the pain go away.
Reading continued. “We’re going to take you into an operating room and give you some pretty powerful pain medication. We’ll manipulate the bones into place. You’ll be in a big heavy splint and you’ll spend the night with us. Assuming everything stays in place, we’ll put you in a full leg cast tomorrow and you can go home.”
“Why an operating room?” I asked.
Reading removed the x-ray from the light box and placed it back in the envelope. “There is a chance the bones won’t stay in place when we set your leg. If that’s the case – and I don’t think it will be – we’ll have to put a rod in your leg to hold the bones in place.”
I let this sink in wondering how this day had turned so frigging bad. “Will I be asleep while all this is going on?” I asked.
“If we need to do surgery, yes. Fully unconscious. For the manual setting, we’re going to put you in a state of conscious sedation. You’ll be in ‘La La’ land – wake but you won’t remember any pain.”
This sounded fishy to me. Remembering pain and feeling pain are two very different states of existence. But after 4 plus hours and intense, blinding pain, I would have let them shove hot pokers into my eye to make my leg feel normal again.
“Thanks doctor.” I said closing my eyes and squeezing mom’s hand.