Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Week 1 - Foolish decisions numbers 1 and 2

Foolish decision No.1
I was about halfway down the hill when I knew for certain I had made a poor decision. Riding inside a wheelie bin had seemed like a great lark. What else is there to do on a sunny Sunday afternoon other than take an empty wheelie bin out for a joy ride? Down a steep hill. Under the influence.

I know now the old adage ‘all good things must end’ holds equally true for wheelie bin rides as it does in life. For my bin did indeed come to a sudden stop. Against a gutter. I was catapulted over a guardrail and onto a concrete footpath. As I landed I cleverly sought to break my fall with my right hand. Because I was travelling through the air at about 20kmh, inevitably I shattered my wrist in six places.

At least that was the story I told at the fracture clinic two weeks later. The pretty young female physiotherapists who fitted my fibreglass cast seemed to appreciate my derring do. As did the elderly male nurse who took out my stitches and cleaned my wound.

The story proved a much better conversation starter than the truth. Which was that I was inside my neighbour’s wheelie bin attempting to squash a large palm frond. (To any readers already writing me off as a wimp, it was the thick husk at the base, not to wafer thin fronds at the end.) The bin was stationary but on a slight slope. (I’m no engineer – it looked flat enough to me.) There was no hill. (Nor am I a cartographer.) There were no mates. (Alas, that is true.) And sadly there was no beer.

There was just me, my Ryobi hedge trimmer (still steaming from its exertions in the early afternoon sunshine), my neighbour’s wheelie bin, and that slope. Did I mention it was only a slight slope? Hardly steep enough to warrant any concern, I was sure. Until I felt myself tumbling backwards. The rest of the story is true. Half way down I did indeed know I had made a poor decision. I did try to break my fall with my right hand, only to break my wrist in six places. And crikey, did it hurt.

Lying on my back on the concrete path, I looked down at my wonky wrist. It now had more bends than the Nurburgring. Even The Stig would be scared. The pain in my wrist and elbow was incredible. Never felt anything like it.

Unfortunately I couldn’t call on the calm presence of The Stig to whisk me off to hospital in an Aston Martin DBS. Instead, I called for someone even tougher - my wife. “Help, call an ambulance,” I bellow.

She is as tough as nails, but a bit wobbly in a crisis. I’m the opposite – great in a crisis, but a bit wobbly at most other times. And now I was wonky as well as wobbly. Luckily we’re not in space and she could hear me scream (as could half our neighbours).

Sure enough, one of our neighbours does come running. Luckily, she is a former orthopaedic nurse. Lots of good advice about what to do and not do while we wait for the ambulance. Me on the ground, writhing in pain. My wife and our neighbour chatting above me. We wait, and wait. Thirty minutes later the ambos at last arrive, armed with morphine and lots of good advice as well. They guide me into the back of the ambulance. I note that it’s one of those nice Mercedes vans – no Aston Martin, but still it should do the job nicely (funny what you think about when you’re in pain). I’m now sucking on a morphine inhaler that’s meant to be helping the pain. It’s certainly making me light-headed and strangely chatty. As for the pain, that’s still searing through my wrist and elbow. Did I mention there was pain?

To cut a medium-length story short, I was whisked into surgery that night and released the next day. Before I went under the knife, the verdict on the x ray was along the lines of ‘you’ve made a right mess of you’re wrist – broken in six places - we’ll do out best to put it back together’. Not exactly reassuring. The post-operative message was a little brighter – ‘all the pieces snapped back together like a jigsaw puzzle’ (which they seemed to mean as a good thing) – we’ve put in a metal plate and nine screws – you should be fine - apart from the arthritis’.

Apart from the arthritis?! What about the metal plate – does that come out or stay inside forever? Will I set off airport security alarms? Will I ever trim a hedge again? (Let’s hope not.) And is it fit-for-purpose? Can I lift 15kg toddlers and 20kg pre-schoolers?  All good questions, but little did I know that I would have to wait six weeks for the answers.

Foolish decision No.2
Climbing inside a wheelie bin was actually my second foolish decision that week. Two days earlier I had resigned from my safe and slightly cushy public service job to take on the role of primary carer for our two boys, aged four and half and two and a half.

The switch from full-time breadwinner to full-time child carer was always going to be a challenge for a number of reasons. Dads generally don’t stay at home and look after the kids (although many do, and you all have my deepest admiration). The support network of other mum’s that my wife highly valued for the past four and half years will be largely closed to me. Friends who also provided support and companionship for my wife won’t necessarily transfer into friendships with me.

Furthermore, your honour, my wife has had four and a half years’ full-time experience at this, fully immersed in the transitions from none to one to two kids, and with the changing demands of their different stages of development. I fear my part-time experience cannot match her full-time experience when it comes to knowing how to handle different situations, how to roll with the punches and stay the course.

Nor can I match her stamina. As an older first time father, I don’t move with the speed or alacrity I once did. Speed (no, not the drug) and staying power (but there are drugs for that) are critical when dealing with little boys. And my wife would be working much longer and less flexible hours in the corporate world than I enjoyed in the public sector.

So after much discussion of the pros and cons lasting several years, we finally decided to give the role reversal a go. When I finally resigned from my job, the future looked very different. Certainly very different to how I felt when resigning from other jobs. Little did I know that a few days later, one foolish decision with a wheelie bin would result in more pain than I have ever experienced, and render the next six months as primary carer for our two small boys more difficult that I could ever have imagined.

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