Saturday, February 27, 2010

The Joy of Rolling onto Your Side and Going to Sleep

I have always slept on my left side. When I was young I used to worry that it was bad for me after reading in some short story by F. Scott Fitzgerald that his principal character, who was depressed, wanted to kill himself by sleeping on his heart, thereby causing it to work harder and wear itself out.

Later, I convinced myself that sleeping on one's heart is not necessarily a bad thing. Possibly it gives the heart more exercise during the night and might even make it stronger. Now I can only feel sorry for those who sleep on their right side, such as my wife. What harm might she be doing to herself as she sleeps?

Last night I discovered how deep is my need to roll onto my left side before going to sleep. Simply because I was not able to do it. After thirty years of skiing without injury more substantial than a bruised thumb ligament, I have finally done myself a more substantial piece of damage.

Yesterday, I took my daughter skiing at Sirdal, and half way through the afternoon, decided on an over-risky manoeuvre which took me at high speed over some horribly bumpy ground. My skis found a hole and stuck there, ejecting me helplessly forwards with a resounding thump onto packed snow. I immediately knew I had done myself harm by a wave of nausea and a desire to lie completely still on my back.

My shoulder had taken the impact and I had the feeling that something had been brutally jarred out of place. I sat up and tried to move my right arm. I could move it, but it was painful. And there was a peculiar sensation in my shoulder, a sort of gristly clicking.

I got up and then immediately wanted to sit down again, which I did, sitting next to my daughter and looking out over the snowy slopes where skiiers swished back and forth. The day was difinitely over.

I skiied gingerly down the mountain and slung my kit into the car. My shoulder was throbbing and I had to get my daughter to load the roof box. Then we began the long drive back to Stavanger, me with my arm resting on the coffee cup holder which Subaru engineers had kindly thought to add to the car in case of exactly such a situation.

Back home, I wondered if I had maybe over-exaggerated the injury to myself. The arm did not seem to be dislocated. I got into bed in my thermals and dozed for a while. But when I woke up, it felt worse, and I decided to go to the hospital.

Norwegians hospitals are incredibly slow and deliberate in their actions. Tasks are carried out one after the other with long periods of waiting in between. My first appointment was with the registrar. I had to take a number from a machine and fill in a pink form. Every so often, the digital number on the wall clicked on by one digit, but nobody got up to go into the registrar's room. Surprisingly, even though nobody got up, the number did not move swiftly on to the next. Instead, the registrar gazed a little more into space, put his hands behind his head, and waited for a further five minutes before eventually clicking the number on again. this happened a couple of times before my number eventually came up. Where the other ticket holders went I have no idea.

I got myself registered. My Norwegian State personal identity number was recorded from the back of my credit card. And then it was back to waiting, surrounded by anxious mothers holding croopy babies. An hour or so later, I was called into the doctor, a tall, blonde young woman. She was very nice, shook my hand, diagnosed that I had injured my shoulder, told me I needed an x-ray and then charged me 25 pounds, for which she took payment on the spot. After living in France for several years, the idea of paying doctors for not much is now quite familiar to me. Though it was shocking the first time a doctor handed over the cough medicine prescription and then pulled open a draw lined with paper money and asked me to further decorate it. To the British, medicine is something which always seems to come for free. To the French, medicine is something you have to pay for, and that is why they always demand a handout of "medicaments".

So, I trooped off round the hospital in the snow and ice, trying several doors until I came to the right one marked "Rontgen". There are a couple of peculiarities about Norwegian hospitals that I noticed. Firstly, chains hang from the ceiling beside every sliding door which have to be pulled to operate the door. Secondly, registrars at every turn, sit behind mechanised sliding windows which they officiously open and close like the doors on the front of cuckoo clocks. The lady at the Rontgen office immediately asked me to pay again. "But I've just paid the doctor" I said. "Yes, but now you have to pay for the X-Ray". I paid and asked for a receipt. "That will take me a little time" said the registrar. "Please go and wait."

I began another wait outside the registrar's office. The receipt came out of the sliding hatch. I continued waiting. By now I was getting quite far on with the book about the Kings and Queens of England I was reading. No longer was I reading about Edward III and the start of the Hundred Years War, but I was well into the career of Henry VIII and his treatment of Anne Boleyn. Then I was called by loudspeaker and directed to Rontgen (X-Ray) laboratory No. 8 where I waited a bit more. The X-Ray technican was also a lady, one of many - I noticed - who worked in the hospital, and she got me to stand holding a 4 kg plastic milk container full of water in each hand while I was having my x-ray taken.

I wish I could have seen myself. I think I must have looked like one of those portraits by Richard Avedon in his book "In the American West": a white background, my arms dangling down, hair in a mess due to the skiing, a look of general pain and despair on my face.

Then another long wait for a ticket which told me to go to the Akkutklinik. By this time I realised that I was part of a disparate group of people all trailing through the same system of waiting, paying, measuring, diagnosis and treatment. I was called through to the next doctor quite quickly, but soon realised that this was only because there was a possibility to have me wait in the treatment room.

Finally two doctors came, a young man and woman. They watched as I painfully pulled off my t-shirt, then poked at my shoulder. "You've disconnected your clavicle from your shoulder," said the doctor, "broken the ligaments which connect the two bones. that's why you have this lump where the clavicle is sticking up." "Will it always be like that?" I asked. "Yes, I'm afraid so. We could operate, but there really isn't any point. Better that you let your arm move around and let your shoulder recover and adapt on its own. It should take about five to six weeks. Would you like a sick note?"

And that was it. Case closed. I declined the sick note, knowing that it would be a luxury I couldn't afford. My wife came and picked me up. The whole process took three hours from start to finish.

But last night was horrible. I discovered that the only position I could lie without being in agony was on my back. Consequently, my feet stuck out of the end of the bed and I couldn't get to sleep through being denied the possibility of rolling onto my left side.

Eventually, I did go to sleep, on my back, and woke up a few hours later in the same position. It seems a little thing to be able to roll onto your side and go to sleep, but in reality it is a crucial comfort in life. Or at least, in my life. One I had never really considered before.

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