“It’s time to face reality, Charlie. Time to swallow your pride. You haven’t a choice – you must go back to America.” The social worker at Limerick Regional Hospital had taken on my case, and wanted to see it to a resolution. But going home was all she could offer.
I had to disappoint her. In fact, she was so worried that I’d be stuck on the streets, I had to use the phrase “moral objection to flight technology” just so she’d be convinced I was a lunatic beyond help, and be able to sleep at night.
Between intravenous antibiotic doses, one of the nurses in the trauma ward gave me some numbers for homeless networks. “If they can’t help ye, they’ll find sometin’ fer ye. They won’t just leave ye on the street, sure.” But he was wrong – apparently Americans don’t have any rights in Ireland. Maybe I should’ve said I had an addiction; a bed next to a cr*ckhead is still a bed.
The Catholic Abbey couldn’t help me either, and with only a few days before I’d be discharged, anticipating a rough recovery trying to stretch my paltry few Euros, I started ferreting away the pain meds that came every four hours in their little plastic cup, instead of eating them. The foot wasn’t bothering me, anyway – I was much more worried about where I would lay my head the day I got out; and what I would possibly do during six weeks for a proper recovery, unable to walk, much less ride a bicycle…. ‘No, no, don’t think about the bicycle, laying broken into pieces in some farmer’s barn sixty miles away in County Tipperary. Figure that out later….’
I lay in my bed, starved. I was scheduled for theatre(surgery) and they hung a “fasting” sign above my head. I begged for a cup of tea, a bun, a biscuit; anything. They wouldn’t even give me water. All I had to swallow was my pride – not very fulfilling. I clung to my precious swatch of Welsh sheepskin, the only sentimental comfort I had thought to grab as the paramedics opened the ambulance doors back on the road from Kilcommon, wishing I had my hoodie, while the inpatients all around me enjoyed visiting hours.
Friends and family came and went, with hugs and support and news and snacks to put in their little cupboards. I just couldn’t watch. I turned and faced my corner, alone and hungry, frightened, frustrated; wallowing in self-pity, trying to fight the tears. So hungry! If I could just have a slice of bread! Or even just a sugar packet!
I tried not to give the staff a hard time, since they held my fate in their hands, as it were, but when they told me I’d been taken off the theatre schedule, and started to tell me that I might not even need surgery, I snapped.
“I’ve been starving here, all day, watching and smelling the stew, and the rashers, and the sausages, and the shepherd’s pie – shepherd’s pie is my favorite – all day because this compound fracture is potentially life-threatening, and now you’re going to tell me I don’t even need surgery after all, and apologize with a plate of cold chicken salad?!? Where’s the doctor that was here this morning??” I was livid, and they were embarrassed. Numerous docs filtered through to try and smooth things over, offering whatever answer they thought I wanted to hear. And then they hung up the “fasting” sign again….
Eventually I did undergo surgery; the scary kind, where a bored-looking ESL doctor counts backward from ten, forcing the mask roughly over your mustache, and you wake up completely disoriented with a sore steel pin bracing your fifth metatarsal. Then a severe-faced nurse jabs you in the stomach with anti-coagulant and tells you you can’t eat or drink for a few more hours. Six time zones from your mommy.
After a few more doses of antibiotics, I was to be discharged. My prospects looked pretty bleak; nowhere to go, nearly out of money, severely reduced mobility, and a cruel Irish sky that continued to down rain every single day.
The morning of my release came. I was hoping to see the clinic and be discharged early, so I’d have a few hours of daylight – some business hours – to figure something out, but they forgot about me again. They rushed to fit me in just before the orthopedic clinic closed at six P.M. Back in the ward, I waited despondently while a gaggle of doctors crowding the nurses station ignored me. Finally someone noticed and distractedly signed off on my discharge papers. The head nurse recited a flurry of instructions, handed me an expensive prescription to fill, and turned immediately to oversee the patient that had arrived to take my bed. There was no one to say goodbye to.
Downstairs at the main reception, they kindly called some hostels for me, and kindly discovered that there was only one still open, and it was full. They found me a nearby B&B, mentioning how much more expensive it would be. I was afraid to even ask the price – I was out of options anyway. The doctor who admitted me three days earlier, the one that said they’d see I had a plan for my recovery before I was discharged, was nowhere to be seen. The receptionist kindly told me, “I’m sure you’ll be rejoining your cycling team soon.” I smiled weakly, too near to tears to correct her, and turned away, closer to despair than I’ve ever been, to face my fate in the pouring rain and failing light of Limerick City.
* * *
That was a dark time, but every cloud has a silver lining. The Luck o’ the Irish is with me, I think – except for that whole high-speed crash thing. There are worse places to get stuck than Ireland, after all. I could be floating in a life raft in the Atlantic Ocean.
Since my release from the hospital I’ve kept my head above water – barely. I had envisioned, and indeed I was prepared for, digging in rubbish bins for food, and stealing dry places to rest my foot wherever I could – I even considered committing myself to the local jailhouse for three square meals a day.
My faith is as strong as ever: things will work out, somehow. My determination is grim, but unyielding. And things have been working out, through a bit of providence with which I’m not quite comfortable: charity. My pride is, admittedly, quite a mouthful, and I probably would’ve spent these past couple of weeks sleeping under a fly-over, if it hadn’t been for that touching charity of my fellow human beings. Sensitive, respectful, charity. I am realizing now more than ever before, that although I am riding my bicycle around the world by myself, solo, I can’t do it alone. I do need help, as much as it stings my pride to admit.
But I won’t give up. No, no… not for a mere compound fracture, not even for a frame that’s broken in two places and a wheel that looks like a taco. I can’t really imagine what it would take to stop me; all I know is that I haven’t encountered it yet.
Thanks to everyone that’s sent me messages or sheltered me during this painful delay in the tour. I’m not out of the dark yet(four weeks of recovery to go), and I really appreciate everyone’s good will. I’m leaving Co. Tipperary for Galway this weekend, I think, so please let me know if you can put me up for a day, a week, a month… or if you can offer any support at all.
PS. The Address Window in Amsterdam will be open for a while longer now…