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facts & arguments

STEVEN HUGHES/The Globe and Mail

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I've been The Ankle in Room 5 at the orthopedic clinic for a year. Room 5 is as far away as you can get from the waiting room.

Over the past 12 months, in addition to being The Ankle in Room 5, I have been The Total Washout in OR 2, The VAC in Room 26 and The Graft in OR 1. Just last month, I became The Hip in 16A.

I am a Murphy. Murphy's law of random perversity states that if something can go wrong, it will.

I broke The Ankle in three places, having simply walked down our driveway to pick up the recycling boxes. I slipped. After an ambulance ride and a three-hour wait, a Spawn of Satan tried to put a cast on The Ankle. No success. After SoS left, another, more angelic team arrived to sedate me and apply another cast. When I woke up, they told me to go home. But I couldn't go home (another hilarious story about a month's stay in a retirement residence at $100 a day, not covered by insurance).

Eventually, The Ankle was repaired surgically. Then, another trip to Room 5. The Ankle wasn't healing. What to do? "Watch it." After five months of watching, it was decided that further surgery would be required to "scrub the bones." I invited various friends to come with S.O.S pads. No one turned up. I was hurt.

The next trip to Room 5 was the best of all. There were three patients named Nancy at the clinic that day. We found this out because, when the nurse called "Nancy!" we all struggled to stand up, realizing that we were all women of a certain age who had received our name in the mid-1940s.

The nurse came into Room 5 and said, "Okay, Nancy, expose your elbow." I asked why; my ankle, that was the problem. "Oh," said the nurse, "you're not The Elbow; you're The Ankle!"

A voice came from Room 4. "I'm The Elbow," said a Nancy. Then a voice from another room. "I'm The Shoulder," said another Nancy.

I continued to watch The Ankle not heal. Nurses were engaged to come to my home to apply potions and new dressings. For another month, we all watched The Ankle not healing. So, a trip to the wound clinic.

Having never heard of the wound clinic, I guessed it was a 12-step program where people sat around and talked about their wounds. No. A highly trained and competent nurse runs it. I somehow doubt that there are bunches of people vying for her job. I was in Room 5 at the wound clinic, too.

After three more weeks, during which many, many people continued to watch The Ankle not healing, the surgeon decided to go in and scrub dem bones again.

Three days later, it was back to the wound clinic. The Ankle was exposed. Nurses, residents and other folks began to dance attendance upon me. Prescriptions were written, an IV attached; an infectious diseases doctor arrived.

Then, immediately back to Room 5 in the orthopedic clinic, where I was met by my surgeon and two other unidentified individuals, all gowned, gloved and masked, with eyebrows knit.

"Now you are of clinical interest," the surgeon said. "You have an MRSA." The surgeon didn't say why I hadn't been of clinical interest previously, nor did he explain MRSA (I had to Google that). It's short for methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus, a hospital-acquired superbug that is resistant to antibiotics.

I was instructed to turn up for an MRI and a PICC (that's a medical abbreviation for tubing that's run up an arm vein and settled in your vena cava). The PICC is a wonderful piece of equipment, run by a pump strapped around your waist that constantly delivers drugs.

Following these procedures, I was admitted to hospital for another bone scrub, followed by the installation of a VAC (a vacuum-assisted closure, literally a vacuum cleaner), followed by a consultation with a plastic surgeon. Things were looking up. Perhaps plastics could do the bags under my eyes and a tummy tuck at the same time they were checking out The Ankle.

When I was taken to the operating room for the first step in the process, I was referred to as The Total Washout in OR 2. When the vacuuming machine was tethered to me, I became the VAC in 26.

There were four more bone scrubs and a skin graft over the next three weeks. I was kept in an isolation room, a green sign hung above the door telling people that they must don gown, gloves and mask before entering. Anything brought into the room could not be taken out. Except, for reasons unknown, me.

Perky physiotherapists encouraged me to wander around the hospital. I could use the patients' kitchen. I could get a "day pass" and go out for lunch.

Three weeks ago, I became The Hip in 16A. That joint replacement was supposed to have happened a month after The Ankle broke. I'm going back to the ortho clinic soon – doubtless to Room 5.

Yesterday, a friend fell on her way to drop a can into her recycling box. She has a broken collarbone, a wrecked knee, gashes on her face, bruises everywhere.

Maybe it really is time to stop recycling.

Nancy Murphy lives in Ottawa.