I was standing in front of the mirror, brushing my teeth. It was Thursday December 4, 2021, about 9pm.
My left leg buckled and I sat down abruptly on the tile floor of my bathroom. I said out loud “what the fuck just happened?” I sat there, alone in the house. “This is not good” I thought. I was calm. There was pain, but it was vague, not sharp at all.
I knew it wasn’t my knee. I knew that artificial hips could pop out of the socket, that had been discussed with the surgeon before he installed the titanium metal on metal device in my left leg. With that in mind, I lay on my back, held my leg by the thigh and gingerly moved it around. Closing my eyes, I tried to sense what was going on. There was a very unpleasant feeling, a scraping, grating sensation. Opening my eyes I looked at my leg as I attempted to rotate my foot. My muscles were still working but my foot was acting wonky…it kind of flopped instead of rotating. I observed that for a while. I’m really glad I stopped there and didn’t try to move my thigh.
“This is really not good”
Time slowed as I sat there and thought about what to do. I live alone now, a recent development as my husband Steve and I sort through our relationship.
I don’t have insurance. That fact was a big factor as I thought about what to do. I can hear you ask “why in the world do you not have insurance Michelle?” That was a question I heard over and over during the next few days.
I am one of the casualties of the messed up disaster that is called healthcare in America. I had coverage when Steve was working, but that changed when he retired and went on Medicare. Our combined income was too high to qualify for discounts accorded through Obamacare. Did you know that where you live and the resources available are a factor in the cost of insurance? While we were in Penrose, Colorado. I was able to have excellent medical care through a Direct Primary Care doctor in the adjoining city of Pueblo, no insurance required. When we moved that option was no longer available. I checked on the cost of a policy when we moved to the small town of Pagosa Springs, Colorado The quote was $1,200 per month with a $5,000 deductible. I am healthy, I keep my weight down and need no prescription medicine at all. . I take vitamins and glucosamine chondroitin (for joint health) and the occasional pain reliever for a headache or muscle aches . I could not justify that astronomical amount of resources that we would have to pay before insurance kicked in. I paid $400 per month for four years to a faith based medical cost sharing organization in lieu of traditional insurance. I had read about problems with the group and lost faith in them when the one medical bill I sent in for payment went into collection because they didn’t pay it. I cancelled as of 11/30/2021. Four days ago. I decided to self pay for mammograms and check ups and take the gamble. And count down the months until I qualify for Medicare at 65. So I am self insured.
With the idea that this was all going to come out of my savings, calling 911 was not something I wanted to do.
The body reacts to pain and speaks in very obvious ways. I was nauseous and then I felt my bowels start to move. While I pondered what to do I had the idea that I could drag myself to the toilet and somehow lift myself up to the seat. I work out and have great upper body strength. That didn’t help me at all when faced with nothing to hold onto on the wall with which to lift myself. And I couldn’t use my left leg at all. It was rather floppy.
Next, I thought I would be a good idea to get some clothes on. That proved to be difficult and time consuming. I drug myself into the closet in my bathroom, but I couldn’t seem to get a tank top down from the hook. I flipped the shirt and cussed a bit, it finally fell down and I put it on. I got some joggers off the shelf but decided I didn’t want to try to put the injured leg in them. That was a good decision. About fifteen to twenty minutes had gone by while I calmly scooted and dragged myself all over my bathroom. I decided I needed to call for help.
Steve has an apartment just a few miles away. Six minutes away to be exact, he has timed it. Although we were living separately, calling him was my first thought. He is calm and steady in a crisis, a by product of his career working with chemical weapons. In the last decade I’ve had two near brushes with death. Once when he landed our plane after a catastrophic engine failure. The other when I had a reaction to fentanyl that had been prescribed by the emergency room doctor after being thrown from a neighbors crazy ass horse. When Steve couldn’t wake me the next morning I got another ride in the ambulance. My friend who was also the EMT told me later that it was real close. She called the hospital when she got back to the station to see if I had made it. Steve has also nursed me through the other hip replacement and two shoulder replacements.
My phone was somewhere in the house, I had no idea where. But I bought an Apple Watch last year. It was one of the best investments I could have made. I lay on the floor and told Siri to call Steve. He didn’t answer. I called, over and over. I found out later that the phone was in the other room and he was deep in sleep.
Thursday evenings were special in my life. As I returned to my hometown of Little Rock and reconnected with friends and family I realized just how important my women friends, my “tribe” are to me. I started a weekly gathering at my house, which began with a zoom yoga class led by my friend Margaret Burkesmith in Pagosa Springs. We followed the class gathered around my table sharing a meal, laughing and crying as we talked our lives and experiences.
Jill and Cindy had driven over together, as they live just a few blocks apart. I reached Jill and told her I needed help. I knew Jill had work the next day, but Cindy is recently retired. So I requested that Cindy come.
Cindy called to tell me she was on her way. I said something like “ok, but I am gong to pass out right now” and I did. The cool white hexagon tile of my bathroom felt good against my cheek and body as I lay there, going in and out of consciousness. That cool soothing tile balanced the heat of pain that was starting to build. Waves of nausea hit me I passed out a couple of times.
Cindy arrived. Luckily I had not locked up yet, and she was able to come in. I’m sure I was a shocking sight, sitting half naked in the floor.
Cindy knelt down, and asked me what I wanted her to do. Should she call 911?
“No, I don’t have insurance. Help me to my bed, I’ll deal with this tomorrow”
I thought I could tough it out. I thought Cindy, who weighs all of one hundred pounds was going to drag me across the floor and lift me into my bed. I was calm, but obviously not thinking straight.
“ oh honey, I don’t think I can do that”
“Steve is not answering his phone”
“ ok, who else can I call?”
Kevin Heifner is a physician and long time friend. He lives close by.
I figured Kevin could get me into the bed and I would deal with the problem tomorrow. Again, I admit I was not thinking straight. But I was calm. Eerily calm.
Cindy found my phone, and called Kevin from the bedroom. As I heard parts of the conversation, the truth of my circumstances started to hit me. I felt a deep sense of dread, a deep sense that something was really wrong.
My body started reacting more violently. About 45 minutes had passed since my leg had buckled. I was shaking. My body began to speak to me in no uncertain terms. I drug myself over to the cabinet where I keep towels. I put one under my head, and one under my hips. I lay on my side, cold tiles on my cheek and side soothing and comforting. The first thing I felt when I regained consciousness each time. I. could hear Cindy’s voice fading in and out. I started vomiting and couldn’t lift my head. Explosive diarrhea blasted out of me. Several times I thought I would not wake up again as I passed out. Each time was ok with that idea.
Cindy came back to the door, phone in hand and said “Kevin says you have to go to the hospital. I need to call 911. He wants you to go to Baptist and he will call ahead”
Kevin told me later he could hear me in the bathroom and knew that going to the emergency room was the only solution.
“Ok” I said. I had come to the realization that I was not going to tough this one out. No amount of mental strength and determination was going to keep me out of the emergency room. . Getting to my bed and dealing with it tomorrow was not going to happen.
Cindy made the call. As we waited, I asked for my phone. The iPhone has a Find My IPhone Feature that I used to use a lot when I had mislaid my phone in the house. I used that feature to send the sound to Steves phone. I kept pushing the button. After just a minute he sleepily answered the phone.
“Something bad is happened and I need you. Cindy is here and the ambulance is coming”. I hung up.
A few minutes later he was at the door to the bathroom. “What happened? What can I do?” He asked.
“ I don’t know. My leg gave out and it’s bad. Wet a washcloth and help me clean up”
I was laying on the floor, covered in vomit and feces. I was shaking uncontrollably from pain and adrenaline. Steve gently helped me clean my self as best I could, rinsing and rewetting the cloths several times. He asked what he could gather for me. I told him where my backpack was and he put in my toothbrush and other necessities.
By then the ambulance had arrived. The paramedics came in and there was a discussion as to whether or not to try to put me into a wheelchair, or if the stretcher would fit in the door.
“A wheelchair is not a good idea” I said.
They brought the stretcher up to the narrow bathroom door.
“We are going to have to lift you and carry you to the stretcher” a voice said.
“Ok. I can hold my legs.”
I rolled on my back, and wrapped my arms mid thigh around my bent legs, knees towards my chest. Trying to hold everything stable as movement caused fresh waves of pain and vomiting. They lifted and then carried me to the stretcher. That was not a pleasant experience.
Lights lit up the dark sky as they took me outside. I was loaded into the ambulance and the door closed. “Take me to Baptist please, Dr. Heifner has called ahead”
I was wheeled through the doors of the Emergency Room. A familiar place for me. Once I had driven my mom here when she thought she was having a heart attack. I had put her in a wheelchair and banged and crashed my way up the ramp. “You are going to give me another heart attack “ she said. We laughed about it later, after she was admitted to the hospital. That memory was fresh as they took me down the hall.
We passed by the room where my Dad had been, after falling and breaking his hip while trying to kick one of the dogs out of his way. We told him it served him right.
They parked me in a room, and started the process of hooking me up to monitors and machines.
“Is your blood pressure usually this high ?” A voice asked.
“What is it?”
￼“ No, it’s usually normal but I am in a bit of pain right now”
“Ok. We will keep an eye on it”
The questions started. What happened?
“I was brushing my teeth. My leg buckled. I sat down and said “what the fuck just happened”
What medications do you take.
“ nothing but Tylenol or advil. Maybe a Benadryl . I eat right, walk, ride horses and do yoga”.
“ you are in better shape than most people on this floor, including the doctors and nurses” someone told me. I share this not from ego, but because that fact became important over the next few days. At age 64 I work hard to be as healthy, strong and flexible as I can be.
The doctor came in. “Oh! Michelle Cox! I know you! Dr. Heifner said you are a friend and to take care of you! Let’s find out what is going on, I’ll order an X-ray”
By then Steve had arrived. He held my hand and told me that it was ok. That whatever it took we would pay it. He was so upset that he had not heard the phone and apologized over and over.
The X-ray machine arrived, the process quick and painless.
The doctor, nurse and Steve stood in front of the monitor. I could see their faces, I couldn’t see what they were viewing. There was a look of shock and horror on each of their faces.
“I’ve never seen anything like that. I didn’t know that was possible” said the doctor.
“Holy shit, Michelle. Let me take a picture “ said Steve and he snapped a photo of the X-ray and came to the side of the bed. He held his phone out.
“We will get you admitted. It might take a while” said the doc. Reluctantly Steve left my side, but I was concerned about my little pug Mick who was alone in the house, scared and confused. Steve took him home with him that night.
The nurse came over with a syringe.
“I’m going to give you something for the pain”
“What is it?”
“Well before you do that let me tell you a story”
After hearing about the horse wreck, fentanyl reaction and near death experience he said “ ok” and released the drug into my IV.
Over the next few hours I lay on the very uncomfortable gurney as they tried to find an available bed in the hospital. A sick feeling of fear in my stomach as I second guessed my decisions on insurance and what this was going to cost. Frustration that I was going to have to rely on Steve and others at a time when I was finally becoming independent.
And gratitude. Deep gratitude that I was here, in my hometown of Little Rock with friends and family and resources. And that I was alive.