On 6 November 2013 I celebrated my 84th birthday.

barbs-storyAt this ripe old age I was doing pretty well and had a lot to look forward to. I was busy doing all kinds of stuff. I loved to take the Aquabus ferry to Granville Island, poke around the shops and buy food at the market; I enjoyed weekly trips to my hairdressers at the bottom of Denman Street, then walking the length of Denman and stopping at Safeway before getting the bus home, as well as regular bus trips to Urban Fare to pick up yummy foods. Every month I took a taxi to Chapters downtown to stock up on reading matter. Most of all I was looking forward to visiting my younger daughter in New Zealand for their summertime, although it involves a 14-hour flight to Auckland with an onward leg to Christchurch. Pattie lives in a rural home with her husband and now almost 2-year-old son, Jamie – my only grandson. I visited her shortly after he was born and they came here last August. I was really excited about seeing Jamie again, watching him grow and learn to walk and spending Christmas there. I had my ticket booked for a 4 month stay. I was preparing myself for the different lifestyle – rural New Zealand is quite a change from downtown Vancouver. With cows, chickens, dogs, sheep and now a grandson I keep busy there.

This all changed on 12 November 2013. Here is what happened that day.

I had come out of Urban Fare with my shopping. I had my shoulder bag with wallet over my arm. I had a light plastic bag in the other hand. I had bought stewing beef, an onion and cheese. I crossed Pacific at Davie Street and went to wait at the bus stop on the North side of Pacific just outside the Mexican café (that stop has since been removed). It was a nice day, cold but clear. I had on my pale brown raincoat. I waited about 10 minutes for the bus. I stepped back to let a few passengers off and as they did so I was happy to note there was an empty seat near the front. When they had finished getting off I stepped forward to get on the bus. As I did so the driver closed the doors. I remember being shocked and annoyed so I tapped on the glass door with one hand while the bus was still at the stop. I noticed the driver glance in my direction, toss her head the other way and drive off. At that moment I felt like I was flying through the air and found myself lying on the sidewalk in great pain. The bus stopped, a passenger got off and came to my aid, and a young man at the café came over and helped. I told him her number and he called my daughter. The ambulance took about 15 minutes to arrive. I remember hearing the bus driver repeating, “I am so sorry, I wouldn’t have done that if I had seen her”.

In ER I was given pain killers, poked and prodded, had blood tests countless time, had drips in my hand. X rays revealed a hip fracture. The doctor told me he had to operate and asked if in the event of something going wrong I wanted to be resuscitated, or if I would accept a blood transfusion if needed -you bet I did I was not ready to die. I told him to give me whatever I need to get out of this place and back to normal. I had an operation for an intertrochanteric fracture 12 hours after being admitted to St. Paul’s, this involved a steel plate, pin and screws being inserted in my bones. Acute post-op care was horrible. I couldn’t get out of bed, I was in great pain, I had to use a bedpan, I was constantly poked with needles, and I had to take so many painkillers they made me sick.

I then spent a week on a ward. I was lucky they gave me a private room and I had my own bathroom but using it was still a tremendous struggle. Nurses, doctors, physios, occupational therapists, social workers, assistants kept visiting me. Each had their own area of expertise. One night I was asked to sign a form to pay $400 for the TV in my room. I didn’t have a TV. Fortunately I had my wits about me and didn’t sign. I made slow progress but I was very sad. I knew it was going to be a long haul back to normal and I knew I would not be going to New Zealand for Christmas.

Then one day I was told I would be transferred to a rehab centre off Kingsway. Apparently I would have to share a room with a woman or man, go to group physio, be allowed to shower once a week at an allotted time, eat in the communal hall and get a pass if I ever wanted to leave the facility. It sounded like prison and I refused to go. They called my daughter and said they were sending me home immediately. She said she wasn’t ready – she had to get equipment from the Red Cross, set up my apartment and get help. I went home the next day.

It was great to be home but things had changed. My bed had to be moved so that I could exit the correct side to get to the washroom. Small tables and other “obstacles” had to be removed. My toilet had an elevated seat and a frame to hold on to. The first few days at home were very difficult.

After a couple of nights of worrying about her, I decided I had to return my cat, Polly, to the SPCA. I was terrified she would trip me up while I was trying to get to the bathroom. I knew I couldn’t empty her litter tray and I was unable to bend down to feed her.

Some assistance was arranged and every morning a young woman came to help me get up, cooked my breakfast, helped me shower (very embarrassing), set out my lunch and supervised me injecting the anti-coagulant into my stomach. This had been prescribed at the hospital to help prevent blood clots after the operation. I hated it and had to do it for 30 days.

My daughter stayed with me the first week after I returned from hospital and visited daily after that helping out as much as she could when she was not working. Ten days after I returned home, I received a call from Lucia early one Sunday morning. She was in tears. Her husband, Martin had been admitted to St. Paul’s and was being prepared to undergo emergency abdominal surgery that night. I was astounded, he had been perfectly fit and healthy. How could so many bad things happen all at once? He stayed in hospital for 5 days, Lucia spent most of her days there and returned to sleep at my place at night. I felt useless, the only help I could give was to her comfort her when she burst into tears as she came through the door. I couldn’t go to the hospital with her. I couldn’t go shopping to buy food for her. I couldn’t go and feed her cat. I couldn’t do anything tangible to help.

Then both Lucia and I became ill – something we picked up in hospital, who knows, but violent vomiting and diarrhea got us both. It’s hard to get to the toilet in a hurry with a fractured hip. Even harder to bend over and be sick.

Martin came home but was unable to work for a month. I progressed slowly. We made the best of Christmas but watching Jamie learning to walk and open presents just wasn’t the same on Facetime.
Sometimes Lucia took me out for a walk in my wheelchair – not much fun, makes you feel like a very old lady. I have never spent so much time at home, bored and dejected.

5 months later

I have been given exercises to do by my own physio whom I went to in March as I felt I was not progressing adequately. I do them religiously, I want to get better as quickly as possible. I want to go to New Zealand for Jamie’s 2nd birthday in September. The exercises are hard but they are supposed to strengthen my muscles and my hip. I can now do most things in my home, cooking, showering, light housework. Before my accident I wouldn’t have thought twice about doing these little daily things. But now I always have to do them very slowly and carefully. I go to the corner store with my walker but it’s amazing how difficult it is to navigate with this contraption, you have to be careful it will fit in gaps, the wheels will negotiate potholes in the road, and that cars stop long enough to let you cross the street. I can go a small distance with my cane but have to be careful of wet or slippery floors, dropping it and tripping over it.

My daughter does my grocery shopping, takes me to medical appointments, Chapters and a few other places but the walker is heavy to put in the car, there are steps in the most unexpected places, I can’t use it on escalators. Last week we went to Chapters downtown, managed to park very close and navigate across Robson with the walker only to find Chapters was closed due to a flood. Another time we went somewhere and discovered the elevator wasn’t working. I can’t simply ‘pop out’ anywhere anymore, these outings always feel like a major expedition. I feel like I’ve lost a great part of my independence and freedom.

One day the fire alarm went off in my building, I panicked and wondered what to do. No way could I navigate the stairwell. A kind neighbour came and told me it was a false alarm so stay put.

In December the surgeon took another X-ray and said I was healing well but indicated I may have to use a walker forever. I asked him how long until I can safely go to Granville Island again, get on the bus again, be independent again? Will I always walk lopsided? He can’t tell me. I am lobbying the strata council to get an automatic door opener installed as the main door into our building is extremely heavy and impossible for me to handle alone. This effectively makes me a prisoner if there is nobody around to help with the door.

Thankfully the nightmares have stopped. For a few months I would wake up every night in a sweaty panic, reliving the whole hideous scenario again – watching the bus arrive, stepping back to let the passengers off, stepping forward to find the doors closing on me, flying backwards and landing on the ground in great pain – at which point I always woke up.

June 2014 – 7 months later the weather is finally warm and everything is fresh and green. But summer activities are much more difficult – Van Dusen Gardens, the seawall, Pacific Centre are all inaccessible unaccompanied. I can go out un-assisted to the corner store but only with the walker. If I have help and am going in a car I can use the cane only. I can use a shopping cart at the supermarket to support me but escalators and stairs are still out. I have been to Granville Island with my kinesiologist, who is sweet but forceful, constantly reminding me to stand upright and not lean on the walker. If the tide is low the ramp is too steep for me.

So this all means that planning any kind of outing is a pain for everybody involved. Spontaneity is no longer an option. Even cabs can be awkward, some don’t want to help with the walker, or hold the door open.

My OT and surgeon have told me I will likely always walk with a limp due to the misalignment of the hips. I don’t know if this means always needing a cane. As for pain, the hip does hurt quite often. It is a sort of ache that never goes away for very long. Tolerable but a constant reminder of my situation. During the last visit to my surgeon on August 18 he said this is because the hardware can irritate, especially if you are on the thin side (less padding). This is why I can no longer sleep on that side. I am told this will probably be the case forever and that it will be 1-2 years before I am back to normal. I don’t believe in dosing up on painkillers. I don’t want to turn into one of those drugged up old ladies sitting around moaning at everything and everyone.

It is almost September, 9 months on and here is how my life has changed forever.

– I have lost a year of useful life
– I missed my grandson’s second Christmas
– I have lost my independence
– I have to rely on other people to help me
– I can’t go out far alone unassisted
– I had to give up my beloved pet, I still miss her
– I am nervous when I am out, scared that a bike or a pedestrian or uneven pavement may cause me to trip
– My hip often hurts
– I will never, ever again get on a bus
– I have to move to be closer to my daughter for ongoing help

Compensation – yes, I would like some for the pain and suffering, but in truth no amount of money can make up for what happened to me, and given the choice I would much rather wind back the clock and return to being the “jolly old bird” I used to be. For a younger person this might not be so traumatic, but at 84 you have limited time left to enjoy your life and every moment counts.

Prior to the accident I had no major medical problems, used no mobility devices and could almost do what I wanted when I wanted. The professionals tell me I have done remarkably well, but it has been a long, hard struggle that has taken all my strength and will power, and it is not over yet because I still don’t have the life I had before.

What makes it worse is that I did nothing wrong, but the careless, negligent actions of a speedy bus driver have changed my life probably forever. I was not running for the bus, I did not step off the sidewalk, I was not unsteady on my feet. The fact is a bus driver is supposed to check if passengers are waiting before leaving the stop, a cursory glance and swift departure are not the actions of a responsible driver.

I am looking forward to the future, I am going to New Zealand in September, I will enjoy my grandson’s second birthday and a family Christmas then I am coming back to my new apartment close to my daughter, but every time I see that bus I am still furious at how it changed my life.

To BC Transit I say this – tell your drivers to look more carefully and not rush. And every time they see an old person consider they too will be old and slow one day. A moment’s inattention by a bus driver has changed my life forever.

Barbara Mason
24 August 2014