Broken Bone, Going Home

I’ve only ever been to the hospital once in my life, when I was knocked out in a hockey game and lost memory of the previous hour or so. I was taken to Mass General in Boston, given an IV, and sent home a couple hours later. Sure, there have probably been a lot of times where I could have gone to the ER, but suffering through the stress and headache of actually going to the hospital always seemed worse than the injuries themselves. I’ve also always been more comfortable on two wheels than on my own feet. That being said, I know it doesn’t say much considering my track record for crashing my bicycle, but I think I really proved my point this time.

After ten phone calls to Turkish Air and Vayama, I was finally able to change my plane ticket so I could stay in Africa an extra five weeks and ride through Uganda with Dom and Jan. Sunday morning we were getting ready for the short 25 mile ride across the border to Kisoro, Uganda, but we were all having the same problem… money. Dom’s card wasn’t working at any ATM, Jan was planning on having his money wired through western union, and I had lost my ATM card so I had no access to my extra cash, which I really needed to get me through the next five weeks. While we were packing, Jan suggested maybe we stay in Musanze an extra night, and try and sort out the money situation Monday morning before we left. I was ready to ride and move on to Uganda, but it did make sense to figure out the money situation while we were in somewhat of a bigger town rather than be stuck in the middle of nowhere with no money access. So I agreed and stopped packing my things.

We spent the day walking around the market, seeing the town a bit, and a French couple took us out for a soda. We searched through the lonely planet East Africa book, scoured the Ugandan road map, looked up and discussed the 7 things to do if you are attacked by a lion, and committed to riding our bicycles through Queen Elizabeth National Park, despite the chance of seeing elephants and lions. We cooked pasta and Heinz beans for dinner, and I ate probably twice as much as anyone else, and then as it got dark, I decided to head to the bathroom, where I had left my laptop charging. We were camping on the lawn of a hotel run by Notre Dame Fatima, and they were charging us about 8 bucks a night, but there was wifi, and we had a nice cushy spot on the lawn under a palm tree.

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As I walked along the outdoor corridor, I was fiddling with my headlamp and neglected to see that the metal drainage grate in front of me stuck up about three inches. My foot caught underneath it and as I stepped forward, it lifted off the ground and flung me up in the air, and then I slammed down with all my weight on both the loose metal grate, and the hard concrete, landing on my right thigh. There were a bunch of people around, so of course I jumped right back up and acted like I was fine, but as soon as I tried to take a step I knew something was wrong. I stood there for a minute on one foot, and then Jan brought a chair over and I sat down. I figured it was going to be a pretty bad bruise and I might not be able to ride for a couple days, but as I tried to move it in different directions, the pain was definitely more than just a bruise.

We decided I should probably go to the hospital since I couldn’t walk, and the hotel sent for a car. I hobbled on one foot into the back seat and five minutes later I was in a dark parking lot at an abandoned building that was apparently a hospital. Some guy brought me a wheel chair, and a nurse came and wheeled me into a couple walls and tables before abandoning me in some room where the power kept going out and there was a girl having an asthma attack. I waited around for an hour or so and they finally brought me to the x-ray room. Moving from the chair to the x-ray table was horrible, but I was able to lay on my back and on my side for the x-rays.

Jan took one look and pointed out that it looked like my femur was broken, and the x-ray technician agreed, but they said wait for the doctor to look at it. I was wheeled back into the previous room and was left in the wheel chair for an hour or two. The rest of my body started to hurt more than my leg, but finally the doctor looked at the X-ray and said it was indeed broken and that I’d need surgery. We talked about getting a transfer to a hospital in Kigali, but didn’t know which one, so Jan and Dom went back to the hotel to do some research as I was led across a gravel parking lot in a wheel chair, into some building, all the way down a hall, and left in a bed with no pillows in an empty room by myself for the remainder of the night.

I woke up in the morning to a woman cleaning the floor. Finally, Jan and Dom showed up with a driver from the hotel, they said they’d drive me to Kigali for only the cost of gas. Maybe they realized the grate was a pretty terrible safety hazard. I once again hobbled one one foot down the hall and into a mini-van that they stuffed a mattress into, and which had been made pretty comfortable. I was in the van ready to go, when a doctor actually showed up and said I couldn’t go yet, that they needed to stabilize my leg for the ride. So I got out of the van and hobbled back down the hallway to the empty room, where the doctor looked at my x-rays and said that I didn’t need surgery and they could just give me a cast for 6-8 weeks. I wasn’t sure if that was good or bad, but I said I’d get the cast if that’s what they wanted to do in Kigali, and in the end he decided he didn’t need to stabilize my leg, and I hobbled back into the van.

The ride was pretty nice, I had a couple peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, and the pain was minimal when I wasn’t moving. We arrived at King Faisel Hospital in Kigali, and I went into the emergency on a spine board. They took more x-rays because the first ones weren’t clear, and immediately they said my femur was broken and that I would definitely need surgery. They scheduled me for 10am on Tuesday to cut my leg open and put a metal rod in. This hospital was pretty clearly better than the one in Musanze, and I felt a lot more confident getting surgery done here. I couldn’t move my leg at all, but I was pretty tired, so I was happy to finally get put in a room where I could get some rest. Jan and Dom hung out for a bit and then left to the youth hostel where they were staying. A couple hours later Dom came back with Innocent, the guy from Gisenyi who had helped us out with planning. Apparently he was in town and called Dom about gorilla tracking and when he found out what happened he wanted to come visit me. He hung out for a couple hours and told me all about how he became a tour guide for Rwanda and the DRC, about the corrupt police in Goma and mzungu’s throwing him a birthday party on his first day as a tour guide. He’s a super nice guy and definitely gave us some really solid advice on our time here in Rwanda.

The next morning I was woken up at about 6am to get my vitals checked. I wasn’t allowed to have breakfast since I was having surgery. Dom and Jan showed up around 9:30 or so and hung out for the next hour. Everything was running late and I was getting a bit hangry (hungry/angry) and really just wanted to get the surgery over with. The bed was getting really uncomfortable and when I tried to move my leg started to hurt real bad. I was annoyed, but finally someone showed up and wheeled me down to the surgical room. Jan told me it was going to be pretty bad, since I was going to be conscious, and he recommended I wear headphones so that I wouldn’t hear the hammering and drilling, however the doctors wouldn’t allow it because my headphones weren’t sterile.

The surgery itself really wasn’t that bad though. The worst part was having to lean forward so they could stick a needle in my spine to numb me. Within minutes the entire lower half of my body was tingly and starting to go numb I could still feel when I was touched, but there was no pain. They got my leg in position and put a curtain in front of my face. I heard everything, but I couldn’t feel it so it was okay. The whole set up and procedure took maybe two hours and I was kind of half sleeping through it all. The doctor said it was a success and showed me some pictures. I got a 20cm rod put lengthwise through my femur and three screws to hold it in place.

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So finally, after four nights in the hospital I was discharged and am currently in the Discover Rwanda Youth Hostel, a pretty decent place to relax. It’s got everything I need and friendly, english speaking staff to help me if I need anything else. Theres a chinese, mexican and Indian restaurant within crutching-distance to boot! Next step is dealing with changing my plane ticket once again,, figure out getting my bike and everything packed up and getting home. I will at least be stuck here until early/mid next week so maybe I’ll catch up on some blog posts I missed in the mean time.

In the end, it really could have been worse… I was lucky to have Dom and Jan with me, and at least it happened at the end of my trip and not at the beginning. I’m now looking forward to using my time to edit some video and reflect on the whole trip… and start planning the next one.

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3 thoughts on “Broken Bone, Going Home

  1. Wow that’s a tough break. Bummer man. 20cm rod seams HUGE to me. Maybe now you will be able to predict the weather?

  2. EFF! I cringed the whole way thru reading that! So the first dr decided they didn’t need to pull traction/stabalize the leg?? Seems not doing that alone could have messed you up a whole lot worse, can’t really tell where the break is in that xray though. Best of luck with yr recovery

  3. Derek, just hearing about this today from Glenn at OSH. I have some knowledge to share about physical therapy relating to my own femur break and what to expect in the months and years ahead. Very sorry this happened and believe me I have empathy!

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