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Chasing the news, gimpy leg and all

Published Sep. 26, 2005

There I was, lying on the floor of the House Press Gallery inside the Capitol. My right foot was at right angles to my leg, and beginning to hurt like the devil.

The first Capitol Police officer on the scene began by asking for my date of birth.

"I'm lying here on the floor and you want to know my age?" I ask.

Around me my fellow reporters, House Sergeant-at-Arms Earnie Sumner and Deputy Sgt. Woody Morgan (no relation) offered sympathy and first aid.

Down below, the House was debating the death penalty, moving toward the end of a special session called to speed up executions and offer lethal injection as an option to the electric chair.

I was close to calling for my own lethal injection. But I gritted my teeth and waited for paramedics. I also made a few telephone calls, using the cell phone in my purse to tell my husband about the fall and ask him to meet me at the hospital and advise an editor that I had fallen down on the job.

It is not very glamorous to be carted out of the Capitol on a stretcher and loaded into an ambulance, but all in all it was not a bad place to be if you are going to stumble down a few stairs and break up your ankle.

The ankle was shattered in more than 20 places, X-rays disclosed at Tallahassee Memorial Healthcare. Surgery was next as Dr. Peter Loeb worked to install a few screws, metal plates and do a bone graft to put it all back together. The screws and plates stand out on X-rays taken since the injury, making it look like some sort of robotic leg.

By the time legislators had finished work, I was trussed up in a cast in a hospital room across town. About 10 days later, the staples came out and a new cast went on the leg. It was the real beginning of trouble.

The pain associated with breaking up an ankle was nothing compared with the pain that came from an infection that developed under the cast, eight more days in the hospital and additional surgery. This is not something I would recommend.

But I am now at home, still taking daily intravenous antibiotics and trying to get back into a position to kick something. It will take time and more patience than I have. (My husband, now better known as Nurse Ratched, says I have the patience of a lit firecracker, but we've only been married 32 years, so how could he know?)

Despite the pain, there has been humor. Like the day a Dr. Bianco walked into my room at the hospital to describe a procedure they planned to perform on my LEFT foot. I told him to stay away from my left foot, only to learn a few minutes later that the procedure was actually ordered for another patient down the hall.

Mistakes do happen, hospital officials explained _ and explained and explained. They explained even more after I told them I work for the St. Petersburg Times. They do not see the humor in all this. But they have installed a few new rules requiring doctors to check their records against the armbands of patients before they start talking about treatments.

I am learning the life of the disabled, hopping around the house with a walker or crutches. The stairs are off limits. No weight on the foot for another few weeks. It is a long trip to make it from the bedroom to the living room. I have never been more helpless or more grateful for small things like a husband who patiently brings breakfast, lunch and dinner.

The telephone and a laptop computer keep me from going totally crazy.

Lewis and Clark _ the Siamese gang we live with _ are the happiest cats in the world: a body to sleep on all day and all night and more company to investigate.

Legislators will be in town for their annual 60 days beginning March 7. Keeping up with them should give the new ankle and all its hardware plenty of exercise. And if I'm moving slower, you'll know why.