Experience: I broke my friend’s leg
It was a warm weekday evening in May last year when my friend Alice and I were on a long walk around the university campus in York. We had met on a uni trip to Michigan in 2019, when I was in my final year and Alice was a master’s student. We gravitated towards each other because we both love books and speculating out loud about how odd the world is.
I had brought a book of mini plays that we were performing to each other as we walked, just for fun. At one point, as part of the hijinks, Alice set off sprinting and I took it as an invitation to race. We were on a long stretch of pavement down a quiet residential street when I stuck my foot out to trip her – I just wanted her to have a tumble so we could laugh about it. She fell instantly and I kept on running; it was all part of the joke. But then I heard her screaming. I turned around and she was on the ground, clutching her right shin. I thought for a second she must be kidding, there’s no way she could have hurt herself that badly. But her face was contorted in pain and she was making this haunting wailing sound.
I tried to call an ambulance, but was panicking so much that I kept dialling 911 instead of 999. A man who was walking down the street and had seen what had happened came to see if we were OK. He called an ambulance as soon as he saw Alice. Within 10 minutes it arrived. The paramedics had to pick her up and stretcher her into the ambulance; she was in a lot of pain. I kept repeating, “Please don’t hurt her, please don’t hurt her.”
I went back to Alice’s house to tell her fiance and her sister, who she lives with, what had happened. I remember saying to her sister that all I could think about was the sound of the screams. I had never heard anything like it before. The three of us drove to the hospital, even though we knew they couldn’t let us in because of Covid. We just sat in the car park reeling from shock.
The morning after she was admitted, Alice texted me the X-rays of her right shin and kneecap splintered into pieces. “My tibia and fibula are broken and my knee is shattered,” said the message. “Christ,” I replied. “Well, in a long line of things that are not good, that is sitting right at the top.” I was trying to put on a brave face, but my heart was going like the clappers. I had no idea what to do. I went back to the hospital and brought her a big bag of chocolate buttons, which she doesn’t even like, and a massive copy of Debt: The First 5,000 Years, like a complete idiot.
Further tests revealed that Alice’s leg had shattered in eight places. She would remain in hospital for weeks and would probably be confined to her bed at home with a full-length cast for months after that. Because of Covid, we still couldn’t visit her. We didn’t know how long she would be in hospital, or what the prognosis was. Alice treated the situation with levity, telling me not to worry because accidents happen, but also saying: “You do realise I am never going to pay for a pint again in your company.”
She spent three weeks in hospital. The day she got out I went over to her house – she was on so much morphine that she was sweating and her head was wobbling. She had to make us leave the room when she needed to be lifted on to the commode in the living room to go to the toilet. I felt awful; I wanted to help, but not in a way that was motivated by guilt. If it were me in that situation, I wouldn’t want someone constantly fawning over me, begging for forgiveness. Alice wouldn’t want that either. So I wrote her a story, a kind of long-form apology, with Alice as the main character. It was my way of saying sorry without throwing myself at her feet in a sickening display of guilt. I read it to her in person six weeks after she got out of hospital while we sat in the sun in her front garden.
Alice is still recovering and, although she can walk again, she will probably have arthritis in her knee for the rest of her life. The experience has shown me how solid our friendship is, because if there was ever a reason not to speak to someone any more, it’s because they broke your leg. But we were able to make each other laugh throughout the whole ordeal, and that is something special.