My Own Personal Annus Horribilus


I still remember the Queen’s 1992 yearly Christmas address, when she let down her guard and referred to her “Annus Horribilus”. Not to make light of such a serious thing or to make it the butt of jokes, but it certainly did have the ability to bring one to attention.

Those not schooled in Latin could be forgiven for misunderstanding, for thinking at first that the term meant something else entirely. Suffice it to say, the Queen had been having a terrible time of it. There are some situations for which no preparation ever seems adequate, not even Preparation …. Well, I’ll just let you finish that train of thought yourself… if you are cursed, as I am, with a train that always stops somewhere near Redneck Humor.

At a certain level, I do realize that an annus horribilus should never be a laughing matter. “Never!” (So say the voices of Wisdom and Decorum.) Unfortunately for me, when I hear voices (which I do on occasion) they are not always reasonable or polite.

Heck, let’s just own up to the fact that when I hear them in the middle of the night they sometimes say things that a decent Bible believing Christian lady should never listen to… stuff like “Kill him!” or “Just hide the stash under the mattress!” or—- Heaven forbid that I  should allow these last words to subliminally affect me— “Nobody flips mattresses anymore!” (Everyone knows that the flippable need to be flipped every so often, in order to maintain some kind of balance in your life! Otherwise you will experience far too many hills and valleys!)

Fortunately, some steps that I have recently taken have almost entirely eliminated those night-time voices. Now I only hear them if the earplugs I use for sleeping fall out, at the same time that the batteries die in my spouse’s earphones. These he uses for TV viewing after I’ve gone to bed. If the batteries die he turns the TV’s volume back on, but only to its lowest setting. All is well until he dozes off..

That’s when the soothing voice of David Attenborough, softly narrating in a gentle whisper about the secret life of the silver-back gorilla, suddenly morphs into screaming and cursing. Somehow two rival gang members are always fighting a turf war, or the Kardashians are at it again. So it is, whenever a recorded show ends and the programming on the channel that was previously on resumes. Meanwhile, my domesticated Canadian silver-back snores away in his comfy Lazyboy chair. Who can blame him? He is tired. He has had his own personal experience with an annus horribilus, one every bit as trying as my own.

If you are going to have to endure an annus horribilus which literally translates “horrible year”, a year of great adversity, then you are indeed wise if you take it with a hefty dose of laughter. Otherwise it is too difficult a thing to cope with. As my wise Mom, aged 86, often says when reflecting on some of the difficult situations she has gone through in her own life “It was so hard at times, that if you didn’t laugh you would have cried.”

For myself and my beloved spouse Rolly, the beginning of our difficult year actually began a short while before New Year’s, on December 23rd of 2014. That day I went through a surgery for a minor ankle problem, the removal of a benign cyst. Mine was the hospital’s last surgery of the year and the doctor seemed extremely rushed to get himself elsewhere. He actually yelled at the nurse in attendance, who had bent down to ask if I was comfortable: “Why are you talking to that patient!?” Loud enough to make me want to answer him back from my mildly sedated, but still  quite aware state: “Because she thinks of me as a person, you dolt!” But, as he had a scalpel in his hand at the time, I restrained myself.

After the surgery, much to the recovery room nurse’s dismay, he left the hospital, forgetting to leave any post-op instructions or even a prescription for pain medication. She did her best to remedy the situation and even called later to check on me at home. By the next day, due to excessive bleeding it was obvious that something was very wrong. This turned into a marathon of long grueling visits to the ER. at the most understaffed time of the year, the Christmas holidays.

On Christmas Eve day, after a seven hour wait, I finally saw a doctor. He discovered that some of the sutures had not held together, but doing them over again was, by then, out of the question. He taped things back together and requested a return visit. That visit took three hours, another one, four, and on New Year’s Day it was five hours more. In a crowded waiting room full of coughing patients, it was inevitable that I should pick up a bad respiratory virus which, unfortunately, lasted for several weeks.

A deep infection of the incision, which developed at the outset, took three months of nurse’s visits for wound care. Despite their expert care I suffered nerve damage to the right side of my foot. The upside is that it has reduced the pain of stubbing my toes by 20%. ( I no longer have any feeling in the “Roast Beef” and the “ Wee! Wee! Wee! All the way home!” digits.) Try telling that to your physician some time. If he writes it in his notes you should probably get another doctor!

Because I had not healed sufficiently, a vacation in the Azores, for our first off-the-continent holiday for a Valentine’s day get away had to be canceled. Due to its bargain price our flights were, unfortunately, not refundable. But, also due to its bargain price, it was not as bad a financial jolt as it could have been either.

Rolly had gone through a knee surgery several months earlier which initially  helped with his knee pain but then the pain returned again. He was on the waiting list for a knee replacement. The redeeming factor in missing our holiday was that an unexpected opening became available for a surgery at that time, several months ahead of schedule. If we had been in the Azores then we would have missed that opportunity.

The operation was done by a very competent surgeon on February 12th, in the afternoon. The morning after surgery a big blizzard began to move across South Western Ontario. As it was expected to localize over Strathroy, and the hospital was already short-staffed, they requested that Rolly go home a day early. So it was, that only 14 hours after surgery, the poor man was already at home on the couch, heavily medicated, with his leg propped up on several pillows covered in ice bags. There would be no shortage of ice— even if the power should go off; there was plenty of it outside!

Our calendar was quite cluttered for a while with my wound care appointments and Rolly’s, for physiotherapy. He worked extremely hard to regain his mobility, but unfortunately he turned out to be one of those people who builds up a lot of scar tissue around the replacement knee. He required a second hospitalization for three days, for another procedure a few months later. This was followed by more physiotherapy appointments at the hospital. He requires a replacement for the other knee as well but wants to postpone that one as long as possible.

One day, when I tagged along, we went to visit my mother in Strathroy. This was the day I discovered what it is like to break a bone. In all my scurrying around to help her with a few tasks, I took a flying header towards the floor, right where the carpet and the tile floor meet. Unfortunately, the carpet in her Senior’s apartment is laid over cement and so I had a very hard landing.

My mother gave me a bag of rhubarb to hold over my throbbing wrist– not because of some quirky folk healing notion— it just happened to be thawing in the sink  (she was making pies.) Rolly rushed me off to the hospital and I dripped a long stream all over the floor and down the hall to a cubicle. No…not what you are thinking! When they finally brought me some ice I surrendered my punctured bag of drippy rhubarb ( much to the nurse’s amusement.) Perhaps it was the rhubarb juice, or perhaps the ice, but in any case, there was very little swelling of the wrist when the cast was applied.

Unfortunately the swelling set in later with a vengeance. It became so severe that the cast began to hinder my circulation and eventually had to be cut off. The exact same thing happened with the second cast, which then had to be cut in half and bound together with elastic bandages. This eventually had to be replaced by a third cast when it began to fall apart. So, for almost eight weeks I stayed plastered, until finally it was over. What a sobering experience that was! I was totally shocked at my complete inability to write, to type, or to use my right hand for the simplest of tasks, even stirring a pot! The fingers had lost all their ability to grasp anything.

It was certainly difficult, but with the help of an excellent physiotherapist, over many weeks, I finally regained my independence– enough to return to the kitchen to resume my duties as Chief Cook and Bottle Washer (as my dear old Dad used to call it.) And so it was that I immediately gave myself a bone-deep incision on my left thumb knuckle, while attempting to cut up a semi-frozen turkey. Back to the Emergency Room for three sutures, and then home again, where I received a lecture on knife safety from my chef daughter, who is also the safety instructor over several kitchens at her workplace. In two weeks I will have what I hope will be my last visit with my physiotherapist for my wrist fracture. This would have happened sooner if I had not needed to postpone. It seems I picked up another respiratory virus  in, (Surprise! Surprise!) the doctor’s waiting room while waiting to get those sutures!

Sure, Rolly and I have had a difficult year, but there wasn’t much we could do about it, and so we laughed… Mind you we didn’t laugh in the moment as each trial, difficulty, or pain bowled us over, but when we got through it we did.

It’s kind of like what happens when you go into rough water at the beach, and you fall down and get washed in and out with the surf, as you try to get back up again. And then your swim suit gets so full of gravel that the stones clog the drain at the cottage and your son-in law asks you “What the heck happened here?” You can only laugh. At least that’s what you do when you finally get your breathing under control again and can see the humor in the situation.

“Imagine that! Almost drowning in a foot of water!” my mother said to me. And we laughed together at her tale of her “near-death experience.” Because both of us know that the water doesn’t have to be deep to drown you. You just have to lay down and let it. But even with her pants full of rocks she didn’t!

And then we both laughed until we cried.

About Yvonne's Musings

Being the second of eight kids born in 11 years to my busy parents ultimately was a real advantage to me. I learned very early that if you wanted to be heard amidst all the noise the best way to accomplish it was to write your thoughts down. My first post to my mother," i hate skool. i cried at skool tooday!" was stuck with ABC chewing gum to the lid of the diaper pail, where I was certain that she would find it. Her attention quickly elicited in me a love of writing that has been life long. Seeking a wider audience I have decided to now, decades later, blog. Happy reading Mom! This is for you!

5 responses »

  1. In many ways the year was also an annus mirabilis too Sue, but for the sake of artistic license I have left those details out. After all, our God is good and even in the midst of our sorrows he blesses us. The healing of our beloved grand niece from severe Neutropenia which kept her in isolation from the world for months was just one example. Great to hear from you too!

  2. Oh my goodness, 2015 certainly was a horrible year for you two! I am wishing, hoping and praying that you get a break in 2016 and that you and Rolly will have a chance to do that trip to the Azores or to some other nice warm destination. I knew you two had your problems, but when you read it all in one fell swoop like this it has quite an impact. You are brave and sweet people who have borne your suffering very graciously. You are to be admired! Sending my love today and always, Marsha

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