Almost avoiding ambulances

I’m sitting writing this with my ankle strapped in a bandage and feeling rather sorry for myself.  Just ten minutes into my set up on Friday last I was carrying a heavy box and missed a hidden hole in the grass and went over on my ankle and realised immediately from the intense pain that this was a bad sprain. Despite immediate application of a packet of frozen peas the swelling was extreme.  A huge bump on the outside of the ankle and the impending impossibility of the rest of the setup, not to say the shows themselves, became instantly worrying.

I do have a weak right ankle.  Actually my whole right leg is a bit of a state generally, but the ankle is definitely one of the weaker elements.  It all dates back to a bad twist that I did in a show years ago in the middle of nowhere in Portugal.  I was with two other nomad performers doing a tour of that beautiful country, but specialising taking theatre to the tiny villages and outback communities.  It was in the mid-nineteen seventies, we were young and had the missionary zeal of those days (and the haircuts to go with it) and the place was almost medieval.  Children without shoes, ox carts and strange sports centres built by the recently deposed communist regime.  It was these sports centres we were playing, free to anyone who could come.  I remember one show.  We used to use a sawing the lady in half box which has always been an impressive routine.  We used to do it in role reversal with Pedro being sawn in half and coming out in drag.  Ah those were the days!  Pedro was in half in the box.  We had radio-controlled feet which wiggled realistically. Suddenly the whole audience was on their feet invading the stage, looking around the box, dumbstruck by the strangeness of the effect and crossing themselves.  Most peculiar.  A powerful demonstration of the suspension of disbelief.

Anyway, it was in one of these shows I landed badly off the unicycle and twisted my ankle.  It swelled up very similar to Friday’s experience.  But of course the nearest hospital was half a day away and no local doctor.  Apparently the only person the local people used was a sort of vet who treated people too.  Well I will try anything once.  A trip up the mountain with our Portuguese-speaking guide led us to a ramshackle two-storey building that looked like a barn with smoke drifting from on corner of the roof.  Downstairs was a barn, where the animals were kept.  Upstairs a very basic two or three room place with a hole in the roof to let the smoke out.  An old guy was THE man.  He looked at my ankle and made a few comments in guttural portuguese.  He handed me a bottle of clear liquid. ‘He says, drink this’ said the guide.  It was a very strong home-brewed alcohol called burgaso.  I had no idea what was coming next but he poured some burgaso over it and went to work on my swollen ankle, manipulating it with strong farmer’s fingers.  The pain was excruciating. ‘Drink more’, said the guide and I did.  After what seemed like hours but was probably two minutes he stopped the terrible ordeal and he bandaged my ankle and told me to return the next day.

I almost didn’t go back.  Fear of that pain repeated was almost as bad as the pain itself.  But isn’t that how pain is? I faced my fear and did go back.  The old man took off the bandages, offered me Burgaso which I took and he looked at it at length.  My heart was pounding. He then quickly re-bandaged it and sent me away saying it would be OK in a week.  No repeat manipulation and it was better in a week.  I think the manipulation was what he would have done to an animal with a  swollen joint, pushing around the fluid to help reduce the swelling.

There was no such medieval medicine available in Birkenhead on Friday. I was on a scouting site preparing celebration of ninety years of scouting in Birkenhead.  Luckily there was a GP on site and an ex H&E nurse (both Guide leaders) so I was able to have some advice and a proper bandage.  After about an hour of rest I tried to stand and managed it with some difficulty so decided that the show must go on and the rest of the set up must continue.  The shows went well considering I could hardly walk and of course I had the sympathy vote so was paid in full despite not being able to unicycle.  I did do the three chair balance which almost freaked the GP who had seen the ankle and know something of what I was going through!

And today the swelling has gone down a bit, though not as quickly as I remember it did in Portugal all those years ago.  Either the years are taking their toll and I'm not mending as fast or he knew what he was doing, that old vet.

All the best from a road near you,

Mr Alexander

PS Just told my friend Suzanne, who as well as being a great cabinet maker was also a physiotherapist, about the vet in Portugal.  She was horrified about what he did all those years ago.  She has prescribed frozen peas (applied not eaten) three times daily and keeping my foot high.  A good excuse to catch up on all those tv series her partner Russ has put on my hard drive!
Mr Alexander