I've been a "city girl" all my adult life. Being one has afforded me the luxury of the absence of the burden of typical adult financial responsibilities. Buy a house?! No way I rent an apartment. Buy a car ?! Too inconvenient...the subway is easier and drunk-friendly. Assembled furniture?! Have you seen the stairwell to my apartment?
When I was 20 I made my first and probably only certified "adult purchase." I had just moved into my first alone-studio apartment in Philadelphia's Graduate Hospital neighborhood. Two years prior I purchased a full-sized futon to slumber on, but I decided it was time to buy a queen-sized bed. It would be more accommodating to the many "guests" I was having over during that period of my young, single, and attractive life .
I was walking home from uptown one afternoon when I popped into the mattress store on Chestnut St. and charged the cheapest queen-sized mattress for $300. Delivery was free and scheduled for the next Friday morning before my shift as manager at a trendy vintage boutique on Philadelphia 's then-hip South Street.
In 1997 there was a pre- hipster, neo-rock & roll movement happening led by the likes of The Strokes and various British Rock artists. Always on trend, I was all about it. The Thursday night before my mattress delivery, I went to The 700 Club, a hub for the movement, for an evening of classic and new Brit Pop and Glitter Rock, dancing, and vodka cocktails.
On my way out that evening, all the lights were out in the stairwell leading to my third floor apartment. A newly renovated building, the journey was complicated and harrowing due to the absence of a proper railing. As a result, I hugged the wall and felt my way gingerly down the steps.
When I arrived home after a mildly debaucherous evening at 700 Club, I slurred a pre-cell phoned voice message to my landlord about the situation.
"Hi Maurice! It's Larissa from 19th Street. All the lights are out in the hallway! Bye!"
The next morning around 9am, I was awoken by the harsh ring on my land line.
"Hullo?" I mustered, my mouth dry as sand.
"Good morning Ms. Humphrey. This is Sleepy's. The delivery men will be there in 15 minutes."
I pulled myself out of bed, dismantled my futon mattress and frame and threw it in the kitchen, creating a huge obstacle in the path to my bathroom. There's only so much room to put things in a studio apartment and it was only going to be there while the delivery men set up.
Since my apartment didn't have a buzzer, I went downstairs to meet the delivery at the front door.
Soon the big white delivery truck pulled up to my building. I led the men up to my apartment and showed them where to set up. As I watched them assemble the frame I grew excited again about my purchase. A real adult-sized bed! While I waited for them to deliver the next element, the box spring, I fantasized about how lovely sleep would be in my new, fresh laundered black sheets. Mmmmmm.....
The yelling woke me from my day dream.
It was one of the delivery men calling me from downstairs. I had no idea what the ruckus could be about.
I ran down the stairs from the third floor to the second floor.
A fatal miscalculation on the second to last step.
I heard a loud POP.
It was my ankle, which I had just landed on with my entire running weight.
I was in shock but called to the delivery men.
"What's wrong?" I asked weakly.
"The box spring," one called back. " It won't fit up the stairwell. You'll have to order a split one. We'll come back then."
I was in a daze. "Ok.....bye...."
I went into survival auto-pilot mode.
I immediately took off my right shoe and threw it up to the third floor because in the 30 seconds of the box spring exchange, the massive swelling was already evident. Panicked, I couldn't put an ounce of weight on my ankle. I got on my hands and knees and crawled the flight up my stairs as the delivery men left with my bed.
I picked up my phone and called Graduate Hospital, which was conveniently a half a block away.
"Hi," I started. " I need an ambulance to 1912 South St. It's not life or death but I think I broke my ankle and I can't walk. I'm right around the corner."
"You're better off with a cab," the operator replied. "An ambulance is $300."
I hung up. I was annoyed and pissed at myself and the situation.
Sitting on the floor with a ballooning ankle, I next called work and told them I was going to be late because I thought I broke my ankle .
Then I realized how gross I was at that moment. I reeked of booze and cigarettes . I knew from experience emergency room visits can take hours. I needed to bathe. But I had a broken ankle and Mt. Futon in my kitchen, blocking my path to the shower.
I did what I had to do. I crawled over Mt. Futon and into the tub. After bathing, I brushed my teeth on my knees at the sink and wiggled into clothes.
I called a cab to take me to the hospital. All I wanted in life at that very moment was a fucking cane . On my knees, I locked my apartment door, crawled back down the stairs, and onto my stoop . A few moments later the cab pulled up and I crawled across the sidewalk to the curb where the driver helped hoist me into the seat for the literal around- the- block trip .
I paid my $2 cab fare and was dumped in front of the ironically titled Emergency Room “Walk- In” entrance. When the attendant saw me crawling through the automatic doors, she jumped out of her chair and into action.
"Oh my God sweetie!!!" She cried .
"I think I broke my ankle," I answered as she helped me into a glorious, wonderful wheelchair.
After she took my information, she wheeled me into the waiting area where it was just me and a mentally challenged man in a bike helmet, whom I recognized from wandering the neighborhood. I felt hopeful as I deducted the man simply had nothing better to do but hang out in the emergency room and was not having a crisis worse than mine.
My cunning deductions were right and it wasn't long before I was ushered into an X ray room.
The nurse winced and sucked her breath as she position my swollen and now purple right ankle.
"That looks like it hurts," she sympathized.
"It does," I confirmed. "I think it's broken!"
She left the room and the machine whirred. A few more ginger re-positionings and she was done. The nurse helped me back into my wheelchair and took me to an examination room to wait the verdict. While I waited I grew very upset about the prospect of a cast, crutches, and an unglamorous cast shoe! Ugh! How was this going to affect work, school, and the Philly Brit Pop movement? I'd never broken a bone before. Oh god what if there is physical therapy involved?!
The doctor came in and interrupted my neurosis. I braced myself.
" I can't believe it: it's not broken!" the doctor announced.
My relief and bewilderment was quickly extinguished by the next part : "But you have torn ligaments from your knee to your toes. A break would actually be easier to heal . You'll be in a cast for six weeks, at least."
I was already tired, hung over, thirsty, and feeling very vulnerable from the events of the last 90 minutes . I really felt like I was gonna cry.
"Have you ever had a cast before?" the doctor asked.
"No," I said but no voice came out. I cleared my throat and said, "No."
"Ok we're not going to be able to put a cast on yet because the swelling is going to continue for another day or so. What I'm going to do today is give you a splint and crutches. Elevate, ice, and keep off your feet."
Coming back for a cast felt like I just got my execution date. I sat (well, I had no choice) silently while the doctor proceeded to wrap up my poor, fat, purple right leg.
When he was done I was wheeled out to the exit with a set of crutches. I hobbled the half block home, cursing myself for not having the foresight to transfer the contents of my tote- style purse into my backpack.
I hopped the three flights of stairs to my apartment, feeling defeated. I made a couple phone calls.
First was Sleepy 's. I would need a bed to recover in. They would deliver the new mattress with split box spring on Tuesday.
I called work and arranged for a co-worker's girlfriend to pick me up in my new handicapped state. Yes, I know a normal person would call out of work but those guys were also my best friends at the moment and I wanted friends around. The thought of being trapped in my apartment by myself all day with no one to shower sympathy on me was unbearable. Plus my boss's mom was a doctor and I thought it might be good to have her come by.
My last cunning call was to Maurice.
"Hi Maurice. It's Larissa again. I wanted to let you know I fell down the stairs cuz there 's no railing and tore ligaments in my leg. I have insurance but can I deduct my doctor bills from the rent?"
I transferred my tote into my backpack in an attempt to accept my new state of being for the next six weeks....at least. I was single, full of pride, and lived alone in a 3 floor walk up with zero help. I would have to take the bus to school and work since I could no longer walk or navigate the subway stairs that I was able to do at 10am that morning.
I got to work that day and sat on a stool at the register. It proved to be a welcome distraction. When I got home, I found the hallway well lit and a voicemail from Maurice saying yes, I could deduct the doctor bills from my rent. I knew railings were coming so I grabbed my Polaroid camera I bought to take sex pictures with, crawled out into the hallway, and snapped a shot of the perilous, bannister-less scene. I crawled back into my apartment and snapped a side by side shot of my well-manicured feet and legs. One was a beautiful, shapely allibaster, the other misshapen, purple and black.
I slept on my trash-picked couch that night, longingly thinking of the bed frame and taunted by Mt. Futon.
The rest of the weekend was full of hobbling and sitting to, from, and at work. As predicted, railings appeared in the hallway by the time I got home Saturday night. I couldn't be 100% cynical about it as it made hopping up the stairs significantly easier than the day before.
Tuesday the bed was finally being delivered and I was thrilled after a weekend sleeping on my lumpy, scruffy couch.
"Wow what happened?" asked the same delivery man when I greeted them at the door on crutches.
"I fell down the stairs and tore ligaments in my leg last time you guys were here," I replied, with a tinge of unfair blame.
The delivery men worked quickly and quietly, the split box spring fitting perfectly. Despite being disabled, I managed to wrestle my sheets onto my bed and haphazardly make it. I dragged Mt. Futon into the common area. I laid exhausted on my bed from the ordeal and hoped it was all worth it.
But no rest for the weary. I had an appointment that afternoon with an orthopedist at Graduate Hospital to be fitted into my dreadful cast. I hobbled into the shower, bathed on one leg, and got dressed.
"I'm here to get a stupid cast," I told the receptionist when I finally arrived.
"Have a seat," she told me. "The doctor will be with you in a moment."
Soon a friendly middle-aged man in a suit appeared and I sat on the examination table. He rolled up my Levi's 505 boot cut jeans, which were the height of Brit Pop fashion at the time. He then removed the bandage and split from my leg.
He sucked in air and winced at the sight of my swollen purple and black appendage.
"Wow," he sympathized. "How did that happen?"
"I fell down my stairs," I answered.
"Well you'll be in a cast for at least six weeks. There's still a lot of swelling so you'll come back in three weeks so we can replace the cast with a smaller one."
"Am I gonna have to wear a cast shoe?" was my only question.
"Yes," he answered. "We'll provide you with a cast shoe.
"UGH," I thought to myself. "Unglamorous!"
The doctor went to work on my defenseless leg with efficiency. I watched silently as the dripping plaster fabric weft and weaved around me until my leg and foot disappeared. Soon the swollen, mis-colored mess was replaced by smooth white and only my red polished toes remained as a reminder that my leg even existed.
"We might have to cut your jeans to fit over your cast," my doctor told me when he was done.
Not my 505's! I was mortified at the mere suggestion.
"Oh no!" I cried. "They're boot cut can we try?"
The doctor struggled a bit with the roll but alas the boot opening was wide enough to cover the cast without being cut. Crisis adverted!
"You're going to want to keep the cast dry," the doctor warned,"so wrap it in a bag when you take a shower."
"Ok," I answered, though I really thought "This is gonna be such a pain in the ass."
"Oh!" The doctor remembered. "Let me get your cast shoe!"
The doctor got up and returned with the dreaded accessory. He velcroed the royal blue behemoth onto my foot.
"I'll see you in three weeks," the doctored called after me as he sent me on my way.
I have to say: the cast was a huge improvement in terms of mobility. It allowed me to put at least some weight on my leg and made the crutches easier to use.
On my way home I stopped at the Philadelphia version of a bodega and bought a box of trash bags, a roll of duct tape, and a bottle of glue. I put them in my backpack.
Upon arriving home, I went to work on my crutches and cast shoe. I took some leopard print fur, fashioned a cozy of sorts around the handles of my crutches, and glued them in place. Then I glued some strips to my cast shoe. The thought the juxtaposition of royal blue and leopard was interesting.
Bed delivered, back pack dusted off, and cast secured, it was time to adjust to my new six-week life. I had to goto school in the morning, work in the afternoon/evening, and I would be damned versus letting my social life suffer.
In addition to finding inner strength and independence during this new life, it also provided some unexpected social experiments. On one side, I got hit on. A lot. Men really do love a damsel in distress. I recalled learning about such fetishes in my past but it was a trip to experience it. The sight of a young, fashionable woman on crutches was quite the aphrodisiac. Especially if I wore a skirt and let me full cast show.
I'll never forget one morning rush hour commute when I got on a crowded bus to class and no one offered a seat as I struggled with my crutches and backpack. I spied someone getting up and felt relieved that a woman in scrubs, surely sensitive to my plight, was next to it. I was mortified when Scrub Woman took the seat in my place, leaving me to hold onto the pole with one arm while balancing both crutches under the other. My fellow females were more immune to my struggle than men.
I adjusted to life as a Disabled Citizen of the United States. Every morning I would take a trash bag and tightly duct tape it to my knee so I could take a shower without soaking my cast. Getting to and from everywhere took twice as long but I managed my time so I wasn't late for school or work. Thankfully, once I had arrived I pretty much just sat at both.
Born stubborn, I refused to let the cast and crutches slow me down. The vintage shop was launching a new Mod/Soul night in the middle of my recuperation. I put a black thigh hi over my cast, slipped into my vintage Pucci skirt and white fur. I filled my flask and hopped up the stairs to the dingy club. That night I figured out how to still dance: if I put my weight on my good leg and did a modified twist with my bum one I was still able to get down with the other neo-rock kids.
Sexual relations were weird with a cast but still continued. Changing positions proved to be clumsy and unsexy. But again, I was stubborn as hell. I started seeing someone regularly at the time and he was extremely understanding.
Three weeks into my life in cast form, it was time go back to the doctor for a new cast to stay in step with my decreased swelling. When the old cast was removed I was completely mortified with the amount of leg stubble that had grown in on my leg. It was a stubble-lemgth that would now be welcome at my lazy 38 years. The doctor gave me the royal treatment and swabbed my leg in alcohol since the skin hadn't technically been cleaned in 3 weeks. I resisted the strong urge to request he shave it as well.
As I navigated the world with my fresh cast, cast shoe, and crutches, I decided I needed to be compensated for my pain and suffering. Paying doctor bills was not enough for how needlessly altered my lifestyle had become.
I pulled out my thick Yellow Pages and flipped to the section titled "Lawyers." If it was 2014, I would've posted a request for a lawyer referral on my social network, and may even have one or two in the mix. But, this was 1997 so I opted for the one with the glossy ad and a disclaimer of "no fee unless we win money for you."
I picked up my landline and punched in the number. A woman answered and I explained my plight. And that I had pictures.
A few days later I hobbled into the conservatively decorated office located on Market Street, just a few blocks away from where I purchased my damn mattress. I never sued anyone before and was very naive to the entire process. I took a seat in a green leather chair at a large, polished, brown table in a room surrounded by floor-to-ceiling shelves filled with law books. A woman sat across from me with a yellow legal pad. I realized that day why they are called "legal pads."
"So, Larissa," she started, "tell me what happened."
"I feel down the stairs in my building. There was no railing for me to grab on to so I ended up tearing ligaments in my leg," I semi-whined.
She continued to probe and question for about 10 minutes. I handed over my Polaroids of the perilous, bannister-less staircase and my purple, swollen leg.
And that was it. Super easy and quick.
"What happens next?" I inquired, picturing myself facing Maurice in front of Judge Wapner on The People's Court.
"We'll be in touch if we need anything else," the woman (I was never sure if she was a lawyer or paralegal or otherwise) said.
We stood up, she shook my hand, and handed me a business card.
"Get well soon," she offered and sent me on my way.
Life continued and the novelty of the cast and all it's burdens wore thinner with each passing day. I missed being able to shower without a trash bag. I missed walking home from work. Carrying a backpack was unfashionable.
Finally, The Big Day came: the cast came off! I felt free and light and full of joy.
Then, I went to take a step.
I almost fell over.
"Muscular atrophy," the doctor explained. "You need to stretch and go slow. You're going to have to learn to walk again with that leg."
I thanked the doctor for his care and kept my crutches handy for the walk home due to the atrophy.
The cast shoe went in the hospital lobby trash can on my way out.
I made it home and the first thing I did was shave my leg. Three times.
Life returned to normal-for-me in no time. Hours, if not mere days. I was walking like a champ, wearing two shoes, and left the trash bags for the trash, not showering.
Shortly after, I received a voicemail from my lawyer telling me they were almost done with my case. Having two maxed out credit cards totaling $15,000, I dreamed of my bounty. I hoped I would become independently wealthy out of this ordeal, at the very least.
A few weeks later, a check arrived in my mailbox in an enveloped adressed from my lawyer. It was for $3000. Grateful for anything, but I was disappointed it wasn't more. $500 a week for my cast-life wasn't that bad, I guess.
Thankfully, Maurice didn't turn into a dick cuz his bratty 20-something tenant sued his ass. In fact, my boyfriend, whom I started dated during the cast phase, and I rented a house from Maurice after I moved out of the crime scene apartment.
In general I think Americans are disgusting with their lawsuits but this experience gave me a taste of what motivates such behavior.
To this day, I still sleep on the mattress.