Breaking your leg in Norway, and the work life it makes you lead
At the end of September last year, I was cycling home on Oslo’s city bikes after watching a friend play football. It’s a route I was familiar with, passing through Oslo’s hip area. There’s trams in that area, with high-raised sides of the pavement. As I got onto one of these streets, I thought to myself “careful of the tram tracks”, so I passed them over so I could cycle alongside them. Except, my bike tire slotted neatly into the tram track, throwing all my momentum into the wrong direction, wobbling my bike and leading me to crash into the high-rise pavement with my leg sticking out. My headphones went flying, my bike was in the middle of the road, and I was on the pavement. A man who had been watching came up to me, started asking me questions in Norwegian, questions I knew how to answer. But I was so dazed that I couldn’t really focus on him. I had immense pain in my leg. I managed to focus on him and say in English “I don’t understand”, he then asked me if I was okay, and all I could reply, clearly, was “my leg is fucked”. I didn’t know what was wrong with it, but I knew it was wrong.
In the meantime, some bystanders came both to watch and to help. One particular person with her boyfriend came and sat behind me, telling me that she was a medical student. She then took charge - asking me some questions like where I worked, how it felt, etc. After she concluded that my leg was in no walking condition, she instructed the first helper to call an ambulance. I was about 5 minutes walk away from the emergency room, but there was no way I could make it. The emergency service asked if I could walk, I said nope. They asked if I could take a taxi, again, a hard nope. So they agreed to send an ambulence on the 1 minute drive to collect me. In the meantime the medical student kept me talking, but I wasn’t in a particularly talkative mood. At some point they left, but I’m not sure when or if they said bye. The ambulence arrived shortly after, loaded me up, and drove me away.
The ambulence crew didn’t seem to think there was much wrong with me, from their faces. It wasn’t particularly reassuring, if that was the intention, because all I knew was that my leg was wrong and they seemed to not believe me. I put this down to not really having a vocal reaction. I wasn’t yelling, I wasn’t screaming, I wasn’t crying. Just calmly stating “my leg is fucked”. They dropped me off into a hospital room at Oslo’s emergency triage ward. A doctor came to see me, squeezed my leg roughly for a bit, then went away with the threat of him later returning to squeeze it even harder. In the meantime, I went off for an xray, spying in the corner the concerned look of nurses faces as they saw my results. I was wheeled back to my room, and the doctor showed up a couple of hours later to inform me that I had indeed broken my leg, and that he would not be doing any more squeezing. They would be shipping me off to the real hospital via ambulence, but first I needed to wait another couple of hours.
My transportation crew showed up, the same as the ones who dropped me off. They asked what the doctor said, and I confirmed for them that yep, I did infact break my leg. The crew member’s face had more surprise in it than I was expecting. It was reassuring, a moment of me thinking “yeah I TOLD you it was messed up”. The words never left my head however, and I thanked him for his help. Ever seen a Welsh person in hospital before? They’ll say thank you to every member of staff every time they do something for the patient. I swear my nurses were fed up of saying “you’re welcome” by the end of my stay.
I took a short ambulence journey to the broken-leg hospital. As we went over a bump in the road, probably another damn tramline, the crew member in the back said to the driver “careful! he’s really hurt!”. They dropped me off into a room filled with children’s paintings on the wall, and a bed surrounded by medical equipment. A nurse popped in, told me I needed surgery, then sat at the computer in the room filling in forms while asking me questions. As she did, I stared at the drip-holder thing that sat next to the bed, that looked worryingly like some device for spreading skin and bones apart. She asked how I was feeling, and I told her I was a bit nervous and she reassured me that I’d soon be moved up to a ward with other patients. The surgeon came to see me, and told me that I needed some more scans, but it was very likely I’d need surgery and until then they’d keep me in. After that, they moved me up to the ward.
It was around 5am at this point, and the room was filled with a couple of sleeping patients. I have a funny relationship with sleep, often under or over sleeping with no regular pattern, partially thanks to the sleeping meds I take. I also am a sleep walker/talker/singer/texter/eater. Basically anything that can be done while sleeping, I do it. So I’m not a particularly helpful person to be sharing a room with. They loaded me up with some meds, and I spent most of my stay in hospital watching the simpsons and falling asleep. Big shout out to the creators for selling out to Fox and producing endless amounts of mediocre content that you don’t feel bad about sleeping through but still is routinely familiar enough to watch as mindless entertainment.
The next morning I went off for scans, a CT scan, an Xray, and a MRI scan. I’ve had CT and Xrays before, and the worst thing about them is the waiting for the scan itself to happen, outside in the hallway. The MRI scan was horrible. It was loud, it was long. They give you headphones and earplugs but that didn’t stop the deafening noise. I actually fell asleep, but I credit that to the meds. The surgeon appeared at my bedside a few hours later, confirming that I defintely needed surgery. He told me that I had “exploded the knee” and that there were various parts that needed reconnecting with metal screws and plates, and a drill.
3 days passed before I got to surgery. I spent the time falling in and out of sleep, some friends came to visit me and give me various helpful and delicious things. I drank a lot of flavoured water, and ate very little. I kept asking when my surgery would be, but due to corona and sickness in the staff, they kept pushing it back. Eventually a nurse told me “okay, no more eating now” and that I’d be operated on in morning. 6am came, and they sent me off to the operating ward. The staff there were clearly disinct from the ward staff: they were older, more focused. The ward staff had signifcant issues taking my blood and putting things inside me, but the operating staff had no problem and did it right away first time. They put the line into me, put a mask on, and the next thing I know, I’m waking up feeling the happiest I had in months. I was in some room with a nurse at a computer ignoring me, and I bothered her with my cheerful questions.
They shipped me back to the regular ward after I had annoyed the nurse enough, where the surgeon came and told me it was a great success and described in vivid detail the whole process of connecting up things again. I rested a while, some more friends visited, but there wasn’t really much to be done. A physio visited me a couple of times, giving me a leg brace and forcing me to use various forms of walking aides. I wasn’t meant to put any weight on my leg other than the leg’s weight itself, so I felt very cautious walking around like that. One bad fall could set me back, so there’s no way I was going to risk that. Between the physio’s visit, the regular nurses encouraged me to walk around with crutches. On the first day they wanted to check me out, one of the nurses came and got me to use crutches, and concluded (in Norwegian) to the other nurse that there was no way I’d be ready to leave today and it might be a while before I’d be ready to go.
Leaving filled me with anxiety: I live on the 11th floor of a tall building which is new yet has had around 20 fire alarms since I’ve lived there. I didn’t fancy the idea of walking down 11 floors of stairs with crutches. It terrified me, actually. So I was asking the nurses if there were other options. They told me about some resdiential wards I could go to, but they don’t recommend them for young people. Forunately we figured out that my apartment is a fire-room, so even if the fire alarm goes off, I’ll be safe to stay there. The doctor came and started filling out the medical leave forms for work. He said I recommended 100% leave, and I said no way I’ll die of boredom, and that none of my work requires legs. So we agreed on 50%. On the 11th day after going into the hopsital, I returned home.
The next few weeks were filled with work and friends. I had some great friends and colleagues who visited me or helped me out, and I’m deeply thankful to them. My first trip outside was in a wheelchair, where we went to the opera house at sat at the bottom calculating if we could make it to the top in the wheelchair, before deciding against it and going to eat pierogies at the nearest street food market. My next big outing after that was to our work’s Christmas party, which was pretty fun. It was great to see everyone again, and eat and drink fancy food. For me, this is what I missed most about being stuck at home: being able to socialize with colleagues and friends in settings outside of the home or online.
Meanwhile, I did all my work online. I’m not sure how much I worked, but it was definitely more than 70%. The Norwegian health system has a bunch of forms where you report how much you worked vs your allowed medical leave, and I consisently worked more than 50%. I didn’t have leg pain, but I felt uncomfortable all the time, so I would often have my camera off so that I could sit or lay in awkward positions. Coding was a little hard because I couldn’t focus as much as I needed to, but meetings were easily achievable. Since Norway was in corona lockdown anyway, I didn’t miss much except for one offsite.
Overall, I’m very thankful for the Norwegian healthcare. There was a lot of waiting around, and I would’ve much prefered a solo room, but the nurses were kind, friendly and understanding. I hope that when robots remove a bunch of jobs from society, there’s more nurses available so that they don’t have to work crazy long hours, and they can spend more time with patients. I’m also thankful that I have a job that allows me to work from my bedside, and in a twisted way, thankful that we’re in the middle of a pandemic where all our work moved online anyway.
At Schibsted, we’re working with a hybrid model now: in our team, Tuesdays and Thursdays are days at the office, the rest of the week is optional where you work. We try to schedule our workshops for those days, leaving the rest of the week a bit more free for indepentant work. That being said, we don’t strickly stick to that routine — if you’re not feeling like the office a particular day, you can work from home. This is especially important if you’re sick, much better that we just call you in from home. Our office has several meeting rooms on each floor, which in theory are fully kitted out for video calling. In practice, there’s often cables which don’t work, or the speaker and microphones are a bit weird. It’s usually much better when everyone is online on their own device at home than some in the meeting room and some at home. This a relationship seems true, generally: either your team is good at being remote, because everyone is remote, or your team is good at being in person, but when you mix both things become a bit complicated.
Remote teams, in my experience, tend to be good documenting things. They’re good at communicating in public channels, and have routines throughout the week to maintain the team feeling. Whereas in-person teams tend to rely on in-person discussions a lot more, or reaching out across the table to disturb their team mates to ask questions. My personal preference is to have as many discussions as possible publically on Slack, but not to be afraid to call a meeting when a discussion needs it. My nightmare is someone calling on Slack with 0 warning and 0 respect of what I’m trying to do. Thankfully in Aftenposten we tend to work in the first way, and we’re well set up for working that way. We have good routines. If there was anything I would do to change things, it would probably be to get better video conferencing equipment for the office. But from what I’ve seen, that tends to be a problem at every company. “Exploding” my leg, as the doctor put it, did little to stop my workflow - and I’m very greatful that I both had the choice to not work, but also the choice to work.