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Dublin: 14°C Friday 18 September 2020

Opinion: Cast claustrophobia? It's very real and it's very unpleasant.

I tried to talk to my husband, and friends and family about how I was feeling but no-one seemed to understand… truthfully, I didn’t really understand it myself.

Image: Amawasri Pakdara via Shutterstock

UP UNTIL ONE month ago I was in the lucky position of never having broken a bone in my body in my 43 years of life. Then on the 11th June while practising Roller Derby with my team, The Waterford City Viqueens, I fell and broke my fibula in three places and also dislocated my ankle.

I’m pretty sure I heard the snap and the pain was something I had not experienced since having my daughter 11 years previously. I knew as I lay there on the track with my team mates around me that a) I would never skate again, and b) I was in for a long few months of recovery.

The staff at University Hospital Waterford, to where I was whisked away in an ambulance, were terrific and I was in theatre the next morning for surgery with plates and screws and the works holding together my shattered bones. Then it was down to the cast room to get wrapped in a slightly harder version of papier mache in a choice of colours (aside: I chose purple, the Viqueens’ colour).

I had never heard of ’cast claustrophobia’

They say that times like these tend to test our strength of character so I decided to take this on with a positive attitude and a “it could be worse” nod. However I am ashamed to say that a weakness in my character that had been dormant for my 43 years raised up in me like morning sickness and caused me to behave in a way that I would have expected from my 11 year old… I had ‘cast claustrophobia’.

Now, I had never heard of such a thing. I have always been aware that I suffer from mild claustrophobia. I won’t go on those covered-over slides at the water park, certain lifts are a no-no and I will, on occasion, walk up flights of stairs to avoid them. As for flying it is something I hate with all my body and only do under heavy sedation and the promise of sunshine on the other side.

But when my leg was wrapped in this purple, hard covering that could not be moved or removed for at least six weeks the surge of panic that rose up in me was unexpected. I decided that it would be fine once I got home to my couch and was able to concentrate on something else, like two whole seasons of Orange Is The New Black.

Unbearable confinement

I got home on the Saturday of one of the hottest weekends we have had so far this year, and through that scorching week my panic increased as every itchy, painful, sweaty, confined day went by.

I tried to talk to my husband, and friends and family about how I was feeling but no-one seemed to understand, I didn’t really understand it myself. I am finding it hard to even describe it here, because I knew everyone, including me, was thinking, “will you just cop on to yourself. The cast is there to make you better, it is healing you, what is wrong with you?”

The only way I can describe it is – confinement. While watching convict Piper Chapman slowly losing her mind in the “shu” (special housing unit – Orange is the New Black reference!) I really believed I could understand why prisoners lose their minds in solitary confinemnet. The panic rises slowly and even though you try to concentrate on other things all you can think of is the things you CAN’T do, I can’t see my foot, I can’t move my foot, I can’t scratch my foot, I can’t do this.

I wanted to rip it off with my bare hands

Now, I know there are worse things in the world. I am aware of that, and I also know that there are people reading this who do not suffer from claustrophobia who just don’t see this as an issue. But if you are reading this and you have suffered like me then I am here to tell you it IS a thing, it DOES exist and there is a nice tidy (possibly American) title for it. And people deal with it in different ways.

The way I dealt with it was I got my local GP to get in touch with the consultant who gave the OK for the cast to be cut off me (or I was going to rip it off with my bare hands), and it was replaced with a boot. When I went into the cast room to have it removed the staff in there could not have been nicer and they told me that what I was going through was quite common.

So the leg is healing well. The boot is great and I can open it up and see my leg when ever I feel the need to which, curiously, I don’t need to do that often now I know I can (the mind is a funny thing!).

Aoibhin Fallon is a mother & broadcaster and presents “The Lunchbox” on WLRfm. She is also a member of the Waterford City Viqueens Roller Derby League, her derby name is “Radio Active”.

About the author:

Aoibhin Fallon

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