On change (The Recovery Series)

I’m lying in my bed. It’s been a while, but I don’t remember pain like this. Even the brilliant drugs that they give you in the hospital doesn’t work. So what best to do with pain but to write. This is my recovery series. It mightn’t make much sense. I blame the pain.

There has been a lot of change lately. In these few days alone the concept of change has become solid to me. I have become acutely aware about the difficulty of change. People often say it, as if it’s easy – ‘If you don’t like the way you look, change your diet’, ‘If you don’t like your job, quit and change to another one’, ‘If you don’t like the way you think, change your mind and think a new thought’. Happy-clappy, self-helpy, new-agey literature is full of change for those who are hard pressed to spend their spare change on yet another dust attractor for laden bookshelves of ‘better-you’.

Change is hard.

It’s difficult to change my position on the bed, which always wakes the angry boob-ferret, who immediately protests with his inner scratching. The smallest adjustment is a struggle and brings about a merry dance of negotiation with space, time and gravity. This minor change is excruciating. Changing my clothes is another challenge, with that task comes friction, and friction of any kind is not nice. Friction is charged, causing pain on the rubbed and resentment of the source of the rubbing. Only hurt remains. Changing the dressing on the scar has been a beautiful battle, it meant touch and closeness and that brought with it a fresh hell. I wanted the source of my soreness to remain motionless, to calcify in its present state, harden and become strong, without the interference of hand just right of my heart.

Aren’t all those reasons why we never want to change?

It’s easier to stay the way we are. We desire new bodies every first of January but want to remain untouched by discomfort. We shun movement in favour of epicurean delights (What would the Epicureans say!) because we just don’t have the time, the energy, the motivation, the will. We will accept unfair situations and decline to negotiate our sense of worth in unequal and uneven relationships because we don’t want to upset anyone or ruffle any feathers. We toughen our souls and allow ourself to remain out of reach, become callous and sharp, so that our tiny, frightened, beautiful hearts doesn’t become broken yet another time. We live in fear, because fear is comfortable. Perhaps it is not so painful now, because we have become accustomed to the pain of not getting what we deserve. Because that is all we deserve.

Change is painful. Not changing is even more so.

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Published in: on February 25, 2013 at 7:45 pm  Comments (2)  
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On being in pain (The Recovery Series)

I’m lying in my bed. It’s been a while, but I don’t remember pain like this. Even the brilliant drugs that they give you in the hospital doesn’t work. So what best to do with pain but to write. This is my recovery series. It mightn’t make much sense. I blame the pain.

F**k me – it hurts!

A chunk of me is gone. But it was an evil chunk so I’m not really going to miss it. I’m all taped up and I don’t know the size of the incision. The surgery took twice as long than was previously planned because there was twice as much to take out. The alien beings spawned and multiplied, building their little alien colony, planning to invade this new earth called Me. The heroic ‘Bruce Willis’ in a surgical gown flew in on a scalpel and saved mankind. Well, womankind. And like every Bruce Willis movie, it was not without carnage.

The pain is really quite something. And that’s the only way I can describe it. It’s really just…quite…something. If it was a colour, it would be something florescent, and bright, like reflective yellow-orange-green-red. Which is the colour my face turns when the spasms hit me (or would turn if I wasn’t this fetching shade of burnt-caramel). If it was a sound, it would be sledgehammer-traffic-being-scraped-across-a-blackboard combined with something from Phillip Glass. If it were a taste, it would be fennel.

Movement is my enemy. Clothes are my enemy. Air is my enemy. Everything that touches or bounces causes me to turn with sailor-like profanity on my poor cat, whose disdain for me has now turned into a mild amusement as he tries to use the very same pained body area as a scratching post. My beloved has shortened his visits upstairs, for fear that Exorcist-like scenes await him. Or it might be the anti-embolism socks that the after-care nurses, who call me daily, insist I wear because I can’t go dancing around just yet. I tried to plead with them that my life was just as sedentary, or worse, pre-operation. They’re not having any of it. These socks are probably not the least attractive item of clothing that I’ve worn in my lifetime, but they won’t do anything for my love life. Which is for the best right now.

It feels as if they have removed the man-eating cells and replaced it with a ferret. A really angry ferret. A ferret who really loved the outside world, running around with all his ferret friends, having a merry ferret romp, and who is now extremely perplexed and very dissatisfied with this new arrangement of having to live inside of a right boob. I think he wants out of this situation. And he is reneging on his contract in the most physical, claw-y, bite-y manner possible.

There is a lesson in this pain. And I promise I will find it. I just cannot find it right now. I am having a fight with a ferret.

Published in: on February 24, 2013 at 7:55 pm  Leave a Comment  
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On becoming reconnected (The Recovery Series)

I’m lying in my bed. It’s been a while, but I don’t remember pain like this. Even the brilliant drugs that they give you in the hospital doesn’t work. So what best to do with pain but to write. This is my recovery series. It mightn’t make much sense. I blame the pain.

I went to the hospital on my own. It made perfect sense to me. There was no reason for anybody else to leave home at 7:00 in the morning and get on a train and then get into a taxi only to be told to sit in the waiting lounge for what may be 8 hours (and it was). My knight in shining armour would be called when needed, and would arrive perfectly on time, even if he did go to the wrong hospital and would finally get to the correct hospital half an hour after he said he would be there in 3 or 4 minutes time.

And somewhere in the quiet, I got very lonely. I realised that I hadn’t really heard from anyone. In the hushed ward, I suddenly was very alone. Well, not really, there was Lynne in the bed to my left, who refused to take out her contact lenses, or to remove her nail polish and makeup, reading Hello magazine and telling me how little confidence she had in everybody there because she couldn’t have a coffee and 9:30 was usually breakfast time and a nurse of 40+ years experience could barely get up from the floor after helping her put on her anti-embolism socks which she could have just done herself. It was difficult to be alone in Lynne’s company. But Hello called her back and the silence ensued and I went back to feeling rather sorry for myself.

Confession – I am not always close to my family, both by proximity and by relationship. I love them all, but I am a terrible communicator. I don’t like telephones, I rarely write letters or cards or emails, unless it’s business related or urgent. I don’t remember birthdays or special dates (it was about 8:00 in evening before I pootled downstairs to my loving prince’s office and asked if it was our anniversary – we had both forgotten). My family lives in different timezones, and we’re, none of us, good at counting. I’m basically a rubbish member of my own family.

But I have got a good one.

My mother led the charge, up hours before she should ever be, calling all to prayer and showering us in her unwavering faith of a God mightier and more good than had ever been conceived of by the mind of man. She has enough faith for everyone on my ward. Man, she has enough faith for everyone who needs it and more than a little for those who think they don’t. There she was, on my phone that I should not have been using on the ward. My brother, a man of few words, most of those funny, was there with his love and his thoughts soon after. My baby sister, all capital letters and exclamation marks, joyously admonishing me to GET BETTER SOOOONNNN!!!! YOU’LL BE JUS FINNNEEEE!!!! and making me giggle, which rumbles the butterflies in my tummy and jolts me with a heady mix of anxiety and elation.

I heard from my older sister the day after. She said she had been hesitant to write since finding out that I was going to the hospital. I understand. I truly do. She’s there too, sending me her good thoughts, sure that I will have a smile on my face.

Under the gleam of the knife, my family was there. Perfectly there. Perfectly on time. Just like my knight.

Published in: on February 23, 2013 at 8:13 pm  Leave a Comment  
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On becoming sedated (The Recovery Series)

I’m lying in my bed. It’s been a while, but I don’t remember pain like this. Even the brilliant drugs that they give you in the hospital doesn’t work. So what best to do with pain but to write. This is my recovery series. It mightn’t make much sense. I blame the pain. 

Day surgery. I love the concept. It seems as if it’s all sorted in the matter of a day. What comes next in terms of healing is beside the point, but the day is all that’s needed to put things right. Politicians have surgeries. Police have surgeries. It’s a neat little concept.

We all got there at 7:45 and were taken, one by one, into a marvellously pristine ward. We were all positioned in chairs, neatly to the right of our beautifully made beds (which turned out the be the trolleys on which we would all be getting whatever cut open or cut out, asleep or not, but whatever, again, beside the point). Just to the front of us, out of reach, were our own, individual blood pressure machines. It was our very own medicinal ‘Cell Block Tango’ and I kept expecting someone to burst into song. The order of it was mesmerising. There was a single, polite cough into the silence. And then the overture began. The conversations trickled in then swelled to a steady crescendo. Each made their entrance – nurses, anaesthetists, doctors, surgeons, more nurses. The chorus of questions in counterpoint – names, dates of birth, allergies, removal of jewellery and makeup (though who could bother to put on jewellery and makeup at 7:45 in the morning, I would never know), previous surgeries, knowledge of the procedures, consent forms, ifs, ands, why, buts and wherefores. The costumes were put on, the gowns – open at the back, anti-embolism socks – for those pesky veins, robes – to hide the openings at the back, slippers – to complete the sock look, wrist band – to remind you of who you were meant to be playing in this scene. And just like that the hubbub abated, as the swirling orchestra of gowned and masked professionals went off to prepare for their own special scenes. Astounding.

And then the wait.

I took with me my textbooks for my child development course for my psychology degree. I figured if I had to wait for four hours (and I did), I might as well make the most of the time and the quiet. There was a little fear gliding around the room. But fear, for the most part, is silent, especially in a room full of dignified women holding desperately on to whatever dignity remained in an open-backed gown. I also took with me one of the best books I have ever owned, a Christmas present from one who loves me more than I will ever deserved to be loved. It is called ‘Philosophy For Life – and Other Dangerous Situations’ by Jules Evans. And it is an awesome book.

In it I was reading about the Stoics, about our overly optimistic expectations and the art of lowering it. About managing our anger and the flexibility of our will to know that we cannot control the other but we can control how we receive that with which we are presented in this world. That we can know ourselves, or at least come to know ourselves, and that we do not have to mindlessly be governed by emotion or irrational thought. This is not an argument for thinking over feeling, but for the existence of both without prejudice or control. I read about the modern Stoics’ constant efforts, and of each man’s journey to live well in the life that he was given and thought that there was hope for this world yet. And I wondered if I could ever truly understand how to live in the moment with peace, relinquishing control, or need, or pride and understanding that wherever I was, was where I was, and nothing more.

And then it was my turn to be wheeled in. And I chatted with my doctor and my anaesthetist about their children and the great hope I have for the young people of this world who will have to be more creative than we have ever had to be to make a life for themselves (that in another post). We talked about psychology and theatre, religion and wars. And then my doctor said, ‘But at least today, for this moment, in this room, there is no war. Here in this moment, there is only peace.’ My universe tilted ever so slightly and I could see exactly the meaning of it all; people coming together, in one place, with nothing in common but a common objective, for only a fleeting slice of life that was just a drop in the ocean of history that had already been made and was yet to be made. It meant everything and nothing all at the same time. And I didn’t have to control or understand any of it.

The first of my anaesthetic was injected then. And I said aloud, ‘Wow, I didn’t realise that it would work this quickly.’

 

Published in: on February 22, 2013 at 7:59 pm  Leave a Comment  
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