On My Own … breathe out as you go down the mountain

25 days after the operation, and I’m in the house on my own. My friend Rebecca, who’d been staying with me for a week, left yesterday afternoon. At the time I felt fine – I can manage on my own, I can climb stairs, get in and out of the house, sort myself out. But after she left, I was in the house and would be spending the night alone for the first time since I got back from hospital. I had a sudden wobble of vulnerability. Will I really be all right? Can I actually manage? How will I cook and wash up? What happens if I fall over? I wanted to go upstairs and hide under the duvet. So I did some breathing and visualisation, and felt better. There’s always a way of coping, and I would have to manage at some point on my own, so now is as good a time as any.

A little later in the evening, my friend and colleague Jane came round, having kindly gone to a shop selling equipment for people with disabilities and the elderly, and got me a trolley with trays on it. This is because being on two crutches, I can’t carry anything, so this is to help me be able to cook, move plates to the living room (the dining room chairs are too hard to sit on), and carry things back to wash up. This was really important – I couldn’t think of even how to boil some pasta, and then carry the pot to the sink a few feet away to drain it. So this trolley is making it possible for me to be on my own, even though I’m still figuring out how to push it whilst also having my crutches.

This is the trolley in my living room with my breakfast things on – mug which had coffee, and a bowl which had museli. The process of making breakfast and bringing it into the living room made me grateful for those years of practising sequences as part of training in satipatthana, or mindfulness. Make the coffee in the machine. Put empty bowl and spoon on the trolley, and move trolley to where the museli packet is. Put museli in the bowl. Move the trolley to the fridge. Open fridge and take out milk. Pour milk on the museli. Move the trolley to where the coffee machine is. Put mug with coffee on the trolley. Move trolley to the fridge. Put milk in the coffee, and milk back in fridge. Put crutches on trolley, and push through to living room, lifting over a couple of raised bits between rooms. Put trolley near chair. Take crutches off trolley, sit in chair, put crutches aside. Take mug and bowl off trolley and put on table. Have breakfast. Then reverse, putting things on the trolley, taking back to the kitchen, near the sink. Put mug, bowl and spoon in sink. Balance on the edge of the sink while washing items. Take crutches, walk back to living room, and sit in chair.

Phew! When I was doing this, and pushing the trolley, all I could think of was Julie Walters doing the two soups, or Waitress, sketch as part of the Victoria Wood television programme. If you haven’t seen it, do a search. This was me – how long does it take to make, eat, and wash up after breakfast?! Pushing the trolley makes me feel like I’m thirty years older, but it does mean I can find a way to manage on my own.

Having to think so carefully and plan every movement to do the simplest tasks does remind me of the years spent training in satipatthana, with a focus on every-moment mindfulness. How unthinking we usually are about what we do, particularly when it’s a habitual action. Walking up the stairs is something that happens without us thinking about it – we just go up the stairs. At the moment, I’m having to focus on every step up, making sure I put my feet and crutches in the right order, and using breathing to help with the movement. Needing to work at such a level of minutiae of everything certainly helps focus the bodymind, and brings me back to a sense of simplicity (not simpleness) in just doing the next thing. John Garrie Roshi used to tell us Zen stories. One I’m thinking of at the moment is of a monk who went to a monastery to meet a great master. The monk was given a bowl of rice when he arrived. He was told the master would see him, and ran to greet him, saying: ‘Master, tell me the secret to enlightenment!’. The master asked: ‘Were you given something to eat when you arrived?’. ‘Yes,’ replied the monk, to which the master responded: ‘Then go and wash your bowl’. That’s it – enlightenment is just doing the next thing. After the sequence I needed to figure out to eat breakfast this morning, I then needed to wash my bowl. I don’t think this has made me enlightened, but it has helped to reassure me I can be on my own in the house. Another favourite story Garrie Roshi used to tell us was of a monk who ran up a mountain to meet a famous teacher. ‘Master!’, he said breathlessly, ‘please tell me the secret of enlightenment!’. The answer came: ‘Breathe out as you go down the mountain’. So I’ll be doing a lot of breathing out as I go about everyday activities and figure out new ways to do them. I’m sure there’ll be the occasional stumble, but hopefully the experience of the mountain will help to just put one foot in front of the other, and remember to breathe.

An image from ‘Zen Comics’ by Ionna Salajam

Role Models – part one: Frida Kahlo

‘The Broken Column’, Frida Kahlo, 1944

It’s so important to have role models, people who inspire you, and give you drive to aspire to who they were, what they did. Through the years of pain and disability, and now in recovery from the first hip operation, I’ve been thinking a lot about these figures who give me energy to work at transformation and belief in finding new ways of living and being. Several of these role models have experienced issues with their body, whether through accidents or illnesses, and have lived with physical pain and restriction, finding ways of using their experiences to take them to new places. These figures are quite eclectic and reflect my own interests and experiences, and I’ll be writing about some of them over the coming weeks. This is the first one of these: the artist Frida Kahlo.

I first saw her paintings in an exhibition in Germany in 1989. I was there by chance having performed in a theatre piece, and with a few spare hours before needing to get to the airport, ended up going to the art gallery. This was one of the first major exhibitions of her work in Europe. I’d never heard her name before, or seen any of her paintings, and was completely overwhelmed by canvas after canvas of the colours and images. In particular, I was struck by the visceral nature of my responses to the paintings of pain, though at that time I wasn’t experiencing this myself. Learning about her life, understanding her dealing with polio from a young age, then the terrible accident, and subsequent injuries that affected her for the rest of her life, I could see this pain manifested in the paintings of herself as a medicalised body, and a woman suffering from the consequences included miscarriage. And yet there was so much beauty – the landscape, the flowers, the animals, the dresses, and her body and face, that the presence of pain seemed to be channelled, translated, transformed into the paintings that also brought hope and the promise of transcendence, whilst acknowledging the reality of the physical and emotional hurt.

As the pain in my body began to worsen over the past 18 years, I’ve gone back to these paintings and her words many times, inspired by her ability and determination to express herself through her art. Watching the film ‘Frida’ directed by Julie Taymor in 2002, starring Salma Hayek, the sequences of her accident and hospitalisation and treatment, and the reality of the pain, felt very real to me.

Being very aware of my own skeleton, looking at x-rays of my crumbling hips, Kahlo’s paintings speak to me of expressing the internal sensations of the body to the external world through art. When I saw the consultant earlier this year, and had an x-ray done for the first time in several years, she said how bad it looked. Seeing the x-ray, and hearing her words, I began to cry. I try very hard to not cry in front of people to not share the pain – why should I impose that on others? But seeing the x-ray picture of the inner reality brought all the feelings out: literally, I felt I’d turned my body inside out, and my unstable, pain-inducing skeleton was on the surface of me, outside the skin, making visible the torment happening inside that I usually tried to cover with a smile.

The painting at the top of this post, ‘The Broken Column’, was created after Kahlo had an operation to place a metal corset on her body to support her. This painting affects me so much – the pain is visible, visceral, in the nails, the metal rods, the torso ripped open. And yet in her face there is something other than pain. Tears fall down her cheek, but her expression speaks of resilience, of feeling and acknowledging the pain, and also transcending this to be a woman who is not defined only by her physical self. Her ability to forge her experience into her art, to express herself so openly without fear, is the real inspiration that I feel from her.

Thinking about this painting and my responses to it, I’ve written the poem below. It’s been a sadness in my life that I don’t have skill with painting, that I can’t translate the images in my mind through a brush on paper, so I’ve tried to do this through movement instead, and now through words and rhythm. Whilst not being able to reach the artistic levels of Kahlo’s paintings, having her inspiration to feel able to write and share my experience has been an opening up of the inner world through expression, and helps me to feel movement whilst spending so much time in stillness, waiting for bones and muscle to heal.

  
Hammer my body with pins to the walls,
Floor, bed, chair, earth.
Drill holes, cut bones, tear muscles.
Make me into a medical model,
A body without a person,
A sack of organs without a woman.
 
Pain drifts, and digs, and drums, and drains.
Pain becomes all, no me, no song, no words,
Just pain.
A limping, crutching, womanikin
Searching for a glimpse of inner light.
 
Painted flowers offer promise of hope,
Of transforming pain to poetry,
Limping to dance,
Groaning to song.
But not denying the pain –
It needs to be seen
To understand the nature of the flowers.
 
Dark hair sways in a dry wind,
Reflections lead to a threshold
Of image.
Tears may fall down a cheek
For loss, for love, for beauty, for hurt,
And metal bars hold up the rag doll
Of a broken skeleton with crumbled bones.
A painting speaks, calls, shines of the pain
Of body and heart,
And beckons through the doorway
Of years and seas to touch another.

Two weeks later… Being A Good Patient, and What Katy Did and Lost

It’s two weeks today since the operation. The District Nurse came today to change the dressing, and remove half the stitches. One of the aspects of Ehlers Danloss is that it results in thin, stretchy skin that’s easy to tear, and slower to heal. The surgeon decided to do everything he could to make the wound secure so it wouldn’t tear open. He used the usual dissolving stitches, then on top of that a row of nylon stitches, then glue, then sticky tapes on that, followed by the dressing. So the Nurse needed to peel off all that before removing half the stitches (3 out of 7), and will come back next week to remove the remaining 4. She says the wound’s healing very well, and it certainly feels less bulky and easier to sit on now it’s just a few stitches! I did think I’d take a peak at it, but couldn’t quite manage it in the end.

Over the past few days, I’ve been feeling much more energy, and my mind is getting clearer. This is all good, and pushing me on to do more every day. The other side of this is an increasing impatience – my usual state of being. Each day’s improvements are very small, and I haven’t been out of the house yet, and am feeling stir crazy and wanting to just be well again, and able to fend for myself, and go out when I want. This has made me think about the word ‘patient’, and what it means to be ‘A Good Patient’. Yes, you need patience! Time moves differently in a state of healing, days drag on with the same routine, and little sense of achievement. I’m used to getting things done. Now, I just have to be patient.

This sense of patience reminded me about some of the books I’d read as a girl, where patience is a virtue, and all good girls are expected to be patient, which equated with modesty, quietness, tidiness, and qualities that were painted to us as necessary to be ‘a good woman’. Reading ‘What Katy Did’ (Susan Coolidge, 1872) and ‘Little Women’ (Louisa May Alcott, 1888), what I actually related to was the wild, tomboy, untidiness of Katy (pre-accident) and Jo (pre-carer). This is how I was! Untidy, careless, losing and breaking things, and very unladylike. This was in complete contrast to my mother, and remained a cause of conflict between us throughout her life. I really wasn’t the daughter she expected to have, and despite wanting me to be the quiet, obedient and docile child (she definitely related to Meg rather than Jo in ‘Little Woman’), I just wouldn’t be that. What got to me in the books was what happened to Katy in particular through her accident and recovery process. In both stories, women are tamed through suffering into morality, being the kind of women that (patriarchal) society demands they should be. Though I rejoiced when Katy was able to walk again, I also mourned for what she had lost in what she became. She was just, well, a little boring in her virtue in comparison to the girl she’d been. And although Jo still held on to much of her character, she was praised for being more sober, mature, and softer due to her looking after Beth. And of course Beth is the embodiment of ‘A Good Patient’, suffering in silence, doing good for others, and being everyone’s favourite.

The last two weeks have definitely made be – forced me – into being more patient than usual. But I’m not sure that it has transformed me into being that way forever. No matter how well I can walk or move in the future, the inner me will still be impatient and careless – it’s forged too deep for me to conform to my mother’s hopes now. When she was dying last year, I sat by her bedside when she was asleep, and said many things to her, quietly, that I needed to speak, but at that stage, she didn’t need to hear. The phrase I kept saying was: ‘It’s sad you never really knew me’. Perhaps it was her strict upbringing in India that made her try to impose this on me, to be the good girl sitting quietly in the corner, but this also meant I was a constant disappointment to her. Thinking about those books I read, and Hans Andersen’s version of fairy tales that relentlessly have women being disfigured and dying as an act of redemption for their transgression of society’s rules, made me write the poem below. I still like Katy, but wish she’d believed her younger self to be as much of a role model as she saw Cousin Helen to be. Women are more than pure goodness – the ‘dark side’ is also who we are, and who we need to be, no matter how much we’re told to be patient and good girls.

Illustration of Katy and Cousin Helen from ‘What Katy Did’


What Katy Did and Didn’t (and Oughtn’t)
 
A fall from a swing
Leads to smoothly brushed hair.
Pain develops love,
Suffering creates patience,
Lying flat shapes morality.
 
How does a girl learn
To be a good woman?
An asset to society?
To care for her family?
To be educated, upstanding, responsible?
 
Ah, but where is the tomboy?
The wild, rebellious spirit
That runs amok,
Leads astray,
Makes up games,
Hates to tidy up.
 
If pain and disability maketh the woman,
And this is the lesson to learn,
Then sobriety and patience are valued above
Independence and speaking out,
Tying shoelaces neatly is more important
Than freedom and play.
 
I loved reading that book as a child,
But even then felt sorrow for the loss of
Katy’s Katy-ness after the fall.
Why do women need bodily suffering
To cure their soul?
The mermaid’s bleeding legs,
The chopped off feet wearing the red shoes.
Redemption comes through pain and loss
To overcome the woman who transgresses.
 
The fairy tales and books for girls tell me to transform,
To be purged into purity,
To be good, patient, kind,
To sit quietly and suffer in silence –
It’s good for the soul.
It’s good for everyone.
Be good. Be quiet. Sacrifice.
 
Living in pain, moving so slowly, relying on others,
I smile and am patient,
Dress nicely, brush my hair.
But I’m yearning to run,
Needing to shout and play,
To be as untidy as I like,
To kill the dragon of ‘Thou Shalt’,
Desperate to forget the labels and scars
And feel human again.
A woman again.
The sea witch and evil step-mother are still
Part of who I am.
 
And I’m glad of it.

My Pink Feet – Part Two

Apologies to anyone who’s not as fascinated with feet as I am!

As mentioned in the last post, my feet have been an unusual shade of pink due to the swelling. Although the swelling has been going down, the particular pink-ness has been due to them being washed with Hibiscrub in order to prevent infection. I was given a bottle of this to shower with the night before, and morning of, my operation. When I woke up, I was covered with the pink streaks all the way down both legs. Obviously the prevention of infection is vital, but it takes an age to scrub the pink stain off, and as I still can’t quite reach my feet to wash them properly, there are still some patches of pink left on them that are a very different shade to the pink of swelling.

As I had to spend so much time looking at my feet when I was lying in bed, these pink streaks and patterns became a feature of watching the changes happen during recovery. This morning I was looking at them, and had a memory of choreographing a piece of dance-theatre in 2002 for the Exeter Festival. It was based on the story of The Red Shoes (it was meant to be the second in a trilogy of dance pieces based on fairy tales following the one I’d made on the Little Mermaid, but I’ve never got round to making the third!). Like quite a lot of young girls fascinated with dance, I remember vividly the first time I saw the film, and the impact it had on me – still does, and I want to live in that amazing house in the South of France where she climbs up the steps for the meeting, sweeping up them in her long cloak and coronet in her hair.

A still from the ballet of The Red Shoes from the film

As part of the piece I choreographed in 2002, I had one of the dancers draw patterns on her bare feet using red lipstick – this represented the putting on of the red shoes. This is the memory that came back this morning, looking at the remains of the pink streaks on my feet. I haven’t felt able to write any poetry since the operation as all my bodymind energy is being put into physical healing and re-learning how to move, but today I decided I’d write something, even if just three lines. So thinking about the painting feet with lipstick, the passion for dance in The Red Shoes, and my own pink-painted feet, I wrote the poem below. I was surprised at how much energy it took, and I was in tears and wrung out afterwards. But pleased I’d managed to create something new. Maybe be a few more days before the next one! To explain the last line: the title of the dance piece was ‘Those Who Know Have Wings’, which was taken from an Upanishad, used in a book on shamanism I was reading for my PhD at the time of making the piece. It’s connected to the idea of the spiritual state of leaving the body to contact the divine, in whatever way you’d like to conceive that. So for me, it’s also about body-and-transcending-body happening simultaneously.

Enjoy – and I’ll try to leave off writing about feet for a bit!

 
Lipstick on my feet.
Pink, sticky calligraphy of swirls and dots.
Anti-bacterial writing telling tales of
A violent assault in healing.
Unmoving lumps, decorated with a wash of
   non-human colour.  
 
Toes wiggle - the pink patterns dance,
And the feet are drawn back into being *my* body,
No longer alien art works I stare at in a medicated gallery of
   pedicure portraits.  
Unnatural punky pinkness makes them
Mine-and-not-mine.
Fascinating unfamiliar objects cloaking
The flesh and nails I've known always.
 
These feet are fantasies,
Inscribed in a created language,
Maybe sacred writing of whispered mantras
That are working magically to make feet, legs, and hips work again.
 
The pink markings fade,
Absorbed through skin into blood, bones, organs,
Feeding new energy to body, breath, spirit,
To rise and take flight,
To dance again.
The calligraphic language becomes one with flesh.
A language that has vanished now it's
Played its part, sung its song, breathed its pinkness
Into the future.
 
Those who know have wings.

My Pink Feet – Part One

I’m spending a lot of time looking looking at my feet. Lying or sitting up in bed, with my legs stretched out in front of me, my feet are the part of my body most in my line of vision. It’s been interesting watching them change in colour and shape since the op. At first, they were swollen and very pink, encased in foot pumps that were to stop blood clots by exercising the calves.

These pumps were quite strange. They operated by filling slowly with air, putting a little pressure on the legs, then with a sudden snap they’d grip the legs, and release. They did each leg in turn, in a regular rhythm. The other feature of them is the sound they make. As they fill with air, there’s a building up of a hissing, rushing noise, before a sudden snap loud as a firework and release of air. It could be almost like breathing – a drawing in of air followed by sudden release.

But these things were loud, and as I lay awake at night I could hear mine, and those of three or four others on the ward pumping away at different times, a syncopated soundscape of air and snap. Sometimes the final snap was like a firecracker, and would wake me up if I’d drifted off. Listening to them, rather than thinking of the sounds as being like breathing, I had the image of a milking parlour. We were all attached to pumps that were acting as mechanical proxies for our bodily functions, in our individual stall beds, waiting patiently as the pumps worked until they could be taken off in the morning, and we could take back our bodies and move them ourself.

Legs being pumped and milked. Very strange. But I became so used to the sound that I listened for it the first night I was home. Its absence is now part of the night’s experience.

Feet in foot pumps

Over time, the swelling has been going down, and the feet returning to a more usual colour. Except for the pink bits. The pink is there for a very particular reason which will be the focus of the next blog post.

Home!

Less than a week since the op, and here I am! Came back last night, and happy to be in my own space, though it took me a long time to get to sleep last night through trying to find a new position that works. This means lying on my back, propped up with pillows, as I did in the hospital, so this will be an adjustment for a while.

Phew! The whole thing has been a harder process than I thought. So many people said they felt better straight away after the op, and they’d only be in the hospital one or two nights, that when I had a different experience, I felt a bit of a failure. The pain in the first first few days was really strong, particularly around the operated area. As the surgeon says, he cuts through a big muscle and stitches it up aftewards, so not surprising, but still, being rolled over was agony. I had to use a bed pan for the first two nights, and apart from having to deal with the indigmity, it hurt so much to use it, I kept this to a minimum, which didn’t help either. And then my blood pressure was very low (often between 80 and 90), so it took longer for me to be able to sit upright, and then to get out of bed. The first time the nurses helped me up an on to the commode, I actually cried. Then on the third day I was able to get up and sit for a while in the chair by the bed.

I took this selfie in the chair, feeling triumphant. The smallest of steps felt like the greatest of achievements.

The next day, along came the physios to start work. The hardest thing at first was trying to get out of bed myself, Wriggling and shuffling to swing my legs to the edge of the bed, then swing both legs over together, was painful and very slow. They gave me a walker to start with, due to the low blood pressure. But by this time I’d managed to have a wash and dress is my own clothes, and was raring to go – so here I am standing upright for the first time!

That smile really says how happy I was to be up on my feet again! I managed to get to the end of the corridor and back – it felt like running a marathon, I was exhausted afterwards, but really pleased.

Next day was moving on to crutches. At first my blood pressure was too low, but I begged the physio to come back later, and by that time it was high enough for them to risk it with two of them on hand. It actually felt easier than the frame once I’d figured out the rhythm, and I noticed immediately that I was standing straighter than I had for a long time, and that my back was feeling much better. Just shows how hunched I was over the walking stick. Again, up the corridor and back, which I did several times, and also bothered the poor physios with more questions and exercises (such amazing patience they have!).

Then came Tuesday, the fifth day after the op. The promise was that if I could climb up stairs, I could go home. I was concerned about the stairs due to the other hip being bad, and I was going to manage this. They took me in a wheelchair to a flight of stairs round the back of the hospital. I had to try out several ways of doing it, and realised that the operated hip is now able to lift my leg higher than the non-operated one with no pain – hooray! So going up is – new hip, old hip, crutches, and coming down is crutches, old hip, new hip. It took a while to have confidence that I wouldn’t fall, but I did it! Felt like going up and down Everest. So that was it – I was clear to go home! Of course it then took most of the day to get the paperwork sorted, and for the meds to arrive, but finally I could leave.

Getting in and out of the car needed some manoeuvring, and it started to rain as we drove. The very hardest part was getting up the steps into my house, They’re steep, and don’t have a rail. Luckily, Aqeel and Kate were brilliant and managed to hoist me up the last two to be in! Where I settled in the chair, seen in the photo at the top.

Since then, it’s been a process of learning how to do everyday activities, and be in the house, in a whole new way. My friend and colleague Kate is staying with me, and has been brilliant with sorting out the spaces, doing the cooking, fetching tea, and most particularly helping me up and down stairs. This is still where I feel least confidence. I went to bed early last night, and my legs had swelled up, probably from all the exertion yesterday. I managed to get to the toilet a couple of times myself in the night, though it takes me ages. Then this morning, Kate went of to train in her gym while I was still in bed. Getting up, going to the bathroom, washing in the sink, drying, going back to my bedroom, getting changed, and getting back into bed took me over an hour, and I was completely drained afterwards! But felt so much better having had a proper wash (though I’m really going to miss a hot shower for the next few weeks), and in fresh clothes in my bed. Every movement of each activiy needed thinking about – I realise I needed to move the frame that’s around the toilet to being around the chair that I’m sitting on by sink to wash, as it doesn’t have arms. This meant shimmying around with me, the crutches, the frame, the chair, and towels and rugs on the floor to make this work. Talk about a piece of room engineering! Even figuring out the best way to brush my teeth became a new journey of discovery.

Since then, Kate’s been home, we’ve had lunch, and I’m now sitting back in the chair, writing this. It’s already feeling better than yesterday, and I have to trust that each day will get a little better. Yet again, I feel so grateful to all the years of training in breathing, meditation, movement, and martial arts, as I’m using all of it to re-learn the most simplest activities.

Reflecting back on my time in hospital, i was thinking this morning about how the ward forms temporary communities of people. This may have particularly been the case on mine because it was orthopedics, so we’d all had some form of joint surgery, and were having similar recovery experiences and physio tasks. But being thrown together in an intense, close space, having all our body stats monitored constantly, our physical selves so vulnerable and on display, creates a strangely strong bond for the time that people are together. We were all very encouraging of each other to achieve the goals that meant we could go home, and also to help and support when things didn’t go well. But it went beyond that to the personal very quickly, where we were sharing private details of our lives with strangers we would probably never have met in any other context. My bed-neighbour Carole is 74, owns a smallholding out on the Devon-Dorset border, and we formed a strong connection, sitting and talking with each other. Then there was Maureen in the bed opposite who’d had her op on the same day as Carole and I. She’s 82, and had a much harder recovery time, with complications meaning she’d only just been able to sit out of bed on the day that I’d left. And then there was the ‘difficult’ one further down the ward who was very needy, talked loudly all the time, and people tried to avoid, to the extent one of the patients down that end moved up to ours. Those intense contacts and shared experiences became a big part of the time in hospital. I’ve been left with threads of stories of their lives which I’ll never know the answer to – will Carole’s daughter leave her husband who sounds like he’s controlling her; how long will Maureen take to recover and go home; and what about Sue’s lovely grandson who has cystic fibrosis? To become so intertwined with people’s lives on such a temporary basis was very strange. This morning I had to phone up the ward to say I’d left my walking stick there (as I’d come back on crutches I’d forgotten it), and nearly asked how Maureen is this morning, as I’d always ask her over the previous five mornings. And knowing now there’s someone else in the bed that I had such a full-on time being in, who has their own story that I’ll never know.

So it took five nights rather than one or two. In fact, the nursing staff said hip replacements often take longer than this, and really it would be better to tell people it’ll be longer. I’ll know for next time. All the staff were truly amazing. I could see where they were stretched, and resources are not what they should be, but the extent of personal kindness and care was in such abundance that having to wait a little longer for something wasn’t a big deal. So I guess in finishing the blog for today, there’s one message I really want to stress:

Day One…

The first day after surgery…

I am officially bionic! The surgeon said it went very well, and already requested to book in a date to do the other hip in three months.

I’m having quite a bit of pain and stiffness. I’ve been lying down with both legs stretched out flat, which I haven’t been able to do for several years. But the muscles, tendons, and nerves are being stretched in unfamiluar ways, causing the pain. This means I can now have a regular slurp of liquid morphine (not gin, yet!)

I was really looking forward to standing up and walking to road test the new joint. Things didn’t quite work out. I’ve had low blood pressure, and when I tried standing up with the physios, nearly fainted, so haven’t yet taken a step. If I had to figure out new ways of standing up before, I’m having to work it all out again from scratch. But at least I did feel that the pain in my right hip had changed position, so hopefully this should mean once the muscles have healed and strengthened, things should be much easier, even if it means being in hospital for a few days more than planned until I’m less wobbly. As is warned in the ironically wonky ‘danger -falling person’ image on the sign by my bed.

No matter how many times I tell them it’s not ‘Mrs’, this seems to be the default option. They wouldn’t use Dr or Prof as they need to identify gender. Although I was admitted aa Ms., it seems easier for them to assume Mrs. I’m having to focus on other things at the moment, but still there are questions here about assumptions and ‘normalising’ of gender in a medical context. But the staff are all lovely, and already figured me out enough to say, when they’re moving me in a way that causes pain, ‘Focus on your breathing exercises’. Will do!

The operation yesterday was an interesting experience. I had a spinal injection, not quite the same as an epidural, but probably familiar to anyone who’s had one. The warm feeling moving down my legs into my feet, before it all turned numb. They decided to take me fully conscious into the operating theatre to find the best position for me to lie on my side (to avoid the shoulder dislocating – one joint per op is enough!). It’s unusual to do this and they were concerned that I wouldn’t like the sights and sounds, but they hadn’t figured on my fascination with bodies, so I was curious to see it. I explained I was more familiar with another type of theatre, and had also acted in ‘Casualty’. They found this hilarious, but may also explain why they sedated me pretty fully, so I only heard the first couple of songs on my playlist before sleeping through it. But with the spinal I came round quickly, feeling alert. They’d kept my earphones in and the playlist on, and I woke up listening to this song by Stevie Wonder – a nice way to come back into the world: