Graham Higgins Illustration - Literate Graffiti Dept.


February 27, 2011



A year ago today I was into my seventh week post-surgery.
One way or another I’d survived one era of uncertainties, which had included three postponements of the operation, including one near-miss that found me awake in the ward the morning after pre-op sedation and the news that an emergency admission had taken precedence, each one bringing a further opportunity to reflect on the possibility that there wouldn’t be a post-op opportunity to contrast and compare.
I’d been told that the operation routinely leaves ‘a degree of cognitive deficit, usually insignificant in a week or so’ and so I took Conceptual Issues In Psychology to read for the exercise and a book of Telegraph crosswords. I kind of hoped that the activity would speed the brain in remapping itself. I was feeling for mental bruises and fractures.
I’d already spent a year of odd body-sensations which had in fact turned out to be Significant shudders.
Post-op there were so many competing arpeggios of sensation it was difficult to sort out those due to meds from those you might reasonably expect after seven hours of extreme internal body-modification achieved by cleaving the ribcage and wiring it together again.
The sight of my shaved chest and spiky waxed-thread stitches giftwrapping the bright scar from clavicle to omphalus never ceased to surprise me: it was me. It was a reminder that under there, the x’s marked the site of finer stitching, still healing around a valve that was now keeping me alive so long as I had access to enough anticoagulant to reduce the risk that the industrious little prosthetic might whip up stray clots of untreated full-fat blood.
The new metronome tick in the chest encourages you to relax and see how slow you can make the resting beat, the click-track of tranquility. Similarly you’re more alert to little impromptu snare-drum paradiddles and needless bebop improvisations with too much pedal on the bass.
There’re a few days on days of morphine, waking periods with a plastic straw firing oxygen into your nostrils. The trolley rolls through with its cargo of little pills in little plastic cups for you, and you, and you… you don’t ask.
It had been ten weeks in no-man’s land between the level-toned information from the consultant that ‘a surgical intervention will be necessary’ and the return to consciousness in Intensive Care. Now I wanted to get onto the bit of the story about how quickly I recovered. I idly fiddled with the stitches, encouraging them to drop out if they wanted to, like a child playing with loose milk-teeth.
Back at home, I slept on the downstairs sofa, in the early days still thinking of what would be happening on the ward, as you do on the first days back from a holiday. The shock of surfacing from sleep to hear silence save for a swash of a passing car outside – no monitor-beeps or groans or murmured bedside consultations along the corridor of beds – was enough to cause momentary panic. No-one was waiting beside the sofa-bed to take a blood-sample: ‘you’ll just feel a sharp scratch’… I grew blasé about needles, even about the students who needed time and a couple of shots with the harpoon to find the vein. The tiny sting of the needle was one sensation you could rely on, no ambiguity or hidden threat in a good cannula puncture.
At home you just wake to the empty room and the ticking.
By the end of  January I felt confident enough that the stairs weren’t a test of will and that my sleep-patterns had settled enough that I’d probably be able to sleep through the night in bed, another little victory for normality. Apparently my breathing was enough to result in ‘not a wink of sleep’, so that experiment was abandoned.
I’d prided myself on not being a doc-botherer and now i had a medical regime, a repeat prescription and daily schedule for drugs with specifically-targeted effects and named like stern pharmaceutical gods, hybrids of Olympian conceptual lucidity and Norse refusal to take no for an answer.
This return to a nostalgic theme was prompted by a drive to collect another carload of books and LP’s from the garage where they’ve squatted for about a year. A whole run of Punch with my illustrations, presumed lost, turned up. Again I wonder how I shifted all this stuff to various places, in a little over two weeks. It’s a bit of a lug now, one carload at a time, weeks and sometimes months apart.
The date of the solicitor’s letter requiring that I vacate the house I’d returned to in 21 days was dated 21-2-10, so I opened it the next day with one day down and the clock running.
I’d recently been placing a hand on my chest if I coughed or sneezed, advised to minimise strain on the sutures. It was the least I could do to acknowledge those hours of heroic surgery. Now I was loading crates of belongings and lifting boxes of books from the garage which had never qualified for residency in the house. The next three weeks were a daily round of removals by the carload, to be stacked in various vacant garage-spaces until I found somewhere to remove them to again.
My mantra for the day was my old hill-climbing standby ‘Each step you take is one less step to take’. The beta-blockers which had been a pharmaceutical manyana, the sedative of motivation, probably helped keep me in the mechanical moment. At night they probably kept me in the tiny circular thought-patterns that kept proper sleep at bay. I awoke to climb back on the carousel of flogged horses, reasoning that a period of unconsciousness must have occurred.
I’d found myself unexpectedly not-dead a couple of times in the past year; maybe I was just running ahead of the tide and there were occasions when sudden discomfort under the ribs, migrainey auras in the field of vision, faint patches and pauses for breath only prompted an autistic observation that oh, so maybe this is how it will happen. Boof! Out like a light, which would be preferable to waking in another hospital ward trying to explain to the consultants why I thought I knew better than to listen to their advice to give it 3-6 months before a ‘staged return to work’.
I got myself back to work in March because with my savings all but gone I’d need the money for rent somewhere. At a local school my classes were in a pair of huts in the car-park, which involved a climb up a short ramp to the main buildings and a conscious tactics to disguise the thumping heart and shortness of breath this caused.
The other mantra for that time was ‘one day this will be an episode’ – the news today will be the movies for tomorrow – and here I am writing about it. At some point I shall look back at this post as part of an episode.

  1. This story is still in progress. One year doesn’t give enough hindsight for seeing how far you’ve come, what has really changed, the shape of the new ground state. The second anniversary report will be interesting, although it will be harder to recall specifics of where you were then, but easier to see the bigger picture. I’ll be looking forward to that one.

    Comment by Sue Jones — February 27, 2011 @ 9:02 pm
  2. I’ve thought often of that storytelling rule of ‘a year-and-a-day’ and how the passing of an anniversary does seem to mark a satisfying point of perspective. This entry was really a note-to-self because, as you said, already in retrospect it was a time when nothing seemed to be a constant or a reliable certainty (is there such a thing? Maybe I mean provisional certainty).
    This one took a long time from first paragraphs to a conclusion, plus doubts about whether it warranted post-status at all. At the time I was running on willpower with little time to reflect and although there’s a lot to retrieve and examine it’s a traumatic episode really of little general interest. Things are in many ways unrecognisably better now, which gives me a bit of space to think about where “I” was at a time when I felt like a mechanical agent, little more than the fork-lift truck required to effect the necessary removals.

    Comment by admin — February 28, 2011 @ 1:02 pm
  3. Whis was, of course, exactly the mindless state you needed to be in to *do* those removals without them becoming just one more stress-item too many.

    Comment by Sue Jones — February 28, 2011 @ 3:00 pm

Leave a comment

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URL

You can use these XHTML tags: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>