Last August I was a bit ill, just a bad cold I thought. Then a few weeks later, a second one. Then I couldn’t walk.
All that sneezing had finally managed to break a bit of the body that in men is a tad weak and gave myself a hernia. A weird popping sensation when sneezing and coughing, that was just odd, not painful, and not worrying.
Then a couple of weeks after the wave of colds had passed, I couldn’t walk. Went out as normal one Saturday for a jaunt across this fine city, and got to the end of the street. Severe pains in the groin, and off to the doctor.
Hmm, might be a hernia. Go for a scan.
The scan was booked, a few weeks hence, and the doctor doing it almost yelled in delight as I had a case-study of what a hernia should look like. Not just any old hernia, this was the M&S of hernias. At least I’ve done something properly for once.
A review by a GP, who spent most of the consultation slumped in her chair staring at the computer, and surgery was booked for November. Except it turned out that was just an appointment to meet the surgeon, and surgery was booked for January.
Hernia’s are an odd thing, in that most people apparently, can have one for years without it being a serious problem, so surgery is not considered to be urgent unless you get it trapped, then as you’re screaming in agony, surgery tends to be immediate. For everyone else, take your time, it’s not that big an issue.
In my case, there was a progressive decline, that made walking slower and harder every day. On a walking stick by now, the world shrinks markedly.
No more wandering around to see what’s down a side street or perambulating in a meander around the place. All journeys are strictly from origin to destination with the shortest route possible.
From home to shops, or to work, and that’s all that the world comprises of. As someone who delights in discovering new things, this was particularly irksome. Being stuck at home should have meant being able to do lots of reading, but being depressed by physical constraints meant not being in the mood to read and write with gusto.
Fortunately, the weeks past, and surgery approached. Some misleading information from two nurses in the weeks before nearly caused a panic on the day of the operation, but they sorted out alternative arrangements.
The surgeon came in, got his pen out and marked a big cross where the cut was to go, then talked about a one percent chance of complications. What? Now you tell me about this? It’s not as if I had much choice, but one percent seems a bit higher than I would have expected these days.
Going under general anesthetic is a very odd sensation. You’re lying on the bed, outside the theatre, and basically being manhandled with people coldly attaching wires and cables to your body. A nasty pain as a needle is stuck in the back of the hand (why is it always the hand?) and then someone is saying it’s all over.
There’s no going to sleep, and no waking up, just a curious sensation that someone has been talking to you for a couple of minutes and you’ve been ignoring them until you realise they’re telling you the operation is over.
Apparently, a hernia operation is totally routine, something that people should be able to get up and walk about within a few hours, and while you’ll be off work for a couple of weeks, it’s just recuperation.
I couldn’t walk.
A nurse got a bit annoyed that I wasn’t getting up and about, but I could barely get to the end of the bed. Discharged the next day, and thank goodness I had a walking stick to help hobbling downstairs to a taxi.
Unfortunately, it seems something went wrong.
Barely able to walk, and having the most exceptionally nasty pains below the hernia. I am not sure what having your leg cut open with a knife feels like, but this is probably what it would feel like. Every few hours, agony, and what was scary was that unlike any other injury where you quickly learn not to do something that hurts, there seemed to be no trigger for this pain whatsoever.
Not knowing what caused the pain, or even if the pain would start and not stop, I took to carrying the mobile phone with me if going on a Tea & Toilet trip. (actually, it’s coffee, but coffee and ….., well).
I did ponder what happens though if I was frozen in pain in the kitchen and needed to call an ambulance. How do they get in? OK, it’s going to be a routine event for them to need to smash down a front door, but the situation did make me curious about how they deal with a patient unable to open doors.
A doctor came to the home, and confirmed that no infections, no problems with the stitches, and sadly, it seems I’ve been unlucky. I would just have to wait it out, but the pains would pass.
I was actually quite annoyed, as the only warning of surgery complications was about numbness if nerves were cut, and I had the absolute opposite. Nothing was said about that possibility. In hindsight, both pre and post surgery information was woefully lacking.
Lying in bed, I checked my emails. One from a firm who want to use my photos, and as usual they expect me to hand them over for free. After gently suggesting that maybe they should pay, the conversation dried up.
What hit me though was checking the weekly weekend travel disruptions email, which I was reading. Why am I working out where I cant go this weekend, when I can’t go anywhere?
Being housebound also meant lots of ready meals delivered to the home. With a £60 minimum order, that’s a lot of booze ordered as well to make up the order, as it’s rather difficult for a single guy to order £60 of fresh food and not have it go off before it’s eaten.
Home shopping is definitely a service aimed at large families. We single folk need to carry our own shopping.
After several months of barely being able to walk, the surgery was supposed to open up new vistas of opportunity to get out and about once more, only to be stopped dead in its tracks by the side effects of the surgery. It’s remarkably depressing to spend so long looking forward to something only to see the light at the end of the tunnel recede so precipitously once more.
It’s been months since I did anything interesting and the pressure is building up.
Over the next 3 weeks the pain attacks decreased in intensity and frequency, to the point that they were sharp stabs rather than machete attacks. Sitting up is still, now, seven weeks after the surgery a bit of a problem.
Had a follow up with the surgeon six weeks after the operation, and he almost barked at me as I walked in to the office as to why I was limping. It was the first few days without the walking stick, but still hobbling a bit. As far as he was aware, the operation had been a total success, and in fact the hernia type should have been one of the quickest to heal. So he was alarmed at what had happened.
Another appointment in April will decide if more scans are needed to find out what went wrong, if anything, and if anything can be done to fix it.
It’s been a difficult few months, and in a very different way to when I was serious ill just over a decade ago.
When it’s an infection, and the body is worn down, you are so sleepy and tired. This time I wasn’t tired, wasn’t sleepy, but in pain. In a way, it’s worse, as you’re mentally awake, but unable to do anything. I’ve never been so bored in my life!
You also learn the little things make a big difference. Have you ever tried cutting your toe-nails when you cant bend down? If I ever read another tabloid rant about councils wasting money on toe-nail clipping services, I will explode. Being unable to do that for three weeks was surprisingly uncomfortable towards the end. Couldn’t put socks on either.
Fortunately, things are slowly on the mend, I am walking again, the bad days are now bad hours, the pains more just annoyances. And what luck to have all this happen in winter, so I should be healthy for a long summer of enjoyable walking around the city.
Needing a walking stick to get around has also given me an insight into how other people handle disability.
A decade ago, I used a walking stick for several months and can count on one hand the number of times a seat was offered on the tube. This time, I can count on one hand the number of times a seat wasn’t offered. There’s been a massive change in the public attitude to disability over the past decade, and that’s a really good thing.
Ironically, in the past couple of weeks, sitting was more painful than standing, so I preferred to stand on the tube at times, and declined generous offers by people offering their seats. One woman seemed to be quite annoyed at me for not forcing someone to give up their seat when I got on the tube a couple of weeks ago. I just didn’t want to sit down.
As there’s a bus that goes from home to doctor, I used the bus while off work. I learnt to avoid mid-afternoon. It seems that courtesy hasn’t reached bus users yet. Odd.
Another aspect which was less fun was something I have often had a slight inward smile about, but rather less these days.
Canary Wharf estate is very disabled friendly. Wherever there’s stairs, there’s a lift. Wherever there’s doors, one set will be power-assisted.
What used to make me smile is how many people will gravitate to the disabled door to use the power button rather than pushing the manual doors open themselves. I’ve seen people queuing up to use the one power assisted door than the other five normal doors at some locations.
But when you have a walking stick, and struggling to walk, that isn’t as much fun any more. Worse was when I would walk up to a closed door and press the button to open it, only for someone to then dart in front of me to get through. Rude at the best of times, but doubly so when someone is visibly disabled.
I also learnt that people really don’t look where they are going. I knew that already, and tend to weave around the oblivious people staring at their phones. But when you’re hobbling, you need more time and space to move out of the way. People looking up startled that they have to move for once and apologizing when they see the walking stick.
An interesting transition is getting off trains. People always stand in front of doors and try to barge on. But as soon as they saw the walking stick, they step back and apologize. I’m not using the walking stick anymore, so the apologies have vanished. People still have to move back, but do so in sullen silence.
But in general, compared to a decade ago, I think things in how society deal with visible disabilities are better.
The Huffer, the Mutter, the Tutter
Three people though stand out in my memories.
One wet day hobbling along a path someone came towards me with a massive umbrella. Now that was never going to be something two people could pass on a pavement at any time, and I am not inclined to step into the road just because someone wants to use the entire pavement for themselves. And she loudly huffed at the guy hobbling along with a walking stick at how she had to tilt her gigantic brolly to get past him.
Heading home, and two of us got onto a Met line train, she sat next to the window on a forward facing seat, and I sat next to her. Yes, there were other empty seats, but I had learned that sitting facing forwards was less painful.
“Did you really have to sit there” I heard her mutter.
My gloriously loud riposte uttered in a voice loud enough to embarrass the hell out of her, about how apologetic I was for being disabled and needing to sit facing forwards on trains… was something I only thought of much later.
Passing though a set of the aforementioned doors at Canary Wharf, I was frankly not minded to get out of the way of the woman hurrying towards me to use the same door. One of us clearly could move quickly and easily, and it wasn’t me.
So she tutted at my apparent discourtesy. It took a moment to register, but, what, did she actually just tut at a visibly disabled person not moving as fast as she could? Yes. I was a bit too stunned to respond, and she’d hurried off by then any way.
So Madame Tutter, you win the IanVisits Award for Rudeness.