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Embracing the unexpected
I do nothing; I Know nothing of myselfJohn Donne
I lay motionless, helpless, prostrate on the floor. There was a part of me that had somehow distanced itself and was busy making sense and lies of what had happened… ‘Our cycling holiday? Two weeks to go… it would be alright… time to recover by then… just bruising’ Yet there was another part of me that was being suppressed that knew this pain and this sickness. I had felt this before but … delete that!’ I sensed people crowd round me… could not see their faces just felt their surprise, concern. Through the corner of my eye saw the food shelves being wheeled to shield/protect/shelter/hide me? I was alone and anonymous in the midst of strangers. I could not move.
This was the start of my holiday time. I had been looking forward to this very date for so long and was on my way to a one to one with my Feldenkrais (Awareness through movement) coach. How apt but how badly timed! This was preparation for the holiday to check my physical balance… what a joke. I had travelled in with my son Alex, his girlfriend Yoomi, their friend Chris and my stepdaughter Elly. I had directed Elly on her way to the left luggage where she was leaving her weekend case while she went to see a friend in London. And I had watched Alex and the others walk away as they set off for their final shopping for their cross Europe bike trip in aid of his wildlife work. This was the start of my free time, my holiday time. But I was tired. I had worked excessively in the previous few weeks and months. And I was feeling unusually emotional that day with the pending partings. Time for a break… Just how literally had my unconscious mind taken that thought?
‘Was the floor wet?’ ‘Were you wearing high heels?’ ‘Were you rushing?’ Don’t know but think not. No and No. From a purely environmental point of view I just do not know how it happened. I only know that my feet went from under me, I seemed to hover horizontally in the air before landing with a sickening thud on my right hip. I caught my arm on a loading trolley on the way down. And the result was that my future timeline had, in an instant been rewritten and redirected. The one that had pointed towards the mountains and heat of Provence was now drifting away like the tail of a lost balloon disappearing into the blue distant sky.
‘Can you sit up?’ ‘No, I absolutely cannot!’ the words flashed assertively into my head. They translated into ‘I need to stay like this for a moment’ to the person asking. A moment turned out to be several and some rational thoughts came to mind. ‘My daughter is in the station somewhere’. ‘We will call for her on the tannoy’ I had no idea how much time had passed. It turned out that there was enough for El to have checked in her bag and be on her way out of the station by now. ‘You might get my son… his number is on my phone’ And in this time distorted state it seemed that no longer had I said these words than I saw Alex’ tall figure walking earnestly behind the barrier of shelving that now surrounded me… ‘Alex!’ A part of me relaxed. To have someone close with me relieved a huge part of that dissociated me. I gave in to the helplessness.
Somehow in excruciating pain that threatened me with a blackout they got me into a wheelchair and to the first aid room… and no sooner on the bed there… the ambulance medics arrived. Such reassurance and humour… the hands that held me were getting more numerous and skilled. There was an unexpected pleasure in this that accompanied the pain… a simultaneously sweet and sour experience. Still my mind persisted in deleting the obvious. Yet that the trace of that feeling was from the time when I broke my wrist. The same sickness, the same faint. Only when the radiologist confirmed my worst and stoutly avoided fear that there was a line across the top of the femur did I drop down into the truth that I had broken my hip.
A long wait in A&E but after that everything seemed to move quickly. Alex and his friends refused to leave me. I was too debilitated to argue. We could not reach Spence … I knew that he was on a long training bike ride. preparing for our holiday… not knowing that had just disappeared into the ether. We called James (my eldest son) and without any debate he set off for the hospital. Good luck, bad luck… who knows… that evening I had the most intimate conversations with my sons than I had had for some time. I know in my heart of hearts that it is when we give up the facades, the control and submit… then we connect with not only our own truth but the truth of others. I have seen this refusal to stand naked so often in my clients and needless to say the very reason that I could recognise it in them is that it stands glaringly apparent in me.
What’s become of mans great extent and proportion, when himself shrinks himself and consumes himself to a handful of dust? …. A sick bed is a grave… Here the head lies as low as the foot – miserable and (though common to all) inhuman posture! …. I cannot rise out of my bed till the physician enable me, nay I cannot rise till he tell me so. I do nothing, I know nothing of myself.
(also quoted in ‘A leg to stand on’ by Oliver Sacks)
I look out of the window at the intense green of the English countryside outside my window. Today we would have been setting out for Bonnieux passing near to the ochre landscape of Roussillon and the cliffs and hills that mirror the heat down on to the road at the end of a dusty day. Three weeks ago I looked out at the roofs of Paddington, the four towers of Battersea power station, the rooftop hoardings long forgotten and unseen from the rush hour traffic. The heat that I might have felt scorching through my body as I strained to reach the top of the hills in the south of France I now glimpsed through my hospital window.
And I pay tribute to the team at St Mary’s Hospital Paddington. Their care and skill is repairing my fracture. But did they organise the play and the players in one room setting. Patience was my first night nurse and the next Hope. The cleaner singing in the bathroom as I polished the floor was ‘Praising the Lord’. “Happiness is the key to health and recovery – you know that.” he smiled at me knowingly as he left the room. Was this all part of the rehabilitation service?
Am I willing to be myself and nothing more – no friends, no father, no sister, no self-interest – simply ready for death?
My Utmost for His Highest. Oswald Chambers
Now with the wisdom of distance I see the pattern. That familiar feeling… the time of breaking my wrist was just prior to my son James leaving for the Marines. And this time a few days to the departure date for Alex’ mammoth bike ride. I know that I am in the learning zone as I explore this. Tears distort my vision. Too much self control. My unconscious does not allow me to by pass these significant times in my life. If I won’t fully acknowledge them then it will affect me to the point that I do. And I do. A harsh lesson. And some gentler ones too. That rain is very soothing and cleansing. Even the cows have given up their shelter under the trees and stand brazenly in the open feasting on the lush meadow.
Others reactions fascinate. ‘Will you claim?’ that is usually followed by the sombre prediction… ‘this could be serious in the future’. And my thinking on this… who is responsible? I put my hand up. I may not have been running or tottering in heels but internally I was not in balance that day nor had I been for some time. My internal state became my external one. If I claim I assume that the world will look after me. And to be sure at one level it has. But if I presuppose that then surely I will continue to presuppose that. I watched an overweight girl on breakfast television only last week who blamed the health service for not ridding her of her excess stones and bad health. I have written to Marks & Spencer to ask what they are doing to ensure the future safety of other shoppers but no more than that. My life is my own. Well after God! So I am three titanium screws the better off and each one has brought with learning that is beyond price.
The bike waits for me.
This is a special bike that’s not very good at listening to excuses, so it takes you exactly where you really want to go & if you kick & scream it makes you pedal harder & go up steeper hills until you’re too out of breath to complain & after awhile, if you’re lucky, you start to see that it doesn’t really matter if you laugh or cry, because it just wants to ride like the wind
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