Friday, 31 December 2010

“Misty Start to the New Year”

The eternal interim and void that is my existence for the next 1000 hours, until my rebirth with a metal spine, is becoming increasingly harder to fathom. The episodes of distress and torment are creeping in and monopolizing more and more of each day. My mechanisms for handling physical incapacitation all assume mental capacity. However, during these appalling incidents, which I can only liken to the attacks by the Vashta Nerada (the Shadows that melt the flesh) in Doctor Who, I temporarily lose two basic human rights, freedom of speech and freedom of thought. How can one maintain these two precious liberties when facing an enemy that can enter their very core?

It is New Year’s Eve, and it is practically worth being this physically immobile to avoid societies’ pressure to have the “best night of the year”. The part of me that is a New Year’s Eve Scrooge has been gradually surfacing after countless experiences of dashed high expectations. Tonight, may in fact, despite the nightmare situation I am currently literally embedded in, develop into my favourite New Year’s to date. I have no grand plans, so how could I possibly be disappointed? Weather wise and emotionally it will be a “misty start to the new year”, but, at least mist can clear. 

Wednesday, 29 December 2010

Dancing On My Own

Intense pain is isolating and profoundly difficult to bear. Last night was atrociously awful. Daggers, rather than simply stabbing me, in one of the territories that is at war, began a combined operation. My neurones realised that they had the power to affect multiple regions, and delighted in their newfound ability. Despite my parent’s outstanding ventures to relieve my agitation, including continual shifting of positions and attempting to freeze the vexatious nerves, my nervous system advanced in its relentless attack. The war was won, in the early hours of the morning, when we authorized the final ammunition, a large dose of a wonderful substance called morphine, which reinforced my frontline defenses, two practically invisible morphine patches, and finally sleep prevailed.

The Guardian’s song of 2010 is Robyn’s Dancing On My Own. This song, as well as the superficial story regarding a boy not noticing Robyn, refers to that heart wrenching feeling, of despite standing submerged in a large crowd, being completely alone. At present, even when I surround myself with people, I feel removed. Although friends and family are crucial in mentally encouraging me to remain strong and to continue to fight, at the end of the day, they are the home front and I am dancing on my own. Until today I would have described my dance as vicious and aggressive. It was the type of so-called “dance” that caused my brother to be punched in the nose in a mosh pit, a completely out of control, but exceedingly determined dance. Today, my chi is somewhat diminished. My dance is that of the embarrassed twelve year old boy at their first disco, a forced and unwilling shuffle. I am now unsure of how much longer I can continue this solo waltz. 

Tuesday, 28 December 2010

Blogging about Blogging

Sue Eckstein wrote an article in the Guardian entitled “why people blog about illness”. She, like me, is a woman who had never before publicized personal intricacies, nor even read a blog before jotting her first few words. There is much of her article that concurs with my own sentiments about writing and why it has become such and fundamental and vital element of my present existence. She writes,

the writing of a daily blog post became as important to my recovery as my antibiotics and physio exercises; it provided a shape to the day and gave me a sense of purpose – a sense that I had some control in an environment where almost everything else was happening to and not with me.”

It is completely dumbfounding and bewildering (excuse the tautology) how composition, which is an area I have always considered to me one of my weakest, has become my most effective lifeline. It is true that writing grants me an element of control and does instill a routine to my days. I do not intend to impugn her opinion, however, for me this is only the tip of the iceberg, only the superficial and easily explicable rationale as to why the formulation of a coherent piece of prose is so therapeutic.

I believe that for a large number of the individuals that blog about illness or blog as a result of illness, the challenge to create a few lines which reveal, whether the readers notice it or not, a thought, fear, anxiety or indifference, forces the writer to address this issue in a deep and meaningful way to them. The blog then provides a forum for the writer to have means to then release it. The captivity of the idea into a piece of writing can liberate the issue from tormenting the mind of the writer. This does not mean that “ill” writer will never again struggle with this thought, fear, anxiety or indifference; yet, it can provide, at least, a temporary release.

Writing is, for me, akin to a whirlwind romance. It is all absorbing, all consuming. It is not crucial that anyone else sees the beauty of my love, or understands his power over me. I cannot help becoming completely distracted from my pain when dominated by him. However, it is always wonderful when someone else does appreciate his style or also finds him appealing.

Monday, 27 December 2010

“This too shall pass”

A thoughtful and sensitive friend sent me an email including the proverb גם זה יעבו “this too shall pass” and the Jewish folklore from which it originates. King Solomon requested that the most renowned jeweller in the land fashion a ring with the power to “make me happy when I am sad, but keep me humble when I am happy”. After days of careful contemplation, the jeweller returned to the king with a gold ring inscribed גם זה יעבור .

A week ago, the sentiment of “this too shall pass” I deeply knew to be true but I had no concept of how it would come to transpire, nor any timeframe to work within. The days of acute pain, immobility and sickness, despite their elements of wonder, when friends or family distracted me, seemed endless. They were becoming harder and harder to manage mentally, as the weeks of no physical improvement continued to increase.

Now the aphorism “this too shall pass” is much more tangible. In my mind I can map how the events of next 8 weeks are going to transpire. I have a plan. Once again, I have targets to achieve and deadlines to work to. The 5th of January is the first date in the diary, which is associated with large expectations. This is the deadline of the first draft. I am having an investigatory test to further confirm the surgeon’s hypothesis and plan of action. The next date, is the one that makes all others fall into insignificance, it is the day of my major surgery. In once sense, it is the end. It will be the end to a tumultuous journey that although in most respects has been truly horrific, has also revealed how incredibly fortunate I am to have so many remarkable and supportive people surrounding me. On the other hand, it will be the beginning. The beginning of a life where my lower back is constructed predominantly of metal and polyether ether… something or other. The beginning of a long and intensive recovery period and also hopefully the beginning of me being able to look beyond this period to new plans and ambitions that are in absolutely no way related to the spine; that is, of course, unless some eminent doctor happens to read my blog and offer me some cutting edge spinal research… in which case I will reconsider. 

Sunday, 26 December 2010

How to obtain Serenity in the face of Uncertainty

Serenity is bliss. The absence of stress and anxiety is a beautiful and wholly desirable concept, and I believe that it is one that is achievable. There are magnificent individuals who radiate the impression of complete ease and appear calm at all times. I can definitely envisage how this persona is possible if one disassociates from life’s difficulties, if one “switches off” and chooses not to engage with the more troublesome queries arising from our existence. The stylized mental technique of meditation could provide an escape from the claustrophobia of living within my own head. A self-induced consciousness, if I were able to achieve it, could potentially provide temporary serenity. Unfortunately, I am a demanding young lady and crave more. I desire to be able to confront my obstacles and uncertainties, not avoid them, whilst retaining an aura of serenity. I can imagine John Heywood’s response, “wolde you bothe eate your cake, and have your cake?" Perhaps it is not possible to both delve deeply into your fears whilst maintaining peace of mind.

Jeannette Winterson once spoke of the “strange enclosed feel of your own world”. When the scope of your world has been reduced to your bedroom and you are struggling on in continual pain, the ability to not become self-absorbed and to be reminded of the world beyond your boundaries is that much more challenging. It may, however, be the key to finding my retreat by providing a path to see past my own struggles without having to disregard them. 

Saturday, 25 December 2010

Crazy Contemplations

The extent to which I am completely and utterly unique is becoming more and more apparent. The word unique was carefully replaced from the term crazy, as I would rather consider my quirks to contribute to a character regarded as exceptional or individual than deranged or batty. When I speculate about the concerns and apprehensions that I would consider “normal” for someone on the cusp of major surgery and then juxtapose them with my own actual anxieties, I begin to appreciate quite how unparalleled my thought processes are.

One would presume that my mind would be predominantly perturbed by the risks of the surgery and how best to prepare for it both mentally and physically. Unexpectedly, I seem to allocate more brainpower and time contemplating important issues such as how to have a hair cut in my bed, or a facial, or even a manicure. How could I possibly enter an operating theatre with split ends, unpainted nails and worst of all spots! These are, of course, exactly the crucial details that the surgeons, nurses and technicians will be concentrating on during back surgery. My priorities may be somewhat skewed but one cannot help the musings that occupy their cerebral cortex can they?

Friday, 24 December 2010

The Bipolar Part Of Me

The human body never ceases to completely astound and fascinate me. It is utterly bewildering how one can be entirely absorbed with anxiety and distress, and unable to locate any form of escape from an all consuming pit of worry, and then, for comprehensively mysterious reasons, awaken, a day later, with the capacity to contend with exact same challenges that were beforehand seemingly impossible. I struggle with the concern that others, as hard as they may try, cannot identify with what I am going through and do not understand how I feel. I am now beginning to realise how ridiculous it is to even hope or expect others to understand my emotional rollercoaster, when I myself find it flabbergasting and perplexing.

My latest postulation is that, to an extent, every individual is bipolar. Bipolar disorder is a category of mood disorders defined by episodes of abnormally elevated mood (mania) and often associated with depressive episodes. I am by no means insinuating that I experience periods of mania and then periods od manic depression, just simply that mood swings are normal hominid characteristics. My frame of mind has such drastic implications on how manage the pain I am in and how I psychologically cope with my immobility. I would love to strive to discover the tools to remain continuously in my elevated mindset. However, I do now believe that every person is, to an extent, bipolar, and that the exploration to find the tools, formerly described, is a journey analogous to searching for the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. I do not conclude that the passage is pointless, rather that the quest is an important, but endless one. 

Thursday, 23 December 2010

Shell Shock

Having reread my expectant words, written before the appointment, I realise the extent to which I had fantasized the capabilities of an undoubtedly outstanding but mere, mortal man. I had treated yesterday’s consultation as one would approach a job interview. Endless hours spent scrutinizing surgical procedures, analyzing cutting-edge spinal research and meticulous note taking. Unfortunately, my interview was akin to the horrifying and torturous experience of my Cambridge interview, where no amount of planning and research can equip you with necessary tools to be prepared for the information you are about to digest. My subconscious, less rational parts were still praying for my surgeon to be an underground messiah who could perform miracles, and my scientific, logical parts had attempted to already process all possibilities, so as to have rehearsed all the necessary questions to fire. The consultation did not follow any of my hypothesized paths, and, instead I was thrown into unknown waters, a new “complicated and demanding” surgery becoming the topic of inspection.

The remainder of the day was spent in complete and utter shell shock.

Combat stress reaction (CSR), in the past commonly known as shell shock or battle fatigue, is a military term used to categorize a range of behaviours resulting from the stress of battle which decrease the combatant's fighting efficiency.”

For the first time during this ordeal, I was unable to function, not just physically, but also mentally. I struggled in my capacity to explain the surgery to loved ones. I was unable to communicate the internal dilemmas that continually tormented me and yet, also completely incapable of distracting myself. I longed for company but had become temporarily autistic. I was exhausted and desperately desired sleep, if only as a temporary escape mechanism, a moment’s peace.

Today I am back a fighter. I now have a plan, albeit a completely new and unexpected one, and must now find means to manage. I must find the fuel for my internal fire, so that this new daunting route can be traversed with the strongest mindset I can muster. 

Wednesday, 22 December 2010


Tomorrow is D-Day, decision day, and distressed, desperate, dishevelled but definitely not depressed me will be sprinting in spirit (tottering in truth) towards the surgeon's consulting room, frantic to find out my fate, future and fortune.

I feel all my strength is resting in his words. I need them to illuminate a light at the end of a tunnel. It does not matter how long the tunnel is, or how many bends and obstacles are along its route, as long as he can point out a spark in the distance. I need a tunnel to begin to travel down or at least to be able to plan to travel down. All my hope has been precariously placed in his hands.

Tuesday, 21 December 2010

Scrutinising Sedation

Sedation is a curious technique that has been employed during the three spinal injections I have endured. It is defined as a “minimally depressed level of consciousness that retains the patient’s ability to independently and continuously maintain an airway and respond appropriately to physical stimulation and verbal command and that is produced by pharmacological or nonpharmacologic method or combination thereof”. I find sedation both incredible and rather terrifying. The thought that I react both verbally and physically during procedures and then have no conscious memory of it afterwards is completely mind-blowing.

My first concern after these procedures is what and how I may have expressed myself to those unfortunate individuals who happened to surround me in the operating theatre. Did I howl obscenities like a Tourettes patient or shed tears extensively or become as silent as a mouse? The method by which the surgeon became convinced that he had placed the needles in the problematic region of my spine was when supreme pain was provoked. I dread even beginning to imagine how horrendously unrefined I may have acted under the influence of tranquilizers combined with acute agony. The fact that I find it terrifying to postulate about how I act when I “lose control” is a reflection of how intrinsic my need to have control over my body is.

The second aspect, in respect to sedation, which I have been internally debating, is whether the pain I experience during these procedures is truly real if I have no conscious recollection of it afterwards. To what degree of agony is it ethically justifiable to let somebody endure if they will have no cognitive memory of it afterwards? Sedation may have had the power to momentarily depress my consciousness but, on a larger time frame, it has enhanced my cognitive awareness.

Monday, 20 December 2010

Losing my Perception of Normal

My ultimate desire, regarding my health, is and always has been to be “normal”, and I have always considered normal to mean healthy. Normality is adhering to conformity, being common or being regular.  The longer I have spent abnormal and unhealthy, the more distant and intangible this concept has become. It is astonishing how hastily one can forget how “normal” sensations are perceived. I now yearn to be reminded of what degree of discomfort is usually felt in everyday positions such as sitting, standing and lying. If a healthy person concentrates on their calf muscle, can they discern pulls or tugs? Is a certain level of irritation or pain completely natural? These questions have led to a fear, which was buried deep within my core, erupting to the surface of my consciousness. This fear is that I have become so acutely aware of any remotely nociceptive response in my body, that when I am again “normal”, i.e. approximately average, in terms of my health, I may not even recognise it.

It is in some way ironic that my greatest wish, in terms of my health, is to be normal, whereas in other areas of my life being described as normal would be considered an insult of brobdingnagian dimensions. I think every individual strives for an aspect of their being to be recognised, at least by somebody, as distinctly remarkable or special and far from common or regular. I do hope that my remarkable characteristic will be something metaphysical rather than physical. 

Sunday, 19 December 2010

My Magic Carpet

As the days, anchored to my mattress, increase, the resourcefulness and imagination of the people around me continues to blossom. They manage to transform my bed into a magic carpet, and I am Jasmine soaring on a magic carpet ride.

This morning my aunt, uncle and cousin were Aladdin. They directed my enchanted rug to the Tate Modern, where I leisurely drifted through the Gauguin exhibition. I became completely transfixed by the lavish, lustrous images of curvaceous Tahitian women without having to contend with jam-packed galleries overflowing with tourists. One painting in particular was completely mesmerizing. The longer I gazed at it the more somber I became. One of the Tahitian women depicted had an expression that, for some, at that point, unknown reason, resonated with me. In some esoteric way, I was looking in the mirror. After discovering that this magnificent work of art is titled “Tu es Jalousie” – “You are Jealous”, a hypothesis regarding my emotive response began to formulate.

This afternoon my magical carpet travelled on its second voyage of the day. This exciting adventure was to be accompanied by three pulchritudinous friends I have known since I was born. As delighted as I am at seeing people I care about flourish, it is also extremely difficult to watch others progress whilst you remain stagnant. “Tu es Jalousie” is, unfortunately, a perfect portrayal of a small part of me that becomes exposed when my friends fly me away on a magic carpet.

Saturday, 18 December 2010

The Skeptical Believer

I believe it is instinctive to desire empowerment to help both yourself and to help others. This may be the reason why I am finding my present predicament of living in limbo, i.e. managing between treatment plans, so infuriating. I also imagine that this is one of the reasons that many compassionate, considerate friends have been suggesting alternative therapies or healers that they or others accredit. I am, at present, unwilling to begin to traverse the paths of non-conventional medicine but this is not on the grounds that I am completely closed-minded or consider it to all be hocus-pocus. 

The term “alternative remedies” is hugely broad and in my opinion a rather useless nomenclature. It can be understood to include approaches ranging from gentle massage, which aims to relax, to African faith healers, who could suggest drinking dangerous concoctions including monkey blood. Furthermore, is prayer an alternative therapy? I have therefore reached the conclusion that it would be vastly ignorant to claim that I do not believe in alternative therapies. The real questions are which alternative therapies do I believe in and what do I believe they can achieve.

Having cogitated upon these questions, I have formulated no conclusive ideas. I do not find this to be remotely surprising, as these inquiries have opened the trapdoor to the whole world of ontology. The philosophical study of the nature of existence is an everlasting journey of exploration and I am only beginning to pack my bag. Cogito ergo sum. 

Friday, 17 December 2010

Breaking Routine

On Pesach, Jews ask the question “Ma nishtana ha-laila ha-zeh mi-kol ha-lelot?”, “Why is this night different from all other nights?” Although we are far from approaching the Jewish festival of Pesach, I am plagued by a variation of this question. How to make this night different from all other nights?  

One of the beauties of Shabbat is that, at any level of observance, it is a departure from the normal routine of your days. Shabbat legitimizes us to have a time in our week to completely relax. In Israel, I experienced my, to date, most ecstatic Shabbat and yet it was so ludicrously simple. I lounged around in my pyjamas, dipped into interesting literature and continuously grazed on delectable delicacies. The problematic matter is that all my current days are spent executing the exact same former activities but unfortunately without the ecstatic feelings. If I were Pinocchio, my leptorrhine nose would be elongating, if I were to announce that I believed that conducting those pastimes tonight would result in that same fleeting, blissful vacation. I may not have presently discovered a solution to my question of how to break routine, but I have realized that Pinocchio and I have rather a lot of common ground. Like Pinocchio did when he was a puppet, I walk in a wooden fashion and again in the same way that Pinocchio wished to be a “real boy” of flesh and blood, I wish to again be a real, fully functioning girl. 

Thursday, 16 December 2010

Playing Doctor

Alexander Pope wrote in An Essay on Criticism:

A little learning is a dangerous thing;
drink deep, or taste not the Pierian spring:
there shallow draughts intoxicate the brain,
and drinking largely sobers us again.

This expression is one that completely exposes me. Having completed one year of a medical degree, I have learnt sufficient vocabulary to superficially comprehend the science of my condition, but am leagues away from fully understanding the implications of the literature that I obsessively research. I do not care to recollect the ridiculous number of hours I have spent exploring possible treatment plans and attempting to weigh up the benefits and risks of these hypothetical courses of action that I have conjured up. I believe that this fixation is due to my acute impatience and my desperate desire to feel like I have some control over my body. I am entirely aware that my ideas are constructed from “shallow droughts” of knowledge, which are “intoxicating the brain”. I am attempting to play doctor within my own life. In fact, it is probably extremely lucky that the sewing kit and tool kit are in parts of the house that are currently inaccessible to me. Otherwise, one moment of supreme delusion and medieval style back surgery could be taking place in suburban Finchley.

The wait, that I am enduring, to hear the surgeon’s advice, although it has only been around 36 hours so far, has seemed like an eternity. However, playing doctor is not aiding me to, as Bob Marley would express, “satisfy my soul”. This experience has highlighted an area of my character requiring growth. A proverb from “Piers Plowman” is beginning to reverberate in my head, “patience is a virtue”.  The question now becomes how does one become patient?

Wednesday, 15 December 2010

Am I Optimistic?

Optimism is defined in the Oxford English dictionary as “hopefulness and confidence about the future or the success of something”. This explication is far too broad for me to derive meaning from. “Confidence about the future” can be subdivided into infinite areas: future family, career, health, happiness, success, appearance, fitness etc. etc. When others or myself inquire as to whether I am optimistic, what are they even asking?

If optimism is the sum of all these infinite areas, then I can truthfully say I am optimistic. Although I may not be hopeful about the possibility of future skiing holidays or confident that I can achieve my dream of being published in a scientific journal by the end of the year, I am certainly confident about my family and friends. I know that they will continue to be shoulders to lean on and sources of happiness in my life. I am also absolutely hopeful that I will improve physically. This is, in part, due to my complete trust in two brilliant surgeons, who are, at present, carefully disputing the pros and cons of several different surgical options.

However, if asked before I go to bed “do you believe that tomorrow will be a better day?” the honest answer is unfortunately negative, as of that, I am not optimistic. I am a realist, and as there have been no physical indicators of improvement in the last six weeks, I feel it would be an insult to my rational mind to expect miracles. Tomorrow is physically likely to be similar to today. Yet, there is a further reason that I am not hopeful, confident or expectant of tomorrow exceeding today. Today has not solely been about exploring surgical procedures, about pain management or about immobility. Today has included a little too much retail therapy, a newfound love of online scrabble, reacquainting with old friends through email and an ecstatic visit from four fabulous friends. Although my days, at present, are by no means as I would have wished, there are pockets of magnificence within each of them, which any day would struggle to compete with.

Tuesday, 14 December 2010

My Sleepless Nights With Stephen

It is unsurprising that between the concoction of pain, minimal mobile exertion and anxiety, sleep does not befall me rapidly. The grandfather clock downstairs enjoys teasing me about my insomnia by relentlessly ringing every hour, just to remind me that another sleepless one has passed. Time does pass far more slowly in the early hours of the morning, and this insomnia could have potentially transformed me into the phantom of bad vertebra (I apologise for the terrible pun). However, I can only attribute my lack of agitation to the wonderful dulcet tones of my bedtime companion, Stephen.

For those who are thinking that the Stephen I write of is my fantastic father, I shall have to disappoint. My Stephen, transports me away from the muggle world to a magical one, where a flick of a wand by Madame Pomfrey and my back would be as good as new. It is, of course, the wonderful Stephen Fry that I write of. His voice manages to be both exciting and soothing to my ears, and even, on occasion, can act as a lullaby. The fact that I, unlike poor Professor Lupin, do not morph into a werewolf at the sight of the moon is a testament to the prodigious power of the audiobook. This modern invention is presently providing me access to the world of literature, which the medication I am on is so desperately trying to deny me. 

Monday, 13 December 2010

Third Time Lucky... or not

Last Wednesday was the third time that I underwent a dorsal ganglion nerve root block, in layman’s terms a spinal epidural or injection. Three, has during this back fiasco, become a number with huge connotations. It is the maximum number of repetitions of the procedure that the surgeon feels it is safe for me to have. It is also the predicted number of days, which if I incur a flare up after the procedure, it is estimated to last. So, three, for me, has become a number associated with permanence. If there has been no improvement after 3 procedures, or 3 days, disappointment cannot help but engulf me.

It is interesting to see that within Judaism, three is also a number of significance. We shake the lulav three times on Sukkot. We also have to ask for forgiveness three times. According to Jewish law, if repeated three times, an act is considered a permanent thing, it is “chazakah”.

As can be imagined, the third day of the third procedure had an aura of expectation enveloping it. “Third time lucky” had been the phrase I had used countless times when people had inquired about whether I had improved. Yesterday was day four, and rather than a noticeable improvement or some sign of recovery, which would indicate my wishful “third time lucky”, it was a day of relentless pain and sickness.

I am, to the best of my ability, ignoring Judaism’s idea of three times indicating permanence and trying to remain ever realistically optimistic. Like the flowers in my room, I am still waiting for the lilies to open.

Sunday, 12 December 2010

The Power of Pretty, Personal Particulars

My bedroom, formerly nicknamed by me my "prison" or "cage" has begun to metamorphose into a sanctuary of pretty, personal particulars. I have begun to accumulate a series of magnificent objects that remind me of people I love and who care for me, of my own achievements and of aspirations still presently unaccomplished. 

As I glance around my room, my eyes cannot help but linger on two beautiful bouquets. Of course no girl needs flowers, but they do have an inexplicable way of not only warming a room, but warming the individual they have been given to. Behind these alluring expressions of nature's diversity are cards, notes, books and DVDs written, lent or bought for me by friends and family. These superficial items surrounding me are constant reminders of the people who are looking out for me, who know me and my interests and who are trying to make this experience more manageable. Although I may be imprisoned through immobility, instead of this room feeling like a cage it is beginning to feel like a haven. 

Saturday, 11 December 2010

"Dream a Little Dream of Me"

Last night was one of those nights where you have a dream that is so realistic that when you wake up you are completely at a loss to whether it was a figment of your imagination or a reality. I had dreamt that I had rolled over in bed, arisen and walked to the bathroom. It was by no means a riveting, adventurous dream. I was not a competitor in the Triwizard tournament in Harry Potter, bungee jumping in Peru or winning the Nobel prize. It was one of the, as Ella Fitzgerald would put it, "sweet dreams that leave all worries behind you".

Since my procedure on Wednesday, I have not been able to move without assistance. I now view basic tasks as battles against the enemy, blinding pain. When swinging my legs over the side of the bed, I am brandishing my sword. When walking, painstakingly slowly towards the bathroom, I am Phillipe Petit, the twin towers tightrope walker. These small movements have to be seen as successes, or I would find my present predicament too upsetting.

Waking up this morning, I was sure I had achieved the seemingly impossible, I had begun to fight the enemy alone, that I had not required my mum to help me brandish my sword, that I had managed to get up and walk to the bathroom. A sense of relief and empowerment fluttered through my body and smile erupted over my pasty face. I then attempted to turn over in bed. This was only to be greeted by a searing pain in my lumbar region and the cruel realisation that I had dreamt a little dream of me. As upsetting as this realisation was, at least it is proof that I am a fighter and that when this dream becomes an actuality it will not go unnoticed. Until then, I will have to continue to rely on the incredible support of my family and friends and continue to battle my fear, he who must not be named.

Friday, 10 December 2010

Nurturing Nurses

I have spent the last two days in hospital and find it utterly humiliating and embarrassing to be completely reliant on other people to the extent that I require assistance to roll over in bed. It is not easy to ring the buzzer for umpteenth time in an hour for help with a necessary and yet extremely basic task. However, this unease and adversity to call for aid was greatly alleviated by the demeanour of the fantastic nurses who were looking after me. Every time they entered my room, they acted as if I were their only patient, and anything I asked of them, they carried out as if they wanted to, rather than had to. I never felt as if they executed any of the more unpleasant tasks begrudgingly. This ability to make every patient feel like they are their main priority is an aspect of these nurses' disposition, which I find completely admirable. They are truly nurturing nurses. 

This quality, of making an individual feel like they are of the utmost importance and that your attention is solely dedicated to them, is one that is prevalent in all fields of life. The teachers who inspire every pupil and who pupils genuinely feel want them to achieve their best. The friends who, when you meet up with, are not distracted by their phone or others, the ones who cling to every word you say. The employers who make time for all of their employees. Most individuals are busy and naturally have mountains on their mind at all times. Yet, there are some who can appear to concentrate completely on the person they are spending time with, independent of how busy they may be. The ones who encourage and inspire the people they are with. For some people, I believe this is a natural quality of their being. It is a molecule of their makeup. However, for many, this is something one must strive for and work at. We all have the "nurturing nurse" within us, we must just find it and find our way of expressing it. 

Tuesday, 7 December 2010

Our Most Basic Message: "Love your neighbour as yourself"

Today I reread a page from a book that was discussing Judaism's most basic message, the teaching "for the sake of which all the rest of Judaism exists". One rabbi, Rabbi Akiva, argues that it is "love your neighbour as yourself". This a teaching that is present in many religions and is simple but profound. It is a teaching that, I feel, if everyone held in the highest esteem would make the world a far fairer and peaceful place. 

When I was studying in Jerusalem this summer and we were discussing this topic, somebody asked: how does this apply to the individual who does not love themself. Loving yourself is not easy or simple. I know that I am my own biggest critic, I sees flaws in myself that others would barely notice. In fact it is possibly harder to love yourself than it is to love others. I find that it is less difficult to love the parts of yourself that you are proud of, the parts of you that are successful. More problematic is how to love the parts of you that are imperfect. How can I love my ill self? How can I love the me who is frustrated at the slow recovery or the me who has lashed out at loved ones when in pain? I believe it is possible to attain acceptance of these imperfections, but, love is stronger than that. Is it possible to love ALL of ourself and if it is not, what are the implications of this on the teaching "love your neighbour as yourself"?

I have avoided / manoeuvred around this obstacle by turning to Rabbi Ben Azzai's view of Judaism's most basic message. He believed that "every human being is God's image" is the main teaching of the Torah. This principle means that I am still just as obliged to love every other human being, and yet this love is not dependent on my love of myself. 

Love of the more challenging parts of myself is something requiring work. At present it is difficult to even imagine how one loves the sick or broken part. My current opinion is that it is possibly impossible and that instead love of oneself is a balance and as long as the balance is tilted so that there are more parts that we love than parts we accept, one can truthfully say that they love themself. 

Monday, 6 December 2010

Mirror, mirror on the wall who is the fairest of them all?

We are taught from a young age that beauty is on the inside and that one should not judge a book my its cover. This is a value I have always held in high regard and have viewed vanity and celebrity/model culture with negative connotations. Fairytales like Snow White demonstrate some of the dangers of vanity. The Queen asks the magical mirror, "mirror, mirror on the wall who is the fairest of them all?". When the mirror responds that Snow White is fairer than the Queen, she is jealous, and orders huntsmen to take Snow White into the woods to be killed. 

This is not to say that I never recognise the importance of appearance. I am one of many girls who loves wearing a new outfit, spending time making herself up and feeling superficially pretty. However, if asked what I believed to be helpful or important for real, true happiness in life, I would have responded with ideas such as having a strong, supportive family and community, good health, enjoyable or interesting work, enough money so as not to struggle etc. etc. Clothing, make up and a nice hairdo would never have even been considered. Yet, spending time standing by a mirror and applying make up, although it causes me pain, is a necessity. It is logically inexplicable, to me, how brushing my hair and putting on mascara provides me power, confidence and hope. Why should I feel "more myself" (i.e. more healthy) when I have some globular black liquid painted on my eyes? 

Beauty is and always was on the inside, and how people view others should not be defined by appearance. Yet, I am now of the opinion that pampering can remarkably alter one's attitude not only to their superficial self, but to their inner self. A beautiful person is iridescent, but nevertheless, a pinch of pink powder and a little liner, can help them begin to realise it.

Sunday, 5 December 2010

"UK Big Freeze set to return after brief thaw"

The most recent tweet from the Guardian newspaper was "UK big freeze set to return after brief thaw". The temperature outside is at the moment something that is of little concern to me as I no longer leave the warm comfort of my home. However, this line resinated with me. Last night, a beautiful friend of mine visited, and between her and my sister, I was transported. I semipermanently forgot that I was unwell and entered a parallel universe. After this blissful evening of distraction, the drop in temperature back to reality feels even more brutal and biting than before, the big freeze is back.

The power of distraction is something that fascinates me. When friends and family visit, at first, I am playing a part, I am an actor in my own life. I smile and talk about "trivial" matters until at some point there is a switch and I am no longer acting. I am genuinely enjoying myself and the pain minimises to a forgettable level. I have a scientific mind and one of my first thoughts on this distraction was neurologically is distraction somewhat similar to the placebo effect? Is there a way in which I am depressing the firing of my neurones devoted to pain when I am distracted? There was a huge temptation on my part to research this and understand the science behind distraction. Yet, distraction is one of my best coping mechanisms and at present I would not want to risk ruining its glorious mysticism and its profound power over me.

Although the big freeze has returned, and it may feel more difficult to bear than before, the brief thaw was blissful and it is much better to lead a roller coaster life of emotional highs and lows than continuously be on a plateau.

Saturday, 4 December 2010

Bribery - "an evil phenomenon found in all countries" but is it natural?

Rt Rev. Lord Richard Harries' thought of the day on Friday 3rd December talked of the allegations of bribery against some of the FIFA members and spoke of how widespread bribery is in the modern world. He quoted Kofi Annan's words, 
"This evil phenomenon is found in all countries-big and small, rich and poor-but it is in the developing world that its effects are most destructive. Corruption hurts the poor disproportionately."
I am in accordance with his words, bribery makes the world an unlevel playing field and places more power in the hands of the wealthy and the hands of the corrupt. I am not in any sense beginning to postulate that bribery is acceptable, but that bribery is natural. 

We are outraged when we hear of bribery in corrupt governments and yet, on a much smaller level bribery is around us at all times. There is not one person in the world who has never used bribery either consciously or subconsciously in a plot to obtain their desired outcome. Most of us justify our bribery as if it were a white lie, because the outcome is one that is beneficial to all involved. A mother who tells her son he has to eat his vegetables or he can't have desert. An employer who gives a large incentive for their employees to work hard. Is there a clear distinction between incentives and bribery? 

My postulation today is that bribery is a human technique that has always and will always be employed by some people in attempts to succeed. This does not make it acceptable and does not mean that one should not be angered by the fact that it increases injustice in the world. I just feel that it is worth remembering that bribery occurs all around us in "harmless" ways, and, that when we condemn the bribery used by others to impact people's actions, we should take a moment to think about how we use bribery within our own lives and actually whether this is always justifiable.

Kindling our Ner Tamid ...

It is day 3 of the Jewish festival of Chanukah, the festival of light, where one aspect that we celebrate is that enough oil to light the "Ner Tamid" (the everlasting light) for 1 day, burned brightly for 8. When we light the candles each night, I believe we are symbolising our internal fire, what makes us unique, our character traits that make us who we are and also who we want to be. These are the parts of ourselves we want to radiate out like a bright everlasting flame, the parts of ourselves that we want others to gain strength from and also the parts of ourselves that we rely on when situations are tough. At times through this bout of ill health, I feel my Ner Tamid has flickered. How can I kindle my internal fire to keep it burning brightly continuously? Or, actually is it healthy or normal for one to have what I claim to aim for? I feel I want strength. I want to be able to always put a brave face on to my family when they see me struggling in pain. When I falter, and I cry or lash out or look too unhappy, I feel weak and feel that I am making a situation, which I know is tremendously tough on them, even harder. Yet, I also think that getting upset and frustrated is a completely normal reaction to a frustrating predicament. I guess I am not even sure what I am searching for.

Whilst I am on the topic of lighting the Chanukah candles, a thought of mine, during yet another sleepless night, was that lighting the Menorah is also meant to be a reminder of every individual's role to kindle the Ner Tamid of every other human being. The light of the candles, as light awakens us in the morning, is also meant to awaken us to injustice in the world and to call on us to act on a cause that pulls at our heart. The night I had this thought was the night before World AIDs Day and despite huge advances in medicine available for people with HIV, only a third of the people requiring ARVs (anti-retroviral drugs) are receiving them. HIV has been a illness interesting me for a long time. I volunteered in an orphanage in Khayelitsha, a township in South Africa, where a significant proportion of the gorgeous children were HIV+ and required ARVs. Today has been a wake up call and a necessary one, it has reminded me of others who suffer. It is so easy when life is tough to forget other people's troubles and yet, when struggling yourself, it is just as important to remember.

A Rabbi, who I admire, told me that some ill people obtain meaning or acceptance of their situation by finding a way that in the future, when they are better they will use their experience to help others. I do not have the foggiest idea yet what that way will be. However, I feel that beginning to brainstorm ways that I can use this experience in a positive way may be the baby steps on the path to this "strength" I so desire and may even help curtain the frustration at the slow recovery process.

Day 38 of bed, bed and bed...

From the title of my first ever post on my first ever blog, one might be tempted to assume that I, like many 20 year old girls, am simply at university, reading a course advising 10 hours of contact time and on average attending a small fraction of them. However, "bed, bed and bed", rather than a luxury is for the 38th day a necessity. The intricate details of the tear in my annulus fibrosus of my L5/S1 intervertebral disc are tiresome. Yet, the practicalities of constant pain are something I have to face every minute of every day. From day 1 to 14, my walk can most closely be described as a waddling duck that then metamorphosed into "the SIMIAN posture", in other words a monkey. Now, after two procedures and intensive rehabilitation physiotherapy, I am now at the proud stage where I can honestly say I look like I am the Pink Panther attempting to rob a bank.

Leaving university for the rest of the academic year, spending the majority of all my days in bed (apart from exciting visits to hospital or physiotherapy) and at present seeing no present visible physical improvement has, as horribly cliche as it is, made me think. I am not a patient patient. I am a person with immense expectations of themself, probably unrealistically high. I am a person who normally deals with life's difficulties by remaining exceptionally busy and continuously having projects and targets and ambitions. At present, these goals and expectations have had to be put on hold. The question that I have been postulating for the last few days and that I am struggling regards strength. What is inner strength and how can one develop it?