Tuesday, 15 March 2011

Fruitless Frustration

Frustration, a feeling of dissatisfaction resulting from unfulfilled needs or unresolved problems, has unfortunately become my predominant state of mind. This agitation, which began to dominate my thought processes, seems somewhat ridiculous and ill timed. Now is the period of mobility, now is the time of physical progress, so why should now be the epoch of internal struggle? My attempts to debar these introspections failed miserably, and fruitless frustration continued to perturb my consciousness. It seemed embarrassing and humiliating to admit this weakness when I had formerly accepted family, friends, acquaintances and stranger’s blandishments regarding my strength and supposed lack of self-pity. Outsiders visit and visualize with voluptuous pleasure that I am now vertical. Yet, I view the virile visitor, and am reminded of my restrictions and restricted lifestyle.

Six months was my allowance, the time I had allocated as a health write off, no plans, no firm expectations and therefore minimal disappointment, or such was the theory. Yet, six months is three weeks away and I am far from exciting excursions and expeditions. On the day of my surgery, as electrodes were being forcefully glued onto head, furious phone calls to Wyndham’s theatre were distracting or diverting my attention. A hospital gown, white stockings and electrodes, causing my lustrous locks to be restyled into the coiffure of a mad scientist, were the perfect persuasive tools for my mother to buy tickets to see David Tennant and Catherine Tate in the Shakespeare play, Much Ado About Nothing. Yet, now the witty sparring between Benedick and Beatrice seems further away than Messina. I find my despondency over something as insignificant, in the scale of my life, as a theatre ticket, beyond ludicrous. I am sure that my surgeon would describe me as naïve and unrealistic to have set six months in stone and therefore in the words of Dogberry,

O that he were here to write me down an ass! But masters, remember that I am an ass. Though it be not written down, yet forget not that I am an ass.”

Thursday, 10 March 2011

90 Minutes/Days Of Agony

Last night was a rollercoaster of emotions, Spurs vs AC Milan, the match to secure Tottenham’s place in the last eight of the Champion’s League. I was expecting attack, excitement and goals to revel in. I was anticipating cheering and chanting.  I was prepared for action, activity and to see unexpected agility. Instead a tense, testing time elapsed, pushing the team in an unexpected direction, defence. Defence lacks the thrill and adventure of attack. Rather than pushing forward, we are forced to protect what we hold dear, and hope that it is enough to progress in the competition.

Like Spurs last night, defence is, at present, my only form of attack. Recovery has not been filled with goals or reasons to jump for joy, even if that were physically possible. It is instead a game of perseverance, a game requiring the back to stay strong, literally. The muscle cramps have set in, but in my game there are no substitutes. I am in the 52nd day of the match. At 90 days, the first twelve weeks are over and I qualify for the quarterfinals! Who knows what my players will have to face in the future, but Harry Redknapp, my rubicund manager, speaks for all the team when he says,

It's been a great adventure and we want more of it. We want to see if we can go all the way."

Tuesday, 22 February 2011

Becoming Public Property

Each morning my attire is chosen, with painstaking deliberation, to cover my branding brace. If the corset is concealed, the illness is invisible, or so the theory goes. Yet, however ingenious the amalgamation of apparel, the disguise always fails and spine-suffering Sophie surfaces. It is the small transitional movements that betray me, revealing the difficulty I have manoeuvring my body. Levering myself into a sitting position causes eyes to swivel and stare, and arising is even worse, it provokes expressions of pity!  For some mysterious reason, having a visible physical difficulty makes you public property. Strangers on the street will approach and ask personal, health-related questions.

“Ah, a back problem?” says a self-righteous unknown. I reply with a feeble mumble in the affirmative, whilst attempting to dampen my desire to absquatulate. Even at this early stage, I can prognosticate with surprising accuracy the continuation of the conversation.  “Oh, I know what that feels like” they continue. Inside, a well-rehearsed response is about to erupt. How can this impertinent individual claim empathy with no knowledge of my spinal history or symptoms? I bottle up the vapours of anger and annoyance and listen, feigning interest, to their entire medical history. It is evident that their intent is to offer solace and provide hope. However, unfortunately these passersby vocalise my fears, they remind me of how far I still have to traverse on my road to recovery.

Friday, 18 February 2011

Think Osteoblast Thoughts

At present my future lies in the hands of a bunch of microscopic osteoblasts. These osteoid secreting, bone-forming cells must awaken from their slumber and become work obsessive-compulsive machines to form a brand new bone, a stable bridge between my vertebrae and my sacrum. My surgeon has implanted the core materials and it is up to these immature cells to build this vital link in my spine. In a small percentage of people, the osteoblasts are work shy or incompetent, or have some other character trait renders them ineffective at building this feat of engineering. I am determined not to be included within this minority and must therefore find methods of encouraging the proletariat of my cells. Without the incentives of pensions, healthcare or free gym membership, I have resorted to calcium payments. Who knows if calcium is even the right currency? With no scientific certainties to hand, I must just think osteoblast thoughts!

Monday, 14 February 2011

The Report

Butterflies of apprehension fluttered as I furiously knitted in the hospital waiting room. The clicking of my needles, the ticking of the clock, the tapping of a keyboard, these regular sounds reverberating at an exasperating intensity in my head. Until this morning, I could truthfully announce that I was a champion at recovery from anterior lumbar interbody fusion and disc replacement. This statement, rather than being deducted using statistical evidence, was purely based on the facts that I am now walking and also know no other post-operative patients to compare myself to. Each week I have been able to revel in palpable improvements, be they monumental or minuscule. However, today my whole being was to be evaluated by an objective, knowledgeable man who knew me literally inside out. Attempts to inveigle my surgeon would be fruitless. Excellent, very good, satisfactory, poor or lost cause, how would I be ranked?

I strutted down the catwalk towards my designer’s office, flaunting one back from his recent collection. Once inside, I was confronted with images of myself from all angles. Using these rather flattering X-rays, it was explained that the positioning of the metal cage, bone graft, triangular plate, and all the other elements of the intricate, bionic woman design, were as hoped. It seemed the design was perfect, my nerves simply had to adjust and accept this drastic makeover. However, my nerves are unfortunately stubborn, old-fashioned things, who due to their wary, reluctant ways are only recovering at a satisfactory rate. Will they rise to the challenge and escape their caged existence or return to their old painful ways? 

Sunday, 13 February 2011

The Children’s Exodus

Whilst cautiously edging towards the steps, eyes transfixed on the water hazard of a floor and spine attempting balance in its unfused, unsupported state, my brain had little space to take note of the squealing, squelching, splashing, and screaming that my auditory system was desperately attempting to relay. Boisterous babies and troublesome tots littered the pool. Interspersed in this mayhem were the praising parents who cooed and crowed at their child’s leg kicking and arm splaying. As I reached the steps, the realisation that there was no position that would avoid either a stomach or back attack, by a small, movement flaunting toddler, seated in my mind.  The main area of the swimming pool had become a claustrophobic cage of bodies, and in order to reach the safe haven of the adult only slow lane, I would have to manoeuvre my way through this wriggling, writhing obstacle course without so much as a foot in my stomach. Impossible it did but seem.

After prolonged hesitation on my part, my mother (Moses) stepped into cool, crowded waters and the sea of red armbands began to part. Hastily following, in the newly formed clearing, I reached the safety of the swimming lanes without so much as bruise or blemish. I began to walk, each step placing the enslavement, by my corrupt spine, further into the past. At one o’clock, a mass exodus of children took place. It was as if the Pied Piper had arrived and lured them away with his magic pipe. A stream of miniature swimsuits skipped out of sight. Peace and quiet reigned over the remaining fully grown individuals and it was clear that I was not alone in my opinion of silence, after an encounter with a multitude of minors, being one of the highest desiderata. 

Wednesday, 9 February 2011


This morning during my constitutional walk on the Heath, I came to the realisation that to be accepted in the world of daytime strolls in the boondocks of London, a dog is a necessity. The inclusion of a lead in your attire provides a valid explanation, to the weekday women who frequent the great outdoors, as to why you are there.  The breed, size or age is of little consequence, as you possess the key unlocking the door to the secret garden of the dog walking, puppy loving and canine obsessed. Within these walls people are known by the name, breed and personality of their dog, and judged accordingly.

It is hard enough to shuffle down the path devoid of a barking companion and a poop-a-scoop, let alone have a back break on a brown bench. Today I was ever so tempted to call out to my imaginary dog, to provide the required justification for my regular presence on the Heath. A short cry to Buster my lost dog and all would be forgiven. I would be welcomed into this strange social network, no longer awkward and out of place sitting on a park bench or ambling along the avenue. Find me my lost dog!

The Miracle Of Walking In Water

A pool in North-West London may not have the same mythical resonances or be viewed with the same awe as the Sea of Galilee; however today I survived the smooth, slippery surfaces of the poolside, braced the goose-pimpleing, teeth chattering and lip discolouring temperatures and walked in water. People’s inquisitive stares, whether real or simply a figment of my imagination, required more determination and control to stride through, than the dense, undulating, chlorinated water.  Despite gravity’s endeavours to keep me rooted in one position, four fabulous lengths were achieved, thus creating a buoyant mood to accompany my buoyancy.

It is so dreadfully easy to only remember the trials and tribulations, the pain and the exhaustion, of a day. Clouds of but a few water droplets can roll in at a moments notice and block the rays of sunshine from view. This afternoon’s low stratiform clouds of neuropathic pain not only obscured this morning’s accomplishments, but also were so low as to form an all-encompassing fog. Pregabalin or Oxynorm, Pregabalin or Oxynorm, I vacillated between the two. Which of these two most powerful potions would clear the storm clouds? Unable to reach a decision, both were consumed. Within the hour, the winds turned, the weather forecasters were proved wrong, the skies cleared and my miracle of walking in water shone forth.

Sunday, 6 February 2011

The Recovery Of My Ravenous Requirements

Recovery is a frustrating and often disheartening expedition. The goal is known and believed to be attainable, but the timescale is long and highly variable. Some days the achievements are obvious, champagne-celebrating events, such as the first walk around the block, the first shower unaided or the first time my clothes were self-applied. From this viewpoint I am a thriving woman, constantly improving, constantly progressing and constantly having cause to celebrate. Unfortunately, I am disgracefully impatient and although able to recognise these acts as stepping-stones towards my dream, I am horrendously, mind-numbingly and irritatingly bored. An estimated three to six months is a dreadfully long time for one’s whole purpose, one’s whole existence, one’s whole life to be focussed on “getting better”. I would love my actions to be according to Immanuel Kant’s words,

So act that your principle of action might safely be made a law for the whole world.”

The principle of action behind my daily routine of exercise, food and then rest repeated three times could safely be made law. It does not offend, does not require money, and is considered most healthy by medical professionals. My sole intentions have been physical progress and this would form a most uninteresting decree, neither ameliorating nor damaging the world. My ravenous requirements have recently recovered, I now long and desire for more than the right of return of my legs. I need new ambitions and projects that are achievable in the interim between ill health and health, mental as well as physical stimulation. The recovery of my former life is the new hurdle.

Thursday, 3 February 2011


My latest online discovery is a fabulous, fantastical website with the power of the TARDIS. It can transport through time and space at the click of a button, whilst toying with emotions with a sublime subtlety. The TARDIS I describe is the Google Art Project and the Doctor this morning was no longer David Tennant or even Matt Smith, it was Sophie Adler.

Traversing through the Pre-Raphaelite works, I stumbled upon Millais’s Ophelia, an enthralling depiction still mesmerising from a 13” laptop. Poignant, pretty and poetic flowers surround Ophelia. Her emotions are exposed, each lying in a different state of life or dormancy. Nettles growing around willow branches to symbolise pain, the presence of forget-me-nots, sorrow expressed in a floating pheasant’s eye, each perfectly painted for a purpose. The nettles still had an ability to sting me despite their brushstroke existence. With no dock leaf to hand, I was forced to endure the plague of agitation caused by an injection of histamine by team of trichromes. Perhaps my emotions are just as discernable as Ophelia’s and the problem is my inability to identify the flowers. No knowledge of the name or genus and the flower or the feeling is impossible to classify, nurture or prune. If I were a horticulturalist would I still find other’s flowers more manageable and beautiful than my own untamed, undistinguishable collection? 

Tuesday, 1 February 2011


I believe that there are two types of competitive people in the world. The first category includes the individuals with a manic motivation to outcompete others. Compelled to conquer, vigilant until victorious, these merciless mortals are driven by need, want and wish to succeed, and success is defined in relation to fellow hominids. The second category is those hapless humans with an unquenchable thirst to achieve. This craving is insatiable as its source is the realisation of the permanent undernourishment and underuse of their own potential. In fact, there are many people who perhaps have elements from both classes within their character, and switch according to situation. I, however, most frequently frequent the latter class. Never interested, stimulated or personally propelled by inclusion in team sports or team anything for that matter, my goad has always been competition against my only truly fair opponent, me. This most probably originated due to abysmal ability and horrendous humiliation in the world of primary school netball, and was further cultivated by carefully contrived excuses to then avoid group games. Presently my competitive nature is restless and impatient and has resorted to manifesting itself in the most peculiar ways.

Throughout my hospitalization, my arterial blood was lazy, lackadaisical and lethargic, resulting in frustratingly low systolic blood pressures. This hypotension was most inconvenient, as every attempt to mobilize was impeded by a temporary rush of heat, loss of hearing and feeling of faintness. The new competition, the new desperation, the new focus was for my blood to just be aggressive enough to exceed a systolic pressure of 100mmHg. Each time the cuff was wrapped around my diminutive bicep, I would silently plead for my desired result. I am proud to announce that the most recently recorded blood pressure was a whopping 104/54. My blood is once again winning one of my internal races. It is applying enough force as it leaves my heart to prevent the onset of a series of unpleasant symptoms. Now that blood has been dealt with, the question is, will muscle, gut or skin be the organ of my next challenge?

Sunday, 30 January 2011


Losing is a concept that is formidable, foreign, distressing and perhaps even depressing. I do not aim to appear arrogant, egotistic or haughty, but the emotions surrounding losing have been, until now, unknown to me. Health difficulties have, if anything, provided a driving force, a motivation, an impetus to succeed. Illness has most probably been, throughout my teenage years, my catalyst. All the necessary chemical ingredients have always been present, good education, reasonably well-functioning brain, supportive parents, etc., and yet hospital or the threat of hospital has either initiated or accelerated the reaction without itself being affected. My life is dictated by a desperate need to overcome any health imperfections and still be successful in my endeavours, pursuits and dreams. Regular, uncontrollable inflammation and tightening of my airways never acquired the privilege or right to fully disrupt my academic or social life. It is unfortunate that my lungs have still not realised that all their attacks have been thwarted, or they may have ceased their incessant attempts to cause chaos, complications and commotion.

This spinal situation is my first encounter of losing anything much more than a game of scrabble. In scrabble, you spend the entirety of the thrilling, exasperating exploration of the possibilities of language concentrating on, arranging and finally placing your limited letters. Of course, one contemplates the potentiality that they have misplaced or misused their letters, but hopefully one is also fairly confident that they have played some of the better, higher scoring and more aesthetically pleasing combinations. The difficulty arises when all your seven letters are vowels or all are consonants. In any assortment an impressive score is nearing impossible, too many good letters or too many bad. In many respects, scrabble is a microcosm of life. My spinal problems are akin to having two Vs as part of my small selection of letters. I am no cruciverbalist and therefore despite my greatest efforts I was unable to play my two Vs. I had no choice but to exchange letters, miss a turn and take a year out of university. The joy is, once the terribly troublesome decision to exchange letters is reached, the probability of once again picking two Vs is infinitesimally small. New tiles are selected, new opportunities are seen and winning is once again attainable. 

Saturday, 29 January 2011

The Palaver of Venturing Outdoors

The back corset was meticulously arranged. Velcro faces inched slowly closer together until vis à vis. A snug, supportive fit desirable, yet completely impossible. Too tight or too loose, too high or too low, no position would satisfy. Perhaps it was nerves or lack of confidence preventing the perfect application of my new, necessary accessory, or perhaps it truly was incorrectly applied. Finally a compromise was reached, which still allowed respiratory function, yet required increased energy input. To hide the unfashionable, uncomfortable and currently unrefined bulk of black material, velcro and elastic, I added layer upon layer of winter clothing. It has been three months since I have braved the chill or fought the wind and the temperature is that much more biting and I am that much weaker, that much less able to protect my core. Enclosed in a wrapping consisting of faux fur, wool, acrylic and cotton, zipped into sturdy leather boots and topped in a homemade headband, I was ready to venture outdoors.

Externally policed on either side by protective parents and internally regulated by punishing pains, the walk began. Every step taken was a success, an achievement, a milestone, but I was incapable of celebration as every metre forward meant a compulsory 100cm in the opposite direction. The walk, despite the company, was as Thomas Hobbes in his book Leviathan, 1651, describes mankind, "solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short". However, that is not to say I did not enjoy it. The increasing distance my legs will carry me is empowering, energizing and encouraging. Yet, like many aspects of life, these triumphant, enthusiastic perceptions are those of hindsight, those occurring after the activity and recovery are complete. I am hopeful that in time, the actual journey will be as invigorating as the recollection.  

Friday, 28 January 2011


It was a beautiful awakening, I could hear the bird’s singing (other patient’s buzzers ringing) and the whistling wind flurrying through the forest (the nurses hurrying through the corridor). All was appreciated, as it would be the last time these sounds would resonate in my ears. Today I am being discharged! I will, having been wheeled in just under two weeks ago, proudly stride out of the hospital on my now feeble legs. Armed with a raised toilet seat, a sponge on a stick, for washing those places out of arms reach, a socker, so that socks may be part of my attire, and most importantly my grabber that allows me to pretend to be Gregory House and also rather usefully aids the collection of all my fallen items, I will be unstoppable. Undoubtedly, I am delighted; desperate and driven to leave the shelter of the hospital and attempt independence, yet also absolutely petrified.

The hospital day is structured and manageable, everything I require being within reaching or walking distance.  In this safe setting I now appear healthy and “normal”, and yet, I know that as soon as I depart, I will regain the label of an invalid. This classification will hopefully be temporary, but I have thoroughly enjoyed being the biggest fish in the sea rather than the minnow in the able-bodied world. I now suffer from agoraphobia, fear of open spaces, fear of the wider world and fear of my ability to cope in it.

What a comfort my buzzer has been for the past 12 days. Knowing that if anything is amiss, a simple extension of my arm followed by minimal pressure on an orange button, and someone will come and check, sort or call for help. My buzzer has remained motionless and silent for two or three days, a further indication that I am ready, recovered and restored to the extent of being adequately fit to leave. I am fortunate enough that my family and friends will replace the nurses, physiotherapists and doctors. They will support, aid and encourage me in the next phase of my recovery. The transition will be difficult and draining, but I must hold on to the fact that although I will no longer have a physical orange button, my orange button will still be fully functioning. There will still be people who will come running at the sound of my buzzer. 

Wednesday, 26 January 2011

Boredom, a Symptom of the Healthy

I am perhaps one of but a few individuals who are today content or even delighted to be experiencing boredom. Now that I am of the peripatetic persuasion, I have visualised and explored every inch of my hospital room and corridor. I have snooped, peered and busybodied as much as is possible within the realms of acceptability. I have knitted, played online scrabble, written, watched TV and browsed online shopping, exhausting all of my sedentary occupying activities, and all within two days of feeling alive. Of course I could excavate further to uncover more hidden activities for the supine me, but I am like a little child with a new toy, all other activities, except walking, now fall short. They no longer have the same power, influence or dynamism that they held in the past. Knitting as exciting as walking again, I think not. I now desperately desire to see beyond the corridor, to continue to test myself. The never-ending corridor, which 10 days ago I was wheeled down, is now too short, too safe, too mundane. This boredom is a new phenomenon. Who has time to be bored when they are ill? We are constantly busy frantically fighting against symptoms or stigmas. It is only once we begin on the return journey towards our norm that suddenly the challenges we once faced are now but minor obstacles. Boredom requires energy, composure and higher aspirations. Boredom is a symptom of the healthy.

Tuesday, 25 January 2011

First Steps

My first greatly overdue venture into the unknown world of the hospital corridor could by no means be described accurately as a walk. It was a triumphal procession with me as Victoria the pasty queen. I led my admiring entourage, consisting of my ladies in waiting (mother and sister), who carried my throne (“just in case I faint” chair) and my sceptre (drip stand), and my beloved Albert (the physiotherapist), upon whom I gently rested my arm and listened to wise counsel, out of my palace. As my toes tentatively edged forwards, adoring crowds (the nurses) clapped and whooped and cheered. A smile, a facial expression I thought was all but forgotten, slowly emerged on my face. At first it was merely a twitch, weighed down by a week of unfortunate occurrences. As the crowds clapping crescendoed, my lips quivered, trembled, flickered. How would they ever overcome the avoirdupois of my cheerless cheeks? Yet, my not long ago lifeless and now lively lips prevailed and lifted victorious. A smile, a simple upward curvature of the lips, and a whole face, a whole body is rejuvenated. The contagious nature of the smile rendering those who love us just as susceptible, just as likely to receive that well needed boost. One smile and possibilities, ideas, dreams can once again begin to be formulated, planned and imagined. A step, something taken for granted in most people’s days, and yet, in just some people somewhere that one step is a mountain, an opening of a world, a beginning. 

Monday, 24 January 2011

The Tumultuous Occasion of Being Tube Free

The last chain shackling my limp body to the mechanical prison, which has been my bed for eight disturbing, disastrous and downright dreadful days has finally been broken. Every tube, be it a saline drip, catheter or even marvellous morphine has been discarded. I am a free woman, which is rather lucky as all the veins in my arms have been bludgeoned, strangled or stabbed, unfortunately resulting in their ultimate demise. William Wordsworth most adequately expresses my emotions surrounding the addition of each cannula, tube and machine that became a necessary attachment to my body,

Shades of the prison-house begin to close
Upon the growing Boy,”

More tubes, more machines meant more complications, more time in the day when I was no longer living, just purely existing. Today, however, I truly believe I have turned the corner. I will be remaining in the realm of the living. I will have the energy to write ridiculously overdue, verbose responses to my friends. I will don day clothes (with the assistance of some exciting old-lady gadgets) and the nightdress ghost, neither alive nor dead, who has been my persona for the last week, will be consigned to the benthic depths of myself. I will, at long last, be able to look outside the window into the lives of friends, family and acquaintances, no longer solely absorbed in my own difficulties.

Saturday, 22 January 2011

No Longer Human

This last week managed to finagle me of one of my most basic rights, being me.  The surgeon unfortunately removed more than just the degenerated discs in my spine. The surgery consumed my personality, my energy, my ability to converse and even my capacity to engage. Until today, I was not a human. My body was a bruised and painful shell that had lost its core. I was empty. My parents would spend hours sitting by my bed, with no guarantee that I would recollect any of it. During these endless days of nothingness I lived between my symptoms of pain, nausea, muscle spasms, weakness, fainting. The simplest routine that defines every human’s life is eating and going to the toilet and yet even of this I was dispossessed.  Tubes of blood, saline, morphine etc. completed these tasks, as I lay discombobulated, fearing the next symptom I would have to endure.

Today is the first day I have had the faintest ability to think. Still weak, still tired, still relatively immobile but I have regained my mind. I was strong enough to write this probably dire, grammatically appalling and completely incomprehensible post. I was strong enough to see my aunt, uncle and brother. I was also, most impressively, strong enough to stand up and sit for fifteen minutes in the chair next to my bed. These are small achievements on what will be a very slow and arduous journey, but perhaps I am at least at the base camp of this journey. The emotions of the previous days caught up with me, and the lyrics to the Leonard Cohen’s magnificent song “So Long, Marianne” kept replaying in my head,

“Now so long, Marianne, it’s time that we began
To laugh and cry and laugh about it all again”

I have not yet reached the stage where I can laugh about it but today I have certainly cried and cried and cried about it all again.

Sunday, 16 January 2011

Hospital vs. Hotspur

It is terrible timing and extremely inconvenient that today, of all days, I have been admitted for preoperative tests and observations. The implications of being imprisoned in a hospital bed, when a match of astronomic proportions is in play, for reasons unbeknown to me were not taken into consideration. I am fortunate enough that I have access to Sky Sports and could lie wearing my Tottenham shirt in hospital. It is however, a complete travesty that when a nurse was attempting to inform me of potentially vital information my attention was somewhat diverted to Raphael’s abominable tackles.  How can one possibly concentrate fully on either the nurse or the commentary?  From four until six this afternoon, the real match was Hospital vs. Hotspur. Lets just hope and pray that the surgeon and team do not have similar distractions tomorrow…

Saturday, 15 January 2011

Baggage – Emotional and Otherwise…

It is the eve before I depart the world that I have fashioned for myself and relocate to a hospital bed. For the past two and a half months I have, in effect, been designing my ideal surroundings, choosing the parts of the outside world that I consider beautiful, humorous, interesting, spiritual or indubitably necessary. These judgements have even extended to selecting the people who could enter my haven. Each day would replay itself with only slight variations in the dramatis personae, and it was these variations that carried the ability to disport me away from the trepidations that lingered within.

How can one decide which are the core elements of their world that hold all the other pieces together? It is these items that I must pack for my voyage. These are the components that will prevent me from collapsing and letting the nightmares take over. These are the molecules I will so desperately require and yet I offer no solutions as to what those molecules are. I am at a loss as to what to pack emotionally. I need only remain strong for two more days and then all the fears regarding surgery will dissipate. Thenceforth it will be a challenge that awaits, a competition each day to exceed the achievements of the previous day, the quest I have long been awaiting.

Friday, 14 January 2011

Chicken Soup the Perfect Panacea

The Guardian newspaper included an article yesterday that was music to my mother’s ears. It was a repetition of my grandmother’s incessant nagging for me to eat, especially the likes of chicken soup, gefilte fish and strudel. The article included the line,“Can anyone make better chicken soup than a Jewish mother, and can a good one really cure colds and soothe all ills?”

Since yesterday, I have been forced onto a light soup and salad diet in anticipation of the upcoming event. Of course, the minute I am denied all of my guilty culinary pleasures, suddenly after weeks of minimal consumption, I acquire an appetite and desire a meal of substance. I prefer to regard the “upcoming event”, which I am dieting for, as the fitting of my back corset rather than the surgery. If one has to wear a medical back corset, I am of the opinion that it will be aesthetically less ghastly in a petite size.  There has been many a speculation as to of what this back corset will comprise and its effect on my semblance. Will I be transported in the tardis, alongside David Tennant, into a period drama where I will attain a minuscule waist, with the minor inconvenience of an inability to breathe, or will I mimic Frankenstein?

In accordance with doctor’s orders, my renowned grandmother’s orders and the Guardian’s suggestion, tonight I will be slowly sipping chicken soup. Between the powerful combination of surgery and soup, my shuffle will have no choice but to switch into a stroll.

Thursday, 13 January 2011

Losing the Internal Traffic Light

I have reached the unfortunate conclusion that I suffer from periods of internal daltonism. I must firstly stress that this cothurnal condition of internal colour blindness is a complete invention and holds no scientific merit. It assumes the presence of an internal traffic light that monitors when thoughts are eligible to be expressed. When the internal traffic light is red, the thought is inappropriate, rude, irrelevant, aggressive, inflammatory, trivial or simply horrifically embarrassing. The red light prevents this thought from erupting from my lips and keeps it safely contained from causing damage. At the other extreme, when the thought is interesting, mindless, caring, intelligent, mildly witty or simply harmless, the vocal cords are free to vibrate at their preferable frequency and words can stream freely. The difficulty arises when the traffic light is amber, when the thought’s effect if vocalised is ambiguous and therefore difficult to determine. This is where the arrogant, careless, stressed or impatient drivers hurry forward, desperate for their thought to be articulated despite the potential risks.

In episodes of pain, my internal daltonism manifests itself. I am unable to prevent the expression of the pugnacious thoughts from the kind, the hateful from the loving and the intolerable from the tolerable. I am internally colour blind, incompetent at distinction and the words that erupt can be those capable of spontaneous combustion. The loss of my internal traffic light is a loss of oratory control and it is potentially more emotionally damaging than the loss of my physical control.

Temporary internal daltonism is a state that affects every individual at particular instances, and affects certain individuals to a greater extent. During these afflictions, we say what we ought not and what we may not even truly mean, and then have to struggle with their consequences. Our words have the power to bully, to anger or to upset and often they even contradict sentiments expressed on other occasions. One source of comfort, for me, regarding the hasty, insensitive, rash and unrefined extravasations that have occurred to loved ones is a line by Blaise Pascal,

“Contradiction is not a sign of falsity, nor the lack of contradiction a sign of truth.”

Wednesday, 12 January 2011

Flattery beyond any Cognitive Fantasy

Yesterday commenced with an unfortunate period of hours where I was feeling too ill to even articulate my illness. Coping mechanisms, such as writing, are my lifeline to escape drowning in the pain, and yet I was in too much pain to reach the keyboard of my computer, my lifejacket. It was a vicious circle in which my dendroid dendrites dragged me deep into the depths in a despicable endeavour at destruction. My Corrugator Supercilli was continuously contracted, inducing my face to adopt an almighty grimace.

My journey to dry land commenced with the lifejacket being physically forced upon me by the wonderful woman who was not deterred by the stormy seas of sickness, which were unfortunately literal. On the still perilous lifeboat, accompanied by lifelong friends and a man of overflowing heart, the seas began to calm. These gems of evolution, who have the ability to completely transform my emotional state, have held me throughout all my treacherous ventures, carrying me when my legs will no longer walk. The culmination of this trek, finally arriving at dry land, included a tide of greetings, orchestrated by none other than Stephen Fry, from sympathetic strangers.

I am now at the receiving end of excess adulation and a stream of incredibly thoughtful compliments. This flattery is beyond my wildest cognitive fantasy! Limning the effect of one line of prose by a man of such calibre is utterly impossible. However, Ralph Waldo Emerson (writer and philosopher 1803-1882) expresses most perfectly my sentiments regarding all the beautiful comments I have received.

“We love flattery, even though we are not deceived by it, because it shows that we are of importance enough to be courted.”

Monday, 10 January 2011

The Removal of my Woolly Jumper

Gyles Brandreth, whilst on Radio 4’s Desert Island Discs, in the most splendidly English accent, eloquently articulated an anecdote from his first day in the House of Commons.

“John Prescott clocked me, lent forward and muttered “woolly jumper .. hahaha”. I was thrown. He kept this up, and eventually I had to point out to Mr Prescott that the joy of a woolly jumper is that you can take it off at will, whereas the blight of a woolly mind is that you’re lumbered with it for life.”

At first, I found this quote to be extremely amusing and a slight insight into the jovial and witty elements of parliament. It was a glimpse into an area that I had always assumed to be solely intimidating, sombre and austere, and it was refreshing for these unfounded presumptions to be rendered incorrect.

As my day continued, the Desert Island Disc’s podcast was but a hazy memory. I could no longer remember Gyles Brandreth’s song choices or the names of his apparently completely marvellous children. I could, however, recall with clarity his words regarding the woolly jumper. They had a profound effect on me, providing me with new emotional strength and also acceptance of who I am today. This newfound strength must also be partially attributed to the clamorous cohort who invaded my bedroom, and provided a wonderful evening of distraction last night.

Today I am wearing a woolly jumper, and it is itchy, ugly and tight. However in one week, at precisely this time, I will be undergoing my operation, and this painful woolly jumper will be removed, and hopefully it will never be worn again. I am permitting myself the arrogance to express that I may be enduring a woolly jumper, but at least I am not enduring "the blight of a woolly mind".

Sunday, 9 January 2011

What a Waste of a Waist!

Tonight some trusty Achates will surround me and I feel this overwhelming desire to perform some type of tribal ceremonial farewell to my unscathed, untouched abdominal region. This solemn ritual would have to include rambunctious chanting whilst they circle my bed as if I were a spiritual bonfire and each person in turn will have to admire and pay homage to my stomach.

It is in many ways ironic that I am presently mourning the upcoming loss of my “flawless” midriff. I have embellished and misrepresented this area of my body, treating it now as if it were my defining physical feature. I did, in fact, spend the majority of my teenage years moaning and lamenting over its size, lack of muscle or pastiness. Before a party, I admit to adopting a Bridget Jones’ approach and squeezing into “Ultimate Magic Support Waist Cinchers”. On the beach, I was often the girl who quickly removed her sarong, hid her flab with her arms and sprinted into the sea in an attempt to avoid onlookers. However, I currently waste more time agonising about my abdomen and browsing vintage or fashionable high-waisted swimwear than struggling with my immobility or the risks of my surgery! Although there is a large part of me that is disgusted by my superficial obsession and believes that grounding is necessary, would it be better to be permanently thinking about the most serious and pressing issue of the present, surgery? It is, by all means, a waste of a waist.

Saturday, 8 January 2011


Stitch ‘N Bitch is an exceptionally appropriate book I have been lent. “It’s the essential guide for chicks with sticks”. As well as providing Christmas and Chanukah presents without having to grapple with the gaggles of citizens who morph into monstrous creatures around the festive period, knitting is an exquisite form of pain management. I also believe it has helped to control the cabin fever that did, at times, overwhelm me. The optimal concoction for distraction is for me to be furiously stitching and for a friend to be bitching ad infinitum. How could one possibly remember trivialities, such as degenerative intervertebral discs and major surgery in one week, one day and 17 hours 30minutes (to be approximate), during the former combination?

As I am wheeled off to the operating theatre, my mother will tease my needles from my hands, only for needles to be replaced in my hands minutes later by the anaesthetist. Stitch ‘N Bitch is, in fact, probably exactly what the surgeon, anaesthetist and team will be doing. Surgery is, in effect, just a slightly more highly regarded form of needlework and everyone knows, due to the accuracy of information in TV programmes such as Grey’s Anatomy and House, that all conversation during surgery is gratuitous gossip and bitching. It is therefore a logical conclusion that supplementary to the role of knitting in my life as a form of analgesia, knitting is a necessary and useful preparation for my potential surgical career!

Friday, 7 January 2011

The Charivari of Friday Night Dinner

Friday night dinner at the Karp-Adler’s is usually a cacophony of sound.  If only one solo voice can be heard, unlike “normal” families, something is seriously wrong. Shabbat dinner is an opportunity to exercise the volume of one’s vocals and one must shout above the others in order to be heard. There are, of course, diminuendos during the evening, but these are short lived as numerous discussions occur simultaneously. There is no formal etiquette of speaking solely to those positioned on either side or opposite you and it is perfectly legitimate to shout across the table, hop between conversations or interrupt others. When you have grown up within this variety of family, you believe it to be the archetype and know no different. Babble and bustle is homely and commonplace.

I have only truly appreciated how much of an integral part of me this obstreperous discourse is since I have been removed from it. Tonight when my family entertains, although every individual will visit me and amuse me, I will be upstairs and everyone else will be eating downstairs. I will hear the commotion, but be too far away to understand it. However, if the flurry of excitement were to be brought upstairs, it would be overwhelming. There is no pleasing me. This period of ill health has made feel, in many ways, like a young child again. In my constant dependence on others, and also, in that terrible feeling of being left out. The noise may be unruly and dissonant, but it is a part of my family and my culture that I love and sincerely miss. 

Thursday, 6 January 2011

Was I to be taken to the ball…

Yesterday, my fairy godmother (aka my surgeon) turned a pumpkin into a coach (a wheelchair), transformed my rags into a spectacular gown (a beautiful backless hospital gown with coordinating, one size fits all paper knickers) and glamorously laboured over my hair and makeup (injected one of my intervertebral discs with local anaesthetic). Until midnight, when the spell would be broken (the anaesthetic would wear off), I was expecting to be Cinderella. I would be pain free and more mobile. I would prance with the Prince (my dad) and be liberated from my evil stepsisters (my evil intervertebral discs). I would be taken to the ball!

Unfortunately this expectation was a fairytale and fairytales very rarely materialise. My evil stepsisters did have a fleeting lull in their malicious schemes to cause agony. They did, however, replace these noxious strategies with a successful alternative mode of intervention, completely numbing my right leg so that it was rendered totally useless. Yesterday may not have let me shimmy at the shindig or boogie at the ball, but it did at least post me the invitation. It was the final confirmation that the major surgery is the slipper that fits my spine perfectly. My surgeon will be my fairy godmother, although I will have to wait a week and a half for him to wave his magic wand and the ball will be a few months off. 

Wednesday, 5 January 2011

A Category Mistake

The night before going into hospital for a procedure is, in many respects, like the night before an exam. No matter how many herbal teas, soothing audiobooks read by Stephen Fry, or different positions, sleep is as remote as the sentence “colourless green ideas sleep furiously” making any sense. “Colourless green ideas sleep furiously” was an example, used by Noam Chomsky, of a category mistake. It is a sentence that is grammatically correct but has no discernable meaning.  Regarding by capabilities to sleep last night, I was a category mistake. Logically, there was no physiological incapacity in my body to cause insomnia, I was grammatically correct, and yet, sleep was impossible.  By the time the conventional hours of awakening had arrived, I was totally discombobulated by the distressing night. The result was the defenestration of the majority of my pillows and the formation of my duvet into a state of dismal disarray. My bedroom reflected the character that had developed during the dark hours.

I find it disconcerting how I can have heard the bell chime for every hour of the night, proving that my lids did not droop for longer than 59 minutes at a stretch, and yet, have a nebulous recollection of the whole experience. The night seemed to drag on forever, although now that it is daybreak, I have no idea where those hours disappeared.  I was already worried about how I might conduct myself, under sedation, towards the surgeon, anaesthetist and surgical technicians, when they provoke piercing pain to surge throughout my lower limbs. Now that the pain will be combined with the cantankerous result of lack of sleep, my worry has augmented to terror. 

Tuesday, 4 January 2011

A Day of Dramatic Decisions

Having only been awake for but a few hours, it feels as if my whole world has changed course. My precatory proposal to my surgeon, using my limited anatomical knowledge, to attempt to avoid entering the operating theatre tomorrow has dismally failed.  It is absolutely absurd the extent to which I had convinced myself that my preposterous pitch would be successful, especially considering I am a girl who has accomplished only one year of studying medicine.

The second bullet of the day was one that should not have, by any means, been a shock. It was exactly what I had spent the interim between Christmas and New Year claiming to be my utmost desire. This interim is, by the way, a void for people requiring medical attention and my advice would be to attempt, at all costs, to abstain from procuring an illness or infection during the festive season.  My appeal for my monumental surgery to be brought sooner has come to fruition! However, my mind is now at a loss as to where even to begin its journey of cognisance and realisation. My brain appears to have partially disintegrated. It is unable to excogitate anything other than the unnecessary and superficial. These include analysing the pros and cons of my different bed-wear, in consideration of the visitors I may be encountering, excitedly contemplating the facial and pedicure I am having this evening, and admiring the amazing yellow teasub I now own, which infuses a mug with tea leaves without the need of a teapot!  A day of dramatic decisions and I am emotionally and mentally blank regarding them all. 

Monday, 3 January 2011

Terrible Temptations

I am beset by overwhelming tendencies to pursue detrimental pastimes. I keep succumbing to these terrible temptations. The temptations I refer to are activities I instinctively perform in the complete knowledge that they will cause me distress, melancholy and often tears, with no obvious positive outcomes. Listening to horrifically depressing music such as Bon Iver and some Leonard Cohen, obsessively researching and analysing the risks of a surgery I have no choice but to undergo and facebook stalking photos of friends from parties and events I am unable to attend are but a few of these puerile actions. I always blame my enslavement to examining my surgery in excruciating detail on “scientific curiosity”, but this may just be a way to excuse a morbid fascination. 

Why do people succumb to detrimental temptations? Why can I not simply stare at beautiful flowers, listen to joyful music, eat solely healthy food, always say helpful and kind words to those around me, consistently give 100% in all my endeavours, continuously be thankful for all by blessings etc. etc. Well, wouldn’t I then be the most dreadfully dull person? Perhaps it is one’s fallibilities that make them unique and interesting, or perhaps, that is simply what one exclaims to excuse them.

Sunday, 2 January 2011

Splendid Souls

I have been reading some quotes by the wondrous and spectacular artist Vincent van Gogh. Unbeknown to him, his creativity has miraculously had the power to ensorcell a tremendous number of individuals, including me. As with anything and everything we embrace in life, one cannot help but relate or compare it to our own view of existence and of truth. Vincent van Gogh suffered terribly from mental illness and the quotes I have read reflect this. Some of his words have the capacity to explain my thoughts most eloquently, and others, I find, are completely contradictory to my own experience and exploration of life.

This arduous episode has highlighted the beauty of so many people and “The more I think about it, the more I realise there is nothing more truly artistic than to love others.” I am endlessly amazed by how enterprising, considerate and attentive so many individuals have been; ranging from family, to close friends, to acquaintances, to the startling stranger! These splendid souls have taken the time to write, visit, entertain, offer advice, read my blog or just listen to my streams of consciousness. Vincent van Gogh is also quoted to have said, “One may have a blazing hearth in one’s soul, and yet no one ever comes to sit by it… I wish they would only take me as I am.” I am blessed and lucky enough that I cannot personally associate, at any level, with those sentiments. Most mortals seem to take me exactly as I am, for better, for worse, in sickness and in health!

There is one theory of Vincent’s that I truly hope I will be able to, in time, discern to be true, “in fighting the difficulties the inmost strength of the heart is developed”.  I am certain that difficulties make one contemplate the concept of inner strength to a greater degree, but, whether it leads to development or just increased angst, I am less clear of. Of what I am convinced, is that challenging situations often cause the splendid souls to surface.

Saturday, 1 January 2011

New Year's Resolutions

One is placed in a difficult position to make New Year’s Resolutions when they are living their current life out of necessity rather than choice and have no obvious “get out of jail free card”. I am not, as many are, “feeling aftereffects… of the katzenjammer variety” and vowing to never again let alcohol reach such preposterous levels in my liver. I have also neither eaten my body weight in confectionary, and then pledged an audacious diet and exercise regime. It is nonsensical to proclaim any resolutions that require any physical component and I am therefore limited to the more challenging resolutions requiring me to earnestly analyse my mental approach and reaction to situations. It is unpleasant, burdensome and upsetting to scrutinise one’s character for its imperfections and a gargantuan struggle to address any inadequacies found. I cannot pledge to not cry from pain, to not feel jealousy at friend’s events I am unable to attend or to not feel desperately exasperated. I need to, however, find methods to continue to be able to see a finish line. I must make sure I do not fall susceptible to the temptation to wallow in my predicament. I believe it is legitimate and even healthy to allow oneself to be upset and dispirited provided it does not become my predominant mentality. 

Allan V. Horwitz and Jerome C. Wakefield wrote a book called “The Loss of Sadness” about how normal sorrow has been over diagnosed by the psychiatric profession as depression. Modern society now view the normal or desired mental state as happy and yet, I certainly believe that it is healthy and reasonable to feel sad some of the time. The question is, where is the line drawn, where is the point at which an individual is no longer experiencing a normal degree of sadness in their life, and is suffering from depression? I am not addressing this topic because I am concerned that I may be suffering from depression, simply that I find it interesting. I struggle with emotion of sadness. It, for me, evokes a tremendous feeling of guilt. I am so fortunate and lucky in so many ways that I am ashamed after periods of feeling blue. Do I deserve to feel sad and is it a sign of internal weakness?

After careful contemplations, I have decided that my new year’s resolution is to attempt to use this situation as a reminder, in the future, to not become completely preoccupied by the petty or pointless. I will try and retain my priorities and endeavour to reduce the extent to which I am self-absorbed.