In which the author attempts her first (and likely to be last) blog/book. I’m going to do this in weekly instalments which will be the only way it mirrors anything by C Dickens. Oh and it won’t be chronological either. I’m just going to post these as I write them and I’m going to write them as the mood takes me otherwise I’ll never get any of this done at all.
So, shall we?
Ah, hello, dear reader. Let me welcome you on board. A few things before we start. First, a fairly large proportion of this book was written using voice recognition whilst the hands were still not capable of typing. Proponents of this technology will tell you that VR learns and improves the more you use it. Oh, it learns all right. What they don’t tell you is that it actually learns a sense of irony and a sense of humour – both of which you could well do without. My VR system started this book refusing to recognise the words “voice recognition”, got into its stride by randomly inserting words that don’t exist (anyone know what or who ‘impax’ is?) and triumphed by inadvertently creating the title of this book. When I took my eye off it for five seconds and then realised it had written entire paragraphs of gibberish, I would volubly express my frustration with it/life/my disability and VR gently tapped out “a fox lake” in response. It seems to sum up the situation nicely. It also responded to any noise the dog made in the study, meaning there are probably entire passages in here written by a small spaniel – sorry about that.
Second, I must apologise in advance for any dodgy chronology. When I first started trying to record my experience in some way I could only use one knuckle of one hand. As such, I took to Twitter as my main medium of choice, figuring that the trusty knuckle could just about cope with 140 characters, as it was at the time. I then used those tweets to jog my memory to recreate in greater detail what lay behind them for this book. Sometimes they follow sequentially, sometimes they don’t. Feel free to shout “A fox lake!!” at me as often as you feel necessary.
Karma vs Gravity
All right, let’s get the unfunny bit out the way first. I promise I have tried to make this bit amusing but even I can’t find any way of making paralysing yourself from the neck down hilarious so let’s at least make this quick. On July 29th 2014 I fell off a horse and landed awkwardly and unluckily on my head at an angle that snapped my neck at C6/7, dislocated 13 vertebrae and bent my spinal cord into an ’s’ shape. It was this last bit that did the paralysing. It is, in fact, perfectly possible to break your neck without paralysing yourself as the vertebrae of the spine will heal in the way all the other bones in your body do. The spinal cord, however, is effectively an extension of the brain with millions of nerves that carry signals from the brain to the rest of the body. Damage that and you cut the signals off. The level at which you damage the cord also governs what functions are affected and from where.
That said, every spinal cord injury or SCI, is as individual as a fingerprint. Whilst injury ‘levels’ can be the same, the extent of the damage can be as myriad as the nerves so different people are affected in different ways. All of us though get most of our autonomic functions knocked out from the point of the lesion – the ability to regulate body temperature, blood pressure, sexual function and our bowels and bladders. In the case of high cervical injuries, people are also unable to breathe on their own and must spend their life on a ventilator. For those that do rely on machines to breathe, you have my utmost respect. I was on a ventilator for five weeks in hospital and I rate that experience as the most horrific and traumatic part of my injury. Last but by no means least, SCIs are often accompanied by near constant and debilitating nerve pain which can make their sufferers suicidal more than any other aspect of the injury.
I ended up classified as a C6/7, incomplete (meaning part of my spinal cord is still intact) quadraplegic (meaning legs and arms are both affected).
So, yeah. Not funny.
Whatsherface is trying to kill me!
In Lady Chatterley’s Lover, D.H Lawrence wrote that “a little morphine in the air…would be wonderfully refreshing for everyone”. ‘Refreshing’ is one word for it. It’s not the word I would use. I’d go with makes you batshit crazy but that sort of command of English is probably why this book is not going to be considered a classic of the language. Whenever they pumped morphine into my system I’d start to see mist rising around me and filling the room. At times I was quite lucid about my hallucinations. I clearly remember lying in bed looking at what I could see of the ICU and seeing the nursing staff surrounded by the paraphernalia of an old-fashioned sweetshop. I figured that this was an hallucination since, although I was little experienced in intensive care units, I was pretty sure that large jars of lemon bonbons and strawberry shoelaces in boxes were not the way the NHS would normally stock its crack unit, no matter how bad the funding crisis had got. Likewise, I knew that no matter how much I loved horses, it was also highly unlikely that they had bought mine into the unit to see me and then left them to wander up and down the beds without any supervision. Ditto the random arrival of a cow with pink spots.
Other hallucinations were more sneaky. They initially disguised themselves as entirely prosaic. In one I had been moved up onto the top floor of the hospital, into a ward very like the one I was already in except my bed was in a different place. Then the staff decided to throw a large birthday party and to that end spent a lot of time chattering about what they were going to wear, how they were going to do their hair and bringing in things with which to decorate the ward. I observed, agog, as various nurses carried into the ICU the essentials for a birthday party including a large plastic palm tree, a gigantic pair of oversized scissors and a 10 foot plastic banana. Also, in a festive touch, they hung up bunches of frankfurters along the ceiling. The party was just about to get going when the air ambulance arrived. Somehow I was now by the doors of hospital and I could see that it was pouring with rain outside. The helicopter came in like something out of Apocalypse Now with its rotor blades whirring in slow motion against the lashing rain and wind. I could hear conversation about who was on board and they were saying that somebody had broken their neck. At this point a nurse was dispatched to take the gigantic scissors out of the way as this was considered poor form to be the first thing that somebody with a broken neck would see on entering the hospital. I remember finding this hilarious. I believe the scissors were hastily concealed in the toilets – obvs. Where else would one hide a gigantic pair of oversized scissors in a hurry?
There was, however, one thing that seemed to happen repeatedly whenever (I thought) a certain nurse was on duty, which was that I was being given drugs that did very weird things to my vision. Everything around me began to look like an episode of The Simpsons. Blonde hair became violently yellow and skin tones turned a creepy shade of green/purple so that it felt like I’d woken up in an aliens’ comic-con of Dolly Parton impersonators. Now, I’m quite sure that the coincidence of this odd drug effect and this nurse’s shift was just that – coincidence – but I became convinced that she was trying to kill me. I tried desperately to communicate with my mother about this terrifying fact – a feat that was severely hampered by my mouth being full of tubes for feeding and breathing so I couldn’t speak and being completely paralysed from the chin down, which made me a terrible mime artiste. Realising, however, that I was clearly desperate to communicate something, she and the matron hatched an ingenious plan to bring me a spelling board where they could run a finger along the letters until I frantically nodded my head and by this method allow me to spell out my important news.
So, off we set; Mum running her finger along the letters until she got to ‘O’. I nodded. She started again. I nodded at ’N’. Then we hit an unforeseen problem which was my mother’s over-keen urge to help by second-guessing what I was trying to spell out rather than, well, letting me spell the bloody thing out. “On?” she hazarded, “On top of the cupboard?”. I shook my head frantically. “On the shelf?” I shook my head frantically again. “On the floor?” I rolled my eyes. “On the bed?!” I attempted to gesture with my head back to the spelling board. She interpreted this, incorrectly, as a nod. “On the bed, where, darling?” she asked kindly and helpfully, whilst I harboured dark thoughts about killing her. I shook my head madly again and inclined it at the board once more. Mum started to run her finger along the letters. I chose ‘E’ to finish the word ‘one’. Mum decided this was a new word to go with her self-selected preposition. “On each?” she hazarded. “On everything? No, on every?”. I gave her my hardest stare. And so we went on for probably the best part of an hour. Frustratingly and painstakingly I finally, finally managed to spell out my desperate cry for help – ‘One of the nurses is trying to kill me’. The matron and my mother looked at me in shock. The matron, rallying first like a true professional, asked me the pertinent question “Which one? What’s her name?”
It was at this point (and only at this point) that I realised I had absolutely no idea. Unsurprisingly, this put a crimp in anyone being brought to account. I’m afraid I still don’t know her name to offer an apology but I DO know that morphine makes you bloody paranoid.