Sister Morphine

I emerged at the end of last week from the darkness of anesthesia. Between the hours of one and four last Thursday, I’d ceased to exist. There were no sounds or memories, just a great void. The unknown we all fear. The end of consciousness.

My body for a time was not my own. It belonged to the Surgeon and his team. I was their plaything. Human, yes. But also a thing that could be manipulated. Invaded and hurt in ways that no creature possessing a central nervous system would normally accept. In my case a saw was put to the left Femoral Head. The top part of that long bone was felled. Now I have a piece of metal, where once there was bone.

What happened to me was routine. No great shakes. I was one of many on the production-line that day. A hospital number, a name, and date of birth. A Total Hip Replacement. But behind the mundane procedure is the fact that the destruction of my legs should never have happened. It was a consequence of chemotherapy. A bit of bad luck. When the chamber was spun for me, instead of being empty it contained a bullet. The 1% chance of Avascular Necrosis. But when you’re shaking death by the hand, you don’t ask questions when an alternative is offered.

Last week I accepted there was a slim possibility of my body succumbing to the trauma of surgery. Mainly because it’s been to hell and back for the past three years. Hacked-about, opened-up and poisoned on numerous occasions. I spent the month before surgery high on morphine. My Femoral Head had totally collapsed. I sat staring out at the world through pinhole eyes. Unable to make sense of even the simplest of things. My mind was not my own. My body had failed.

There were occasions, hardly numerous, but they did happen: when I accepted the end as a possibility. My ancestors were waiting on the shore. I could hear their voices. Long stilled, familiar. Sweet, sweet music. I wanted to join my Grandmother, my first love. And my Father, who didn’t know me at the end. Who expected a son on his deathbed, but was delivered a grotesque. Distorted by chemotherapy. Bald, bloated and yellow.  As he died, I slowly died too.

They kept me in the Recovery Room for longer than normal. There was a problem getting my pain under control. But the hours and minutes went by in seconds. For a short time I was an infant greeting the world. Then came the memories of similar places; the need for water and finally the pain. I was back asking for my bags. Wanting to get hold of my mobile phone. Succumbing to that most basic human desires, communication. I’m here, that’s what I wanted to say. Not to a nurse or orderly, who were quite aware of my existence. But to the people I love. My hands reached-out , seeking the chain that links one human to another.

So here I am propped up in a chair, crutches by my side.

Sister Morphine is still with me, but I’ve reduced her dose. And there’s more. Recovery, slow as it may be, is happening. It started in my head. Pushing back the darkness. Sprinkling in dreams, where there was nothing. Soon it will move to my legs and take care of the postoperative swelling. I can rise from a chair, without too much difficulty. I’m piecing things together, the way you would a difficult jigsaw puzzle.

Its intermittently sunny, threatening both rain and shine. Across the road the branches of a tree sway in the breeze. Holloway and the Emirates Stadium blow too on the horizon. I’m convalescing in Tufnell Park, not far from that broken down house in Camden Town. Traffic, constant traffic, moves outside. The buzz of a motor scooter and the purr of a sedan. A small plane flies low in the sky; and high, out of sight, I hear a passenger jet. The world is in motion, and I am still.


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