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3 weeks into the recovery now and I have to admit I’m feeling a lot more flexible and in a lot less pain than I envisaged at this point. Saying that I am being very careful and not extending myself in every meaning of the word. The sort of thing I have to be really careful of is the instinctive reaction like I had the other day when a cupboard door in the kitchen swung out and was about to hit Simone’s head. I reached up and out with my right hand and felt that sharp twinge of pain in the shoulder to remind me that movements such as that couldn’t be considered in the slightest.
The operation had been the most painful experience so far.
I’d been taken by my mate Rab and dropped off at the Edinburgh Royal Infirmary just before 7.30 in the morning. I’d been told already my operation wouldn’t be until probably 2 in the afternoon and was looking forward to getting into a bed, stacking some zeds up and doing a bit of reading.
I eventually found the day surgery unit at the back of the main hospital and where the new Sick kids’ hospital was under noisy construction. Up the stairs to the reception where I registered and sat in an uncomfortable seat in the waiting room with about 20 other people. I noticed that patients were being called and returning minutes later. My name was called and an interview with a nurse re my identification and some basics lasted about 5 minutes and I was told to go back to my seat. Another call, this time with a friendly anaesthetist to confirm I hadn’t eaten anything in the last 12 hours. My last food was the day before at 4 when we dined gloriously on pheasant with my Mum, Simone, Liam and my friend Phil. My stomach was now rumbling and as I hadn’t had a drink of water for hours either my mouth felt like the bottom of a budgie cage. Did I mention I’d had a few glasses of wine with the meal?
The anaesthetist sent me back to the waiting room where I sat for another 15 minutes until the next interview. My back was now starting to ache and I just wanted to lie down somewhere. The final call out took me to another room where I thought that my next stop would be a bed in a ward. More routine questions followed always beginning with name and date of birth before being sent back to the waiting room. I asked when I was going to get a bed and was told that as it was day surgery I would have to sit and wait until I was called to theatre. It was by then only 9 o’clock and I had 5 hours to wait. The nurse took pity on me and showed me through to the room where patients waited to go home and where the seats were by far more comfortable. She also got the ok to give me a cup of water as the operation was far enough away to not cause anaesthetics issues. I was so grateful for the understanding.
I hunkered down in a big soft seat the only other occupant of the room being a Russian guy who could barely speak English and who I discovered was waiting on a liver operation. The TV in the corner was broken and the 5 hours felt like a sentence. I couldn’t sleep and was annoyed as I could have stayed at home and got on with writing up the sleeve notes on ‘Farewell to Childhood’ that I had hoped to have finished before the hospital appointment. I needed to do something and phoned home to ask if Simone could bring in my laptop so I could at least use my time more positively. 40 mins later she came to the front door with Elspeth and dropped off my computer before heading off as unlike my previous back operation at the Spire hospital there was no private room and nowhere for her to hang around and wait much to her disappointment.
The room I was in was by now filling up with other day surgery patients who’d discovered the comfy seats. I was being tortured as the area I was in was close to where they prepared the food for the wards and the smells of lunch menus as well as the wafting aromas of coffee were driving me crazy. The glass of water I savoured like a man adrift on a boat and it tasted wonderful.
I couldn’t find any wifi signal and my laptop announced that I had to download software to write documents. I resigned myself to writing up on an e mail which I intended to save and send to my home PC later. It was frustrating but I was happy to be working. 1000 words or so later I needed a break and headed downstairs for a vape. As I stood outside in a cloud of strawberry haze I had a shiver that wasn’t just from the chill in the weather. I returned to my seat and opened up the lid on the laptop to discover a blank screen. The computer had crashed. Windows 10 had done me over again. I knew I should have saved the tappings before I went outside and was now paying the price. All my mornings work disappeared. I was despondent and gave up any further attempt to write locking myself down into the Springsteen autobiography again. Time rolled ever so slowly by.
Around 1.30 I got the call. Again I was expecting to go through to a ward but instead found myself in a corridor where a nurse took my bags now weighed down by the computer equipment. She tagged them and put them in a luggage rack like you’d expect at a regional airport and I was shown through to another small room where I was instructed to change into a theatre gown behind a screen. It was quite surreal.
There were another 2 guys in the room which was pretty sparse apart from a sink, a trolley full of hospital accoutrements and 3 seats, the unoccupied one accepting my cold butt. A conversation developed and I discovered one of the guys had been brought in at short notice for an operation on his oesophagus after he’d been recently diagnosed with a recurring cancer condition. I shuddered and the other guy, who was in for an operation on his knee and I tried to keep the atmosphere as light as possible given the circumstances we were all now in. The cancer patient was unbelievably positive and open about his predicament and I listened to him with great admiration. He was incredibly brave and accepted his lot as given. It was obvious he was facing a huge fight. He was called and I never saw him again.
I thought I’d be last but my name was announced and I walked back through to the corridor and was instructed to climb onto the gurney that would take me to theatre. It was all happening so fast and I was thrown at the sudden change in the situation. I hadn’t quite come to terms with what was happening and the imminent surgery. I was a lot more nervous than I had been before my back operation when in this situation. Amazingly my blood pressure was ok but as the nurses struggled to put in the drip feed valve into my hand I had to concentrate on staying calm as the pain was threatening panic especially as the anaesthetists were beginning the procedures to deliver local injections into my neck and shoulder that were intended to block the severe pain I was told to expect after the operation. I was listening to the talk through of what was happening and acknowledging the strangely reassuring voices of masked people I could barely see. It crossed my mind for a moment to call the whole thing off and get up and walk away just as I sucked on the mask that had just been placed on my face. I started to drift, the anaesthetists and the room disappearing in the distance.
I woke in agony. “On a scale of 1 to 10 how bad is your pain?”
“9 point 5”
Both sides of the Q and A were repeated for what seemed like an eternity as I moved in and out of consciousness on a wave of morphine that didn’t seem to be touching the intense pain in my right shoulder. I felt really calm and composed and the strangers around my bed reassuring and comforting. I remember a flurry of jokes and trying to talk properly while laughing at myself. I was told that the operation had been more complicated and involved more repair work than originally thought and that I’d been in theatre for nearly 3 hours. I certainly felt like I’d been through a battle.
I was back in the ward and going in and out of consciousness. As expected I was being kept in that night as I’d been told that as I was the last operation of the day the potential problems of recovering from a general anaesthetic needed monitoring. On top of that I couldn’t be released without consulting the physio .
The physio had come round to speak to me but I was so out of it that I even told her to forget it as I wouldn’t remember anything she told me in the state I was in. I didn’t and only just remembered her visiting me and laughing when I spoke to her.
I called Simone a couple of times when I came out of my stupor and she told me next day that I sounded completely wasted and she couldn’t make much sense of what I was saying.
I kept passing out and waking up thinking I’d just slept for an hour or so and discovering from the hands on the clock on the wall of the ward that it had only been a couple of minutes. The pain came in rolling waves and I tried to ride them as best I could. It was a strange night full of wild dreams and a reality in the ward that was surreal at times.
The beds emptied as the day surgery patients vacated the premises leaving me and one other guy in the ward. He’d been babbling, sometimes quite aggressively. I’d noticed his top lip was badly cut and mashed up and one of the crude tattoos on his arm was “1690” the date of the Battle of the Boyne celebrated by supporters of Glasgow Rangers. That was confirmed when I heard him trying to sing Gers songs and asked out loud if anyone was a Rangers supporter. He was parked up next to me when the nurses decided to move us both to a “quieter” area which turned out to be a wide corridor. He sounded drunk and was pretty unintelligible and I was nervous of any confrontation with my right arm useless and being off my head on morphine. I might not feel any pain but didn’t need any more damage. I was wary and ignored him as much as possible. I was glad when they pulled the curtains around our respective beds.
I was still bobbing in and out of my confused state kept awake by the bright lights and willing myself to tumble into a deep sleep to get me through the night. I was offered some food at some point but couldn’t stomach it settling for coffee and rich tea biscuits. I was now navigating the very early hours but time seemed not to move. The lights in the ward and corridor were eventually switched off but then I came to and everything was fully illuminated again. There was so much traffic throughout the night it felt like I was in Kings Cross station or a war time medical facility in the height of battle. Convoys of gurneys moved back and forward, nurses chatting as they followed their wake, the lights blazing on and off as the units negotiated the corridor carrying damaged strangers to wards in other parts of the hospital. It seemed incessant.
The door to the nurse’s station directly opposite my bed opened and closed with tedious regularity. The darkness that was giving me some comfort interrupted by the beacon of light from the room when the door was left ajar allowing me to hear the alien chorus of conversations belonging to the bright green scrubbed minions that shuttled unflustered back and forward throughout the night. The hours dragged by and the pain in my shoulder turned from a dull ache to a bullet wound sometime around 7am.
I’d had a couple of tablets in the night but I asked a nurse for something a bit stronger. Name, date of birth and a soothing vial of liquid morphine was poured in my mouth. As I still had hours to go before seeing the physio and the doctor to get my release paperwork it was deemed ok to allow me a visit to the lands of Orpheus for a while. Just as I floated away what seemed like an army of fresh green minions flooded into the ward as the shifts changed, some smiling, others visibly unhappy to enter the fray. I was told that the previous night had been close to overwhelming and everyone had been stretched to the limits. I was made very aware of the strained resources and the eternal demands on services we mostly take for granted. I lay in my bed and watched the arriving angels scurry around and find their places and gave my thanks and farewells to the ones that had looked after me in the long night who were now putting on coats and jackets relieved to be leaving the trenches for a while. They disappeared quickly along the long corridor as I drifted into another dream.
When I came to I felt the need to pee, one of the main prerequisites of being granted my ticket home. A woozy walk and strained relief put me back in bed with a smile. I’d drunk at least 4 pints of water during the night and my bladder was now responding with a vengeance. My neighbour had woken and was rambling again. I’d noticed that during the night he’d been greeted by passing porters and was obviously known. In my delusional mind I had him down as a “face” that’d been beaten up, a Don of thugs now hidden away for his safety in the bowels of the hospital. When the curtains were pulled back for the morning doctors rounds I started to see him in a new light.
On the return from my second toilet visit I engaged him and was immediately overwhelmed by a crushing guilt as I couldn’t have misjudged the guy more. His name was Paul and the reason behind his slurred speech wasn’t just down to meds and the dreadful wound to his mouth but also that he was mentally handicapped. He had taken a hard fall and had badly damaged his knees. His right in particular was obviously worse and he had undergone an operation to fix ligaments. Like me he just wanted to go home and was practically pleading to be let go. The physio had come round and tried to get him to walk on crutches but it was impossible for him to manage. I felt really sorry for him as he valiantly struggled to stay upright and make the few paces that would take him ultimately home. There was no way he was going anywhere.
I was by now dressed and had been given the green light to go. I was just waiting on Rab and Simone to pick me up, pain meds in a bag, instructions on physio exercises given and all paperwork to hand. I sat and talked with Paul until my mobile chirped announcing their arrival at the main door. The screens were drawn around Paul just as I was leaving and I said my goodbyes and best wishes to the stranger I’d maligned in my imagination on the other side of the curtains. His farewell was saddening and I left him trapped in a system he really didn’t want to be in.
The confusing routes around the new construction site meant I had to walk through the main hospital to find Rab who was at the entrance. I was still wrapped in the cotton wool of opiates and the journey home might as well have been on a medevac helicopter. I was detached and part of the scenery at the same time. I’d only been interred for just over 30 hours but it seemed like 30 days in a hole. The studio appeared out of the misty blue and I dissolved into the couch in front of the fire to begin my recovery as soon as I entered the sanctuary. I’d crossed the line of the surgery and now it was the long haul to get back to normality. My shoulder ached. I took more pills. The warm soft fuzz enveloped me. I just hoped I’d made the right decision to go ahead with this operation. There was so much that could still go wrong.
I had my fingers down my throat just after midnight.
I’d wolfed down the creamy mushroom and chicken pasta Simone had made me for my return and that, combined with a couple of glasses of guzzled white wine had interacted with an already confused stomach blown by meds to lower the acid levels and leave me with a chronic indigestion. The pink slime of Gaviscon wasn’t touching it and I remembered warnings from the night after my back op when it was inexplicably rationed by nurses. I figured there was a good reason so I decided to empty the contents of my stomach into a plastic basin. It was a long and painful night as I tried to sleep propped upright on pillows on the spare bed which could be cantilevered to help the position I was supposed to maintain for the next 4 weeks. Simone was an unprotesting angel and didn’t complain once as I wrestled with the discomfort and slipped in and out of consciousness. My head was spinning like a slow motion blender. I honestly don’t know what I would have done on my own and thought of Paul back in the ward.
The following days were a blur, the nights filled with codeine fuelled dreams that were lucid and entertaining, never scary and none of which I could remember fully in the morning despite trying to take notes in my mind. They were beautifully bizarre and sometimes off the charts and I allowed myself to run with them wherever they took me. Novels exploded in my head and I would find myself staring out through the French doors of the spare room into the garden as the dawn came up trying to regain my upright position on the pillows which I’d slid from in the previous hours. The pain was never far away and neither were the pills which I knew were contributing to the visions and which I knew I had to stay in control of and regulate. It was easy to see how an addiction could surreptitiously creep in to a command position. Over the next days I would limit my codeine intake and rest heavy on the ibuprofen and paracetemol tabs using the heavy cavalry for respite in the darkness. I had to admit I was enjoying the dream machine.
I was frustrated at my inability to do things. I taught myself to plunge a cafatiere holding the vessel with my good left hand and using a towel to push my head down with my right hand to avoid a scalding upsurge of liquid onto my face from a displaced filter. I managed to chop kindling via some awkwardly misplaced down strokes that threw sparks from the flagstones in front of the stove and some left shoulder numbing hits as I misjudged knots in the wood and the momentum and force required to split the timbers. I wiped my own arse, showered effectively, lined a glass of wine from a bottle with a steady left hand and after 2 weeks I was carving my own meat and finished writing the 9000 words on the keyboard for the ‘Farewell to Childhood ‘remaster. The latter did have my arm back in a sling for a day. As I said although I was well aware of overdoing things I pushed it a little too far as I got eloquent and overconfident. I had been advised to leave any typing until the second week when I could remove the sling temporarily for short periods. 9000 words took me a little longer than expected.
I managed a few days in the garden pruning and houking with my left hand. I negotiated the undergrowth like a ninja very conscious of a fall and the instinctive right arm defence, fully prepared for my face to take any hit. I built up a sweat, cleared the ground and pruned like a crazy man feeling so satisfied I was achieving something.
At night Simone and I waded through box sets; the entire ‘Black sails’ series, ‘Sneaky Pete’, both series of ‘Man in the High Castle’ and ‘Fortitude’ were avid and addictive viewing. I tried to put off going to bed as much as possible only succumbing when I was on the point of delirium. Sleep was a luxury as I continued to sporadically wake up throughout the night with my angel at hand to deliver the necessary painkillers. She put up with my snoring, moaning and constant rejigging of position without complaint, fetching glasses of water and rearranging my pillows into the mountain I was supposed to rest on. The first week we at least had the benefit of young Liam being in Germany so we could lie long behind closed curtains but on the second he returned and she was up at 8 to take him to school. I volunteered to sleep alone but Simone would have none of it. Although I’d built up a stack of brownie points taking him to school every morning before the operation I still felt guilty lying beneath a warm duvet as she raised herself from yet another disturbed night next to a snoring agitated bear to defrost a car and drive to town with her son.
I was banned from driving for at least 6 weeks and although my exercises, which I performed dutifully and more regularly after consultation with the physiotherapist were loosening me up I still wasn’t allowed to attempt to raise arms above shoulder level. An emergency manoeuvre with the steering wheel was too dangerous to contemplate. I didn’t take advantage of having a driver to take me to the pub and didn’t leave the house until the end of the second week when a visit to the Polish barber was insisted upon by Liam as I was starting to resemble the Count of Monte Christo.
I was tired of wearing tracksuit bottoms and dreamed of wearing a t shirt again. I was discovering shirts in my wardrobe I’d forgotten about but I had mastered dressing and doing up buttons and could now pull socks on with relative ease.
Simone, Liam and I took the 4 stitches out of the small wounds after there was no need for further bandaging and I could now shower without worry of opening up the scabs. The loose single loops were starting to catch my soapy fingers that could now just about reach the top of my head and my left armpit. I was healing as fast as I did with the wounds in my back and I put it down to the Chinese herbs Simone was insisting I munch regularly on and the fact that the both of us had given up smoking over a month before my operation with exactly these benefits in mind. I was feeling relatively healthy despite all. We had both being going twice a week to the gym between the back operation and the shoulder operation and Mike, our trainer, had really helped me prepare for all this. The only problem was that now I was unable to do anything and all the core muscles I’d been building up were slightly wasting as I couldn’t do any back exercises because it meant putting pressure on my shoulder area.
I stripped the sling off during the day and kept myself as busy as I could without overdoing it. As soon as there were any twinges or aches I strapped myself in again and vegetated in front of the TV letting a codeine pill take hold.
A couple of friends came over from Karlsruhe last weekend but I have to be honest and say it was the wrong time and too early for socialising. It was tough for Simone as she had to play hostess and deal with extra demands in an already stressful situation. As always she dealt with it all without complaint and although I tried to do as much as I could I wanted to do more. It was great to see old friends but we both could have done with more recuperation time together.
I exercised my mind in the office, sorting out a change in LPG gas suppliers and BT broadband issues both of which got me fired up and where I could plant my frustrations at other doors. I carried on working on the ‘Childhood’ live album, picking out photos, listening to mixes, watching DVD edits and continuing to set up that project which is now a week away from going into production.
I still couldn’t set my mind into album gearing but was drawn to the keyboard and began this in an effort to clear my mind and train the thought process. I can’t spend too long and am accomplishing this in bursts of enthusiasm before the aching grows and I have to retire to the couch again.
I’m wearing jeans again but still can’t wear anything but shirts. I long to yawn with both hands above my shoulders, to sleep on my right side, to place an axe head sure and straight and powerfully on a log, to drive a car to town, to place a seed tray onto a shelf in the greenhouse and lift a watering can, to dig over a raised bed and carry a trug of soil over to Simone’s new herb garden. At the moment I am king of the keyboard and I have to say I am enjoying myself.
Everything will come in time; I just have to be patient in every meaning of the word. My first physio visit is in 2 weeks’ time and my specialist appointment a month later. I’ll discover more then.
Four and a half thousand words.
I head for the couch and an uplifting documentary made all the more interesting with a few grains of codeine.
The sound you can hear in the distance is one hand clapping.