Tuesday, October 06, 2015

My new knee and me go home

So we’re home now, me and My New Left Knee.

She’s a very demanding travelling companion.

She insists I take pain killers every four hours.

She demands I do her exercises four times a day.

She insists I take her for a walk every morning and afternoon.

She demands i wear white anti embolism stockings. Which is embarrassing as she has no fashion sense at all.

She insists I move about at least every hour or she gets painfully stiff.

She’s a bit like a jealous lover that demands attention every minute of the day and night.

And she really does take up most of my day; and in that sense my world has shrunk somewhat.

But in another sense it has grown enormous.

My movement in the outer world is painfully constricted; but, as if to compensate, my movement in my inner world feels infinite.

I keep thinking of the extraordinary co-operation I witnessed in the operating theatre, with this amazing, highly motivated and highly skilled team working together for my welfare.

Chris Goode, whose new show WEAKLINGS opens on Wednesday in the Warwick Arts Centre, says it reminds him of the co-operation he witnesses in our kind of theatre: highly skilled, highly motivated individuals working together to realise a shared vision that has emerged from him.


And I keep thinking too, and with deep gratitude and awed astonishment, of the healing powers of the human body.

Of the trauma my leg received last Wednesday, as they attacked it with electric saws, chisels, and hammers, and glued a new prosthetic knee onto the bone… which you’d imagine might finish off anything other than the most miraculous substance.

Substance we utterly take for granted: the human body that sustains us. 

The human body that is the stuff we are made of.

Infinitely tough, infinitely creative, infinitely life loving stuff…

Thursday, October 01, 2015

Watching my knee being cracked open...

So there it was on the screen.

Maybe something like the knuckle end of a joint of pork? Do such things exist?
The skin looked a bit like pig skin, maybe

(I don’t often eat meat, so I couldn’t be sure)

But it definitely looked like something that had been beautifully prepared for a butcher’s shop.

No blood though. Because of the tourniquet.

There was a layer of fat that had been meticulously peeled back to expose the bone.

No sign of the other half of the leg, though, it was as if it had been cut off, and I was wondering vaguely what had happened to it when some hands came into the picture and set  to work with a hammer and chisel.

And I felt it. Absolutely no pain, but each time the hammer struck a kind of weird vibration of the bones.

Because this was my leg on the screen.

This was happening to me.

The earlier stages had all been a bit of an abstraction. A conscious effort to say: This happening to me. And then not quite believe it, because I could feel nothing.
It was as if my leg had become detached from the rest of me; as if that strangely disembodied object floating in the hyperspace of the computer screen had nothing to do with me at all.

Until I felt the hammer blows maybe in my stomach somewhere, not an unpleasant sensation,and that helped me understand this was also happening to me.

But it wasn’t horrible and it wasn’t frightening, it was more utterly absorbing and fascinating.

And very moving, too,somehow.

To be in the presence of a group of people co-operating so meticulously, so carefully, to make me better.

There had been a moment leading up to my heart surgery when the surgeon, who had been explaining the procedure, said “And at this moment I will give you an injection to stop your heart."

And once I had got through the first moment of terror, and reflected on the kind of moral courage involved, I found myself reflecting also on the fact that for thousands and thousands of years our aggressive needs had led us to devise more and more deadly means to stop each others’ hearts beating; and that at the same time our instinct for self-preservation had led us to devise more and more ingenious methods of defence.

But that now, for the first time, we were able to stop a person’s heart beating in order to heal them.

And there I was, yesterday, watching this extraordinary event in which a team were working together with some very dangerous tools that in the past might well have been used to inflict grievous bodily harm… but again, doing it to heal.

Somehow it seemed to contradict the right wing notion that we are nothing but aggressive selfish animals working individually to exploit and cheat and do each other down and it filled me with hope.

And I was amazed, too, at the audacity as I watched them position the new knee joint with infinite care.

My new knee joint.

And there was the other half of my leg all of a sudden, and they proceeded to replace the flesh over the bone with infinite care.

The flesh looking white and strangely bloodless, because of the tourniquet.

So it really did look like a joint of roast pork.

And then they replaced the skin, which I’m sure would make very good crackling.

And then it was done: my skin, my flesh and bone, all taken apart and miraculously put together without any pain at all, and I was wheeled out to recover.

And so incredibly thankful and glad to have been able to witness this.

And even more glad that at last it’s been done:

So my poor old knee has a chance to get better again.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Goodbye left knee

When I went in to see the surgeon he was staring at an x-ray image of a leg on his computer screen.

A leg so shockingly out of its proper alignment you could call it deformed.

My leg. My left leg.

“Surgery is the only thing that will help you”, the surgeon said. “This is how it should be”.

And he pulled the leg back into alignment on the screen. And said, quite casually,

“And we can do that”.

So that's why he's put an arrow on my leg with a marker pen so they all remember where to cut me open

And that’s why I’m in this hospital bed waiting for the time this afternoon when they set to work with scalpel and tourniquet and bone grinder and special glue.

With everything in the toolbox they need to fit me with a new knee.

And I’m frightened, of course, my leg not being an abstraction on the computer screen but all too obviously a thing of flesh and blood and sinew and nerves that will undoubtedly hurt a lot.

The surgeon had spoken with the calm assurance of one for whom these things were fairly routine. Fascinating too. He obviously has an abiding fascination with knees.

And so I’m also trying to get my imagination round the idea that maybe soon I’ll be on the road to not being so disabled any more.

And I realise that for the last several years I’ve been imperceptibly accustoming myself to the idea that i will never walk properly and easily again and that maybe this idea was false and that I will actually be able to walk.

And I’m thinking of the times all those years ago when I was forced to live as a boy and totally convinced that I was, morally somehow, twisted and deformed in exactly the way my leg has become.

And I wonder if all this is connected.

Or why it’s been this poor left knee that’s always been the one to get hurt. When I fell off my bike. When I fell off my motorbike. When I twisted my foot in a rabbit hole on Iona. When my knee just somehow locked and refused to straighten and I had to go into the old Royal Infirmary to have a cartilage operation.

Of how I went to physiotherapy afterwards until all of a sudden I found I was with a group of men in a gym in the old Royal Infirmary playing some appalling team sport or other  and felt too embarrassed and too ashamed to say that no. No such a thing was impossible for me. And so I abandoned physio and wonder if it would have made any difference if I’d been able to stay.

Or maybe its 'll those feelings of fear and of shame that afflicted me for so many years ended up being stored in this poor knee.

We’re taught, I think, that a knee is just a mechanical joint that doesn’t connect with how we feel.

But then we do also talk about feeling “weak in the knees” when we are in the grip of some powerful emotion and so maybe it’s not that far fetched to see a connection between our deepest feelings and our knees.

Or, in this case, our left knee.

Poor thing.

Poor thing that simply can’t go on.

And I find myself thinking of how when I was beginning the process, the serious irrevocable process, of leaving ‘John’ behind and beginning to live as a woman I was somehow in the same place.

Not able to go on. Not able to go on, yet terrified of moving on.

Proud of who I as John was in so many ways and everything I had achieved against very great difficulty.

And aware that the pain John suffered was terrible but also familiar and I knew how to deal with it.

Whereas the pain I would suffer as “Jo” was unknown and utterly terrifying

A step into a very scary unknown darkness.

Just like the step I will take this afternoon when the anaesthetic comes and turns off all feeling in the lower half of my body. And when I will probably also go into sleep.

And  suddenly life feels beautiful and precious and I feel unexpectedly affectionate towards my dear old knee.

We went for a last walk together, me and my knee, along the hospital corridors.

We ended up in a place called “Spiritual Centre” where there was a room called “Sanctuary” so we could be quiet for a while.

And I found myself feeling sad and sorry for this poor old knee. That has carried me so far for so long. And endured so much suffering and felt so much joy, and recorded it all in the very structure of the bones.

And always done its best.

And worn out now.

And about to be discarded.

So thank you, dear knee. Thank you. Thank you. 

Goodbye. Goodbye…

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