Article 12 explained the connection between the Gal Holiday song Come Home and my own home coming. The connection between the song and my own poem about the Cherry Blossom – was a lovely coincidence, as if the song Come Home had settled into my psyche whilst sprinkling creative seeds. Article 12 argued that we need to be humble in the face of how awesome nature, and natural events, can be and concluded that, though many aspects of my articles have highlighted my negative experience, there were so many beautiful moments in amongst all the carnage.
Throughout the ‘Don’t Let Me Die In Phoenix’ articles I have sought to, deliberately, set up a series of dichotomies because I have learnt through out my life that new ideas reveal themselves when we blur the boundaries between, apparently, opposing ideas, words and concepts. The next three articles set to highlight tensions between different words that I have highlighted across the ‘Don’t Let Me Die In Phoenix’ series, such as I have compiled into this poem:
Yir a Lang Time Hauf Deed
A Problem versus A Person.
Damaged versus Different.
Perfection versus Acceptance.
Deficit versus Strengths.
Shame versus Pride.
Nothingness versus Happiness.
Exhaustion versus Liberation.
Sadness versus Gladness.
Braveness versus Fortitude.
To Win versus Survives.
Trauma versus Endurance.
Truth versus Lies.
Silence versus His-story.
Jealously versus love,
Fear versus Hope.
Pain versus Hugs.
When they work us,
Till we are ‘Hauf Deed ’
This ‘Epilogue’ article is the 13th Article in the ‘Don’t Let Me Die In Phoenix’ series and is posted 13 months on from my discharge from hospital. 13 is one of my lucky numbers, so it seems fitting to finish the story by bringing readers up to date with and update concerning my longer term rehabilitation and the difficulties I have had going back to work, beginning to travel again and gradually making my way back into the world.
However, this is not the final thing that I will write about my experience in Phoenix. I will subsequently, post two concluding articles, ‘What We Can Learn From The ‘Don’t Let Me Die In Phoenix’ Series About Post-Traumatic Stress and ‘What We Can Learn From The ‘Don’t Let Me Die In Phoenix’ Series About The Current Scottish Political Situation’. That final article will specifically explain the allegory (story with in the story) concerning Scotland and Scottishness that lies with in my story.
Every medic I met during my time in hospital asked me if I was diabetic. I have never been diabetic but, in the last 10 to fifteen years or so, I have been tested lots of times for diabetes because I used to be excessively over weight. So much did medics suggest I should be tested, I started to find it disablist and prejudiced. But, in hindsight, their concern was helpful in concentrating my mind on how I would reduce my weight. In essence the technique was simple, eat less food, drink less alcohol (particularly beer and cider) and exercise more. In order to exercise more I had to stop being the ‘go to guy’ at work and concentrate on my own needs, rather than the needs of others.
Over a four year period, I had lost around 140 pounds in weight. I found it ironic that my immune system decided to give up on me, just when I was the most physically fit and healthy I had been in years. I had wondered if the weight loss process of a strict diet and high exercise (3-5 miles of hill walking a day) might have caused problems with my immune system. The doctors were of a different view, they all stated that the weight loss had increased my chances of survival, and, that the fact that I now presented as a generally fit and healthy person, meant I had had a better chance to survive the series of operations that I went through. Indeed, one even said that had I still been over weight I might not have survived. So losing weight saved my life.
The medics continuously said how unlucky I was to have contracted such a rare type of infection. In the end, there could be no definitive answer as to what caused the infection. My conclusion was that, bad luck apart, I had over-worked myself to the brink of death and that I was, actually, a very lucky man to be alive.
On returning to Scotland my wife came back from work one day very upset. One of her patients had lost is wife whilst on holiday to sepsis. It had brought the experience flooding back. Her patient had taken his wife to an A and E and they had not been able to work out what was wrong with her.
I owe my life to the very quick action of a person who worked in ER called Dr Mallashock, who sent me for the tests, identified the problem and had me passed onto the surgeons (primed for surgery) within a couple of hours. That’s how lucky I was and I have been at pains to pay homage to such professionals who have been working so hard (and at risk to their own health) to ensure that other people’s lives are saved. during the Corona Virus.
Article 6 stated that my heart went, ‘out to those doctors, nurses, and runners in the USA who were struggling to provide health care support in the context that Julianne described. Their trauma is unimaginable, but they have to share their stories and we have to try and understand and witness them, if we are to help the ‘survivors’ to move on from what they have experienced.’ It also argued that:
Indeed, we have written previously in this blog about the injustices of the Hillsborough disaster. One of which was that the relatives did not, necessarily, know how their loved ones died and what their loved ones died of, because evidence was suppressed or doctored. The stress that the cover up caused was inhumane and justice took far to long to be served. We must ensure that families that have lost their loved ones during the Corona Virus do not have a similar experience and are not having to fight, decades later, for truth and justice.
The medical notes I brought back with me were only a summary of what I went through and there are some questions that I hope to follow up when I eventually return to the USA (I can’t access my full notes from outside the country, but Jean, our good Samaritan has offered to help me track things down).
It has taken me an incredible amount of time to just to be able to learn, again, how to do very small things. Small things like being able to put my own socks on. Hence, complex work things and things like writing this blog have had to wait their turn. Between July and November this ‘can’t spring back’ feeling kind of morphed themselves into an, ‘I can’t cope with people’s expectations’ kind of a thing. The only solutions I had to this feeling was humour, openly explaining my limitations to those around me and trying things slowly to build my self-belief.
As it turned out occupational health were very good, as was my head of department and colleagues and they managed to create a phased return where, in the early stages of my ‘recovery’, I mainly worked from home and gradually increased my attendance as I became more able to travel. In reality, I have only, recently, been able to start to type properly (typing still causes me a lot of pain).
I find it very difficult to get going in the day. My impairments are worse in the morning. So I tend to work now between 10.00 and 19.00. I often need 12 hours sleep after working because my mind is only just coping with being used again and my body is not yet fully recovered.
As it turned out I would not see a plastic surgeon in Scotland for over 6 months, nor have access to NHS physiotherapy. An excellent surgeon at Ninewells Hospital in Dundee counselled me that this need for sleep (and also having food cravings) is usual at this stage of recovery where the body is still trying to work its way back from the shock of almost being killed by the infection and the impact of such invasive surgery.
Another thing that the surgeon said was that, if the wounds do not loosen up I may need another operation in 2021. This news just about made me vomit. The thought of them cutting me open again sent me into horrible flash backs and I barely heard the rest of what the surgeon said. Keep your fingers crossed for me that the wounds keep repairing.
Luckily, the American physios had given me a good regime to follow of exercises and I basically used my knowledge from my rugby experience to construct a rehab routine based on that advice and further advice I received from a urology surgeon (I saw 8 months into the rehab) who was able to identify the areas where further exercises were required.
Both surgeons where very happy with the American surgeons work, the urology surgeon actually used the phrase ‘it is amazing what they can now do’. Surprisingly, the scar healed very well on the outside and is not that noticeable (according to the surgeon – I have never looked myself). If you read Article 8: If He Wiz Chocolate He’d Eat Himsel’ which discussed some issues I had with the plastic surgeon in the USA, you will be aware that hearing the judgement his work was amazing – would not fill me with as much joy as you might expect.
Schadenfreude apart, it is strange for me that the surgeons say the scar looks ok – because inside I still feel every bit of the cut line and, as the nerves have repaired, the pain has gotten worse. The plastic surgeon informed me that the surgery had healed strong enough so that I could no longer damage it. That was great news and took away my fear that my exercise regime may have undone the surgeons work. Similarly, the Urology consultant was the first person I had met since the first week of April 2019 who had actually done the debridement procedures that I experienced.
The last time I had discussed the procedure with a urology consultant I had been drugged up to the nines. So it was wonderful to be able talk about the procedure and understand, in a coherent way, exactly what had been done to me. Basically the urologist was able to point out exactly what muscles and places had been removed and what the solution might be to no longer having specific muscles in working order e.g. those for running and dancing.
The plastic surgeon advised me to get off the stick as soon as I could, before my body/mind relied on it too much. This advice required a change to my exercise routine to do more work on my left leg and side. The plastic surgeon referred to what I went through as a type of neuro pain where it is impossible to suffer the touch of others. The early articles in this series explained that I couldn’t suffer to be touched but the dressings had to be changed every couple of hours. I couldn’t suffer to be touched but I had to have bloods taken, cannulas swapped and drugs injected throughout the day and night. Up until recently, I could not have suffered a physio to touch me – but I am just reaching the stage where I would be willing to go through the pain barrier if it helped advance things.
With a long waiting list for NHS physios and a limit to what they can provide. It looks like the only option may be to pay £30 an hour for a private physio. Which goes against my instincts, but in reality, demonstrates that physios are now much the same as dentists – you have to pay for them if you want to access them when you need them. How many people in Scotland go without the necessary physio service because they cannot afford to pay? How many patients develop longer term issue because they have to wait 4 to 6 months to be seen?
Exhaustion v Liberation:
Not being able to move for a couple of weeks results in all your muscles shutting down, the infection not only reduces your weight but your strength wastes away. 8 months on, I, finally, started to walk again without a stick. 12 months on I still need the stick when I go for a drink or go Hill walking, as my lack of alcohol resistance and balance problems means that I fall over easily. Life is totally exhausting, and I have to lie down for a while after any exercise. But, life is also completely liberating.
I am suffering huge pain from the shock of my body taking its own weight and because the nerves in my butt are finally waking up again. The feeling flickers between the sensation that someone is sticking hot needles in me, to the sensation that someone is scorching my arse with a blowtorch. In between that, there is a sensation that a huge hand is gripping both butt cheeks and lifting me up off the ground by way of a wedgie. In the end, I thank the gods and goddesses for looking over me and humbly appreciate the fact that all the continued pain and suffering is at least a liberating sign that I didn’t die in Phoenix.
A Person v A Problem – Damaged v Different
As article 12 indicated, by the time the lock down came I was able to do a three 3 mile daily walk, which eased the pain at least whilst I was walking. The rhythm of the walking helped to very wash away the sense of loss of self that I felt. This song Summer Rain by The Brother Brothers, stopped me in my tracks one day. It captured the time-less wound licking solitude and melancholy of my walking regime – which involved a healing process where I mourned for my lost self-amongst the hills of my childhood:
The summer rain
Is coming down through the hole in our buildings
What a shame
All the hyacinth you’re growing won’t get any … …
When it came
It was late in the month of September
The leaves were changing
Such a sight as I can hardly remember
I’ve been loved a time or two
I’ve loved more than a few
My bed is just a stranger without you
I just had to hang in there with the ,empty bed, solitude of my impairments. I Just had to persevere and endure, day after day.
Perfection v Acceptance:
There is no perfect way to balance the need for solitude with the need to build from the support of friends and or health professionals. Since my operations, it is life’s lack of uniformity that fascinate me. I have always been aware of my own strengths and limitations but it is something about having surgery, and scars, that now focusses me even more on the way that our environment involves so many contrasting shapes. Nothing much is uniform in nature, indeed, as a friend pointed out to me recently, the words perfect and imperfect are troublesome, as they suggest that there is one correct way to be.
Hence, I love the countryside and nature because there is nothing perfect in nature, the shapes are not uniform. The hill’s around me roll on and on and my ‘recovery’ has been aided by the fact that I have moved out of the city back to a rural setting. Being in the environment, being able to move and do things like taking photographs has been very healing.
These pictures are from the Lomond Hills on the east Cost of Scotland and Loch Tay on the West Coast of Scotland. The standing stones come from a time where we beloved in our country – the people who placed those stones – would not have feared their own independence. I had to confront any fears I had about my ‘recovery’ and my long term impairments. And, this country we live in helped, so much, to put what I had been through into some kind of perspective.
So much more than any quack ideas about how to resolve trauma that involve completing checklists about what happened in the past – our country salved m fears, pains and uncertainties. I am aware of, and grateful for, how lucky I am to be able to afford to purchase a home in the country side. And, I am concerned for people staying safe in the city during this crisis who may not have access to the beauty that surrounds our home.
Sadness v Gladness, Nothingness v Happiness, Shame v Pride:
I am glad and proud that I endured and survived my ordeal. In a previous blog post that I co-wrote with my pal Christina, we discussed the idea that to become a hero a fictional character has to go through a rite of passage, stave off death in far flung lands and return to his home land with great riches to bestow on his country folk. The only riches I have to bestow come from the wisdom I have drawn from my experience. I do not see myself as heroic. I just see myself as an everyday man who used all his life experience, and the support of a shed load of people, to get himself through an extraordinary and catastrophic series of events. I don’t feel heroic, I feel sad, in my bones, for that guy I once knew. As this song by Ever More Nest explains:
No one can break your heart quite like the place that you call home.
Isn’t it funny and strange?
When the rain pours through the bright green leaves of these old trees,
I often think this is a magical place.
But there’s a sadness.
There’s a sadness.
There’s a sadness in these bones.
I worked so hard to survive, endure and progress from my cataclysmic life experience and, eventually, something about writing these Articles enabled me to allow myself to feel gladness and pride about surviving and enduring such an agonising process. But, as I journeyed through the autumn and into winter I had this nagging questions in the back of my head that seemed to be part of the sadness. ‘What had I survived for?’ And, ‘What did the word survivor mean for my future?’
Part of my sadness comes from the fact that not dying was such an anti-climax. I constantly have flashbacks to the moment that I was awoken from the first operation. I had this complete ‘nothingness’ feeling. Complete feeling of darkness, warmth, love and relief. And, then, the foot movements of a nurse woke me up as she approached my hospital bed.
I have always been a light sleeper and I think that stems from a childhood where I constantly kept an ear out, night after night, for my parents who often needed someone to intervene in their arguments. When my children were crying, when they were small, it was me who awoke and comforted them.
I can still remember the grief (and pain) as the foot-steps of the nurse woke me up. I felt sad that the darkness, the soullessness and the silence, had left me. It was as if walking in those hills, I was seeking to retrace my steps to that moment where the stress with in my life, other people’s wants and wishes, were no longer important.
I have a sense of grief for the loss of that nearly-dead feeling. Life was so simple during that first week in the hospital – live or die. There was not much more to it than that. I have such grief for the loss of that safe feeling, the feeling that the troubles of the world were no longer mine to carry. I have a feeling of bereavement for the calmness that ‘near death’ brought to me.
I know realise that, before I went into hospital, what I had called ‘living’ was merely existing. My new found awareness provides an important lesson for all of us who live in Scotland. Scotland can be such a small c conservative place and Scots need to find a way to ‘live’ independent of fear and not simply exist in an unequal union.
When I moved jobs from Edinburgh to Glasgow – it enabled me to reduce the conservatism around me. I love Glasgow and Glaswegians – they (along with Dundee) were forward thinking enough, and cared enough about their fellow Scots, to vote in a majority for independence. Conservative Edinburgh, lacked the self-belief and working-class heart to do the same. Most of the folk I knew with heart, had moved to the outskirts of Edinburgh years before. These days, I don’t have any time for fear and conservationism. Some of my creative and less conservative friends still remain in Edinburgh but, more and more, they are becoming the minority that are surrounded by the mediocrity of a finance and tourism focused elite, that lack the imagination required to address the cities ailments.
I feel a debt of gratitude and miss the support for the staff members who saved my body, settled my mind and then nurtured my soul – so that it might, truly, live again. I have a sense of loss for the incredibly vivid hallucinations and crazy moments that allowed loved ones, (past, present and future) to enter my mind and give me a reason to stay alive.
Jonny Cash’s song, I Still Miss Some One, expresses that sense of loss:
At my door the leaves are falling
A cold wild wind will come
Sweethearts walk by together
And I still miss someone
I go out on a party
And look for a little fun
But I find a darkened corner
‘Cause I still miss someone
Luckily and throughout my life, I have always, just, been able to externalise and understand my sadness before it has moved into a clinical form of depression. As mentioned in Article 6, when I was 17 and again when I was 25 I skirted very close to depression but I managed to use exercise, music, alcohol, dancing and other enjoyable activities to, just, keep myself from falling into a deep abyss.
I drew on this life experience to keep my head above water this time. But, I have to be clear that I have been staring at the abyss of darkness and nothingness for over 12 months and it has been very wearing. I have only managed to stay on the lighter side of the darkness because so many friends, old and new, have reached out with acts of kindness and have helped me up from the mud that I might have got stuck in.
As I said in my last post, one friend brought me a turn table when I was at my most debilitated. At that stage, I had managed to get down the seven stairs that lead to the main room of the house. That main room is triple height, has a wooden ceiling and has huge windows which heat the room whenever the sun is out. The house was built by a farmer who was also a singer. The acoustics of that room, which has a high wooden roof, are wonderfully warm. The records played on the turn table – just gave me so much hope. I also played tunes from my phone, through a blue tooth speaker and sing along to them – even my voice sounds OK in that room.
Other friends came to see me, mailed me poems, persuaded me to go to a 2018 festival show, commented on my posts on social media, sent me spottify play lists, persuaded me to travel to a cottage at loch Tay (and even to Rome in Italy! Just before the virus broke in February), made me dinner in Edinburgh, took me on nights out and made sure I got home when I was the worst for wear. All those acts of kindness made a huge difference.
A couple of friends realised that I was having problems with my memory and sent me cryptic messages and tricky tasks to ensure that my analytical abilities were reawakened. Sometimes I did not have a clue what the solution to the task was, e.g. I used to be incredibly good with numbers but I have only recently been able to regain that skill and there may well be inaccuracies about some of the numbers that I have put in these articles – so feel free to point them out.
I have greatly valued all of the people who have helped me – but I am particularly appreciated of those friends who have recently helped to re-awakened my analytical abilities – there was a time where I thought I would never get those skills back.
I am not up to full work speed yet. For example, there was time when I could write 5000 words a day. I am ecstatic if I can now do 500 words a day. I have just had to come to terms with that and offer people quality feedback and editorial help and be the second author rather than be the lead on new articles. My guess is that there are about 60,000 words in this article and the content was developed over 12 months. So that lets you know how slow my writing is these days – over the course of 12 months, I wrote in month what I used to write in a day.
At one point, during late autumn, a person at work made a comment that I seemed to be writing well. I had emailed them a half page summary of the gaps that were missing in the first draft of a chapter I owed them. They inferred that I might speed up the editorial changes to the chapter (I had hoped I would not have to finish the chapter and was trying to set the ground for withdrawing it because I thought it below my usual quality).
I had simply cut and pasted the abstract for the chapter , that I had written before I had gone into hospital, into the notes app on my phone and written a few sentences in between the words. That simple task had taken me an age as my mind had not woken up yet – so I was shocked and annoyed to be told that it looked like I was up to writing more and quicker.
At that stage, I was unable to sit and type for any length of time. The lesson here is that you should never tell a disabled person what they are capable of. You should ask them what they can do and not pressure them, nor make assumptions about them. As have said many times in these articles, some people just can’t take their foot of the gas and if they are feeling pressure they seek to transfer that onto other people, rather than take responsibility for ensuring that they are the ones to stop the pressure merry-go-round.
Whilst pointing a finger at others, I have to admit that some of my behaviours, since I have come out of hospital, have not been great for my wife. For example, in the early days of my recovery, my frustrations with not being able to change my dressings, toilet, shower and clothe myself, often made me very irritable and impatient. Until I got through the drug with drawl, I was, unaware of how irritable I could be and I am sorry to those who witnessed my occasional frustrated outbursts.
My irritable behaviour, somewhat ironically, meant that my everyday personal relationship with my wife deteriorated just at the same time as my love and respect for her professional abilities reached its peak. I do not know how I got through the first two post-hospital-discharge months, but I did. I owe a life time’s debt to my wife who, 3 or more times a day, carefully and patiently change my dressings whilst I yelped my head off. It was my wife, no one else, who ensured that, on returning to Scotland, I did not get re-infected and that my wound recovered in the way the plastic surgeon had hoped.
At times, I have not been easy to live with and have been prone to moaning about silly things – for example for some un-be-known reason (probably exhaustion) it took us ages to purchase a picker and therefore, when I was still unable to bend and still spending most of the day in bed, every time I dropped something out of reach I had to shout for my wife to help me.
Post-traumatic stress can be triggered by loud noises – so this need to shout was very problematic for my wife’s stress levels. There was no doubt that, during this period, both of our sets of nerves were shot through. I was located in lovely and peaceful surroundings, but, my wife’s anxiety levels were not helped by the fact that, every day, she had to travel to work in the city.
I could get out of bed and stand up, but I could not bend to pick anything up. Sometimes, before calling my wife, I would get up and stare at the object which I had dropped. I stared in the vein hope I could use some kind of Star Wars, ‘May the force be with you!’, energy to move the object back into my hand. It would appear that I am not destined to be a Jedi warrior and this lack of Jedi ability irritated me and took a lot of getting used to (J).
In the early days after my release from hospital, I had constant accidents (e.g. with food and drinks) and I was constantly needing to change my clothes – no matter how grumpy or frustrated I got with my impairments – my wife soldiered on tirelessly and without complaint. In article 5, I mentioned that a lesser woman who have told me where to shove my complaints and downed tools.
On day one in the hospital, I developed an acceptance that my life would never be the same again, so my frustration interested me – why should I get so up tight with my wife, when I was mainly chastened and calmed by my experience? There is no doubt the phrase – you always hurt the one you love, has meaning here:
But, I also think that it took me a long time to realise the extent of my wife’s trauma and the fact that there were two of us wiped out by my experience. Writing these articles, has helped us to be more open to each other about this fact and has enabled us to come to an agreement about what might be the best course of action, after the lockdown is lifted, to reduce the stress and conflict in our lives.
The uncertainty concerning what my recover might look like did not help either of us, and it is only recently that I have been able to understand the full implications of my newly acquired long term impairments. I have had frustrating moments and I hope that the core regular readers of the Don’t Let Me Die In Phoenix articles would attest to the fact that I have owned up to many of those grumpy moments.
I hope you will also have noticed that when I have experienced anger – it has, mostly, been for the injustices that I see around me and because of the frustration that my experience tells me exactly how the system might be failing others. I have tried to channel my anger and use these article to make suggestions on how the system can be improved for the better good. For example, the current crises is impacting disproportionately on the least well off amongst us e.g. the pensioners who, Article 11 indicated, go without lunch to pay for public transport to get to a hospital appointment.
Many of the negative aspects of my story should anger us and inspire us to demand improvements in local services. The positive aspects of my story tell us, exactly, what decent services look like. Decent, caring and accessible services should be the minimum that any country provides to their citizens.
In the hospital in the USA, there was a 6 day period where I was medically fixed by four operations and by the 7th day I was out of intensive care. I may have previously said that I was in intensive care for 5 days there are, at least, two missing days in my memory. My missing days, may have something to do with the fact that, apparently, I did not have my eyes open much whilst in intensive care.
Yesterday, I had to check the paper work that I have to jog my memory about the dates I was in hospital. Whilst doing this, I realised that I have only a sketchy memory of the first seven ‘days’. People thought I was sleeping, but I was in a sort of limbo between pain and reality – aware at times of things around me but mainly seeking a safe places in my mind from the horror and pain of what I was going through.
Article 2 features a picture of me just after they took the oxygen off me, the imprint lines can be seen around my eyes/cheekbones. Article 2 explained that I was aware someone was there but, at that moment, could not communicate that fact – I just did not have the energy.
Unfortunately, that feeling of not having the energy is never far away and has meant that I have had to cancel so many things I had planned for the last year. It has taken me a long time to work out how to say. ‘No’ to people and many of my friends and colleagues have had to cope with me rearranging meetings at late notice – most people have been very good with this need. But, of course, there are a small group of very disablist people who make a lot out of the fact that I can not be as consistently available as they wish me to be.
My memory comes and goes. I remember signing the paper work for 2 of the four operations (I must have signed them for all four operations). I remember waking up and hearing another patient die, god rest his soul. I remember the eyes of the intensive care nurse and the night she held my hand when I wasn’t sure I could go on and it might be my time to go. But I am not sure what night that was. I remember getting weaker after each operation and the moment the African American lead of trauma stopped the surgeons from doing a colostomy.
I remember, through out that first week, hallucinating about a beautiful Celtic woman. Time, after time, she came to me like a guardian angel to take away my pain. Over time, whenever I placed my hand across my heart or played specific songs through my head phones I could just lose myself with that woman. It was as if she was the only person in the world who understood what I was going through. Sometimes I dreamt of her and she sent me different message about: love, children, music, hugs, happier times and warmer experiences. It was as if she was saying, ‘There is something worth living for’.
At the end of the first week, I also remember apologising to the intensive care nurse for all the trouble I had been, only for her to say I was an easy patient and she was sad that they had decided to move me out of intensive care. Her comments were lovely, but inside my chest I had a moments panic, I had tied my life line too much to her eyes – what would happen if they were not there to watch over me?
In contrast to that moment of panic, I remember the calm, quiet individual feeling I felt when I came too, after the final operation, and realised I was still alive. One of the strange things in the hospital was that my heart rate was incredibly calm. Usually my rate is between 58 and 68, at some points I woke up and looked at the monitor and my heart rate was as low as 50. I assumed that it was so low because of the drugs but it was very strange to have such a calm rate when my body was in agony, my mind was often hallucinating and I felt so crazy.
After the heart break of being moved out of intensive care, it was a team effort that put me back on my feet. I always felt this might not be my time to die, as I said to the surgeons, ‘I still have things I am going to do’. But, I never quite, totally, believed I would make it through until around the 10th day. On that day, I started to feel the benefits of all the antibiotics that the drips were feeding into me.
It was pretty tedious to spend well over a month in hospital and another month of only being up right for one walk a day. On leaving hospital, living mainly flat out in the house took its toll. Coming out again into civilisation involved a kind of sensory overload of noise, smells, taste and physical sensations. I, suddenly, was engulf with feelings and sensations, distant memories and forgotten friends, that I had not come across for a long time.
As I indicated at the start of this series of articles, it wasn’t that clear what caused the initial infection that mutated and almost killed me. In the articles I suggested a combination of different things had, potentially, caused the Gangrene: e.g. excessive work reducing my immune system’s ability to fight infection and not moving enough whilst typing for very long periods on hard chairs effecting my circulation.
I had spent the previous year, moving jobs and using every weekend and evening to do up our family home to put it on the market. Prior to travelling on holiday, I had been living in a rental mill cottage on a farm and commuting daily by train to Glasgow. There were lots of opportunities in my daily routine to pick up dodgy bacteria. As this song, World’s Not Gonna End”, by Josiah Johnson puts it, I was too stuck in a land of over work and negativity to look after myself:
There was anger in my heart
But I come to you with my love
And open arms, for myself and for everyone
I had gotten it all wrong
I was buried in my own shit
Thought the order was too tall to climb to life back out of it
In terms of what allowed the infection to enter the skin, there appear to be four serious candidates: a cut/abrasion caused by an encounter with a sharp object whilst travelling on trains or moving wood before I left for the USA; something sharp on the plane; an in-grown hair; or an insect bite. I was lucky to survive, but, the world would not have ended if I had not survived. It would have gone on fine without me. And, the world does not end because of the Corona Virus. We live to love and persevere.
My emotional and physical journey has a long way to go yet. I did not drink alcohol nor drive a car for 4 months and I still, 12 months on, can hardly run, jump or dance (I am working on the dancing but I may never do the other two ever again). The operations were an incredible shock to my system. Articles 1 to 4 demonstrated that, in the early days of my recovery, the difference between reality and imagination was tenuous because, as I have mentioned several times, the drugs made me hallucinate.
Most of the summer and up to November is just a blur, as this song November by Phoebe Hunt kind of illustrates – I was drifting through life faking I was OK:
Drifting here, drifting there
Drifting away from the summer
What have you told your mother
Where has the child gone
Off to another
Hold me close tonight
Tell me things are fine
Let go of the fight
Leaves fall from the trees
Shaking off my dreams
Hold what no one sees
Braveness v Endurance, Winning v Losing
Articles 1, 2 and 3 critiqued the tendency for men to ignore their health issue and provided advice on how to spot that your body is failing. I drew on my male side at different times during the process but I was at pains to point out that there was nothing to be gained, in the long run, from male sporty ideas that suggested that health is a game we can individually ‘win’ nor that, for example, suggest the Corona Virus can be ‘beaten’.
There was no ‘winning; with my health issues, they just had to be ‘endured’ and ‘survived’ and no matter how ‘brave’ I was, that fact could not be changed. I did not survive the process on my own – a team of people helped me and that reminded me of lessons I head learnt playing rugby. that we are only as good as the people around us enable us to be.
In the last 12 months, the loving part of my personality has been greatly enhanced by my experiences. For example, I recently went to a rugby reunion and I felt quite overwhelmed because there were lots of guys in the room that I loved playing rugby with. This is me pictured, for the first time since the operations, standing with out a stick:
I had drawn on my memories of these guys, and the tools they gave to me as a player, when having to work with the team in the hospital and ‘fight’ for my life. Just as I drew from the significant women in my life when finding reasons to live, I had thought of these guys when I started my process of rehabilitation, one weakened step at a time.
In February, some of my very long term friends persuaded me to go to the Scotland Italy game in Rome and we spent a couple of nights singing our hearts out in local restaurants – it was a very healing process for me. Even if I spent a lot of time jumping up and down from my seat with cramp in both legs because I had forgotten to take my smaller stick with me and over done things whilst telling myself I could get around OK without the stick.
Rome is such a beautiful city (if a tad militaristic for me). I loved the fashion shops in Rome but I prefer parts of Athens for the history (their museums with exquisite sculptures are so beautiful) and I prefer Paris for its space, relaxing mood and the walk along the Seine. I just hope that I will all be able to travel soon and make memories of happier times.
This might also include a trip to Barbados where I have been discussing a collaboration with colleagues in the University of the West Indies. Ironically and prophetically, that project aimed to look at how young people in fishing communities can be supported to develop their own online and face to face sites of learning that broaden our idea of education whilst providing an alternative when ‘schools and colleges are shut down by the storms that now occur more regularly and severely than in the past. The new project plan aims to analysing what happened when that shift to other forms of learning occurred because of the Corona Virus.
Thank you once again for reading these articles. There are a core group of readers who have stuck with me through out and I greatly appreciate you. This article has sought to build on the ideas of Article 12 by discussing the physical limitations that I experienced and my need for reasonable adjustments. It has done so to once again point out that you can’t ‘win’ against some health issues, you merely survive and endure. My endurance and ‘recovery’ was so helped by my friends and colleagues and I owe them a great debt of gratitude. Tune in next time, for a discussion of the psychological and emotional journey of my ‘rehab’ which explains the different aspects of post-traumatic stress that still plague my everyday life and some suggestions of how these issues can be worked through.
You have been reading an article from the Don’t Let Me Die In Phoenix Series. Follow the links below to access the other articles in this series.