‘Juliet, I would like you to leave your crutches by the chair, get up and pretend you are walking down a long catwalk, one foot in front of the other.’ My physiotherapist smiled at me as I stared back at her open-mouthed. I hadn’t walked without crutches before, apart from a few stumbling steps going from the bedroom to the bathroom, so the thought of walking unaided and channeling my inner model at the same time, was challenging. I put my crutches down and attempted a few steps. I looked at her and raised my eyebrows. ‘You look like you’ve just come off a boat,’ she said, ‘You’re swaying a bit side to side, and you need to bend your legs,’ she added. Then I said something very inappropriate. ‘Do I look like Oscar Pistorius?’ I laughed. My mother and my physiotherapist did not laugh. Okay then.
I have found that blaming hardcore painkillers for inappropriate remarks usually works. It did in hospital when I repeatedly said how attractive one of my surgeons was... to his face. I have said some pretty bizarre things over the last few weeks and told people things I probably shouldn’t have, but there is a freedom to it that is quite refreshing. Only when you come down from the drugs a few hours later and remember what you have said, does the embarrassment and humiliation soar through you. Also, as I am now 5 weeks post surgery and am down to only 2 horse-strength painkillers a day, I can hardly blame the drugs for everything that comes out of my mouth can I? Shame.
So, it is week 5 and I am doing 2 hours of physio a day plus one intense physio session a week with the therapist. I have gone from having no muscle memory at all, to a fairly functioning leg. But my God, the first few weeks were tough. My delightful surgeon had to cut through all the muscles and nerves in my thigh to insert the titanium and plastic implants, so for almost 3 weeks I couldn’t make my leg move. My spine was actually blocking the messages from my brain to my quadriceps, in order to protect it from the agony it knew moving it would cause. Clever spine. But staring at your temporarily paralysed leg, day after day, willing it to do something, is completely weird, intensely frustrating but also quite fascinating. Then one morning, having done nothing different from the day before, I woke up and managed to lift my foot off the bed. It was amazing. 5 weeks later, I can lift my leg, bend it, and I can put weight on it. After today’s physio session I can also, sort of, walk unaided. Kate Moss I am not but I’m getting there.
The most difficult thing to deal with, after any surgery or long term rehabilitation, is how to fill your day. Luckily I’ve been able to stay with my parent’s for the 8 weeks necessary, so I have a lovely house to stay in, with my very generous if not slightly eccentric mother and father. They fascinate me and have kept me amused and bemused in equal measure. You might not be aware of your parent’s peculiarities because you may only see them occasionally, over a weekend or on holidays or birthdays, but let me tell you, living with your parents for 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and unable to escape the house because you physically can’t walk, that is when you see your parents and all their strange ways, clearly and in technicolour!
Actually, my father isn’t really eccentric, he is more just a man of habit. It’s his habits, however, that are slightly odd. Things in the house are run on a fairly tight schedule. When I had knee surgery last year, breakfast was served between 8:15 and 8:30am. If you missed the time slot... tough! This year, everything is far more relaxed and breakfast is now between 8:45 and 9:15! As I haven’t been able to walk or indeed move very much at all, I have been getting breakfast brought to me in bed, something that I have already got very used to and must wean myself off rather smartish, in order to return to the real world and not have to resort to getting myself a maid! But if I’m being really honest, breakfast in bed is something that I do when I’m on my own anyway... I get up, I shower, I make breakfast and then I take it back to bed and eat it. It is something that people find very very odd indeed, so much so, that an old boyfriend rang in to a morning radio show entitled, “What does your partner do that’s strange?” and told them about me having breakfast in bed. ‘You mean on special occasions?’ they asked. ‘Nope, she has breakfast in bed, on her own, every single day,’ he replied. ‘Ooooooh,’ they chorused, as if I was suddenly the Queen of Sheba!
Anyway, I digress. So my father likes things to be the way he wants them to be when I am living in his house. Lunch is a proper sit down affair and is always two courses. Usually a cooked main with pudding or cheese and biscuits to follow. Very civilised, very delicious. But with this in mind, I quickly realised that if I wasn’t careful, lying or sitting in bed for hours on end with no exercise would result in me putting on ridiculous amounts of weight and I would have to be airlifted from the house by the fire brigade in a fairly short amount of time, so I needed to reduce my calorie intake sharpish. I made my mother promise to give me nothing too fattening or too starchy and to pile my plate with vegetables and protein rather than anything bad, and I have refused every pudding offered to me. I have subsequently lost half a stone in 4 weeks and am thinking of setting up a weight loss clinic here, with mum in charge, because she’s done wonders! I haven’t touched a drop of alcohol in 6 weeks, have had no sneaky puffs of cigarettes, and am doing such hardcore core-strengthening exercises that I am stronger than I’ve ever been. I even thought I caught sight of an abdominal muscle the other day and nearly fell off the bed in shock!
With my new nun-like status and bionic limb I’m feeling rather good and wonder just how long I can keep up my abstaining ways, once I get off crutches, go back to work and start socialising properly again. A friend visited from London last weekend and I decided to order half a pint of bitter with my Sunday Roast to see what would happen... would I keel over, would my body go into shock, would I suddenly start misbehaving and humiliate myself in the local hostelry?? No. I got a bit giggly but nothing more. I was quite disappointed. I think he was too!
So back to my father... as well as mealtimes being to schedule, so are the rest of the day’s events. He goes shopping or pays a visit to the library (yes they still have libraries in this part of the country!) almost every single day. This flummoxed me to start with. Why not just do a big weekly shop and get enough books to last you the week?? It’s all to do with keeping busy I have deduced. While my mother is involved with more activities in a day than most people do in a year, my father has fewer hobbies. He does the Telegraph cryptic crossword every morning (very difficult), loves to build and mend things in his workshop, enjoys meeting his old boys for lunch, likes to chop things down and dig things up in the garden, is an expert at loading the dishwasher (god forbid you decide to put something in yourself and his military exactness is disrupted), he likes to play solitaire on his computer (while pretending to check emails) and he likes to watch rugby, Australian Masterchef, crime dramas, and good films (not too much sex, not too much violence, and definitely no sci-fi) on television. He loves pub lunches, his family, the coast, cars and driving. He tells a good joke, better stories, likes an argument and is never wrong (remember he reads this blog and I’m still staying here)!!! But when you have spent your whole life working, until the age of 72 I hasten to add, some days must have a way of stretching ahead, so going into town with a list of errands every day, makes total sense to me now. Afternoons are spent on yet more errands, looking at and replying to emails (playing solitaire), the occasional doctor’s appointment and then possibly a repeat episode of Midsummer Murders (the good thing about ageing and watching old murder mysteries is that you can’t remember who did it!). Supper is at 7pm sharp. A spot of television follows, news headlines at 10, then bed.
My mother on the other hand makes my (normal) social life look dull. She belongs to 2 book groups (one high-brow, one not so), the WI (Women’s Institute), the Romsey Quilters, the RHS (Royal Horticultural Society), NADFAS (the National Association of Decorative and Fine Arts Society... phew!), she goes on group outings to the cinema and theatre, arranges the church flowers and the occasional wedding, hosts coffee mornings, takes classes at the U3A (University of the third age... which sounds very new age-y but is actually just Uni for oldies), practises yoga twice a week, practises pilates once a week, and does more for charity than anyone else I know. It exhausts me just writing it down. It’s more exhausting for my father and I to watch her go hither and thither, disappearing for hours, without us really having the first clue as to which club or organisation she has popped off to. Also, due to her infuriating disinterest in her mobile phone – or rather trying to explain that she did have it with her but she’d turned it off in case it rang at an inopportune time – it is impossible to find out where she has got to. But as well as being out all the time she also has friends that drop in constantly for a chat and a cup of tea. I have had to get used to the friends dropping in, for they literally burst through the front door without waiting for an invitation. I have been in several states of undress, having either finished physio or flopping out of the bath, when I hear the front door open and someone stride down the hall towards my bedroom with a ‘coo-ee, it’s just me!’ I only found out, on my second immobile week, that she had instructed several neighbours to keep an eye on me while she and my father were out of the house. God knows what they thought I was about to get up to with them gone, but the neighbours came. They came, they walked in to my bedroom, they ignored my red cheeks and protestations and they made themselves comfortable in the bedroom armchair, ready for a spot of village gossip (of which there is loads!).
Such is the trustworthiness of my parent’s village that even the postman lets himself in and puts the letters on the chair inside the door rather than through the letterbox! This would be fine if I remembered that this happened. A few days ago, with my parent’s out of the house, I decided to try and get on the exercise bike in the dining room. I was pink as a lobster having just left a steamy bathroom, and was wrapped only in a towel. I hauled myself up onto the bike, caught my towel on the saddle and was half falling off, half saving myself from nudity, when the postman walked through the front door, casually said, ‘Morning,’ in my direction, and was off again. As my mother pointed out later, after a bout of hysterics, he’s probably seen much much worse. Thanks mama!
As well as all of this, my folks have looked after me for the last 5 weeks, fetching and carrying without complaint or question. They have taken me to hospital appointments in London, taken me to physio appointments in Hampshire, taken me to the doctors, the chemists, the cinema, day trips to the sea, out to lunch, and all the while dealing with my very changeable moods (again I blame the painkillers!). They have had to put up with tears (pain and physio), frustration (pain and physio), joy (breakthrough pain and physio) and laughter (mostly at them). I have only two more weeks to go before I am thrust out, like a newborn foal into the equine world, wobbly and unsure of my new life. I’m scared and excited for I know not what to expect. What I do know is that I would not have got to where I am today – healthy, happy and mobile – without the help and encouragement of my amazing friends and family.
My parents are one of a kind. Their oddities make great fodder for my writing but what I hope I have inherited, as well as the eccentricity, is their boundless energy, their huge generosity and their unconditional love. I thank them from the bottom of my heart, or is it the heart of my bottom... I’m not sure, for I still am taking two Tramadol a day and one of them was just now!!