At The Royal National Orthopaedic Hospital
February 13, 2013
The day I arrived here, I knew I was somewhere special. I remember Nurse Jackie (no, not that one) somehow sensing that I’d been through something gruelling at the previous hospital. She handled one of the most embarrassing aspects of my care with a kindness and sensitivity I will never forget.
So, here I am a few weeks on. I’m getting used to the strange feeling in my lower back where the titanium cage resides. I am happily tired from a day of swimming, gym and work on developing movement in my left wrist, which also houses some titanium. I try to walk but it hurts too much and so the wheelchair remains my primary mode of transport. Here, it feels normal. Everywhere I go there are nearly as many people on wheels as there are on foot (the latter mainly staff members).
The Royal National Orthopaedic Hospital in Stanmore has an extremely good reputation. The people who work here seem to be proud of that and very keen to uphold it. They succeed. Everyone is approachable. Not in my wildest dreams had I hoped to meet nurses, doctors, psychologists, physiotherapists, occupational therapists, urologists and case managers with such inexhaustible reserves of goodwill, talent and kindness.
There are times when I lock myself in a room for five minutes and cry. Remorse and sorrow at what I have done to myself become overwhelming and I gasp with renewed shock. The whoosh of air against my ears as I plummet 40 feet is a vivid memory that haunts me. For a few moments, I indulge myself in painful ‘what ifs’. What if, in the midst of the psychotic daze that nearly killed me, I’d turned left instead of right? I might never have found that drop. I certainly wasn’t looking for somewhere from which to jump. What if I’d remembered that dear friend whose house I was going to spend a few days at, coming back down to earth in a safe environment? Would that have worked out well, or would I have ended up simply endangering two people instead of one?
I like all the patients here, many of whom have greater physical and emotional challenges than mine. I have not had a single interaction with a nurse or healthcare assistant that wasn’t civil, temperate, good-natured and helpful. I remember on my second day here, Siobahn wrapping her arms around me while I wept. “We’re going to take such good care of you,” she said. That promise has been fulfilled in every possible way. I feel psychologically safe. Every night I draw the curtains to create the feeling of a bedroom. I change into a hospital gown and put on my toe-straightening devices. Strange, electrical feelings shoot up and down my feet, some of them painful. Occasionally, I video-call a friend. Then I lose myself in some piece of fiction whether televised or literary.
I may never run again (damn – just as I was getting a taste for it), but I am lucky that normal, fluid walking is not out of the question. I may have to be very patient. I think quite a lot about the friends I’m in touch with and the ones I’m not in touch with and try to be grateful for both. I almost ended my life. Now, no matter how my other goals, dreams and ambitions pan out (and of course, I’m deeply fearful that I’m innately flawed and that nothing will go the way I want it to!) – I do know that I will continue to have deep, authentic connections to other people.