I broke my neck at level C5/C6 when my Honda 900 cc motorbike ploughed into a keep left bollard. The back wheel bounced over the curb of the bollard, tossing me backwards and snapping my neck. My own fault. I zoomed into a blind bend at 40 mph. There it was, slap bang in the middle of the road. A keep left bollard, bold and shining white. Unavoidable. Screech of brakes and tyres. Wham! Blackness. Came to, dazed, and with people gathered around me. A woman screamed. Couldn’t feel my body. Blurted out something about not being able to move, a frightened babble, barely coherent. Blood dripped from a wound, splashed down onto the inside of my visor. That was 15 years ago.
Now I’ve got a hideous cyst growing on my spinal-cord at level C5. Already it has caused considerable paralysis. The cyst is creeping upwards, paralysing more of my body as it grows. My wrists are weakening. I can no longer cock my left hand back, and I can’t twist my wrists or move my hand from side to side. My tricep muscles are practically useless. I can’t feel or use my hands or legs. My stomach and chest muscles are also paralysed. Coughing is impossible.
The cyst — which is basically a fluid-filled sac — needs draining. It’s a very intricate operation, which can only be done in certain hospitals and under certain conditions. The neurosurgery waiting list is considerable. If I don’t get it done soon, I’ll end up a complete quadriplegic and relying on a ventilator to breathe. There are considerable risks associated with this operation. I could end up even more paralysed than I already am. I’ve got to go through with it, though. If I don’t, the cyst will eventually cause total paralysis.
I’ve had a through floor lift installed in my home, and I’m now registered with a care agency. Two youngish women, a Lithuanian and Zimbabwean, bed wash and dress me. They hoist me into my battered old wheelchair and then make me comfortable. We joke and a laugh.
Both women are incredibly intelligent. The Zimbabwean was an interior designer in her own country, had her own business. She employed people. The Lithuanian was a medical company representative. She was also a pianist and singer. She showed me a mobile phone video of her singing. Dressed in a beautiful blue gown, she stood in front of an orchestra, hands held to the side as she sang. Oh, and she’s an art lover, too, particularly likes Salvador Dali and Van Gogh. Such cultured women, and here they are washing my backside. It all seems so unlikely, so incredible.
Incidentally, I still paint. Brushes are strapped to my hands with Velcro fasteners. I have a brilliant easel. Driven by electric motors, it revolves 360°, moves up and down and side to side. I too like Van Gogh. He is my favourite artist.
The Zimbabwean and I have a special relationship. We understand and appreciate each other. I feel that I can confide in her, tell her my fears and hopes. We talk about issues that worry us both She has been my carer for over two years now. We have become friends. I fear that I will one day lose her. She has recently been promoted, a more demanding job within the care agency. This morning I saw the strain of responsibility etched on her face. She looked weary, tired. Apparently she lays awake at night worrying about organising the staff. I am now the only one she physically cares for. I daresay she will soon hand my care to someone else. I shall miss her dearly.
But life is in a constant state of flux. Nothing ever stays the same. Change is happening every second of every day. I mentioned this very fact to the Lithuanian this morning. The Zimbabwean had just washed my hair. She had gone into the other room to fill in the log, leaving the Lithuanian to dry it. Running a comb through my wet hair she said, rather philosophically: “If there’s one thing that doesn’t change it’s the fact that everything will change.” I felt like adding birth and death to the list of certainties but I didn’t want to introduce a demoralising element to the discussion. She picked up the hairdryer and started to blow-dry my hair, ruffling it with her hand so the warm air reached down to my scalp. I felt dry to me but she said there was a damp patch and carried on blow drying until she was satisfied. It’s the little things that mean so much. Tiny things like that, just making sure that every fibre of my hair is dry.
I have the best carers in the world. The agency that I have signed up with is also one of the best. Injuring myself, even having a cyst on my spinal-cord is not all bad. Good can come from the worst possible instances. There is good and bad in everything. Thank you Debbie and Orillia. Thank you Merit for creating one of the best care agencies in the country. Yeah, it’s not all bad.