Laughter, pain and the kindness of friends…


I had a booking at a school yesterday – and, despite my nasty fall on Wednesday, was determined to go in and teach. Until, that is, I woke up and found I could barely bend my right knee and that my left ankle had swollen up even more and was going multi-coloured.

I decided instead, to drive, very carefully, down to the local Minor Injuries Unit and get my afflicted, traumatised parts x-rayed.

Getting there at just after eight in the morning was good in one way (the place was virtually empty) and bad in another (x-ray doesn’t open till nine), but it was surprisingly pleasant just lolling around, albeit in a fair amount of pain, doing nothing.

A nurse called me at 8.30 and had a good look at both injuries. She tweaked my knee (painful, but necessary) and said that I’d need to get the ankle x-rayed, but that the knee was just badly bruised and a little bit abraded.

My ankle had its picture taken from two different angles – and I was then told to go back to the Waiting Room while someone looked at, and deciphered, the resulting images.

Hobbling back, I came upon a scene of great cheer and hilarity. Cheered me up no end, it did. Two pupils, from one of the schools I have taught at in recent weeks, had injured themselves  – in separate accidents, I hasten to add – and had fetched up, each with a parent, at more or less the same time. Both were able to see the funny side of what had happened to them and, instead of groans and tears, the atmosphere was full of jollity and raucous laughter – which I joined with great relief! By the time I was called to see my original nurse, I felt I had known these people for far longer than twenty minutes (or whatever it was) – and I wished both the young people good luck as I limped slowly to the cubicle.

To my relief, there was no obvious sign of a recent fracture, just two tiny marks which, I am certain, occurred during one of the many similar incidents years ago. This meant that I did not have to go down the Plaster of Paris, hideous boot road – and, for all that a sprain, ironically, takes longer to heal than a fracture, this was a great relief.

Instead, I opted for the bandages and crutches combination. I was told to rest my legs, not to drive if at all possible and to come back in five days or so to get my bits looked at.

I must say crutch technology has come on in leaps and bounds (which is a damn sight more than I am currently capable of) since the last time I had them (after breaking an ankle falling upstairs when trying to impress a boy I fancied back in my first term at university in 1976!) – and, while I won’t claim my eventual departure from the hospital was conducted in a series of adagios and pas-de-deux moves, I did manage to make it to the car park without jettisoning a crutch or twisting the other ankle.

I will confess that I had a brief moment of weeping and feeling sorry for myself – but my body knew what it both wanted and needed and I slept, deeply and dreamlessly, for about three and a half hours.

I had some really lovely comments, both on here and on Facebook. Thank you to all those who wrote to me. I will respond personally, but maybe not today.

As I lounged around in the armchair (my favourite seat in the house ), I realised how frantic, even manic, I have been since I moved to Glastonbury just under three months ago. It is as if I have been trying to prove something – though quite what and to whom I am not sure – or, perhaps, trying hard not to let waves of grief, sadness and loss overwhelm me. I have been busy, busy, busy, creating a new career, making new friends, walking Jumbs and exploring my area, sorting out house and garden and so on.

It felt wrong to be just sitting there doing nothing – as if I were wasting precious time or something; as if I needed to give myself permission to just be there, doing nothing more exacting than reading.

Later, a lovely local friend came round, bringing books and rhubarb and offers to help (which I accepted). I was very touched, by this and by another friend’s support this morning. I do not know why I find it so hard to ask for assistance, why I am so stubbornly independent and, in many ways, private; but I do know that it does not always serve me to shut people out in this way through guilt and fear of being too much, too demanding.

I have an appointment at the hospital next week, to get my left hand swelling looked at by the Orthopaedic team, so will combine that with a repeat visit to Minor Injuries. My friend has already said she can drive me there, which is such a wonderful relief and so kind of her.

Now? I need to sit tight and relax. The day is bright and beautiful. There is nothing urgent I need to do, having for the first time in my life ordered my weekly shop online, so I can luxuriate in the books loaned to me, loll around and let my body (and mind) heal.

Small note: I found that image of a sprained ankle on line, not being sufficiently mobile at that point to photograph my own injury – but mine is almost identical in appearance.

Pavement Pain: A True Story


Note: This piece was written in the early hours of the morning. It has taken me the rest of the day to pluck up the courage to post it. Fear can be paralysing.

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Before the Adoption of  The Doc Marten Boot days, I used to suffer from hereditary weak ankles – and was forever spraining, twisting and fracturing them. This true story is part of what made me decide to divorce my husband last October  – and was a major contributory factor when it came to the start of my DM collection!

It was Summer 1999.  Laddie was a little one back then, perhaps twenty months old – and we had bought, and moved into, this house – now being sold – but three months earlier.

It was a Saturday morning, and my Other Half was at work. I had bundled the wean up and driven to Weston-super-Mare to do some shopping, taking small boy’s pushchair in the car’s boot.

As I walked along the pavement in Weston’s central section (near Peacocks, for anyone who knows this South West of England seaside resort), pushing the baby and chatting away to him, my foot caught in a tiny between-slabs dip and my ankle twisted excruciatingly, the way it had done so often before.

I began to fall, the pushchair rearing back terrifyingly, my little one wailing with fear. Fortunately, a kind passer-by saved my child, scooping him out before the pushchair landed on hard concrete and holding him, while another caring citizen looked at my ankle and then called an ambulance.

I was distraught. It wasn’t just the pain, though that was awful; it was the worry about my child – and the fear, which I kept hidden in those far-off days, of contacting my husband (because there was no way I was going to be safe to drive us home, and the baby was going to need feeding and his afternoon nap before too much longer).

The ambulance crew very kindly let me hold my weeping son – and, with me crying too, the two sodden souls were transported to the local hospital speedily.

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This was in the days before the mobile phone became a must-have item (may even have pre-dated it altogether) and so when, as a non-urgent case, I was put in the Waiting Room, lad on lap, my only way of contacting anyone was the hospital’s phone system – which, although I didn’t know it at the time, was notorious for being more miss than hit.

So, asking an elderly lady to hold the boy, I limped slowly over to the phone – and dialled the work number for his father.

What was I expecting? Concern? Support? The way I would have reacted had the tables been turned? Because, whatever it took, I’d have been on my way to help within minutes…

What I got was impatience bordering on irritation: No, he could not come out and get the car and our son; he was alone in the office; it was all highly inconvenient; I would have to phone around our local friends and get someone else – and only phone him back if I absolutely couldn’t find anybody.

I started to get very anxious, and to hyper-ventilate, at this. Our child was tired, hungry and frightened; I was shocked and in severe pain – and, without rescue, the weeping toddler was going to have to accompany me on every step of whatever happened next; I had no food for him and was not able to walk far enough to reach the canteen.

I tried, for what felt like years, to contact others – but the phone system had, by this time, rebelled against me and I was unable to get through.

Just then, I was called into the examination room. Fortunately, I was placed in a wheelchair for this short journey, so my child could sit on my lap and get some much-needed Mummy Comfort.

I was prodded, poked, x-rayed (a nice nurse looked after Lad during this) and, my injury being, fortunately, nothing more serious than a bad sprain, strapped up.

I tried, for another age, to contact my husband to tell him the latest – and then, Boy’s distress finally proving too much for both of us, got one of the medical staff to get a taxi for me, stopping at an ATM half way home so I could hobble across the pavement and get cash to pay the driver.

Home, finally, and having fed the small person, I realised I needed to wee, having not been able to use the facilities at the hospital.

As I was crawling in the direction of the loo, now-exhausted baby wailing in the background, the front door slammed open and my furious husband burst in, red of face and almost snarling with rage.

There was no, ‘How are you? Is Baby all right? What can I do?’ type of thing.

No.

On the contrary, his first words were, ‘Where the FUCK were you? You have embarrassed and humiliated me in front of John…’

What had happened was this: He had managed to get a colleague to drive him to the hospital – and there I wasn’t.

At the time, I felt awful: So guilty and bad. I felt I should (though God knows how) have found a way to phone him, or waited with the baby on the off-chance that he turned up. I felt it was all my fault. I grovelled and apologised and wept.

And yet, even back then, the to-me-weird emphasis on his friend’s possible reaction, caused a little worm of unease to slither down my back.

I can remember telling myself that he was justified in this degree of anger – and that the reason I would never have reacted this way myself was because I was an unassertive wimp.

But over the years, this kind of scenario was played out on many different occasions – and a very similar reaction, to something utterly trivial, last September finally caused me to come to my senses and phone a local solicitor specialising in divorce.

People who tell me, ‘All men are like this,’ are missing the point, and trivialising something serious. Those whose reaction, upon hearing this episode and others like it, has been disbelieving – as if implying that there is NO way my ex would ever behave like this (because he presents charm-side first outside closed doors) – are insulting my honesty and condoning cruel and unusual behaviour. And those who would rather believe his story of a brain-damaged (ex) wife than face my consistent, and worrying (to say the least), testimony need their own heads examining!

Why on earth would I make something like this – and the many other, similar, incidents I have chosen not to share – up? To get attention? Make my life seem more exciting? Bollocks! I can get all the excitement and fun and companionship I require without needing to be tamed by the metaphorical taser of fear, thank you very much!

I am not insane, but I am angry: Furious that my name has been blackened with certain family members and friends just so that my ex can continue to perpetrate the myth that I divorced him for no reason, that he did nothing to cause the marital break down – and that, therefore, I must have Alzheimer’s Disease/be crazy! Yes, of course I must! Makes complete logical sense, doesn’t it? After all, no woman in her right mind would ever divorce her husband, would she?! She’d have to be a complete loony to even contemplate such a step!

Yeah right!

My ex’s specious use of Tautology (in its discipline of Logic sense) is the true Grim(m) Fairy Tale, the dark fantasy material, and not any of the pieces I have posted on here (many written as fiction out of fear, and then deleted) – or the numerous other incidents I have written about, in such silent distress, in my journal for two decades or more.

All men are NOT like this, and no human being (man or woman) should be dismissed out of hand when trying to share a long history of  emotional abuse.

This is not about clearing my own name. Nor is it about spite or revenge. I leave that to the Universe. It is an assertion of my own sanity, of my refusal to be emotionally abused any longer – and my absolute certainty that I have done the right thing for me, and others, even if my name, amongst some members of the extended tribe, continues to be mud, and loopy, deranged mud at that!

On a happier note, the regular wearing of DMs (at one point, I had sixteen pairs) both protected and strengthened my ankles – and I have had no problems in the past fifteen years or so. The ones below, I have decided,  are going to be my next pair! I shall start saving forthwith!

Rather me, don’t you think?!

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Liver: Anger


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During my 2006 Trial by Jaundice, my brother-in-law told me that ailments of the liver reflect/symbolise withheld anger.

At the time, I was too sick, and chained, to take this in. But, ten years on, I can see that there was a great deal of truth in his observation.

I was angry. Furious, raging. But it was all slurping around in the deepest hold of my emotional vessel, held beneath steel-lined, quadruple-locked doors complete with gun-toting homicidal guards.

I believed that my inner fire should be quenched at all times, that there was something intrinsically wrong with such violent and potentially destructive feelings. I believed that anger was irrational, a sign of incipient lunacy (or menopause, or both) – and that I had to prove, every which way I could, that I was gentle, kind, loving, caring, even-tempered. Flames required immediate dowsing with water – and any outbreak had to be apologised for instantly.

Looking back, I can see that I was not, in the strict sense, depressed – ever. The sadness was natural, but unexpressed, and it only aped depression when throttled back and kicked into a neat line by a power I could not withstand.

I used Seroxat to tame the wild beasts of fury – though I did not see this back then. Because, make no mistake, under the heavy man-hole cover of anxiety were the flood-water-boiling sewers of temper and repressed screeching, and understandable, healthy rebellion.

But you can tamp down a fire for only so long. Sparks will alight in odd places and wreak their destruction.

Ironically, the pills I took to crush it all rebounded, or my liver took the decision to shout and scream and cry and hurt for me. Who knows? Theories abound – and, in all honesty, we human beings don’t know as much about the mind-body-emotion link as we might like to pretend.

At any rate, in early February of that momentous year, my liver, the seat of anger, rebelled and sent the forge of shocking pain to rework the metal, and the mettle, of my personality.

Unfortunately, I failed to take the hint, did not follow this train of rage to its depot, allowed it to steam off until it was, once again, out-of-sight-out-of-mind…

But, once the forge fire is lit, and the Smith ready, the process cannot be stopped – and, whether I liked it or not (I didn’t, for the most part) my bodily organs and I had signed an unseen pact which would, years later, be fully acknowledged and consciously worked upon.

That sword, forged in such agony and emotional grief, is now emerging from the white-gold of the fire – and, soon, I shall draw it and hold it up in pride and humility. The former because I have shown courage and perseverance, at least some of the time! The latter because, had I listened to the shrieking and cawing of my liver in the first place, I could have brandished my sword far earlier and avoided the burning of a fire pushed to its limit of endurance.

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Death in the ward: Ten years ago this month


I never knew her as such – though, by an odd coincidence, I ended up teaching her daughter two years later – but she had a huge impact upon my life.

Hospitalised for the second time in two months with acute (as it turned out, Seroxat-induced) Hepatitis, I was thin, yellow, in intense pain and hugely over-emotional.

That first night, on a holding ward, I listened as the ninety-year-old man next to me gasped out his breath, having aspirated food into his frail lungs.

The six-bed female ward seemed like a haven of light and peace in comparison – initially.

V. was in the bed to my right, a lady some ten years younger than I – clearly very poorly, attached to bags and tubes, her voice a mechanical rasp of diminishing power. She was in the grip of a life-limiting disease – but was fully expected to survive the chest infection which had brought her in this time round.

Her mother, and other helpers, kept watch, wrote up her notes, sluiced out her tubes, emptied her waste bags, talked to her. I was impressed by their competence, their matter-of-fact attitude, their clear love for this fragile person.

As the day wore on, however, it became obvious that all was not well: V. was sleeping more and more, conscious less and less; she was having to be suctioned regularly and with decreasing effect; her urine bag became ever-darker in colour; nurses and doctors made frequent visits and discussed her oxygen readings.

Did I think she was dying? If I am honest, yes, I did – and I was afraid. Afraid of witnessing her end, of being unable to help, stop it, do anything; afraid, in my own far less weakened state, of the intimations of mortality this would inevitably bring; afraid, and saddened, at the thought of the grief to come for her parents and the child as yet unseen.

Just before Visiting Time, all the curtains were drawn round V’s bed. I could hear her breathing becoming ever-more infrequent and stertorous. I could hear the young helper in with her telling her that she had suffered long enough and that it was all right to go now.

Then I heard muted weeping – and became aware that I had not heard V. breathe in five minutes or more. I knew then that she had died.

I sat very still in my own bed, hardly daring to breathe myself, terrified about what was going to happen next – and then the awful, heart-broken wailing started. Her little girl had come along the corridor to visit her mummy, and had been told that she was dead. The little one’s crying broke my heart. I imagined what it would have been like if it had been my son (who is a couple of years younger) approaching the ward.

A little while later, a gentle nurse came in and closed all the curtains around everyone else’s beds – and explained that they needed to do something on the ward and would be very grateful for our patience so they could have privacy.

I am not sure whether the other women realised at that point that V. had died: I was the closest to her geographically and most of the other ladies had some form of dementia.

The nurses were very discreet, thoughtful; it was all handled with dignity and care. I heard the trolley being wheeled out along the corridor, V’s body hidden in a lower recess – and then the lovely nurse opened our curtains.

I asked her outright – and she confirmed that V. had, indeed, died, that it had been unexpected and very sad, that everyone had hoped that she would be going home in a few days.

Forward a few years – and I met her parents (who were the little girl’s guardians) at a parents’ evening at the school where I taught. I debated with myself whether I should say anything – but decided in the end that I would: Told them that I had been the lady in the bed next to their daughter when she passed away, and also said how impressed I had been by her bravery and the close family bond, and how the child clearly came from a truly lovely and special clan.

They were, I think, genuinely touched.

In an odd way, it was a privilege to be there at this lady’s final moment – just as, later, it was a privilege to teach her delightful daughter.