Some people have a signature dish. Crumble. Fish pie. Maybe they make a mean toad-in-the-hole. Others are famed for their obsession with football or, for my international readers, perhaps that thing they do in America where they run around a football field not calling it football, dressed in a cage, wearing black eye make up.
Me? I’m getting pretty brilliant at herniating discs in my back. I’m 33 years old and I’ve just done it for the third time. It’s not big and it’s not clever. It’s chronically painful and anyone who has never had a bad back can just bugger off right now because they have no idea how much pain I
am in would be in if I wasn’t dosed up on so many fantastic drugs that I rattle.
The first time, I gave a girl a piggyback and ended up having two discs removed from my lower spine. The second time, the doctors were getting a bit bored of me and told me I’d had enough major surgery for one life and I could sort it out myself with a bit of Pilates and not giving people piggybacks anymore.
And so began a ten year quest to be the girl who used to have back troubles. I started with Pilates, I dabbled in Alexander Technique, I did core strengthening, yoga, swimming, physiotherapy, hell, I even had acupuncture.
All by myself, without surgery, I made my back really strong. So strong, in fact, that I was prancing around all over the place under the illusion that I was super-human and could do stuff I couldn’t, such as be an athlete. Because I really love exercise. More than anyone. Well, less than professional athletes and people who run marathons and a girlfriend of mine who throws tractor tyres around the place in the pursuit of a challenge, and generally most sporty people. But all my friends who don’t exercise at all think I’m a right gym bunny, so out of all of them, I love exercise the most.
Along comes T25. It’s the new thing in exercise.
Shaun T takes you on a 25 minute adventure every day and presumably you end the 90 day regime looking a bit like Shaun T, who is mega buff. I wouldn’t know, I got to about 30 days in and something started to go… In my desire to be the slimmest I could be on the upcoming holiday, I ignored the ailment and carried on, for I was convinced Shaun T was going to give me the body of my dreams and who cares if your back is knocking on the door of your brain and saying, er, any chance she can stop all this incessant circuit training? One more workout and this bomb is going to blow. My brain slammed the door shut in the face of my back and said, but she wants to be so thin! Leave her alone!
My father taught me all sickness is a lie, no one is really ill, ailments show weakness, sympathy is for mugs. Thanks for that warped yet deeply laid parental lesson, pops. It’s really helped me punish my body with reckless abandon and presume I’m never ill with anything that can’t be fixed by gargling TCP and bathing in Dettol. (I spent my entire childhood bathing in Dettol. Seriously.)
We got ourselves on the holiday and it was in Thailand, the home of my favourite food in the world, which I quickly got to devouring.
Cue stomach bug.
And then I vomited. And in an act even more impressive than herniating a disc giving a girl a piggyback, I herniated an already flailing disc by sicking up violently. I’m sure people are supposed to herniate discs rock climbing or something. Not puking.
We had no travel insurance and had to figure out how we were going to get me home from Bangkok in the state I was in: unable to walk or sit without wailing in pain and spasming like the girl in the Exorcist.
We debated calling British Airways, letting the nice people know I was going to be a bit of a problem and perhaps they could kindly bump me up to first class, where I could lie down and cry quietly until we touched down in London.
But we did not. We decided to get on the damn plane, one way or another, wait until we were thirty thousand feet in the air, then beg for a better seat.
We negotiated a wheelchair to help navigate Bangkok airport. Funny old thing, being in a wheelchair. My husband handled all our luggage while someone else drove me. But he decided the best place to drive me to and park me in was often a corner. So I spent much of my time in Bangkok airport facing a wall and realising what it’s like when your brain is no longer in charge of the tiny decisions we take for granted, like where we want to stop or go.
Here’s a little lesson for you all. If you ever NEED to get bumped up to first class for reasons similar to my own, do not tell your airline beforehand. As the steward explained while organising a pill to knock me out, there was absolutely no way they’d have let me fly if they’d known what a problem child I was.
With first class full, my only option was this pill. The steward told me he’d have to call Arizona to get permission to give it to me, as we were above international waters and, without a doctor on board (bar me, Doctor Willis) a doctor in Arizona was apparently the only person with the authority to prescribe me this special little aeroplane pill. ‘Call Arizona,’ I wept. ‘I love drugs.’
‘Let it dissolve under your tongue, you’ll soon be asleep,’ they assured. Alas, I’ve been taking recreational drugs for half my life (the adult half) and this drug they hold in such high esteem barely touched the sides for me. It did make me hallucinate though, which I always find highly entertaining, so I was able to close my eyes and watch the wild ride my mind had in store for me while the rest of economy class finally got some peace and quiet.
At Heathrow, I was gifted another wheelchair (more considerate driver this time) which meant we were taken through a secret door out to baggage reclaim – no queueing to get our passports stamped. Husband was delighted. If only such a swift entrance to the country didn’t come with such excruciating pain. Then again, passport queues are pretty painful too so we kind of won.
And now I am at home, laid up in bed, horizontal being the only position that doesn’t feel like someone is jabbing a dagger in my back.
This weekend, a few friends came to visit, armed with sympathy and supportive suggestions.
‘Doris Day taught herself to sing while recovering from a car accident!’ said one.
‘Stephen King was in a near fatal car accident, then wrote his memoir while bed-bound!’ added another.
‘Frida Kahlo spent her whole life in pain, and channelled that pain into her art,’ they went on.
‘Jack Johnson was going to be a professional surfer until a major surfing accident. While he was recovering he honed his guitar playing skills!’ chimed in my husband, who for the record does not listen to Jack Johnson but was merely emphasising what a gift I’ve been given.
It’s certainly inspiring company. All these artists, creating their masterpieces while bed-bound.
But I think I’ll just watch Netflix.