About four years ago, I had some sort of brain-fart.
That’s my term for it, in case you’re not a medical person and weren’t sure. It’s not any technical term presented by the doctors. I can’t give you the technical term, because they never really said what it was.
They put me through an impressive collection of tests; by the end of which they were only really able to tell me what it wasn’t. After MRIs, X-rays, ECGs, and lots of my blood and urine kept in little pots throughout Staffordshire medical facilities, all I got out of it was a sort of medical shrug. And a verbal statement from a very nice diminutive Asian doctor who said (and you really need to hear it with his accent to appreciate the comedy value) my brain is “little bit weird, but nothing to worry about”.
Looking back on it, I wish I’d asked him to write that down on some headed notepaper. I’d keep it in my wallet and show people any time they wondered about my mental state.
So I refer to it as “the brain-fart”, whilst my doctors call it “the episode”. Whatever it was: it saw me thrashing around on the floor for a few minutes, doing considerable damage to my back, chewing a chunk out of my own tongue, and shattering the ball-joint of my shoulder against a door frame.
They operated on me only a few days after, removing the loose chunk from my shoulder and replacing it with titanium. I think that makes me part-cyborg, and certainly guarantees me a frisking at airports. I feel more of a kinship with my fridge.
After, I was careful to ensure that my wife saw the X-ray, so that if we’re ever stuck together in an arctic research facility and we dig an alien lifeform out of the ice, she’d be able to identify it if anyone found it rolling around the bathroom floor.
It’s interesting how much of that week I don’t remember. I don’t just mean the op itself: I mean all the prep beforehand and the recovery after. I have to look back through Facebook to see some of the drivel I felt the need to keep everyone informed about. When asked about that period, my wife just says I was “a nightmare”.
I’ve noticed subtle changes to my personality since then, too. Nothing major … but I am easily distracted, can’t concentrate on a single task for too long, have had difficulty remaining with an employer, and suffer mild-but-regular bouts of depression. It might just be the extra pain I’m in, but I don’t think so. It makes me worry that my career will not take the path I had imagined. I’m just not that smart any more.
For three years after I “enjoyed” physiotherapy appointments staffed by impossibly healthy nineteen-year-olds who had clearly never suffered joint pain in their lives. There was one in particular (“Katie”) who looked very sweet and adorable, but could kill a man with just her thumb. It was like visiting an NHS-funded dominatrix.
Physio over those three years mostly seemed to do nothing but return me to a massive state of pain. I also got lots of conflicting advice from different friends who’d all had similar (as in: they have bones too) but different (because there’s a lot of different ways you can screw your muscles up) experiences.
I heard everything from “pain is all in your mind, you need to work through it” (mostly from people who thought they knew it all because they had ‘personal trainers’) to “suck it up, you snowflake” (from morons who consumed protein shakes) to “well, we all know the NHS is screwed, don’t we?” (from Daily Mail readers). The professionals around me were good enough to advise me that “everyone is different and heals at their own rate”.
If there’s one piece of advice I can give anyone in this situation: trust the professionals over the well-meaning idiots, every time. Michael Gove can fuck right off.
But the physio appointments tailed-off when no improvements were seen and the pain continued. “Wait a year and then come back” I was told: “your shoulder is frozen, and needs to unfreeze at its own rate”. Honestly, I was just pleased to be off the books. Katie was giving me PTSD.
And then, about six-months ago I attended the fracture clinic for my usual checkup. I had another X-ray, and the consultant said:
“Yep, this hasn’t worked, has it? Let’s redo it.” And walked out of the cubicle to find consent forms for me to fill in, leaving me in a bit of a state of shock.
It wasn’t that I’ve been “a special snowflake” all this time, or have been bad at doing my exercises. Apparently the metal piece had been wearing away at the bone around it, and things were only going to get worse.
I’m trying not to dwell on the last three years of pain being a waste of everyone’s time; it’s not a healthy line of thought, and it doesn’t help. The positive side is that I’m not going to be doomed to a life of constant pain and severely limited shoulder movement. It’s just a blip that can be fixed.
Two weeks ago I reached the top of the queue, and went back under the knife. Complete replacement of hemisphere and part of the humerus. I’ve not been able to get a new X-ray to show my wife, so until then I’m open-season for any cell-replacing hostile alien lifeforms. It looks like the sort of doorknob that Giger would design.
I’ve got a lovely scar that I was hoping would scare the kids. Actually, they’re not bothered in the slightest … it just makes my wife want to vomit. My shoulder looks like the top of an uncooked Cornish Pasty.
All of which leads up to this: it’s 5am, I’ve been awake since 1am, and I’m writing this until the painkillers kick-in and I have a chance of getting back to sleep. I’m one of those people who tends to thrash around a lot when getting to sleep, but that’s not compatible with a shoulder replacement.
Normally I’m quite well-behaved when it comes to taking painkillers, but being back in that semi-conscious insomnia hell I thought I’d seen the back of is poor for my discipline. Times like this make me a little more cavalier with instructions like “only four times a day” and am willing to risk it if it knocks me out until sunrise.
The good news is that it already feels like I have more movement of my arm, and this pain should only last for another month or so. Then I’ll be back on the physio’s books, and the lovely Katie will be there to greet me with her rubber bed and ninja-thumbs … but it should work this time.
And then maybe … one day … I’ll be able to dress myself unaided. I can dream.