Sunday, April 14, 2013

That Time I Almost Died Part II

Written sometime in 2008...


Anyone remember when I was funny? Neither do I.

I finally managed to see my NHS ("universal healthcare") GP. After hearing my boxset of symptoms, she nonchalantly told me it would still take 46 days to see a specialist. That her referral was riddled with spelling errors didn't make me feel any rosier about my prospects of fast, adequate treatment through NHS.

By this time I was beginning to get desperate. I was becoming less and less mobile, to the point where I had to start weighing the pros and cons of every single daily task; carrying groceries, tying my shoes, taking things out of the oven, reaching for my shower head, you name it. One false move in any of these tasks would often keep me frozen for hours if not days on end.

Given the bureaucracy and delays I was facing with NHS (“universal healthcare”) and my private insurer, I decided I would try to rehab myself by swimming. I hadn't been in a pool in 16 years, and it showed. I used the Slow Lane at my gym's pool, which still turned out to be too speedy for me. It is never inspiring when decrepit grannies with the Reaper's reflection in their eyes are outshining you in a physical activity. I guess the lane I really needed was the one for amputees. Or maybe I should have looked for the lane marked Hearse Speed.

Unfortunately, even swimming soon became a tightrope walk for me, with random pain and weakness sometimes appearing after just a few laps. How do you injure yourself swimming? Swimming is what they prescribe for people who’ve injured themselves playing OTHER SPORTS. No one ever says, “Oh, you hurt yourself with the breaststroke? Yeah, just go play rugby for a few weeks.” Somehow, I’d managed to become too fragile for a default sport.

So we come to the end of August, or about the two month mark. Still haven't been cleared for treatment by my private insurer and NHS is moving slower than Mike Payne in the 400 meter butterfly. The early healing novelty of swimming also started wearing off, and my decline picked up steam. By the end of August, I could no longer sit at my kitchen table. Within 30 seconds of plopping down on one of my kitchen chairs, back pain would force me to my feet. Since then, I've had to eat all of my meals standing at my kitchen counter.

This was the time when I really began what I call "bargaining with my body." Every physical activity required I make a sacrifice somewhere else. My thought process devolved to this: If I mop the floor, I won’t be able to carry groceries back from the store. If I clean the fridge, I won't be able to take my clothes out of the dryer. If I do __, I can't __. Eventually, you just quit doing most things altogether. By now the floors of my flat no longer need a mop. They need a Zamboni.

Anyway, “summer” ends and the temperature starts to drop. I didn't bring much warm clothing to London, so I tried to do some shopping. As it is with everything when you're in a state of total decline, you start planning around your deficiency. For example, I went to buy a pullover, but then found that "pull" was an unfortunate verb for someone with my shoulder and back problems. What I needed was more of a drape-over. Actually, the ideal solution would have been for me to just grow a layer of fur, which at the very least would have secured me a spot on the catwalk (told you I wasn't funny anymore).

I gave up trying to hang up my clothes. I couldn't lift them to the hangers anymore, so I just started piling them up on the kitchen table.

I also had to stop working on my laptop for more than a few minutes at a time, as I couldn't find a comfortable position to sit with it, and could hardly risk moving its whopping 8 lb. mass. This and the fact that typing itself sparked pain and tingling canceled most of my writing plans.

My weekends became marked by panic as I spent them in constant fear of calamity. Remember, I live alone, and don't know anyone in London. I don't have a wife, girlfriend, or a roommate. No one is around to offer assistance, and the London medical system isn't one you would accuse of being overresponsive. When you're dependent entirely on yourself and functioning below 50%, successfully eating and showering each day become the foremost things on your to-do list.

One Sunday in mid-September, I awoke and was more or less unable to move. No seriously, I kept sending signals to my limbs, and they kept giving me the old line item veto. I wound up wasting a sunny weekend afternoon staring at the ceiling. When I did finally convince my body to move (and inch by inch process), I basically had to get up and eat what was on the counter. Luckily, I had some tuna cans and bananas within reach (bourgeois, I know). Even lifting a plastic cup of water to my mouth required two hands.

That little flirtation with paralysis triggered me to give up on insurance and NHS and begin going to a private physiotherapist outside of the system. Initially, it was marginally beneficial for pain relief, although I didn’t really feel stronger. Such mixed signals made the mindgames and bargaining even worse, because I’d have a few days of progress and would start saying to myself, "Ahh, the road back!" Then one morning I’d be taking the lid off the mouthwash and the pain would be so swift and brutal I’d see stars and go flying backward like a man tossed off a treadmill.

Soon after I asked a neighbor to pull down my Murphy bed for me. He eyed me with more than a degree of bewilderment, probably thinking he was about to land a starring role in a snuff film. Fortunately, he agreed to help, and once he brought the bed down, I had to leave it down, which meant the doorway to my bathroom was blocked (my flat is a studio), which forced me to crawl/roll over the bed each time I needed to get in. This caused its own kind of pain, but it was better than the pain of slumbering on the sofa. Another piece of bargaining.

The sheer randomness of the pain in my back and shoulders was the worst part. It made planning close to impossible. I never knew when or where the anguish was going to land, only that at some point it would hit...kind of like a V2 rocket. By late Sept. I became hesitant to leave my flat except when absolutely necessary, because like I said, if/when something went wrong, I had no one to call, and no immediate remedies. On the plus side, this has caused me to drink less coffee, since I have very little reason to be awake.

Comedy was a big reason for my move here, but as you might have guessed, I'm not doing many shows. I don't know anyone and can't exactly network from home. It's just as well, as I haven't been doing much writing. I'm not really thinking of jokes anymore. What bounces through my brain these days are heavy quotes from literature ("The weakest kind of fruit drops earliest to the ground"). Melodramatic? OH YEAH!

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