Aren’t you better yet? 02/03/17

“Singing six months ain’t no sentence, and one year ain’t no time”

Junco Partner, The Clash

Forgive me, Father, for I have sinned. It has been 5 months since my last confession. Where has the time gone? I am, I think, in a state of shock, so this will be a bit of a stream of consciousness as I try to put my thoughts in order. Let’s get you all up to speed, and then I can crack on with recent events.

When last seen, I was enjoying a ferociously strong gin and all of the extended cuts of The Lord of the Rings. I say enjoying – I still resent the way that Gimli was gradually turned into comic-dwarf-relief by the screenplay. Also, Strider wasn’t scary enough and his character arc was crammed into some unnecessary, producer-driven three act structure. I digress. This isn’t getting you up to speed.

Scurry forward to mid January and I am once more in orthopaedic outpatients at Leeds General Infirmary, having my lower right leg irradiated. In the subsequent x-ray, there is perhaps twice as much bone as in December, and it is much denser. The screen shot here is of the lateral x-ray. You can see the bone is filling in from the back forwards. This is because all the muscle and therefore blood supply for the tibia is at the back, in the calf.

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Lateral x-ray of my right tibia, in all its happy glory.

I point out to my consultant that two of the pins weep quite a lot when I am active. They are supporting the old break, which has now healed, and so are functionally redundant. They are removed. With pliers. I get gas and air. It’s an extraordinary sensation. Not painful as such, but the friction generated by metal pins being drawn through my skeleton is quite something. Would not recommend.

In the run-up to this x-ray, I’ve stopped using crutches indoors and, after it, I stop using them altogether. This is important because weight-bearing triggers a nerve signal to make the bone grow. The more bone is in the gap, the more I can weight-bear. The more I weight-bear, the stronger that nerve signal. The stronger the signal, the more bone grows into the gap. Repeat.

At physiotherapy, I’m now working on a lot of single-leg balance exercises and I’m moving 80kg on the leg press (I weigh about 76kg, so I’m pressing more than double bodyweight). Elsewhere, I’m getting down to the shops and back with around 4kg of shopping and without crutches (albeit incredibly slowly). I’ve very gradually phased prescription painkillers down and then out. After the end of January, I phase out over the counter painkillers too. That’s a relief, I can tell you. Not just because of the freedom from opioids, but also the lecture every time I buy cocodamol. Oh dear me, yes. “Have you taken these before?” I think you could say that we are acquainted, yes…

My February x-ray gets bumped on to the start of March. Out of interest, I get my thumbs into the gap in my tibia. It feels like it’s full of bone. There’s a little bit of a hollow, yes, but the consultant has told me that there will probably always be a concavity on the front of my shin. But am I just feeling bone because I want there to be bone and my mind is making up the difference? And, good grief, I cannot tell you how much I want to be rid of this frame. It weighs 2kg. The ends of the pins are sharp and catch on everything. You can never forget it’s there, even in bed. Actually, especially in bed. I can only shower my right leg once a week, so it’s constantly sloughing greasy, dead skin. I’ve been wearing 3/4 of a pair of jogging bottoms for months now and I’d quite like to just put on some trousers. Or jeans. Maybe even jeggings. Oh yeah, and I’ve basically got 12 knitting needles entirely through my leg and that is exactly as comfortable as it sounds.

My March appointment arrives. I have my x-ray more or less on time, but when I get back to clinic, they are running almost two hours behind. I manage to distract myself from daytime television (why, hospitals, why?) with a book. Eventually, I’m called in. There on screen is the familiar shape of my tibia, sort of full of bone on the frontal x-ray. The obliques are a bit less convincing. Ignore the breaks in the fibula, gentle reader, because #FunFibulaFact: most of the fibula is functionally redundant. The bottom fits into the ankle, and the top anchors some ligaments; the rest is ornamental. Eyes on the prize, team, back to the tibia. Is it dense enough for the frame to come off? Spoiler alert: it is not dense enough for the frame to come off. The consultant loosens the upright bars on the frame to take some of the tension out. This will allow more of my weight to go directly onto the bone – see mantra above abut weight-bearing. I will come back in 7 weeks and he will loosen it again, completely. Then, in another fortnight, he might take the frame off. I am, in the finest tradition of disqualified Masterchef contestants, gutted. (Seriously, though, Masterchefs, learn a new adjective. Also that bit where they say “It’s not gonna stop me cooking”? Just once I’d like to hear “Sod it, it’s ready-meals from now on.)

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Ignore the fibula (the one on the left). Nobody cares about the fibula. It does nothing, the slacker. I’m thinking about having it removed.

Pretty much in shock, I hobble into Leeds, get the train to Bingley, get some shopping (not the celebratory meal for which I was hoping), get through my front door, sit on the couch and cry. Not very loudly or for very long, but all on my own and with another 9 weeks in the frame looming before me. And yes, there is and end in sight. And yes, I’m lucky to be alive. And yes, it could have been worse. And yes, and yes, and yes, and yes. If all you have for me is platitudes, please hold your breath. Keep holding. Keep holding. Keep holding. Keep holding. Keep holding. Keep holding. You can do it. Keep holding. Annnnd you’re unconscious. Excellent.

So, where were we? Yes. Another 9 weeks of this. Obviously I can do it. My remarkable body and my little, thug heart will keep going because that’s what they do. My beleaguered mind – always the weak link in this chain – is right at the end of its tether. I was prepared for “we might have to leave this until April”, but May? May? That’s a whole load of plans I had for May just set on fire in a skip. Messrs Strummer and Jones are incorrect. One year is quite a lot of time, and it seems that I cannot remember my life before this cage. And I am crushed. Right, I have to go and take my mind off this, but I just needed to get it all off my chest. Thanks for listening.

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