Enough to cripple and confine me to my bed. On days such as these, why waste a moment of thought? Write it all down! What am I thinking as I sit propped upright with a stack of pillows behind my aching back? Let’s just say I watch the thoughts in my head as they line up before me in a row, “Choose me choose me!” they shout, while I try to block the others who push and shove behind.
The one I have plucked out for tonight is called ‘Frustration’.
This one likes hogging the space and is often a ‘scene stealer’ for other thoughts!
But tonight, I will allow its presence to dominate as the pain screams attention!
At 17, I’d found myself a new group of friends. We had all met at the local Bowling alley, and being the ‘baby of the group’, I was just happy they’d accepted me. After a night out, three members of the group decided to go for a drive before calling it a night. Back in the 70’s, it wasn’t uncommon to see the young generation’s choice in car being a Panel van, they were popular and had become a canvas for many a mural. The guy I had been dating had his panel van decked out on the interior with the focus on his stereo. Nothing flash, not that I can recall? To me, it was just another car, but on the night of July 7th, 1977, it was more than that…it had a destiny with danger!
His friends had suggested a quick drive to check out a house a relative was purchasing, only 15 minutes out of our way and we weren’t stopping.
I climbed into the back, my boyfriend the driver with his best mate and another girl sitting next to him up front. My back was faced to theirs, with my only view being out of the back tail-gate windows. It was dark, so not a lot for me to see apart from street lights and the passing traffic, but Boz Scags was enough to keep me company and I contently sang along to “What can I say?” as we travelled.
I think the scream of car wheels were louder than the girl in front, but it all happened so fast that I can really only recall the aftermath! I couldn’t breathe! I saw her face looking at mine, her mouth moving and arms waving about frantically but then nothing! Shock and fear had set in as I grasped for air, sheer panic and mayhem all around me! A little man with a loud voice had hold of my legs and apparently was trying to drag my body from the wreckage. I found out later he was the reason for the car accident, and his actions were that of a guilty and fearful man! Probably a good thing I was so oblivious to it all as I drifted in and out of consciousness…I saw a crowd of people, all standing above me, many wearing leather and then there I was, in the back of an ambulance being asked questions while traffic was cleared out of our path with the sound of the siren whaling. I couldn’t feel my legs, and I was scared.
Moments later I was being whisked down the corridors of the local hospital, a mad rush for x-rays of my spine. Then as I managed to alert the doctors of my epilepsy, another emergency dash to another room! My head was spinning from the gurney’s fast pace and I had no time to be fearful of the possible outcome.
I was 17. I had no idea of just how serious a situation I had been placed in?
Not until I saw my mother and father. Poor darling mum, still in her jade green winter dressing gown, me wondering ‘Why’…’Why is she here in her dressing gown?’ I’d forgotten how sick mum had been of late. She had caught the measles of all things, yet when the call came from the other girl passenger, mum didn’t wait to dress! She was by my side all the way to the next x-ray ward, but left me at some point. Doctors and nurses surrounded me, telling me they would have to cut my jeans off as they couldn’t risk moving me. “FAR OUT!” I blurted, and I remember them laughing at the way teenagers expressed themselves. Then my most expensive blue jeans were being ripped off me with scissors, and I cried.
That night was a long one. The bed I was in felt cold and hard, and small sacks of sand were placed on either side of my neck in order to keep me stabilised. I still couldn’t move an inch…doctors orders!
As time went by and I was sent home, more tests uncovered a 37 ° bend in my spine (Spinal scoliosis) and if left untreated, well I wouldn’t have had much of a future. See http://www.scoliosis-world.com/cat6.htm
Mum and I met with the Orthopaedic specialist who explained the operation.
It was called the ‘Dwyer’s fusion’, named after a very wise doctor who was using a new technique and my doctor was very much in favour of!
It wasn’t until I turned 19, that we went ahead. It was an expensive procedure and would also mean a long hospital stay. How long? Well, 2 weeks PRIOR spent in traction (oh joy!), head to toes…only allowed out long enough to use the bed-pan! The idea was to stretch my ‘still growing bones’, making them more flexible for the operation…I think I grew an inch once I was set free of the contraption?! Lol The lead up to D-Day meant giving up the nasty habit I’d recently acquired, smoking! This operation involved opening an area near my lungs, not at all what I had expected. You would think a back operation meant an incision in the back, right? Wrong! They went through the left (In “anterior” surgery – the surgical incision is actually on the side so as to gain access to the vertebral bodies and full disk structures. This allows the entire disc donut to be removed, creating considerable space and flexibility, allowing much better corrective bending. Screws are inserted horizontally across the boney vertebrae, one across each vertebral body. A rod is placed through holes in the screw heads to hold the straightening.) See http://www.pediatric-orthopedics.com/Treatments/Scoliosis/scoliosis.html
Post surgery then required a heavy plaster cast, for 6 weeks, which upon removal, replaced immediately by another lighter cast, again, for 6 weeks.
It was a long process but one that was desperately needed, so when that last cast was cut away, I felt a sense of fear…there was nothing supporting me now!? But I was okay! So much so I went on to have 3 children, just as my specialist predicted, a reassuring piece of information he had passed onto me prior to the operation, of another patient, a lady not much older than me, and now happily married and with a couple of kids! Not that it really meant a great deal to me at the time, but looking back, can see just how important it was to have been told.
There were some very long hours clocked up during my convalescent days, but when you are institutionalised you can’t help but meet other people!
The room I’d been placed in before surgery would again be where I would return. My bed surrounded with flowers and gifts of all description. The lady in the bed to my right, still in plaster up to her hips, the result of her falling 6 storey’s from a block of units! I remember her remarkable story as clear as if it had happened yesterday. What saved her life, was the fact she landed on her arm, her head had been spared any injuries but her limbs and pelvis a mess!
All I kept thinking was how lucky she was to be alive but knew the fear she held towards her future. An accident such as that changes much of what you may have had planned, and the new road you are on is the complete opposite of anything ever anticipated. First comes the healing process, followed by months, sometimes years of rehabilitation, both physically and mentally!
She was a real character, and God blessed me by placing me in her room. She had been there a few weeks prior to my arriving, so I just considered it her ‘space’, I was the new room mate. Across from us were two others, but they came and went so my memory remains focused on just the pair of us.
That was, until the arrival of Stella. ***
My surgery over, I was in the next phase of the process which is where the plaster cast came in to the picture, and so too dear Stella. The nurses were always eager to share gossip with their long-term patients, knowing we were sponges just waiting to absorb anything to keep going. The funny stories, the serious cases, even my first encounter with death, all came to me via the staff…and they wanted me to meet the new patient, she needed a friend.
Stella was much older than us, and her background a place I was not at all familiar with, but had heard about. Society has a great way of designing labels for others, especially if they are different, those that don’t fit the ‘norms’ of everyday life, and Stella wore a label that would fit no other.
I did not fully understand, but knew that she was not welcomed to the ward the way we had been, and not because she wasn’t liked, because she, was in fact, a ‘he’. Yes, my dear new friend, had been born a man, but now trying to become a woman. She had been hit by a car, and suffered terrible injuries! Because of her ‘status’, the medical staff were forced to make a decision as to where she could be placed, and sadly, segregation was their only solution. It was in her private room that I was wheeled in on my new ‘set of wheels’…..she needed a friend, and looking back I understand why the staff chose me for the job.
I wasn’t infected…brainwashed, contaminated! I had NO judgements against her for I was still young and without any real prejudice. Yes, I was scared, but only because of rumours…whispers that crept up the cold corridors all the way from the men’s ward to ours! When the door opened, I only recall the colour of her hair, and the length. I was jealous! She had the loveliest, raven coloured hair, completely straight all the way to her shoulders. I had been born with curls and naturally, wanted the opposite! She had one leg plastered from her ankle all the way to her hip…pretty much like the girl in the bed next to me. The nurse had to go about other duties and asked if I’d be okay for a short while. There was no problem whatsoever, in fact, when she came back to collect me I think she was more surprised than expected?? Stella shared her life with me, pulling NO punches when it came to her sexuality, but not in a crude manner, just the same way any two girls would discuss their feelings for another. She explained the reason for needing her hormone injections, and we laughed as she complained of one doctor’s lazy attitude towards supplying them! In no time, she too had a set of wheels and would make her way around to our room for daily chit-chats! We loved her! The day finally came for my room mate’s release, and although happy for her to be going home, I was terribly sad at saying goodbye. It is amazing how close you become to other patients and the change in scenery or order can really affect the time spent hospitalised.
But I had my Stella, and there was no awkward moments between us, just good laughs!
I met her variety of friends as they would shuffle together, mostly of a weekend when they were heading into the city, standing downstairs in the park, yelling and waving to us.
We had wheelchair races of a night when everyone was asleep, and when the sun was out we’d wheel our chairs out to the sunroom that faced the park, sharing our recovery stages and the different places that hurt more than others. I even shaved her leg for her.
When it was my time to leave, my mum and dad came with me to say goodbye to her. Mum gave her the home phone number so we could stay in touch, and we did, for awhile. But life goes on as it does, me marrying and she, well I never really knew?
The poem below was written as my personal gift for her, and was published in “A Piece Of My Mind”-Special Edition 2006-
I shall always remember and love her…I never saw her as a man, she was just my friend.
‘Desperately Seeking Stella’
Stella Stella, where did you go?
I’ve searched the streets of Sydney
I scoured the yellow pages
How I wish you had told me more
Oh Stella, my Stell
Are you still out there?
I’m that girl who really did care
Stella sweet Stella
Corridors whispered your name
Not to feel dirty and not to feel shame
Do you know what I saw?
Do you know what I thought?
The friendship you offered
Came with understanding you taught
Long days and nights
How you made me smile
In me you must have noticed
This young girl was not a child
Stella my Stell
Advertisements went out
Oh yes, I sought you desperately
My hopes for optimism dampened by doubt
If God guides you
I pray he steers you this way
Long enough to show my Stella
She’s thought of every other day
Stella, dear John
You were special to me then
Your memories Ive kept alive
My thoughts are written with my pen
Special lady Special friend
Oh how I’d love you in this life
If you happen by this page
Please, pick up a pen and write!
(St.Vincents Hospital, 1979)
Everyday is another learning experience, and as much as this ‘back pain’ can be annoying, I am learning to deal with it, not much else you can do? I am thankful to God for he gave me the gift and ability to write, and then allowed room in my life for a computer, knowing I could use these skills to do many more wonderful and exciting things! So, while that nagging issue of ‘frustration’ knocked my doors down to be heard, it also helped fill in time!
For those reading this from the confines of their bed, I hope it filled in some of your own time of frustration. J
Now I can go to sleep!
Debbie Stevens Ó 2007