Up Front by Emma Hart


PAMJ: Better Than What?

It might seem a little perverse, but I’m taking the fact that I haven’t slept for three days as conclusive proof that I am Better. My body is almost entirely back to working the way it used to before somebody actually used a power drill inside my skull.

It’s been a protracted convalescence, aggravated by not spending it in the south of France getting charmed by roguish floppy-haired British aristocrats even a little bit. Six weeks ago I woke up with my scalp stapled together, my right eye swollen nearly shut, my left arm purple to the elbow, and ‘in’ and ‘out’ tubes installed.

I had surgery on the Monday, and by the Friday, given I could see, walk, eat and pee, I was sent home on weekend release. That worked a treat: by Sunday afternoon I was back in hospital and back on morphine and i.v. anti-emetics. Hospital, it turns out, is not such a bad place to be when you really need to be in hospital.

I had blood in my spinal fluid. Having stuff in your spinal fluid really pisses your body off. It was three weeks before I could walk comfortably, four weeks before I could come off the pain-killers and realise just how much they’d been clouding my thinking.

Not that I’d have been without the morphine for those two weeks I ended up spending in hospital. It didn’t make me giggle at the ceiling like whatever they gave me to ‘relax my veins’ pre-anaesthesia, but it did take the edge off the wanting to die. Also I had Louise, the Best Nurse in the World. Louise’s pastoral care was so wonderful that, after witnessing her do my neuro obs and inject morphine into my butt, my partner watched her leave, turned slowly back to me and said, “What the hell?” Cheers Louise, you were fabulous.

People were fabulous to me, almost enough to damage my Feature Cynicism. My best friend came down and kept me occupied, and also demonstrated the healing power of doing pretty much everything you really Shouldn’t Do. People kept bringing us food. I didn’t have to do anything for weeks.

There was this lingering irrational fear, though. They’d been in my head: what if something in the complex electrical wiring of my brain had changed, and I was different now? What if I was no longer me? I had these little moments, where I wanted to impulse-buy a kitten, or craved chocolate, where I got really anxious. It hasn’t really let up yet: yesterday I bought shoes and they were pretty.

Step by step, though, I’ve been coming back to myself, and every little bit is precious. My first thought on being confronted with the phrase ‘vegetarian lesbians’ was filthy. I have my sex drive back, which is a huge relief, up there with regaining the ability to spell- and grammar-check my own work. 7 Days is still funny when I’m not whacked on codeine. And now I can’t sleep. It’s fabulous.

There are still one or two little problems. I still look like the aftermath of a Barbie haircut. Because the muscle in the right side of my face was cut, I can’t get my jaw open more than about half an inch. I have this weird tight numb tingly feeling in the right side of my scalp. On the whole though, it already feels like the whole thing is curiously remote, like it happened to somebody else. No way can I possibly have had my face peeled down and my skull opened up like the roof of an observatory.

Yesterday I went back to my ophthalmologist – who, it turns out, reads my columns, which was awkward. (The sexy guy in the waiting room, I assert, would still have been sexy if he hadn’t been sitting next to a prison guard.) Turns out I can see. The difference between my visual field results for June and October is so profound it looks like magic – the sort of magic you make out of hard science, competence, and a little bit of luck. I am profoundly grateful to everyone involved.

Emma Hart is the author of the book 'Not Safe For Work'.

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