Relativity – part 1

I watch the rain trickle down the window panes, the light grey sky. The hint of red on the mountain sides keeps gaining ground, Autumn is here at last.

A whole season has gone by since my accident. A mixed bag of Summer.

And whilst I wouldn’t willingly want to live through another one of these, I’ve also been surprised by some positive developments. In fact, it’s a terribly grating cliché, and I would probably lump anoyone who dared point it out, but hardship may have made me a better person.

It homed in in a very real manner a few things I knew about in a general, abstract way. Which is both enlightening and humbling.

  1. Pain, of the severe, chronic kind turns you into an unrecognisable, moody puppet, whose sole preoccupation is to make it stop, or at least take the edge off it. I am so thankful to be on the other side of this particular experience, and have renewed respect for the poor souls who cannot escape it.
  2. Being disabled, whether physically, mentally or both if you’re exceptionally lucky, is a joy that keeps on giving. Not only do I have to cope with practical consequences in a world that’s pretty unforgorgiving, I also have to fight for my rights, field the repelled, curious, pitying looks, and assumptions about my mental abilities or alcohol consumption. And I am lucky that my assortment of disabilities are a) pretty minor, b) mostly invisible, c) hopefully temporary.
  3. I will no longer be fooled by the happy headlines about people who make a miraculous recovery, against all odds and the likes: They’re not automatically superheroes with out-of-this-world mental strength. Behind my mostly positive, gritted-teeth façade lies a whole heap of why me-s? What if it doesn’t get better-s? I can’t live like this. I’m never gonna manage. I’m tired and just don’t want it to have happened, and other assorted miseries. It’s a grieving process.
  4. I am super duper extra lucky that my parents, siblings, cousins, and many friends were (in fact still are) there to care for my children and me, help with practicalities, and most of all to pick me up every time I threatened to drown in the aforementioned miseries. Self-helps magazines are annoyingly right: Forget about money, status or appearances, only strong, sincere, varied relationships really help when the going gets tough enough.
  5. Dying is pretty unpleasant in its process and awfully final in its result. Generally speaking, trying it out for a (short) bit, helped the things I used to give myself knots in the head about become all relative.

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2018-10-7 Relativity 5

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ER – part 2

skull bonesSunday July 1. 2018

9:20 – Outside, the vague morning freshness is already turning into brutal heat. Inside, my teenager is playing on the computer, shouting inane rubbish to his friends into the headset, guffawing endlessly about it. My girl is watching cartoons. I am clamping the house shut for the day and running late. Where are my car keys? Pants, I lent the car to a friend for the morning! Ok, bus or bike? The app says the next bus is in 15 minutes, cycling takes 20… Bike. Bag, sunscreen, sunglasses, safety jacket, I lost my helmet last week, which is annoying, but hey, I’ll get a new one tomorrow. Quick heads up to the kids: I’m off to a meeting on the other side of town, will be back for lunch, call if there’s a problem. They nod.

The streets are deserted, the sun’s glare is already blinding, nothing moves. The city braces itself for another day in the current heatwave, I pass through in a pleasant breeze. What shall we have for lunch? Loved the flashmob at the school fête yesterday… Here we go, my final turn is just ahead, I’m even on time for the meeting! I should really call my friends in Toulouse to organise our visit in August…

Tyres screeching behind me. Crazy drivers… Do I really go for magnolia to paint the back wall of the living room? Crash.

My back wheel is paralysed, the shock is so massive. The violence of it. We are nothing against cars. They’re so heavy. So much kinetic energy to dissipate. This makes no sense: They saw me! I’m flying. This is it, I’m gonna get run over.

11:30 – I lie on the hard white table, trying not to cry because the CT scan’s synthetic voice says to stop breathing. The back of my head is torture, the rest of my body gives off a more ordinary sense of pain, of the something-is-missing-wait-it’s-my-skin variety. This is just a bad moment to go through, things will get better. It’s over, I get wheeled back to the ER ward, each joint on the floor is a little jolt of pain to my head, I feel so sick. Can we please stop moving? I’m not a fussy patient. This is just a bad moment to go through, things will get better

“Pain?” 8. New drip bag. I wait for it to kick in…

“Right hand temporal petrosal bone fracture, we cannot tell if the fracture affects the inner ear”. Memories of T’s stint as intensive care specialist at this hospital: Broken petrosal bone = bad. “Blood clot in the right ear”: That would be why I can’t hear. “fractured parietal bone”: Fine, I don’t even know which one it is. “Internal haemorrage at the back”: Oh no, I remember what T used to say, they’re gonna drill into my head to ease the pressure on the brain! “No need for surgery yet, we’ll be monitoring it”: Woop woop, no surgery! Come on guys, let’s stop bleeding!* Something on my forehead, fractured nose. I don’t care, not listening anymore, a nose is not life threatening and they’re not gonna drill into my head…yet.

“Name? date of birth? Today’s date? Look at the light (ow). Look up (ow). Frown. Smile with your teeth (my face feels like sore concrete). Do you remember what happened?” Yes, a car drove into the back of my bike. “Did you lose consciousness?” Yes, I think so, for a few minutes…

I am sandwiched between two shower curtains, someone struggling to breath behind the left one, a young woman talking to a psychiatrist after a suicide attempt behind the right. Pain and anguish everywhere. Please make it stop. This is just a bad moment to go through, things will get better.

Tetanus and meningitis shots, blood works. I feel the needle coming in and out of my scalp. The wound is big and complicated and the intern keeps going off for advice. I almost apologise. This is just a bad moment to go through, things will get better.

Must tell Karine I can’t bake a cake for Lucas’ birthday tomorow. Hope Mr Xmas arranged Michel’s transfer to the new host family.

Superficial wounds bandaged, I’ve lost count, I’m ready to be wheeled to intensive care. Floor tiles, nausea, lifts, transfer to new bed (this is just a bad moment to go through).

Heart-rate, blood pressure, oxygen saturation wires, name, date of birth, today’s date, look at the light, do you remember what happened, did you lose consciousness, pain? New drip bag.

Must tell mum and dad that teenager needs a swimming costume and flipflops for handball camp. Will I still be able to paint the back wall of the living room this week?

18:30 – I have visitors: Mr Xmas, my friend Liz and the children. It’s so good to see their faces. I have a normal life. It still exists outside the realm of this hospital. They all look worried. I don’t want them to worry. I try to sound casual and smile. It is so hard, I can’t keep it up. They leave.

*Yup, I’ve been talking to the inside of my head in my head. As you do.

ER – part 1

vitals monitorUrgent voices are calling out. I try to open my eyes. The sun. I’m not dead.

Can’t keep my eyes open, too bright. The heat… Something is wrong with my head, the pain blots out everything.

I am lying on the tarmac, it’s so hot already. The pain. I can’t feel the back of my head. Am I crying? The car, the shock. I’m scared. The kids.

Voices. People telling me to stay with them, not to worry, emergency services are on their way. What’s my name, I whisper back. I’m fine, I didn’t get run over by the car. Something’s wrong. I’m so scared, I cry, someone’s hand holds mine. An explosion of pain has replaced the back of my head, the rest of me feels sort of fine. I’m not gonna make it to that meeting.  I should go home to the children.

The shock. Terrifying. I flew up like a leaf, a dustmote. We are so insignificant against cars. They’re so heavy. Something about kinetic energy… I’m not dead. I’m scared. The pain is out of this world. The children are alone at home. Someone is crying in the background.

I feel so tired, the pain, I can’t go on like this. Why is the ambulance taking so long? Could they please find a cushion for my head? Urgent whispering above, I guess they’re worried about moving my neck. I lift my head and place my left hand under it in desperation. I cannot touch the right side. Someone hands me a cushion. The pain. I am crying, this can’t go on. Must call someone for the children.

The ambulance is here, I didn’t hear it come. What’s my name, today’s date, please don’t move me, can I look at the light, look up, frown, smile with teeth. They are focused and efficient: This is their daily life. Not mine. How’s the pain on a scale of 1 to 10: I say 8 because I want to be brave but really I can’t go on like this.

A catheter is in, please make the pain go away. They’re going to move me, the pain, I’m scared, I need to sleep. They keep asking me to stay with them, it’s like an episode of ER except we’re not in the 1990s in snow-struck Chicago. This is July 1st 2018, in the heatwave-struck French Alps. George Clooney is nowhere to be seen, and even if he was I would probably not care.

We’re in the ambulance, it’s cool and shady at last. I’m not going to die, I’m on my way to the hospital. The pain killers kick in, the doctor has my phone. I give him the code and tell him to go into Favourites to find Liz’s number. Answerphone. Mr Xmas: Praise the Lord I don’t believe in, he picks up. I’ve had a bike accident, I’m in an ambulance on my way to the university hospital. The kids are alone at home, can he go look after them. The teenager needs to be on a train to my parents’ tomorrow morning. The tickets and his railcard are in my bedside drawer. He should call Liz, she always knows what to do. Ok, I’m back, cool and collected in emergencies.

The doctor hangs up. No, wait, something is wrong, I can’t keep it up, every movement of the ambulance is pain, I’m scared, I need to sleep. The doctor lets me close my eyes. I hear the siren.

To be continued.

Demain

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Winter sun by Lady E

My daughter’s hand is pulling inside mine as we walk briskly in the cold still air. We reach the top of the path and stop, puffing out little bits of cloud. I tell my daughter she should quit smoking, she rolls her eyes and with the patience of a seven year old humouring her predictable, dodgy-humoured, possibly dim-witted mother, replies that she can’t because she doesn’t smoke. Before us the valley spreads out, blanketed in a mist of pollution that the pale sun hasn’t managed to lift.

A new year has come.

And a whole year has somehow elapsed since my urge to write was last bad enough that I did. Since, so much has happened in the world that the changes in my life feel microscopic.

My son is now 13, taller than me (which is not exactly an achievement), and methodically conforming to every cliché about teenage, with the result that I often feel like throwing him in the large, green, recycling bin. Yet I somehow trust that he will not do anything truly stupid or dangerous, and at times get rewarded with a glimpse of the broad-shouldered, thoughtful and clever man he will become.

My daughter is growing too, my heart clenches to see her begin to struggle with the complicated politics of primary school girlfriendship, and lifts to see the never-ending stream of crafty creations she leaves lying about in an artistic trail of mess around the house.

The changes in me are more subtle: I probably have more grey hair, miles on the bike, experience in academic international relations, and compassion. I still work and shout at my kids far too much. I am still single, alternately grateful for the lack of additional complication in my life and dying for a pair of arms to disappear into.

Outside the realm of our family, the past year seems to have been marked by a growing sense of fear and the temptation of nations to close in on themselves. In contrast, I have become more involved in some of the million initiatives we hardly ever hear about, by people who believe in togetherness, in giving their time and energy for others, in welcoming refugees, choosing environmentally and socially responsible banks, retailers, life-styles without waiting for everyone else to do so.

It all started a few years ago, when I crowd-funded a French documentary project called Demain (which means tomorrow).

The film came out in December 2015, has been screened in 27 countries and is a real antidote to today’s sense of doom and gloom. It is now available on DVD with English subtitles. Watch it, it may change your life… and ther’s a special prize if you can spot my photo at the end of the credits: I haven’t managed yet in the midst of the 10,000 other people who funded the film.

Anyway, it’s been a long-time since I heard from any of you and would love to know: How have you been? How did you react to events in 2016? What are your big or little ways of making the world a better place?

In the meantime, I wish you an amazing day, an amazing year 2017.

Coldplay – Amazing Day

Do you remember?

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200 mph sunset by Lady E

This song has been playing on my mind for the last few weeks, which is just another way of saying that I’ve been mildly obsessed with it, usually playing it loud several times in a row and dancing as I cook or hang laundry to dry, thus driving my children potty.

Payback time is what I say…

Anyway, it all started on Christmas Eve, when I accidentally joined a body-balance class at my mum’s gym.

As you do.

This song came on, we got into a peculiar sideway-stretchy-come-balancing pose, and I brutally realised that:

  • I enjoyed this body-balance lark
  • I did feel nostalgic for the time I spent with Mr Xmas, especially our holiday in Lanzarote a year ago
  • I wondered if he remembered the way it made him feel too
  • There was strictly no way of knowing, given that he’d gone into radio-silence again
  • Which was annoying
  •  I’d better let it go since there was nothing I could do about it.

Which of course meant that I did not let it go. In fact, it intermintently bugged me for the rest of the holiday, in the way some really itchy mosquito bites might. Only in Winter.

Apart from that, my two-week Christmas break  was very nice, and very welcome, after finishing work with my tongue hanging out the previous weeks.

Paris on Christmas week was as gorgeous as ever, and the weather pretended it was Spring.

I spent that first week abdicating all parental responsibilities, as I studiously ignored the fact that my almost teenage son spent most of his waking hours glued to a screen of some description, or being obnoxious. Or both.

I read, slept, cooked, saw friends and relatives, and started feeling more human. Heaven. Super-Xmas-thank-you-awards go to my parents, brother, and brother’s partner who took care of most of the logistics, and put up with their hormone-and-screen-crazed grandson / nephew. If you are reading this (which is a disturbing thought), you really shouldn’t. Ha.

In contrast, new year’s week near Montpellier felt uncharacteristically like August in Liverpool: Very grey, very damp, but still pretty mild for Summer in Northern England.

I started out by picking up my daughter who had spent Christmas with her dad (note how four years ago this tore my heart out and only gave me a mild twinge this year: The wonder of time, healing and all that jazz…).

I spent more time cooking, playing the guitar and basically doing all the things I enjoy but never have time to do.

Which inevitably led to a major bout of not-wanting-to-go-back-to-work-and-single-motherhood last weekend.

Ho-hum, in the end, I did get back to work and single motherhood, since, rather disapointingly, I couldn’t magically fathom a better way to pay the bills or have a partner.

I have also stalled on taking any new year resolutions. So come on, inspire me, who’s got some good ones to suggest?

 

Running

It is 11:00, I am late for my next meeting. I  run out of the building, and smile a distracted hello at a colleague from IT. I curse myself for forgetting to pack an afternoon snack for my daughter, and to talk about season greetings cards for our partner universities. Again.

I turn out onto the street: The morning fog has lifted, leaving behind sleek dark pavements shining in the curiously warm sunlight. I hear a tram, birds, the ridiculous whirr of a moped. The air smells musty, with a hint of diesel fumes, and warm bread. I stop in my tracks and smile.

However tough the last few months have been, little moments of grace have been reminding me that life is beautiful:

  • I spent a week in the UK scoffing biscuits visiting dear friends, which was wet but great.UK visit

 

  • The day after the Paris attacks last month, Mr Xmas and I hiked high above the valley, to catch our breaths, feel the sun, and anchor ouselves in the quiet mass of the mountains.

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  • I completed a course in mindfulness, which is a kind of meditation.

It made me laugh at times, and I still do wonder if what I’m doing is meditation or just sitting-on-my-bed-very-still-focusing-on-my-breathing, but somehow, I find it helpful.Meditation

Other than that, work is erm, interesting… I spend virtually my entire time trying to stabilise my team, with four new staff and a steady stream of crap coming our way. Yeah.

This means that 6 months into the job, I still know very little about international relations. My own management sometimes takes an issue with this on the grounds that I am the head of International Relations,  not Make It Up As You Go Along. I can see where they’re coming from, but hey, I’m doing what I can.

When I get home to a tired pre-teen who refuses to come down for dinner because: “I don’t want to see you”, and his tired six year old sister who refuses to eat the soup I’ve made because: “it’s disgusting”, I often get the urge to find a very large bin to throw them both into get the distinct feeling that I am failing as a mother too.

This has taken its toll, and I often feel bone-tired.

Thankfully, Mr Xmas is true to his word and picks my daughter up two nights a week, my mum came to the rescue last week, I have stopped taking my computer home, and somehow, I am still (mostly) standing.

I am also thankful that chronic overload keeps my mind from dwelling on the fact that I am single and likely to remain so for the foreseeable future I don’t live in Syria, Irak, Sudan, or Afghanistan.

My oldest brat son keeps listening to this strangely addictive song.

The FatRat – Monody (feat. Laura Behm)