For Sue and Alice
Years ago a flat mate of mine decided to get into rock climbing; he longed to scale the peaks that surrounded Sheffield; and his love for the rugged beauty of the surrounding countryside would later blossom into the stunning photographs he took, when he married and moved closer to his beloved hills to live in hope.
But returning to our flat, we had a communal staircase that spanned several floors and it was this challenge that he decided to test his newly bought ropes on first. I recall carefully moving from one handhold to another as I took my turn to ascend the north face of the flat above Star carpets.
Now many years later I found myself on a new slope. I had only just returned to work, more out of necessity than anything else. I had existed in a limbo of overtiredness brought on by my Leukaemia medicine, and an ever-dwindling stockpile of sick pay. The fund was running low, and so I took up the mantle of attempting a semblance of wellness; the tiredness would go after a time I had been reassured by my doctors.
Then barely two weeks after I had begun my planned release into full time employment, during which I was only doing half my full quota of my regular schedule, I was struck down once more. This time it was crippling back pain that felled me, quite literally. I had experienced such agonies before, but they had both been short-lived and thankfully far less intense than now.
The attack of my muscles on me came on slowly at first, giving me only minor concern about the fate I was about to befall, and I tried some exercises that had worked in the past to stretch the offending vertebrae back to health. I even managed a shift at my workplace in blissful ignorance of what was to come.
But as I lay down to sleep that night, my back struck with a force that floored me in an instant. As it was, I had to lay in the agony of the moment until the white hot stabbing pain finally subsided, and I could try and get some sleep. I only hoped that if I lay completely still I might just awake free of this affliction. Sadly as dawn seeped through my curtains this was not to be, and I would have to consider my next move.
I was on a bare rock face of pain, and any wrong move could plunge me into the depths of intense torment once more. As it was I had to lie there contemplating the correct set of moves that would allow me to reach the bathroom, and relieve a bladder previously unconsidered; I tentatively tested my immediate surroundings.
Apart from the unsound footing of my bed that could not promise to stay rigid under my shifting weight, I had a stout wooden bedside table and a near by dresser. Both would give me a permanence of footing that would allow me precision I required in my movements.
But before I could even reach for these hand holds, I had to get up into at least a sitting position. What was normally the work of a moment had now become a tentative ballet of twisting and carefully applied pressure, which any moment could send me crashing once more into the depths of torture.
After several fist clenching attempts including one designed to get me reversing off the bed, I finally attained a sitting position. But where could I go from here. The bedside cabinet was thankfully in reach, but it afforded no useful support, being off to my left side. What I needed was the dresser that now sat in front of me, mere inches from my outstretched fingertips.
It might as well have been half a mile away, for the price of just leaning forward that ridiculously small distance plunged me once more into the depths of pain, and I rolled frustrated back on to the bed; to lie on my back once more and consider what to do next.
If only I could gain some semblance of standing I knew I could get out of this. Turning to my right I noticed a couple of metal tent poles carelessly discarded in a time past, when they should have been tidied away. But now they were my salvation, each a precious piece of equipment that just might get me off this rock face of my agony.
Reaching out I grabbed my prize and then I set about the business of getting myself back up into a sitting position once more. This time I had something under my palms, and with herculean effort I pulled my aching frame up as the uncapped ends of the poles dug into my hands, almost blinding me to the intense pain in my back and protesting shoulders, as I finally raised myself in to a hunched position.
Like a strange four legged creature I slowly and meticulously inched my way round the bed. There was a click, and I tensed almost losing my balance. But it seemed to be just my back adjusting to the vertical. With relief I made it to the bathroom in time, then I moved on to the next task.
As the day progressed I explored this new world where a bookcase was now a hand hold, and my feet had to act as hands to reach for objects too low for me to bend down to. The pain did ease a bit, but ever present was the fear of falling once more in to the agony of the morning.
By the evening I had almost discarded both my sticks, relying on the now familiar grip of work surfaces and chair backs. Perhapse I thought with hope, I would even be well enough for the next day’s return to my work place. But it was not to be; for the bed which had given me years of comfort, once more stole my mobility; the agony returned as I lay down there to sleep.
The next day I found I had to bend my body to my will once more, but this time I had learn the hard found lessons of the day before, and so I sought the assistance of the doctor when I was finally fit enough to travel. She consulted with my leukaemia doctors and prescribed a course of treatment, the first line of which would be yet more drugs to keep my mortal frame on check. Would I never be free of my addiction to life?
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