Reflecting back on the 30 hours leading up to the op just over two weeks later, it’s all a bit hazy to begin with; but what I do remember is that my mind was focused on two major tasks. Even though I was in hospital surroundings, my mind was still at work. I had my to-do list and I was still going to complete my priorities for that day; that was the first major task. In my mind, I was set on taking my study leave and so I needed to wrap up some admin and complete my exam marking. My email was constantly updating in the background. The second task was doing research about alternate arrangements for rehab while in Cambridge on study leave. This second task though was not at the forefront of my mind before meeting the neurosurgeon; only after.
When I first met the surgeon, I was out of my pjs and dressed. I was adamant that for at least that Thursday I would wear jeans and a hoodie. I was still trying to grasp tightly onto any sense of normality. From the beginning, the surgeon was very honest with me. He agreed with the assessment of the doctor from the emergency the night before. Whatever has caused the foot drop is impinging on nerves and those nerves need to be relieved if I am to recover the use of my right foot. After testing the function of both my right and left legs himself, noting just how incredibly weak the whole right leg is, he explained what he deemed at that point to be a simple procedure. Key hole surgery with the goal of relieving the pressure on the nerve at the L4. Given the straightforward nature and yet urgency of the surgery, he thought he could squeeze the op into his schedule late Friday afternoon, the evening of the next day. He ordered for an MRI to be undertaken at some point during the day. He asked if I had any questions, well I had two. My first question was the earliest I would be allowed to fly out to the UK. Three weeks post-op was his answer. My second question was when I could go back to work. Three to four weeks post-op, he said. That’s all I needed to hear. I could reschedule my flights for a week later than I was due to leave and still make it for at least one conference before beginning my research at the Tyndale House Library. There was just one other thing the surgeon was crystal clear about, which was the importance of rehab with a good physio and pilates. So I started to put some plans into motion, organising with a Cambridge outpatient program to undertake my rehab, which included the mandated pilates.
As the day progressed, I gradually crossed tasks off from my to-do list in between various interruptions. A physio wanted to assess the movement in my right and left legs and to ensure that the my right foot wasn’t beginning to seize up in its dropped position. Nurses wanting to take my blood pressure every couple of hours. Others wanting to take my blood. Yet no MRI. And all the while, I was watching my email. An issue at work that had been bubbling away for a couple of weeks had suddenly become an increased priority. This issue could unravel all my plans for study leave, yet we were still unsure if this would be the case. By the time a wheel chair had arrived to take me to the MRI, I was in a lot of pain, sitting up doing work had taken its toll. It didn’t occur to me to ask for pain killers before the MRI. I’ve had an MRI before; but it was a distant memory. I waited for quite a while outside of the room. Eventually I was taken in and asked to change into a gown. It wasn’t the most decent thing I’ve worn, but it was darned better than the surgery gown that I wore for the next three days. I was led out into the room with the MRI and I was given my instructions, which really boils down to one. Stay extremely still for the duration of the MRI, which is about twenty minutes. I thought I could do that, but then I realised that I was lying straight on a hard surface. I hadn’t managed to lie down successfully for over a week, what made me think that I could do it now. And I started to panic. I had Classic FM playing, I purposefully emptied my mind, concentrating upon the music, I put myself into a meditative state. But the pain slowly crept into my consciousness. Before I could think about controlling my muscles, the muscles in my back began to spasm. I tensed my body to make the spasms stop, but tensing just made the spasms worse. The music stopped. I was asked to stop moving, but I wasn’t moving purposefully. I was asked if I thought I could keep still for two more phases. I replied that I would try my best. But as the machine came back to life again, any hope of putting my mind back into a meditative state was gone. The agony was paralysing, quite literally. My muscles were beyond spasming. And tears just began rolling down. Not being able to move, not being able to do anything about it. It was actually three sequences later, not two. The machine finally stopped. And I couldn’t move. They had to get the physio that was working with me earlier to help me gain movement back into my body. It took half an hour to move me from the machine to the wheelchair. Modesty not exactly my top priority. I needed help getting dressed. Eventually, back in the wheel chair, I waited to be taken back to my room.
After an hour of waiting, finally composed and with every ounce of energy drained from my body, my brother and his four year old daughter surprised me. I could see how worried my niece was, her normally active aunt was in a wheelchair. My brother wheeled me back to my room and I went straight to bed. My niece settled down with my iPad and on my brother’s we skyped mum and dad. Neither of us had managed to get into contact with them and so they didn’t have a clue what was happening. They answered. Their first reaction was of great delight at being able to speak to my brother and I at the same time. They then realised that we were in a hospital room and the smiles turned to panic. We started to recount what had happened, but in the middle of the explanation my phone rang. It was the surgeon. He had just received the MRI and it did seem to be a disc prolapse. The damage though was not just to the right side of the L4, but to the left as well. This meant that no longer would the surgery be as straightforward as previously thought. Also, he was concerned after seeing the MRI that there was more nerve damage than perhaps meets the eye. The nurse team leader would be overseeing a number of tests that evening, which would give more of an idea as to the extent of the nerve damage. A more complicated surgery, longer recovery time. That much was clear. My return to the UK may now need to be delayed further into July. I returned back to the Skype conversation and relayed what the surgeon had said. Mum and dad seemed okay with the whole situation; concerned yes, but not ready to jump on a plane from the UK. They promised to look into changing my flights. Matthew and Kara soon left after the Skype conversation was over. They left with the promise that I would keep them updated throughout the next day.
With the room quiet, another couple of visitors had left, I turned to a third task that I had left to the last possible moment. Contacting friends about the events of the last 24 hours. I wrote emails and facebook messages throughout that evening to my close friends here in Adelaide and to friends in the UK who were expecting me in 12 days. What I thought would be a difficult task actually was not, it turned out to be a blessing really. It was in the writing that I realised that my ability to still laugh and smile, though not a sign of happiness, was an outworking of joy. The smiling, the focus, the laughter was not because I was avoiding reality, but because I was actually at peace with my rapidly changing life. It was a gift to be able to write to friends that despite my changing circumstances that my joy is not tied to my life situation, but in my identity in Christ. Nothing can take away that certainty and that assurance. This was the reason why I could face the surgeon with calm, not anxiety, especially when I heard the prognosis.
That day was really an in between sort of day. The day after the events leading up to being admitted into hospital and yet the day before the impending surgery. Although I began the day with focus, there was still self-doubt about my motivations and yet I ended the day with the self-doubt gone and knowing why there was joy in the midst of such agonising pain. Yet in other ways, it was a day knowing and then ending with not knowing. I could rest though in one thought. That no matter what happened in the morrow, God already knew and had all under his control, even though it was completely out of mine.