The First Week of Lectures

I had mixed emotions when I walked into my office the Monday morning of the first week of lectures. Uncertainty about whether I would cope with full days and with a full lecturing load. Looking forward to students returning, but really not liking the idea that I could be bombarded with questions. I was really over explaining what happened to me. My ability to think clearly was starting to return and I was finally looking forward to getting on with life at work. But I couldn’t shake off the unease bothering me; although I had planned and prioritised, it could all be torpedoed in a moment.

Well, my Monday morning went pear-shaped from the beginning. As well as lectures resuming, we also had a five-day postgraduate intensive that week. Postgraduate studies being my area of responsibility, I had done my best to be on top of the admin while in hospital, but not being at the office, not being able to communicate with admin staff, made organising a bit difficult; and not just for me, for the staff as well. Arriving at College, I was met with questions about times, schedules, handouts. All good things to be asked, but the cascade of questions and the stressed looks on people’s faces set the tone for my week. We also had unregistered participants turning up without going through the application process beforehand. I am incredibly grateful for the staff who picked up the pieces after I was admitted into hospital, but I found watching them pull together tasks for the intensive that I would normally do myself so hard to see. The only thing I could do was stand at the sidelines, not being able to pitch in, not able to play my part. I’m not used to being a passive watcher; I’m used to digging in and joining the activity. But movement restrictions, not being able to drive, not being able to go up a flight of stairs, meant that I needed to rely on others to get the jobs done. And they did. One of my many weaknesses is not being able to rely on others. But I needed to let go of what I used to do, hand it over, and work on other priorities. That was probably the hardest part of all.

My first set of lectures was on Tuesday morning. Of all the three subjects I teach, this first subject has the most content. Very high task, lower relationship. I couldn’t afford a lapse in concentration. I knew my instructions from my physio. Twenty minutes standing, twenty minutes sitting. I failed the first session. I got too caught up in the content that I didn’t sit down for fifty minutes. Then when I was trying to be mindful about sitting and standing, I realised I couldn’t focus both on content and moving. I could do one or the other, but not both. By the end, I was physically and mentally drained. The level of focus that I needed for those three hours of lectures was more energy than I had and thinking about how I move from one position to another takes most of my concentration anyway. I knew by the end of that first set of lectures that I couldn’t sustain that level of energy output. But what pushed me too far was what I did for the rest of the day. I can only carry a certain amount with one arm. I took fifteen minutes to pack up after class, walking at least three laps between my office and the lecture room. I had forty minutes to get to the rehab hospital. I didn’t have an opportunity to eat lunch. I needed to refocus that afternoon upon physio and hydro, leaving work behind. When my brother picked me up after my rehab session, I couldn’t get into the ute, I felt so incredibly weak after the day’s effort. My brother had to talk me through the steps of how to get into the car. My anxiety at the end of the previous week was justified. This first week of lectures was unrelenting.

Not having lectures until the Wednesday afternoon gave me a bit of room to pause, to get some writing and reading done, before I faced another class. I decided to try a new strategy. I knew trying a new strategy that I hadn’t talked through with my physio first was a risk, but I couldn’t repeat the previous day. If the constant sitting and standing was mentally and physically draining, and focusing on the subject matter was more than enough, then I wondered if I could push myself to sit for fifty minutes at a time. Thankfully the rest of my lectures for the week were a high relationship lecturing style with a low task focus. So I knew they weren’t going to be as intense. Before class I went for a long walk. Well, long relative to my ability at that time – fifteen minutes. After pushing myself to my physical limit by walking, I was able to sit without any discomfort for the three lecture sessions that afternoon. By the end, I was drained, but unlike the previous day, I wasn’t drained beyond what I could cope with. I thought I had found a pattern that would work. So I kept the same pattern of walking and then sitting for the three fifty minute sessions for my classes on the Thursday morning. In my mind, the change of pattern was worthwhile. I walked into my rehab appointment that Thursday afternoon not as tired and we even saw progress. Some muscles that couldn’t work against gravity were starting to engage. That small step was a big win. When I mentioned to my physio that afternoon that I had changed my sitting and standing pattern for lectures, I knew by her response that I would be rethinking my strategy. I was scheduled for my six week post op appointment with my surgeon on the Saturday. The physio asked me to check with him to ensure that sitting for longer would not put too much pressure on my lumbar-sacral spine. I think I already knew what the answer was going to be.

Arriving home that Thursday afternoon with a research day ahead of me, I was completely wiped out, yet relieved that the lecturing week was over. While I had made it, I didn’t think that I had particularly survived. But I knew that coping each part of every day with a health problem that had made itself known after surgery was contributing to my anxiety and my exhaustion. There were points before lectures when I doubted I would make it into the lecture room for the start. There were times when I thought I would need to leave the class unexpectedly. The uncertainty was making getting back into life at work just a bit too difficult. I knew that my first port of call had to be my GP. For many a reason, I needed to begin with a new GP and so I made an appointment for the following Monday. While I had reached the end of the week, I didn’t make it in one piece. For the sake of my sanity, I knew I needed another way forward.