Adding to the chaos of that second week of lectures was having to undergo more ultrasounds, x-rays, and tests at Wakefield Hospital. I was having to make sure that the extra appointments wouldn’t clash with meetings, lectures, and outpatient rehab. Arriving ‘home’ after my day trip to Sydney, I couldn’t face the prospect of eating or having to force myself to eat. So I went to bed straight away, knowing that I was due back at Wakefield Hospital again that Saturday morning for the last test for that week. Waking up early Saturday, nothing had changed. The health issue tied up with the nerve damage was becoming more and more urgent. I managed to eat breakfast by sitting in a local cafe, writing a gristly book review, but I didn’t eat much more for the rest of the day. That Saturday afternoon, a friend and I walked the city streets and ended up drinking tea at Steven ter Horst, a chocolatier on Rundle St. As always, walking and catching up with a good friend is such a lovely distraction. But my body felt like it was coming to a grinding halt. In fact, my body already had.
I woke up at 3am Sunday morning with pain in my lower back. Upon waking, not really that conscious yet, I started to panic that my back was hurt again. A couple of seconds later, thinking a little more clearly, I became aware that the pain was different to last time. This felt like someone was stepping down on my spine, not a structural problem, just intense pressure. I didn’t go back to sleep; I couldn’t. I didn’t want to take painkillers because I am stubborn and I didn’t want to give the excuse to my medical team that the problem was caused by medication. Having not taken the kind of medication that would cause this problem for over three weeks, that excuse offered by my medical team, as said previously, was wearing very thin. I knew moving would help the problem, so when light was starting to streak across the sky, I took a slow stroll down Linear Park. Movement helped for a while, enough anyway to get ready for church. On my walk, I started to wonder if I had left the problem long enough. It wasn’t resolving itself. Was it time to get help? I was really unsure. I was still mulling over the question when I got into a friend’s car that morning to go to church. I had an appointment with the GP late the next day, but the idea of another 24 hours enduring the pressure in my back, not being able to eat, and starting the work week with very little sleep was completely unappealing. Also, that Sunday at church was a little tough, talking about loved ones dying with cancer caught me off guard, as did the numerous references to those in the congregation who were experiencing tough times. I knew I was being included in the veiled references. I didn’t walk out of church tear free that Sunday, so aware that the anniversary of the death of one I loved so dearly was painfully close. Then after church I was cornered by an acquaintance who had a vested interest in my progress. She asked me how I was coping with being back at work and qualifying what she said with the words, ‘if you don’t tell me the truth, you know I will find out.’ Holding myself together as best as I could, I smiled and said vaguely, ‘I will see how this week turns out.’ Knowing that the last thing I was doing was coping internally and I didn’t want the extent of the nerve damage known so publicly, not yet. I managed to use a cup of tea as my excuse to get out of the conversation. The difficulty of dealing with an invisible disability, and the toll that takes, along with a visible disability, was dawning on me. I really couldn’t take feeling like s*** for much longer. So after church, I asked my friend to take me to the Adelaide Emergency Walk-In at the Tennyson Centre. I thought they would be able to provide a ‘band-aid’ solution so that I could at least make it to my GP appointment the next day with my sanity intact.
The thought never occurred to me that they wouldn’t be able to help. The doctor was able to access the x-ray and the scans done over the past six days. He came into the room, sitting down, he told me that he couldn’t help. I either went home and try to persevere through to my GP appointment or be readmitted into Wakefield Hospital. Before talking to me, he had already tried to contact my surgeon at Wakefield. The surgeon though was in theatre and would return his call. Everything in me, except my mind, was telling me to go home rather than face the surgeon again; it was all still a little bit humiliating. My head though was overriding my natural reaction to take flight. I wasn’t in very good physical shape. If the doctor at the Tennyson Centre couldn’t help, then would my GP be able to? Knowing the answer to my own question, reluctantly, I agreed to go back to the hospital. Unlike last time, the carrot worked. Having had the opportunity to speak to the surgeon, the doctor explained to me that if I went to Wakefield again, then they would not only be able to sort out the problem for now, but they would put a management plan in place so I wouldn’t end up back in this situation. That was the carrot and for once, I accepted it.
Wakefield though wouldn’t be able to admit me until 3pm. I still had a few hours. I went back home, my brother and his family away for the night, I came back to an empty house. I packed a bag, made sure I had enough doctoral work to occupy me, and then called the taxi. I learnt why my Occupational Therapist kept telling me, while in rehab, to keep a hand free, not to be carrying bags in my right hand while I have my walking stick in my left. I was going out the garage, walking stick in my left and my overnight bag in my right, when a bout of vertigo caught me off guard. When this happens, I have learnt to stop. But my right leg kept moving forward, my right foot didn’t clear the floor, and I fell hard onto the concrete floor. My hip jarred on impact. I was still in a bit of shock. I didn’t quite know how I would get up, not quite having the muscle strength in my legs. I made it up eventually. I knew the taxi was waiting, and I just hoped and prayed that I hadn’t damaged my lumbar-sacral spine again. The irony of it all. Out of all the possible moments I could have slipped, fallen, or tripped over, it was when I was on my way back to hospital. I felt stupid. But eventually I did make it to Wakefield Hospital, I was now classified as a patient with a high risk of falling, and life as an inpatient was beginning again. Thankfully though, only for 48 hours.