While technically a reading week for students, I needed to make up a set of lectures that I postponed earlier in the semester when I was readmitted into hospital. So the Tuesday morning of reading week was the catch up lectures, which also happened to be the day I had the follow-up appointment with the surgeon to find out the verdict from the MRI. Lecturing that morning was an effective distraction from the ever increasing nervousness. As I had done for the past two weeks, I managed to stand unassisted for two of the three sets of lectures. If I needed to walk, then my walking stick was close by, but to stand, I no longer needed assistance. This was a big win. Also, I didn’t have outpatient rehab appointments on the Tuesday afternoons anymore, so I wasn’t concerned about exhausting my ability to stand that day. Lecturing though was bittersweet that morning. I was still struggling with the thought that this could be my last set of lectures for the semester depending upon what happened that afternoon. I really dislike not being able to finish what I start. Not seeing my students through to the end of the semester would be a heart-breaking situation. At least when all this started back in June, I had finished lecturing for the semester and only had exams still to mark.
Being reading week though, I didn’t have the same time pressure to prepare lecture material for the next day. So while I waited for 4:30pm to tick around, I continued writing the same journal article that had been plaguing me since March. I was adamant that I was going to complete this draft of the paper by the end of the week, so I set my mind to work on it that afternoon. Waiting for the surgeon in the waiting room, I was still funnelling all my concentration into proof-reading what I had written a couple of hours previously. So hearing my name ‘Katherine’ being called out, I was jolted out of work mode. I picked up my laptop bag and started to walk as best as I could towards the surgeon’s room. On the way, the surgeon walking behind me, observing, he asked me how I was going. Too truthfully, I gave audible words to the fear that had been causing me anxiety, ‘Not great. My fear is that something is wrong and nothing can be done about it’. Looking at me quizzically, the surgeon questioned, ‘You’re nervous?’ And without leaving a space for me to answer, he then said, ‘There is nothing to be done because the MRI is fine’. Now one might imagine that a huge smile burst across my face and I went out skipping from his office. But a smile did not burst across my face; instead, my eyebrows furrowed, I fell deep into thought, getting caught inside my own head, only vaguely hearing what the surgeon was saying next. The million thoughts that crashed into my head really came down to one; if everything is more or less fine on the MRI, how can I suddenly experience such leg weakness again? For the second time that afternoon, I was jolted out of my own head, for a second at least, when the surgeon asked me to take off my boots and my ankle-foot brace so that he could test my legs once again. Unthinkingly, I complied. I started walking towards the examination bed, getting impatient with how my right leg kept on swinging inwards; and the surgeon once more went through testing my foot and leg movement. Once back sitting at his desk, the surgeon tried to be encouraging. He thought that I was actually walking better than the previous week. Although I certainly didn’t feel like the mechanics of walking was better than the previous week, I agreed. For some strange reason, I did feel like I was overall getting stronger. The verdict, however, was simple. ‘Recovery is just going to take a long time’, he said in his gentle and earnest way of speaking. I already knew this. I knew that I was in this for the long haul whether I like it or not. But I knew he wanted me to hear this fact. I heard. The next question though was how we progress with rehab work. He wanted me to be assessed by one of his Physios the next day. The time he offered was in the middle of a lunch that had been organised with friends from Cambridge, but knowing that undergoing the assessment would be important, I scheduled the time on my iPhone. A smile hadn’t still touched my face; I was still thinking and processing. I was on autopilot when the surgeon said good-bye. It wasn’t until I was safely ensconced in a cafe, with a pot of tea in front of me, that I was able to breathe in relief and I felt the tension leave my neck and shoulders. A smile did touch my lips at that moment. I took out my iPhone and started messaging friends who were waiting to hear. The verdict was good news.