The Second Trip to Sydney

Seeing the email arrive in my inbox later than usual, I cringed slightly, wondering if the lateness of the updated agenda, which the email contained, meant another lengthy board meeting. I remember all too well the disaster of my last trip to Sydney. And I could tolerate sitting much better then compared to now. With settling back into home, I was trying not to think about the upcoming Academic Board meeting that Friday, but the day arrived anyway. I don’t actually mind the 3:45am starts. I find the quietness of the dark calming, especially in the Hills. This same blackness envelopes the quiet freeway as we drive down the Hill into Adelaide, cracks of light only beginning to spread across the sky when Adelaide comes in view. The airport though was bustling – well, as bustling as Adelaide Airport can be, I suppose. I headed towards the security, dreading the thought of having to walk through without my walking aid. My dread though was unfounded. Unlike last time, the security person exchanged my walking aid for another, allowing me to walk through security with a little more composure. I headed straight to the Qantas lounge, collected my ticket without hassle, and started the long task of making my breakfast, collecting a few looks along the way with the amount of trips I was taking between my table and the buffet. There is only so much I can carry with one hand, and not spill anything. Finally being able to sit down with my breakfast, I watched the news headlines and transferred all the meeting documents to my dropbox. I noted with relief that the agenda wasn’t as controversial as the previous time. Once my flight was called, I meandered towards the gate and with my ticket swiped, I boarded the plane. Thankful that the middle seat was empty, I started marking exams and waited for my walking stick to be stowed away. Already the day was beginning to look a bit better than the previous trip to Sydney.

Arriving into Sydney was just as uneventful as getting into Adelaide airport and boarding the plane, seemingly. Only a fleeting thought passed through my mind that walking up the ramp after exiting the plane seemed like harder work than usual. I navigated my way onto escalators and off again, only catching a lift to the train platform. When stepping out of the lift, I was met with a lovely surprise. My former research supervisor was also waiting for the next train. We were heading towards the same board meeting. Once on the train, we made the rather quick decision to short cut the city loop by changing trains at Central Station. The sensible thing would have been to stay on the same train all the way to Town Hall station, but the thought of spending longer over a coffee on the other end outweighed the little sense I had at the time. As per our plan, we exited the train at Central and within a second I knew I hadn’t thought through the plan too well, in fact at all. There was no lift to the subway and I had to get down a flight of stairs. I didn’t have much of a choice, I was committed to the plan. So in the middle of Sydney commuter traffic, I clung to the handrail, going down one step at a time. Then I had to go up the next flight of stairs. Again, one step at a time, leading always with my left leg, I started going up while trying desperately not to be knocked over by other commuters. I hadn’t yet ascended the second step when I realised that my right leg wasn’t wanting to come up onto the step. I was having trouble transferring weight onto my right leg in order for my left leg to go up to the next step. No wonder going up the ramp at the airport seemed harder, I had lost function in my right leg, again. What seemed like forever to me was five minutes. I made it up to the platform, not out of physical ability, but out of sheer will; the lesson was learnt. The plan to short cut the city loop was not worth the risk of falling. I just wasn’t strong enough physically and my right leg was just too weak.

We did have that coffee though before heading to the board meeting, I appreciated the time to catch up before we got caught up in the business of the day. Entering the board room, if I had a concern it was how I was going to sit for more than twenty minutes; the thought didn’t occur to me that I would be inundated with questions about how I was going. I thought having answered all the questions the previous meeting, I could turn conversations to other topics. I was wrong. Every conversation that I had was about how I was going, some more concerned about the progress of my PhD than progress with my rehabilitation. Comments ranged from the kindly meant ‘how is the rehabilitation going?’ to statements like ‘I thought you would have moved on from using a walking stick by now!’ The latter irked me. This isn’t the first time comments like this have been thrown at me. If the surgery was a matter of relieving pressure from the nerves that have been impinged, I would never had a need for a walking stick; actually, I wouldn’t have had the surgery. But the spinal cord was crushed, and spinal cord and nerve injuries take time to recover. I wish I didn’t need to use a walking stick and I wish I could move on without it. For the moment though, I move forward with it.

The board meeting was not as strained as our previous meeting. Weighty issues were discussed, but the tension was relieved by displays of dry humour and ensuing laughter. The meeting was not as lengthy as it could have been either; afterwards, we were keen to enjoy the warmth of the sunshine walking back to the train station. I was sensible this time. I really have learnt the lesson of the morning. I took lifts down to the train platform and we stayed on the city loop to the airport. Entering the Qantas Lounge, having had help through the security gate, we settled into a cluster of seats, chatting, eating, and eventually turning to some work before boarding the plane. I was relieved that this trip was more successful than the last. I hadn’t reached the end exhausted or in more pain than usual. I wasn’t just surviving, I was thriving.