Tuesday, 13 May 2014

A Parallel Universe

If you’ve wondered why it’s been almost two months since Charlotte has popped up, here is the reason.  The last post was written just before I was about to enter hospital for what was supposed to be your standard, run of the mill hip replacement, a common enough procedure for people in my age bracket.  You might even take up what I was doing before the operation, and try to guess just by observing the movements of people in the street how many have been fitted with these small modern miracles. There are a lot of us walking around these days.  All those spanking new hips and knees.  Fashioned from steel or ceramic or titanium, depending on the age of the recipient, these amazing devices have done so much to restore people to a long-lost agility.  One of the doctors who saw me before I went into hospital laughingly said that I’d soon be line dancing.  Not that I’d ever been a line dancer or hankered to become one, it was reassurance nonetheless, if seasoned with a dollop of disbelief.

The room and Beatrice my neighbour
As it turned out, I was right to be sceptical.  It’s been seven weeks now and I’m still walking with the stick I had before I went into hospital, and outside in the world I have to use a walker until I'm steadier on my feet.  Forget about line dancing – I still can’t even bend far enough to dry between my toes and my son, in an act of pure love I shall never forget, has without my even asking deigned cut my toenails.  I can’t cook much or clean, or put on my underpants without a picker-upper – the very same ingenious if forbidding device my prefect granddaughter uses to clean up rubbish after lunchtime in the schoolyard.  I should laugh but I don’t have the time.  The simplest tasks involve the planning and concentration of a space launch.
Sara the doctor who came when her toddlers were in bed

So here is what happened.  I was warned by my surgeon, as is obligatory, of the very rare risks involved in the operation.  Stroke may occur in one percent of cases, and in four to five percent of them it’s possible that the femur, that long bone attaching the hip to the knee, can be cracked.  I harboured unvoiced worries about a stroke – who wouldn’t? – but a femur fracture never entered my mind.  Yet, yep, that was me.  In the depths of the anaesthetic, I heard as if from the bottom of a well the surgeon telling me this, and then it was lost in the fug.  Gradually, though, the impact of the injury played itself out for me.  For about four weeks I could hardly put any weight on that leg.  Yet because it was important to be mobile I scooted along on various contraptions using my arms and the good leg – maybe the hardest thing I’ve ever had to learn to do in my life.  After a while I began to walk properly again, but still with a frame. Throughout all this I was coached by the most remarkably efficient and knowledgeable team of physiotherapists and I thank them one and all.  The doctors and nurses too.

Granddaughters with Zimmer frame
Yume my nurse who dressed me and put on my socks
Ellen the sister who gave me anti-clotting injections
But the point of the story goes well beyond my soliciting sympathy for the ordeal, flagrant as it is.  At the bottom of it is a much deeper insight into two things that should be prime movers in society – what it really means to be disabled or sick or dependent, and, also, what it means to be old.  I was lucky, very lucky, to have had the care that I had, but I was also acutely aware that I’d entered a parallel universe, that often maligned but incredibly essential health system that our present government is doing its best to undermine.  This is a place where staff are forced to work far too hard, helping their patients do the most commonplace things (I was unable, for instance, to put on my non-skid hospital socks) as well as the most complicated.  Where highly skilled personnel are disgracefully underpaid, and policy makers  disproportionately rewarded.  And this was before our draconian, hardline neoliberal, plutocratic budget.  Only when we begin to put people above profit again will these inconsistencies be remedied, but I fear for the consequences in the meantime.

And now a few words about aging.  I always imagined that this would be a gradual process, a slow dimunition of faculties, but in fact it can be, and more often is, like illness or disability, a sudden plunge into helplessness.  The most salient feature in this land of the old is the terror of falling.  And with good reason, for all it takes is a fall and you’re laid up for weeks.  The rehab hospital where I was sent was full of people who had taken a tumble and had every imaginable injury to their joints and bones.  The corollary of this revelation is that once you’re past a certain age you must never run for anything – not for a phone, not for a cab, not for a light, not for a bus.  It was chasing a bus that got me in this pickle in the first place.  It was something I’d done all my life, I felt invincible while speeding towards my target, but, alas, I’d forgotten my age. 

And I’m still not sure about line dancing.

Next time: more thoughts on writing and publishing.


  1. Thank you for this post, Sara. It is, like all your posts, full of insights and beautifully written. While you were in a rehab centre, my ninety-four year old mother was too, at the Grace McKellar Centre, in Geelong, and I echo your praise for the physio and nursing staff. At ninety-four, you can expect to be given up on, but nobody gave up on my mother. All regarded her desire to become mobile again as perfectly reasonable and achievable. She was accorded dignity and treated with respect. These people, overworked as you point out, are saints. And some budget-cutter must have slipped up somewhere, because these services are not only available to the wealthy.

  2. And thank you for your comment, Dorothy. I hope your mother is improving. I'm beginning to see just what a challenge it is to grow older, requiring courage, fortitude, and if you can manage under the circumstance, a good sense of humour. It certainly helps too to be in the hands of dedicated, knowledgeable, compassionate staff