It is 7am on June 23rd, 2018, and instead of another medical machine in a white hospital room, today the beeping comes from an alarm beside my bed easing me into another sun drenched morning on the beautiful island of Corsica.
I rub my eyes after a surprisingly good night’s sleep, roll easily over with no bags or bandages attached to me and dangle my legs over the edge of my enormous bed, swinging them effortlessly back and forward.
Staring out through the window, I passively observe the ripples made by the breeze on the surface of the swimming pool, taking a conscious moment to reflect on everything that has happened to me so far this year.
January was a long and difficult month, especially the process of recovering from my colostomy reversal. From the very start, going to pick up T-Rex in the car just two days after my surgery probably wasn’t the best idea – I can still remember the piercing stomach pains of each and every pothole – and the mad toilet dashes and constant diaper wearing that followed were only brought to a close weeks later, when I was finally able to recognise a poo from a fart.
But things got better quickly after that, and within a couple of months I was back to physical therapy, driving, swimming laps in our local pool and returning to sing with my acapella group. I even went back to work, although part time at first, and it was wonderful to feel useful and productive again, to be contributing back to the world instead of just taking from it.
Then, a couple of months ago, I stopped wearing my foot brace completely and even ventured from sneakers to pumps, although heels are still way out of my sights for a good while yet. So now, I look almost normal, which brings it’s own challenges as I definitely still don’t feel normal. Well, I guess it’s a new normal, only vulnerable and weaker than before. I still need to ask for help a lot of the time which is harder to do when you don’t look overtly sick or injured – the better I look, the harder it is to ask for a seat on the Metro – a small price to pay, perhaps, for such an incredible surge in my independence.
Of course, I still have a lot of pelvic and sacral pain. A constant low level of discomfort that doesn’t go away, worsening with rain, long periods of sitting and over-exertion, but I think I have to accept this as my new base line now, and frankly there are worse things. Another double edged sword is a complete loss of sensation in my left butt cheek and groin, the silver lining of which is a future of practically painless bikini waxes.
And then there were the unexpected, latent complications, like needing a lot of dental work following weeks of not cleaning my teeth properly in ICU, and multiple sessions of pelvic floor physical therapy involving intimate finger massages during which my therapist and I would awkwardly discuss the weather. In fact, I wanted to write a full blog post about these sessions, but Mat wisely advised me against it, insisting that even I should probably try and maintain a very basic level of decorum.
But to heck with all of this. Here I am, just ten months after such an earth-shattering accident, about to walk down the aisle and marry the man of my dreams. I couldn’t imagine a luckier person.
Fun fact no 7: I have 15 scars scattered across my body but only one of them, and the smallest of all, is from the accident itself.
Just a few hours later, I am sitting outside on the veranda with my Bridesmaids as my sister paints gold powder over the scars on my left arm and hand. A couple of weeks ago I found a gift and a card on the table at home. The gift was a small pot of gold powder, and the card was from Mat, explaining that, in Japanese culture, when a precious piece of pottery is broken it is fixed with lacquer mixed with powdered gold, so that the breaks are duly recognised as part of the object’s history. The practice is called Kintsugi, and the result makes the fixed piece look even more beautiful than it did before, “which is exactly what your scars do to you”, the note said.
Fast-forward another hour and I am hanging onto my Dad’s arm, shaking uncontrollably as I take my first step onto the sand. I feel the eyes of 160 people watching my every move and take a moment to steady myself, drawing a deep breath into my quivering lungs.
We reach the beginning of the aisle and begin to walk down it. A faint ripple of encouragement builds around us from all of the people I love, before bursting into a spontaneous round of applause.
Oh my God, they are clapping me. They are actually clapping me.
I listen to the sound of the ocean and dig my toes into the warm sand to ground myself. Then I see Mat waiting at the end of the aisle. He is wiping a tear from his eye and smiling with his whole face. I focus on him, taking one step at a time, remembering to lift each foot carefully and place it down, heel-toe, heel-toe.
After what feels like a lifetime of concentration, I make it to the driftwood arch at the end of the aisle where Dad proudly passes my hand to Mat’s, and the words of my first physical therapist ring in my ears.
“Well”, he said, sucking air through his inverted lips, “I guess, it’s possible”.
You were right Mark, it was possible, I think to myself.
And I did it. I bloody well did it.
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