Last week I went along to a pain clinic appointment.
Middle-aged, male doctor, blunt opener:
‘I’m going to be honest with you. I don’t know why you’re here.’
Not the most auspicious start.
The barrage of honesty continued. I had the wrong type of pain (he only does localised pain – one joint, for preference), and I was still under investigation so shouldn’t have been sent to him.
He’d mis-read my notes and wasn’t all that happy when I pointed out the mix up (‘I don’t make things up. I don’t lie.’) I upped the amount of solicitousness in my tone and added a hefty sprinkle of ‘I’m so sorry’, and ‘of course’.
I queried whether he had any advice on painkillers, and he assumed I was trying to scalp him for opiates:
‘You shouldn’t be taking opiates. I don’t want to see another drug-addled patient walking through my door.’
I made an attempt to explain that opiates were all I’ve got, given that we don’t have a way to treat the muscle behaviour because we don’t know what’s going on.
‘My best advice is don’t lose your job. And don’t take opiates.’
‘You’re well educated? You google everything? Know things better than your consultants?’
He’d nailed that one – I’m an inveterate googler, but I’m also wise enough to go into medical appointments with an open mind. It was rapidly closing in this particular appointment.
‘You could join a Pain Management Programme. There’s one here, but we don’t have a psychologist and you need a good psychologist, that’s what you really need.’
It was around this point that I crumpled into tears, thereby annoyingly underlining his point.
The nurse was sent for some hand towels (I foolishly seem to see consultants without tissues to hand), and the tone rapidly shifted from ‘honesty’ to ‘I really wish I could do something for you.’
He described me as ‘delightful’ and ‘distressed’ in his letter to my GP. I feel like I stepped into another century.
The division was pleasingly symmetric, although it got a bit wonky along the spine (it’s not all that easy to do with a kitchen knife).
My left side had finally had enough of being the silent partner, the good one, the better half, always held back by its troublesome twin. All those shows it had to miss, the dinners it didn’t get to eat, and the sleep it could never recover.
My right side is the problem child. It throws tantrums until the whole body has to vomit, and it ruins everything. It gets all the attention: ‘Are you sitting comfortably? Do you need anything else? Shall I get you some ice?’
My left side just watched all the while.
I’m not sure what pushed it over the edge. Maybe the conversation I had with the doctor about having to wait even longer for another referral. Maybe the paddy my right side pulled that meant I missed Hamilton (left side really likes musicals).
It’s free now in any case. A bit wobbly on its newborn single sole, and with half a tongue poking through half a jaw of teeth whenever its hand tries to do anything fiddly. But it’ll get there.
No longer hidden backstage, my left side finally has the spotlight.
I crawled into my first shell in childhood, a tiny whorl of cream that settled a comforting weight around my shoulders.
Likes reading, more slapdash than her brother, bit of a temper, proud, lies really well, perfectionist.
I outgrew that first shell in my teenage years and found myself a larger one, a cone splattered with brown.
Thoughtful, doesn’t like getting things wrong, good at big picture stuff, hates trying new things unless she knows she’ll be good at them. Good with other people but doesn’t always have the confidence to speak up.
When I headed to university, I moved into a long pale spiral that gleamed inside.
Works well with others but needs her own space, will step up to lead if given a shove. Picks things up quickly, sees too many sides to successfully argue just one angle.
And so I moved as I changed, finding new homes whenever I outgrew the last.
I’ve been in my current shell for the last few years. It’s a gorgeous mottled green, fading to yellow at the tip. It fitted well, holding all that I am, all that I enjoy, and all that I was capable of.
But now it hangs loose about me.
The person who chose this home saw the world differently, had different expectations, and had assumptions that can no longer come to pass.
It is time to choose another shell.
There is a sadness in leaving one behind: I’m losing the familiar and the loyal, and moving into the unknown. But with change comes potential and possibility.
This new shell will contain my new self as it moves along a perpendicular path. It will be a shelter to life’s tides, a safe place to regroup and regrow.
There’s so much love there. Two people who will literally sandwich me when I’m howling and bathed in eau du vomit. They will hold me fast against the strange forces that wreck my body. They will feed me, comfort me, walk for me, and help me scrape the bottom of the barrel for sticky dregs of laughter.
Time stops there. Away from the life I have built for myself, the people I have collected, the places I call my own. There live the ones who knew me first, from knee high upward. There are the ones who taught me, inspired me, keep me in their hearts even now. It is there that childhood memories are unpacked.
Home brings summer flowers and cool rooms, new grown frogs and an old purring lap blanket.
And yet a part of me asks, what then?
Is this forever?
Am I letting go of this life I’ve been building and falling a decade backward? Acceding to whatever it is that tears at my body?
Perhaps home must be given new lines to speak. I must dust it off, wipe away the sepia and see it in the light of the present.
Safe harbour in the midst of this ship-wrecking storm.