A small reward for some desultory decluttering. Found a writing prompt, with my efforts, dated 9 May, 2005. Open a drawer. After fiddling around with some cliches I had turned the paper over and written “I’m not going to open the drawer – I don’t have the key”. Sounds like my life.
Memoir week 2 Family
“I thought”, said my aunt, “you would have a difficult time when you went to Canada. “In order to have a family you would have to make your own.” And this is what I had done. I was visiting her and the other relatives on one of my excursions taken with one of my children so they could meet their cousins. I’d always been acutely aware of the lack of a family and wanted to give them as many relatives as I could, even long distance ones.
I arrived in Canada at the age of six and a half leaving behind my aunt and uncle and their children, by then more like siblings than cousins to me, and from that time on, and really for the rest of my life, loneliness became my constant and closest, if unwanted, companion. I made friends at school but my best friend of the time would always be best friends with someone else, I’d be the dispensable part of a threesome.
For the first couple of years the woman who brought me to Canada, later joined by her teenaged daughter, was part of our household. She was quite unkind to me, I suppose nowadays one would say I was bullied by her, but at the time as a young child I was simply unhappy. Later I understood better that she, too, was unhappy. She eventually left. My father had become good friends with a woman while he was still in Africa and they returned to the United Kingdom together. She it was who looked after me those happy months in the Channel Islands. Now she came to visit us in Canada. The following year she and my father met in Bermuda and got married, so I had a stepmother.
My stepmother also had a fairly small family, but they were close and she kept in touch with them, and they welcomed my father and me into the family. But, once again, these people all lived so far away we hardly ever met. Now that most of the older generation has died I keep in touch with only a couple of her Irish cousins, so distant they were hardly related even to her and of course not to me at all!
The first time I visited my English relatives I was about nineteen. My grandfather had for some reason become anxious to see me and had sent money for my air fare. My grandmother had died years earlier and he’d been quite promptly snapped up by a spinster schoolteacher who must have seen him as a good way to attain the status of a married woman.
After a day or two with the cousins I spent most of the rest of my precious three weeks being entertained by these two elderly people as well as a raft of second cousins and first cousins once removed, as well as my uncle, my mother’s brother, and his family. But it was the cousins who lived hundreds of miles to the south whom I craved to spend more time with, so the plans for my last few days were changed and I was sent back to them. While there I had a dream that I was in a house where I discovered a huge wing I’d not known existed, and I found treasure hidden under the front steps. I understood right away that this house represented family, a far larger family than I had ever known.
The last day I spent with them I have never forgotten. It was a day which seemed to last forever, as though in some way I was psychologically making up for all those years, thirteen formative years, when I had been in exile.
Since then I have made a family. Recently this seemed to become complete with the birth of a granddaughter, although, continuing the pattern of my life, this child lives a thousand miles away….
Week One Memoir assignment “Branching Points”
The first Christmas I remember was the year I was three. We lived in the country then called Nyasaland. As I remember it we had neither electricity nor running water, needing paraffin lamps at night, and there was much excitement the day a porcelain bathtub arrived to replace the galvanized one we’d bathed in before. I did not know what the holes were for, never having seen a plug or taps.
One day a tree was brought into the house and my parents produced a deck of cards and before I went to bed we decorated the tree with them. In the morning a big stocking full of mysterious objects hung at the foot of my bed. I wasn’t given much time to investigate however as my father seemed anxious that I should go downstairs. There to my wonderment and delight I found the tree had been transformed, complete with sparkling decorations and real candles burning brightly. Father Christmas, I was told, had done this magic, changing the cards into decorations. When I found a couple of cards near the bottom of the tree my father seemed disappointed, but to me it made it all the more real, proving this was the same tree.
I remember a few other things from that time. My mother showing me a partly formed chicken in an egg which had been broken open. Playing with a tiny toy: two little plastic bears with a table and chairs and minute blue bowls into which my mother put a crumbled cornflake and a drop of milk and we pretended the bears were eating breakfast with us. Sitting on the verandah drawing pictures. Many years later this little sketchbook turned up in my father’s accumulation and I remembered how I’d asked my mother to draw me a picture of a car and how she had said she didn’t think she could draw one. Nevertheless along with my childish scribbles and her other demonstrations for me there is a quite respectable representation of a car.
For years I thought there was a different moon in Africa because one night a huge honey coloured moon looked in my window, and the next time I remember seeing the moon it was a smaller silver disk seen from a Northern country. One evening my father called through the window to tell my mother she should come in or she would make herself ill. She was, I think, rounding up some escaped poultry.
Was it that night or another one when I was kept awake by the sound of wailing? Then someone came and got me up and took me to my mother’s bedside. I thought it was morning and I asked her why she wasn’t getting up to have tea. A voice told my father to take me to have tea, and we sat at the kitchen table for a while having a warm drink. A little later in a dark room, it was still the middle of the night, a woman in a long blue dress, perhaps it was a nightgown, told me God had loved my mother so much he had taken her to live with him.
The next thing I remember is being in a hotel room with my father. I’d been sick, sick a lot and there were no more clean sheets. Later I learned I’d been sick for a while and we were staying in this hotel while we were on our way to where I could be put on a plane and sent to live with my aunt and uncle who were in Kenya at the time. My father was lying on a bare mattress and he asked if he could get in beside me under the last sheet because he was cold, and I said no, but somehow I felt bad about saying that. I was pleased when morning came and I found he had shared the sheet after all.
Then we were separated for a while, and I lived most of the next three years with my aunt and uncle and their children. The year I was five we went to England by ship and spent that Christmas with my grandparents, the parents of my mother and my aunt. After Christmas I stayed in the Channel Islands for a few months with the woman who eventually became my stepmother. My sixth birthday was the year of the coronation and my gifts almost all had something to do with the coronation. I remember those months on Guernsey and Sark as something of a golden age of my childhood.
After another half year or so with my relatives I was put into the care of a woman hired to take me to Canada to join my father who had emigrated in mid-1953. I remember how, as we came into Halifax, she was afraid I wouldn’t recognize him, she never having met him. But I saw him standing at the railing, looking down into the water, and I shouted out, “Daddy, Daddy!”
It was many years before I understood that the true branching point was not the night in the spring of 1951 when my mother died, but that long journey across the North Atlantic in January of 1954, when I left behind all my family, everyone, everything I knew, except my father, who himself had lost so much more.
The stoic week theme for today has reminded me of growing up always aware of the night sky, and how I would look at the stars, everywhere you put your eyes there were stars upon stars. I don’t know where I could go now to see a sky like that. I was taken to a Dark Sky site a few years ago, and it was nothing like the sky I remembered from my youth. Those stars really put things into perspective for me, and all my little growing up problems vanished into inconsequence. How much has the human race lost by hiding the stars? Does anyone remember when there was an earthquake and all the lights in Los Angeles were out, and people called up radio stations wondering what was wrong with the sky. People who in all their lives had never seen the beautiful night sky that Planet Earth is blessed with. Where I live now, from my window at night I have only been able to see the moon and bright planets. No stars. I miss even the impoverished view of major constellations I enjoyed in the backyard of my former home. It is so much easier to learn these lessons of stoicism if we can connect with the nature of the planet, if we can find a forest with huge trees, or a meadow buzzing with insects and bright with flowers, or, especially and “above all” the view of the universe in the dark canopy of the night sky. Light hitting the retina after journeying for hundreds, thousands, millions of years….
Even posting this has been an adventure of nearly two hours, including a very helpful and instructive session with a real live person at WordPress help. If this appears, you know it worked. The problem was not with WordPress, but with the browser I was using.
This is the morning of the second day. So far, I think I am already living a bit like a Stoic – a lot to learn, of course. The reason? Because learning to live with a chronic illness which limits your ability to behave as you always have tends to make one more patient, more able to focus on things that really matter, and to let go things that once upon a time would have dominated one’s thoughts and used up much energy. I don’t like to hear about people fighting their chronic illness, because I feel this is not the best way to manage something you really have no control over. Better to find ways to live with the situation. In my case, for a long time I’ve envisioned my illness (polymyalgia rheumatica) and my medication (prednisone) as two dragons, which my job is to control so they go in the same direction, which I hope will be towards healing. I don’t know if this is the best analogy, but years ago in this blog I wrote about prednisone being a two-faced friend. Some people go into remission in a couple of years, others, like me it seems, end up in this situation for the long haul. I have no choice but to treat this in a stoical manner, accepting that I cannot change the fact that this illness has weakened me, stolen my energy and capacity to do things, but also realizing it won’t kill me, and with the right medication I can live a good life and still enjoy many of the things I like to do. I can control how I feel about the situation, and do what I can to relieve suffering by treating myself kindly and taking my medicine, but the fact of the illness is beyond my control and I cannot fight that.
What can we little humans do, we vulnerable little animals who have overrun the planet and now threaten its very life support systems. Can politicians really do anything to get us out of this mess? Let us start at home, with Canada and its various leveIs of government. It’s imperative that any viable political party gets “green” asap or we are doomed. I thought the eponymous Green party should be focused on the environment, not on racial or gender inclusivity, which in the existential situation the planet (and all its passenger species) is now in, is a distraction, politically incorrect though this view may be. We are all in this mess together, never mind who’s at fault and who’s in power. Rich and poor, black or melanin-challenged, human or other, we co-exist on the same planet.
Unfortunately, a year has made not enough difference. A year ago I thought we’d be through the pandemic and hoped our feet would be set on a path towards a better world. Instead we see a virus mutating and continuing to overwhelm us. And instead of shedding our differences it seems we are intent upon emphasizing them, fragmenting society into ever smaller and smaller units. It is hard to look beyond this apparent disintegration to a new and better world. Perhaps this is a stage we must navigate before we can make progress but if you are living in a shattering snow globe it’s impossible to see a positive outcome.
A strange elongated asteroid approaches Earth. It is not an asteroid. Is it a comet? It doesn’t circle the sun, but goes back the way it came. Oumuamua continues to puzzle us. Sometime later Earth is narrowly missed by an asteroid, undetected until it was nearly upon us. Then a pandemic selectively starts killing the aged and other vulnerable humans. Whatever the powers are, they do not want to destroy Earth, but to save her.
It all started, I thought, at the end of April with my right leg suddenly buckling as I ran down a slope to catch a walk signal. There was a sharp pain at the outside of my right knee and a sudden inability to run any more. I don’t think at first I connected that moment with the pain I was feeling by the middle of May as I attempted to continue my daily walks. I tried to do exercises I’d been given in the past, involving lifting ankle weights and found I could not manage with my right leg. Hmm, I though, I must be getting weak because of activity changes with the pandemic lockdown. On the last Saturday of May I had a virtual visit with my physiotherapist and she gave me some exercises as I asked, to help me get those muscles back in shape again. I did them that evening, and again on Sunday morning and thought, they are helping already!
Then just before we left to have lunch with our “bubble” family I decided to get summer clothes out from an under-the-bed box. I pushed another one out thinking as I did so, I must make sure to push that back out of the way so hubby doesn’t trip over it. However I apparently have the attention span of a mayfly. Just then I noticed the window wasn’t open, went to open the window and promptly tripped over the box, slamming my left knee down on the floor as hard as I could. Painful much!
I walked downstairs to the parking garage, got in the car, and we drove the five minutes to our son’s home. By the time we got there I couldn’t get out of the car or up the steps without help. We ate lunch but I think I was going into a bit of shock. Later I realized my mouth had gone really dry which was why I couldn’t eat much. I was given a little ice pack for the knee and after the meal everyone insisted I go to the emergency department. I wouldn’t be long, I was assured, hardly anyone is going there these days with the pandemic. To the emergency department we went. Although at that point masks weren’t yet required I wore one. I sent hubby home to fetch my Kobo so I’d have something to read, and settled down to what I thought would be a short wait.
I suppose I kept being triaged down the list. About five hours later the doctor saw me. Told me the orthopedic specialist was in that evening and she would ask him to look at the knee. She said I shouldn’t have anything to eat or drink, except water, in case I needed emergency surgery. A couple of hours later I was taken to be x-rayed. Some time after that the orthopod looked at the knee. By then I would cheerfully have murdered for a cup of tea. When he came in I was using the ice out of the water I’d been given to help with the swollen knee. He was very nice, told me it didn’t look like anything was broken but they would put me in a plaster splint to go home and he would see me in the outpatient clinic on Wednesday. I told him how much my right knee had been bothering me and he said he would have it x-rayed at the same time as the left knee was checked later; he did say something about an MRI and when the time came I should have been a bit more strong-minded and asked him to please go ahead with an MRI. A bit more time went by. Then the man with the plaster arrived and wrapped me up in what I would have called a cast but is called a splint. He told me I could not put weight on the leg.
A little more time when by and then, over ten hours since I had arrived at the emergency department, it was almost tomorrow, a wheelchair and attendant arrived to take me to the entrance to be collected. It was the kind of wheelchair with no way for me to rest a leg completely straight in plaster. I was asked to hold the leg up. As I was there in the first place because I couldn’t use the leg that was no go. Could I rest it on the edge of the foot rest if they folded the foot rest up? That seemed a bit risky to me. And by then I was starving and dehydrated and getting cross and probably irrational. I got out of the wheelchair and, using it as a support, hopped on the right leg, the one that hurt so much I was doing physio for it, quite a distance to where hubby was waiting in the car. I had to hop a bit more until we got crutches in the morning.
Hubby had made tomato soup for supper. Starving as I was I demanded yoghurt in the soup and bread on the side, and several cups of tea. That night and for some time afterwards I slept half sitting up in a chair in the living room with my legs up on an ottoman. After supper the next night I wondered why I was feeling so shaky, and then it occurred to me that I was probably literally starving. Supper was some sort of braised celery! I demanded calories and more calories!
The left knee healed. The plaster came off on Wednesday and after that I wore a brace, rather an ill-fitting one, for two weeks, and then just walked with care. Meanwhile right knee was being over-used. Nevertheless by the seven week visit when both knees were x-rayed, I must have had enough rest that I wasn’t demanding enough to have the right knee cared for. X-ray showed osteoarthritis in both knees, worse in the left than in the right. No broken bones in the foot,
Time went by. Sometimes I could hardly walk, other times I felt nearly all right. But there was a definite slow trend down and eventually I thought, maybe I need a brace to stabilize this right knee so that I can go for proper walks. In late October I attempted to get a brace. I am so thin now it’s hard to fit me. Then my skin reacted to the one which might have worked for me, if any brace was actually what I needed. The brace already kept slipping, and after I had to wear a cotton sleeve to protect my skin I had to strap it on so tight I think I was harming my circulation. Nevertheless I persisted with the trial and at the end of November (remember, this all started in April) I walked from the ferry terminal in Halifax all the way to a bookstore near the Public Gardens, and back again. Half of this walk is on a hill, first up and then down. By the time I was home, near the ferry terminal on the other side of the harbour, I was practically crippled. I had thought the brace would stop that from happening, but in fact the brace did nothing for me at all. I needed to break out the crutches for a day after that walk.
Then I – finally – plugged this question into Google: why, if I hurt the right side of my knee, does the inside hurt. The answer – ACL injury! It was like a light bulb going off. Someone had mentioned that when she had a minor ACL injury when skiing she’d worn a brace which kept her knee straight for a while. I decided to not bend my knee as I walked, and to be very careful not to go down slopes or navigate anything other than necessary steps even when the knee felt better. I did this for several weeks, right through Christmas and into the new year.
I asked the orthotist if I had presented with the same symptoms but no OA would she have been able to fit me with anything else. She said no, only a kind of sleeve, which we had tried and which I’d found uncomfortable, and I would have reacted to its material anyway. I phoned my soon to be former doctor (she was moving, I wasn’t leaving her) and asked for a referral to an orthopod, but she told me to let the “new man” deal with that. All this time she’d been somewhat unhelpful. At my request she’d given me prescriptions for physio and for the brace, and had only diflofenac rub to suggest as a treatment. I read the package insert and realized not only is Voltaren not recommended for people over 60 it is actually contraindicated for people like me who have already had stomach bleeds.
After about a month’s break for Christmas I went back to the physiotherapist with my bright idea about the ACL. She examined the knee very carefully and said there was no sign of ACL issues. However by then I’d been doing my no knee bend walking for weeks, and I could tell things were better inside the joint although still too much swelling. It was about this time I learned that all that extra fluid actually damages bones, erodes joints. I did not know this. I’d have been more assiduous about elevating the leg and icing the knee during the day as well as only at bedtime.
I phoned the new doctor and asked for an MRI and referral to a specialist. He suggested I had gout. I humoured him by letting him send me for the appropriate tests, and he humoured me by agreeing to send me for an MRI and to seek a specialist referral. I do not have gout. However he was very interested in some blood results and said he wanted to see me. I don’t know how he did it. I went to my appointment expecting to have a date (or not) for the MRI, and a copy of the x-ray report, and instead he took my blood pressure and pulse and listened to my chest. Later I realized he never even looked at my knee. He talked about wanting to run a complete blood panel (whatever that is) and I just sat there like a bump on a log and didn’t even ask what he was looking for. I did have the presence of mind to say at the end that all I wanted was to be able to take walks again. I feel that I am losing life expectancy by not being able to walk properly.
Just before I left the building I remembered I hadn’t even asked for a copy of the x-ray report so I ran (well, slowly walked with my urban poles) back in and the receptionist printed it off for me to take to my physiotherapist. And I still don’t know how long I will have to wait for an MRI, or if it’s worth getting one done privately. The doctor wants me to taper my prednisone down to 1.5 mg, from 3, then take in the new blood requisition. So I suppose in about a month or six weeks I’ll have another visit and this time I shall have to direct his attention back to what is concerning me – my injured knee, my need for exercise to maintain health. Not his searching for some interesting ailment which may or may not be of significance but which right now is just something I need to keep putting out of my mind so I don’t worry.
And was the beginning really that moment as I ran down the hill? I think it went back to the days of late 2019 when I did not get to the store to buy new sneakers, and my footwear was no longer properly supporting my feet. My right foot had started to hurt me. I’d got exercises for my feet as well as the knee at that first virtual physio appointment, and they helped very quickly. I also remembered a pair of sneakers I’d had from before and kept only for using on our treadmill in our former home, and with some orthotics in them I was now looking after my feet better.
Even before that, we’d moved in early 2019 and now with no stairs of our own I’d made a point of going in and out at least a couple of times a day and nearly always using the stairs. With the covid lockdown I only went out once a day, and that meant much less physical activity.
So I suppose it all began with covid.