Today is what i proclaimed Flexibility Day, You see, 15 years ago at this time I was in Intensive Therapy, waking up from my spinal surgery. This is how I went through the fears before the big day and once that was over, the 6 months recovery of complete stiffness.
All of this has made me so grateful of my body and to commemorate it, every year, on the 11th of November, I remind my friends and family to jump, dance, stretch and twist – everything and anything that makes them feel alive!
This year, I invite you as well – here’s why 🙂
Sunday, 5th November 2000
I was to turn eighteen in two months and 4 days.
Mr. Morley sat on the desk in front of me. If this hadn’t been a consultant’s clinic in a hospital, you’d think we were discussing my next holiday. He turned to my parents. “You’ll have to excuse me, I’ll speak directly to her. She’s soon going to be an adult and this is her decision to make.”
“You need it now,” he told me. “Your spine’s twisting way too fast for us to wait.”
“But I have to take my A Levels in May,” I told him. “I can’t miss school.”
He gave me a knowing smile. “You know it will never be the right moment.”
“Yes, but it’s my last year, I can’t miss out on all the lessons.”
“Listen. I don’t mean to tell you I’m perfect but I’ve been doing this for three decades now. The chance of me making a mistake are there, I’m human, but it’s a small percentage. The way it’s twisting is a 100% that it will soon push on your heart and lungs.” He was soon to retire. “Do it now while I’m still able and it hasn’t gone out of hand.”
“When?” I told him.
“We’re starting tomorrow morning at seven,” he said. “We go back Saturday afternoon. There’s nineteen patients confirmed so far. We’ll fit all of them in by Friday.”
“You’re telling me I should have it this week then.” I said.
“I’m telling you, you should have had it yesterday.” He smiled.
“Look, I don’t know. Give me a number, if I change my mind I’ll call you up.”
There I was, the following day, in the school foyer on a Monday morning, right in front of the three public phones, red phone card in hand, waiting for my turn to call up.
“Mr. Morley,” I told him. “It’s Denise from yesterday. Do you think you can fit me in?”
“I’m right here with the team,” he told me. “Give me a second.” I could hear him put the phone away but I could still hear him. “Guys, do you think you can do an extra one on Saturday?”
Then the muffle. “Denise, they’re on. Be here Friday afternoon at 2pm.”
I laid in my bed that night. “Seven years I’ve been fighting this.” I thought. “Anything not to end up doing the spinal surgery. Seven years of physiotherapy, body braces, X-rays.” Three every six months they used to take. One from the front, one sideways and one from the back. The spine had curved into a b-shape. Straight from the neck and then curving out towards the right hip. Each X-ray was taken to observe any possible improvement with whatever therapy had been suggested 6 months before. There was never one, never an improvement, never a good X-Ray.
Seven years, fourteen visits. Fourteen times three. That’s 42 X-Rays.
I laid in my bed. I had picked up that phone and told him yes. I had to go in on Friday. There was no option really. Not the way he put it. “I’m scared,” I thought. “What if he does fuck up? What if I end up paralyzed now? Just before my 18th. What if I end up in a coma, but can still hear everyone? I really don’t want them to be crying next to me. I really want them to just be there and keep me company and tell me what’s up, even if I can’t move a finger. I want them to be there until I do, until I get out of it, until I switch out and tell them I’m fine, I’m there and I can hear them.”
I laid, back flat, on my top bunk bed, looking at the ceiling, a few centimetres above my head. “Be prepared,” I heard myself say. “Yes your hips are there, your legs are there, your feet are there but you cannot move them. Do you hear me? You can’t move them, you can’t feel them, you know they’re there just cause you know but you can’t do anything with them. Believe it, feel it, be prepared.”
I laid there for a while, getting myself ready for the worst. Not having the chance to get my driving licence, not even being able to get out of bed, walk out the house, dance. I couldn’t imagine myself without my dancing. A ballerina, Morley had said. A ballerina had had it done too and now she was performing again. It can be done, you can do it and be fine. I will be fine. Why am I being so pessimistic? I’m not usually like this. “Shut it, Denise.” I heard myself think. “You’ll be fine. Now get that pen and paper and write it – Keep smiling. Make them put it right on top your head. If you won’t be able to say it, they’ll read it, they’ll see the scribbled flowers on the side. “Oh that’s her,” they’ll say. “She wanted us to speak to her normally even if she’s in a coma now.”
Non-stop. The thoughts wouldn’t stop. I was scared but I was not going to let myself go in shock. I had to be prepared to accept any situation.
The next 5 days I felt as if I was a leaf caught in a windstorm. Moments of let me jump and dance around as much as I can, it’s going to be six months now until I can dance again. Other moments of sudden realizations – I won’t be able to even to take the bus to school for six months. Who’s going to drive me? What if the other surgeries take too long and they won’t manage to fit me in? Do I deserve this for not always following the therapies they suggested? But mum’s the same and aunt’s the same. They didn’t even follow them up with doctors and theirs stopped. Mine didn’t. Will it hurt?
“You’ll be in intensive therapy right after,” they had said. “It won’t be the usual section, Morley brings his team of specialized nurses from London and they’ll assist you all under Intensive Therapy conditions in a ward that’ll be totally dedicated to you guys.”
It can’t be too bad if they’ll be there nursing us right? They must know their stuff.
Saturday, 11th November 2000
It’s quarter to seven on Saturday morning. The nurse wakes me up.
“Take these pills,” she tells me. “They’re taking you up in 15 minutes.”
“Okay,” I tell her. “I’ll take them and jump into the shower quickly.”
“Take them after the shower,” she tells me.
The moment I swallow them, I understand why. The boring ward just a few seconds before, is taking funny shapes now. I feel light in the head and a giggle makes its way out. “I feel high,” I tell the nurse. “That’s cause you are,” she says as she
tucks me into the wheel chair and turns towards the right into a long corridor. I must have passed out then.
I hear a gentle voice call my name. “Denise,” she said. “You’re out.” Before I even open my eyes to look at the nurse, I just instantly take it in. I’m facing the ceiling. My back flat on the hard bed. I mentally go down to my feet, move my toes in a fast, random, piano like manner. They responded! They followed my instructions – I am fine, I am free, free to move, free to do whatever I want.
I couldn’t do as I wanted for the following 6 months until the back bone healed – my body had to remain perfectly aligned at all times, sitting down, in bed, getting into the car. I looked like a robot but trust me, I’ve been dancing, twisting, stretching and jumping ever since, especially on the 11th November. Now go on, what are you waiting for?
HAPPY FLEXIBILITY DAY!