It’s hard to be inside.
I mean, confined to a room with no view of the wild world, no sweet scent of nature, no feel of the vagrant wind caressing your skin.
Last week, I had a trial run as an in-patient. Keyhole surgery and a 2-day hospital stint. A preparatory exercise ahead of the transplant.
On a weekday, the hospital is a madhouse of bustling doctors and screaming patients.
On a Sunday, it felt hollow and stagnant.
“This is my favourite room!”
The nurse gushed as she led us into a desolate waiting area.
She collapsed onto an oversized blue seat, nudged her weight back, and grinned as the contraption unfolded flat.
“You see. Luxury! You’ll be comfortable here.”
Perception is so subjective.
The nurse saw luxury. But my mind was still pinned to the multihued autumn leaves I’d crunched through that morning. By comparison, I saw only white walls and plastic fittings. I would have traded the recliner for a patch of grass in a heartbeat.
Octavio played some cumbia music on his phone. I YouTubed the sound of waves gently lapping the shore. Our devices sat side by side, piping out sounds from a distant dream location.
We perched on the PVC seats and ate pre-prepared salads out of plastic tubs.
And we imagined we were back on Mazunte beach – our bare bums sculpting two bowls in the white sand as we shared freshly baked pastries and sipped milk from a coconut.
Our private paradise.
As NHS hospital rooms go, mine was luxurious…
Spacious enough to host a mini yoga class in. With a bed that let me contort into umpteen sleeping positions at the touch of a button. Two matching orchid prints hung either side of a flat screen TV.
But it was also a soulless box.
Daylight streamed through an unopenable window – the sky sadly masked by a dirty Perspex screen. Lino floor, IKEA furniture, a plastic air vent that whirred interminably.
I switched off the neon lights and lay in the dim yellow glow of my bedside lamp. Melatonin and meditation pulled me into sleep.
Mood can wax and wane at breakneck speed
The next morning, I lazily distracted myself with writing and music.
When a nurse burst into my room to announce the time had come, my body started tingling.
By the time the porter had wheeled me to the theatre door, I was trembling like the foreshock of a small earthquake.
“It’s so cold,” empathised a doctor, her eyes squinting in a warm smile.
“Yes,” I nodded, glad to blame the temperature for my nerves.
As I lay on the operating table – genuinely very cold – my teeth clacked wildly and my body convulsed. I found that I could steady my movements with deep breathing. But any time I was pulled outside of myself – by a question or a sudden sound – the adrenalin circled again.
Then the supreme stillness of anaesthesia.
Then waking in the operating theatre, unable to move or speak.
Then being shunted into a recovery room, a bevy of concerned doctors firing me with questions.
Then deep tiredness and dull pain.
Perception is a funny, variable thing…
When I got back to my room, it felt so beautiful and calming after the stark discomfort of the operation.
The day after leaving hospital, I ambled gingerly through the park beside my house.
Bright November sun thawed the overnight frost. Fresh air flowed around the contours of my skin. I was overjoyed to be home.
I recalled times in the past, when I’d fallen to pieces before physical pain.
Like when my first baby was due and I shut down my body, resisted natural processes, to protect myself from hurt.
Or the time I moaned in post-operation anguish until a nurse agreed to exceed my prescribed morphine dose.
Those reminders hung in my mind like a lead bullet ahead of the transplant.
Keeping paradise in your pocket
1 week after the operation, my body is starting to knit itself together – and my memory of it is shifting and softening.
The knowledge – that bodies heal and suffering passes – is a comfort.
This past week, I accepted that antipathy to pain is really quite normal.
I observed how my mind and body are recalibrating themselves.
I read A Portable Paradise, which was shared with me at just the right moment.
And I realised that pressure and stress will bounce off me whenever I use my imagination to pull myself back to the evergreen paradise within.