Six years since.

My neurosurgeon was shocked when I told him that it's been six years since my first op. His eyes widened above the paper mask. He said he couldn’t believe it had been that long, and rolled his eyes in that ‘how old am I?’ kind of way – like I do when one of my younger colleagues reminds me that there’s an age gap of almost a decade between us, and they were playing ‘Moves Like Jagger’ in a Year 7 music class around the time I was drunkenly bopping to it on the dance floor during Freshers Week. 

Yep. Six years, folks. As I write this, it’s six years since I tried to snuggle down in my private room the night before facing the biggest and scariest thing I’d ever encountered; it was a warm night, I had an arrow drawn on my neck in pink marker pen, and I spent far too long simply staring at the cheap print on the wall at the end of my bed, over my pale legs and koala socks. A woman in a big hat, standing in a poppy field. A couple of years later I went to Majorca with Dad and Grandad, and was truly spooked when I saw the exact same print hanging on the wall outside my hotel room.

Six years since the awkward, cold shower in the wet room down the hall, at 7:30am. Then they got me on a bed, and wheeled me down the corridor into the theatre. It all felt very dramatic. I cried a lot when I had to say goodbye to my family and be taken behind the heavy white double doors. The tears stopped quickly though when I was suddenly in the next room with the anaesthetists – one of whom had the surname ‘Bacon’, which cracked me up. I remember thinking I had the easiest job, because I was going to be asleep the whole way through. I didn’t have to do any work. I also didn’t have to wait around, and wait for news.

Bacon asked me where I was from. He’d noticed I had ‘a bit of an accent’. I explained that I’m half Australian, and he promptly asked me what my favourite beach spot Down Under is. I surprised myself; I immediately said ‘Digger’s Beach. We have family friends who live there, it’s so beautiful, and peaceful’… or something like that. I passed out at some point there. I woke up ten hours later, my head full of fog, and actually felt embarrassed that I’d fallen asleep while talking. I had to remind myself that they’re probably used to it. I’ve since learned that they keep you talking as they put you to sleep, although I am still not sure why. My most recent operation, the reconstruction in 2018, was the best cut off conversation; one of the guys (who had a boring surname, I reckon, as I don’t remember it) asked how I felt as the drugs went in, and I tried to describe the sensation of the ceiling spinning above my head, like it was on a rolling conveyor belt. ‘It’s like I’m drunk!’ I laughed. He then replied ‘ahh, too many wines eh?’

I scoffed, and said ‘wine? More like whisky! Or gin...’ and then I blacked out. Well actually, I don’t know if it’s a blackout. I never remember the actual ‘going under’ moment. I just remember coming round, in another room, and bursting into tears, every single time. The last time, a male nurse had to give me a cuddle. I pulled him in and wailed against his chest. He gave me a doll to cheer me up – a mini version of him, apparently – but then by the time he came to collect it, a day or so later when I was on the ward with the anaesthesia slowly leaving my body, I didn’t quite remember him and was shocked to see this teeny doll on my bedside table. ‘Where did that come from!?’ I yelped.

Anyway, I digress. I have too many hospital stories, clearly. Recently, I even drew up a list of my top 10 hospitals I’ve been treated in (Haywards Heath in the top spot, closely followed by the Marsden in Sutton… I won’t bore you with it all, but just FYI, Brighton is right at the bottom. Beware!).

Okay. Back to Hurstwood Park, in 2014…

I had the best treatment in that little old place, both times I went in for surgery. Yesterday I wandered into its beautiful garden just before my MRI appointment, something I hadn’t done before despite revisiting the place many times over the past six years. I sat on the bench, the same one I’d sat on with my family and friends, after my second op. I looked over at the bench I’d sat on when one of my favourite schoolteachers called me to check in, not long after my first op. I then walked over to the glass conservatory, and let myself think back to the time we all sat in there with a cake, celebrating Grandma Latter’s birthday; I’d signed her card after months of not being able to hand write. I'd also sat in there before my second operation, reading a book, none of the words really sinking in. 

And then, because clearly I wasn’t weeping hard enough, I peered through the windows into the (now unused) women’s ward. I took a photo of my bed, the one right at the end against the wall, under the loudly ticking clock. I remembered the time my surgeon visited after the first op, and dared me to get up and walk; the old ladies in the beds next to me, the ones who kept me awake every night with their snoring and manic mumbling, cheering me on as I walked myself to the toilet dragging my wobbly IV contraption along with me.

I feel like I’m very lucky to be able to look back on these traumatic times almost… fondly? Don’t get me wrong, at the time it was terrifying and uncomfortable and I wanted more than anything to go home and to find a way to get myself a new, more functional brain. I never wished it would happen to someone else instead of me, though. I actually liked the idea that I was taking one for the team; that this horror wouldn’t happen to anyone else if it happened to me. Blah blah blah…

But it’s not just luck. I have had the most incredible journey, and the best treatment imaginable (and all on the NHS, mind you). My surgeon said yesterday that he’s happy to make my MRIs and check ups an annual thing from now (!!) but he emphasised that if at any point in the coming year I feel anxious or ‘twitchy’ (not sure if he meant literally when he said that… it would be appropriate, to be fair) I can call his secretary and request a check up. And I know that if I did do that, I’d have a scan and consultation appointment made for me within 24 hours, easy. That’s the level of care I get. I know not everyone gets that pleasant experience, and that’s so unfair. Hopefully, someday, it will change.

Going back a moment there – yep, I’m having annual check ups from now on. One per year. I used to have a scan and consultation every three months, then it was pushed back to every six, and now here we are. It’s weird. I’m a bit sad about it, if truth be told; I love going for my scans, having a happy, zen doze in the MRI tube, and then seeing one of my favourite humans not long after to peer at a screen with the inside of my head on it, and have a catch up like we’re friends meeting for a long overdue coffee date. I always keep him updated on what I’m doing for work, how my writing is going, and I tend to throw in whatever is on my mind at that moment in time; yesterday I casually mentioned that I have a boyfriend, and that I’m going to a BLM protest over the weekend. I’ll be sad not to have another one of these meetings for a full year, but I’m trying to focus on how exciting it is that I have got to this point. My lil buddy is behaving himself now. He’s not a blip any more, or a blob, or a bugger. We’re on good terms now – let’s hope it stays that way. 

Are you new here? Not read the full story? Start from the oldest post under this tag. Bring tissues with you, and please don't feel any pressure to read if anything I've written makes you feel uncomfortable. 

By the way, Hurstwood Park have a League of Friends you can donate to. If you have a few spare pennies, I'd appreciate it if you could send them their way. They're doing pretty amazing things. 


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