my stupid back

waiting for a cab

Yesterday I made a mistake. It was my seventh wedding anniversary, which has nothing to with my mistake, and vice versa. My mistake had to do with a cab.

Every so often, when I'm tired or stressed or depressed, I lose the ability to call a cab properly. Cab-calling is a crucial part of my survival skillset; I have no car, no bicycle, and since my surgery I cannot rely on my legs to take me more than five blocks (this is getting better, in case you're wondering). Plus I am constantly running slightly behind, and on those occasions when running behind merges into gross tardiness, I can always blame the taxi company. This helps at meetings.

Yesterday I stopped off at the downtown library to find an appropriate movie to celebrate being hitched for seven years (I chose Psycho). After fifteen minutes of flipping through DVDs, I knew that I wasn't going to be able to walk home. Standing produces a stealthy strain on my back and legs, one that doesn't seem so bad until suddenly, my left leg goes nerveless and my entire body wants to curl up and nap.

Even though a serviceable bus stop sat waiting only a half block away, the part of my brain capable of entertaining options and choosing the most efficient had shut down. The day, the coming month, the rest of 2008 all rose up in my mind and started to swarm, gnatlike and persistent, around my brain. Lift and settle, settle and lift, cling to sweat and hunker down in the salt. I decided to call a cab from the payphones in the library lobby.

I won't tell you about the horror of discovering that public phones had increased their toll from twenty-five to fifty cents. I know, it could be worse - it could be Europe, where even a local call gnaws at your small change until your pocket is empty and the conversation is cut off in mid-thought. North America was once the land of plenty; now it holds the distinction of being the land where at least you're not nickel-and-dimed at every turn, unless you have a cell phone plan.

The downtown Public Library sits at the corner of Lorne Avenue and 12th Street. Addled by fatigue, I asked for the cab to come to the exit on 12th Avenue. Before the dispatcher could point out that 12th Avenue did not exist, I thanked her and hung up. Polite, me.

This is not the first time I've given a non-existent location for a cab. Some years ago I called for a cab to show up at the corner of 25th and Parliament, which caused the dispatcher to pause and say, "Are you sure"? He only asked because 25th and Parliament ran parallel to each other, and only in the most abstruse realms of geometry could I expect to catch a taxi. After a few minutes of waiting and looking at the street signs I realized my error, but instead of calling back, I decided to walk halfway down the block and wait there. My reasoning being that, since 25th and Parliament lay one block apart, perhaps the driver would decide to split the difference. To this day I can't remember why I didn't phone the dispatcher back. It may have had something to do with embarrassment.

It took me nearly half an hour of waiting at the Lorne Street entrance to realize that I had tried to conjure a cab to a phantom location. As I waited my brain started to fall into a hypnagogic haze. The sky crowded with clouds and dropped low, as if relaxing muscles. The green of the trees took on an almost Day-Glo vividness and the shadows underneath seemed to soak up surrounding light. The buildings along 12th separated from the trees so that they occupied two overlaying celluloid strips. Then the ugly people showed up.

I should clarify that the ugly people were not part of any hallucination. Downtown during the day is a healthy mix of folks - civil servants, minimum-wage mall children, insurance workers, kids playing hooky, a contingent of homeless and day-release types sweeping back and forth around the streets - but when five o' clock strikes, every gainfully employed person deserts the downtown for the safety of the suburbs or their grey-carpeted loft-living downtown condos, and only the homeless and the deranged are left, slowly circling in the wake of the daily exodus. That's when you see how strange and ugly humans can be.

They started crossing in front of my eyes, on the way to the bus stop or nowhere at all, coughing, stumbing, all of them seemingly unable to walk correctly. Which put me in their company. A man who looked like an egg on stilts clopped past, talking quietly to himself: You'll see, you'll see what happens, when I take a bath. Before I could grab a clearer notion of what would happen when he took that bath, I was distracted by a guy who might have been a teenager, or a guy in his thirties with a talent for youth fashion. He wore a brand-new denim baseball cap on his head - so brand-new, in fact, that the giant plastic tab was still affixed the top of the cap. It fluttered and spun in the breeze as he passed.

More of them came and went: lopsided faces, glassy eyes, pants that ended an inch above the ankles, people that seem to have been selected from the scrap bins of the last thirty years and pulled together with string. The curious thing about such a crowd is that the well-fed and sane, suddenly a minority, start to lose their lustre. Men in suits and jackets begin to look, at best, like mental patients on their way to a funeral; at worst, they look like Mormons getting set to assault passersby with crackpot theology. Everyone gets a strained look at the corner of their eyes, as if boredom were shading into twitchy paranoia. People begin to look like impostors, like spies, eyes swiveling in the search for someone who might call them out.

I have absolutely no conclusion for this entry. But I'm sure you'll all be happy to know that I walked to the bus stop, took the #10 home and spent an evening cooking, relaxing and watching Psycho in celebration of my seventh anniversary. Schmutzie fell asleep on the couch. I also brought home an Icelandic comedy, which we did not watch.

a day at the retreat

It’s true, on Tuesday I attended a work retreat for a group to which I do not properly belong, I was an adjunct, a recombinant trail disengaged from my nucleus, I was a special guest who, it was hoped, would add to the positive dynamic of the group. It’s nice to be the special guest. It’s worrisome to be the special guest. I look on these kinds of invitation with great suspicion, even when suspicion isn’t warranted – why am I singled out for a day with a motivational speaker and a different division within my organization? Are bureaucratic plans hatching with me as an initial offering, a grub to hungry chicks? No, of course not. I’m valued as a communications consultant, and in any case they can’t shift me around or redesignate me willy-nilly. Not in the rigid lattice of the public service, they can’t. That’s the stuff of fantasy. That and unicorns.

We spent a day with a facilitator. You could call him a team-building consultant, a workplace environment expert, a motivational speaker, what have you. He stood at the front of the room and read from the Tibetan Book of the Living and the Dead, we nodded along. He gave us sheets of paper and fifteen minutes to be totally honest with ourselves on a variety of issues, on scales of 1 to 5. He said Emotional Bank Account, he said Trust Tax, he said Sharpening The Saw, he said he said. There are 7 habits. There are 13 behaviours. There are 4 quadrants (which did not surprise anyone). There are Questions Behind Questions, and the real Questions, the ones that stand in the dark with their hooded robes, are usually proactive. How can I make a difference? What can I do to effect change in my workplace environment? How can I avoid a victim mentality and choose to be effective?

He wore a pale blue Madras-style shirt and black pants that showed the outlines of his unnaturally circular kneecaps when he sat down. He had on a pair of white socks with reinforced heels and toes, and soft-looking brown sandals which he would periodically slip off in order to stand up and go the flip chart. The socks looked immensely comfortable, and I entertained myself as he spoke with imagining the pleasing feel of his socked feet against the short shag carpet. We were in a basement, and no doubt the concrete beneath the carpet felt solid and cool. A pair of decent socks is just enough of a buffer from the hardness of the floor, which you can feel all the way into your knees, to enjoy the subterranean coolness. I silently congratulated him on his choice of socks as he explained the 3 levels of maturity in the workplace.

It was not the fault of the facilitator that Tuesday was one of the worst days I’ve had in years. It was my own psyche, deranged by springtime, that was scourging with me its dissatisfactions. I felt cracked open by the talk of workplace habits and planning for the future, dropped from a great height onto a stone and left for the birds to pick over. I felt anger like a wild flare erupting in all directions, an anger that I’d kept under control over the past year, when physical pain checked every movement and thought. I don’t remember any dreams from that period. People have remarked with amazement on my good humour during most of 2007, when I was bent double and unable to walk. I used to wonder where my anger had gone. It turns out that I had stored it somewhere under pressure, and the concentration of vapid workplace language cracked the container.

getting betterer

Remember, remember the thirteenth of December? When I wrote about my surgery and promised to follow up with further tales of recovery? And I didn't? Because I do this sort of shit all the time? Okay, here's the follow up.

Part I can be found here.

The first thing I think is: Why is it so noisy all of a sudden? Then: Does anyone else notice that the walls are a different colour? And then I realize that the surgery is over, I'm out of the anaesthetic, and I'm back in my adjustable bed, staring at a strip of fluorescent lights on the ceiling. Children are talking and yelling nearby. The echoes of their voices cheat my senses. I have no idea of the dimensions of the room, but the place seems huge. I imagine a space like a cathedral. Scenes from Flatliners mix around in my brain. A nurse sweeps by.

After a moment, I realize that I'm lying flat on my back, tucked tightly into blankets. It has been nearly eight months since I've been able to lay down like this without nauseating, bone-scraping pain. I guess that means success? I try on a feeling of relief, but it seems inadequate. All I can think is No more pain. As if someone had written the words down on a card and placed it on my stomach.

Not only do I not feel pain, I don't feel much of anything below the waist. I wiggle an arm underneath the blankets until I can poke at my leg. It feels like I'm poking through layers of canvas, or I'm poking someone else's leg and they're telling me via telegraph what it feels like.

I try to move my legs, but it doesn't feel right; muscles in my torso are hauling at the muscles in my hips, but everything's kind of numb and the blankets are pinning me in place with the weight and tenacity of a circus strongman. Then I try poking at my genitals. Numb. Well, hello, worst-case scenario! My pulse goes up, my throat constricts and panic blows into my brain.

— Nurse? Excuse me. Nurse?

The recovery ward nurse, who is actually dressed in white (or am I imagining that?), appears over the bed. — Yes?

I'm trying to keep the panic out of my voice, so I enunciate very carefully. I think it makes me sound like a crazy man. — I'm numb below the waist.

— Oh, she condescends. You feel that you're numb below the waist?

— I don't feel that I'm numb. I am numb. Now I'm trying to keep the irritation out of my voice. The anger feels better than panic.

The nurse promises to get the doctor. Someone comes and takes my temperature, and apparently it is worrisomely high. — But it's not untypical after surgery, the someone reassures me. Big deal. I can't feel my junk. Oh yeah, and my legs are numb.

My neurosurgeon pops his head over the edge of my field of vision. — The recovery nurse tells me you feel that you are numb.

Previous conversations with my surgeon have taught me to be as precise as possible. — I have extremely reduced sensation below the waist. I realize as I'm saying this that I can feel my butt. Except for my butt.

— You can feel your buttocks?

How often in your life are you going to be asked that question?

He pulls the blankets down and exposes my right side, then brushes his fingers very lightly on my hip and thigh. — Can you feel that?

He's brushing so lightly that it's hard to tell. — A little bit.

He pulls the blanket back into place and holds up his hands in a what-more-can-I-do gesture. — You are okay, then. We didn't work on any of the nerves in that area at all.

I am gobsmacked. Did my doctor just ask me a trick question?

We had to move aside a lot of nerves to get at the disc protrusion. It was very large. I'm not surprised that you're experiencing some reduced sensation.

What he is saying, I realize, is We tugged at those nerves to fix you and they're damaged now and that's too bad. Go reread your consent forms.

— I can't feel my genitals.

He nods, as if this is all expected.

Will I get the sensation back?

— Oh, possibly. Nerves regrow, but it takes some time.

— How long?

— A while. You will meet with the physiotherapists today or tomorrow, and they will help you. Do your exercises and you will be just fine.

He leaves before I can lift up one of my legs and smack him with it.

The recovery nurse, the one at whom I'd snapped earlier, looms over my head. — Let's get you back to your room now.

— He didn't do one thing to ease my mind.

— He's a very good surgeon, the nurse responds. Two porters push my bed out of its dock, and I'm off.

***

Is that enough for today? Yeah, let's end on that ominous note. More soon in the epic saga, which is now about my junk.

getting better.

It has been one month since my surgery.

Four thursdays ago, around 12:30, the nurses came into my room and took away my cranberry cocktail. They didn't bother to turn the lights on, so I watched a pair of silent silhouettes cut off my food and drink, which is the last tie to the outside world. No fluids and no food for the next twelve hours. As it happens, a steady drip of saline and morphine makes a fair substitute for juice and cereal.

From the neurology ward I descended to the OR, which I thought would be a single room, but was instead a series of chambers where nurses asked me the same set of questions. — Have you eaten? Drunk? Do you have any piercings? Metal body parts? With each station the rooms seemed larger and emptier.

My calm broke at the last door, the entrance to the operating room, the last room in which I would be conscious. — Okay, now I'm nervous, I confessed. — Oh, don't be nervous, the nurse said, you'll be fine. And pushed my bed through the swinging pale green doors.

Inside the last room, everything seemed to be the same institutional green as the doors. People in scrubs and face masks came and went, walking around the machines and complaining about the deplorable state of the OR. — Where are his CT scans? Did he even have a scan? — I had a CT scan on September 11th, I said to nobody in particular, realizing at the same time that all these people were probably going to see my ass in the next ten minutes. — Oh look at that, one of them said, look at where they put the IV, how are we going to work with that?

They sounded a bit like a film crew.

One of them pulled down his face mask, exposing a birth mark that ran along his jaw. — I'm Dr. M, your anaesthesiologist. Do you have any questions before you go to sleep?

As always in these sorts of situations, I had rehearsed the questions. I could remember none of them, so I said the first thing that was in my head.

— Do people ever have accidents under the anaesthetic?

— What do you mean?

— I mean, I know that I haven't eaten in twelve hours... but are there every any... accidents?

The doctor with the birth mark considered my question for a moment before he figured it out.

— Oh. Oh. Well, sometimes there's a little, you know, it's no big deal.

I tried to remember the important questions I had meant to ask, but suddenly I started to lose my equilibrium. Even though I was lying down, I felt as if I were falling gently backward. A nurse stuck a mask over my face.

— Breathe in and out nice and slow, she said, cradling my head (at least it felt as if she were). Breathe in... breathe out. Yoga. Yoooga.

I followed her instructions, trying to time my breathing to her voice, but the word yooooga was producing an urge to giggle. I could feel the corner of my mouth twitch out past the lip of the mask. As I continued to tip backward, I let out a quick snort and tried to ask her to stop with the yoga, but I was a second too late, awake already, lying flat on my back in a bright crowded room and covered in blankets.

Once you wake up in the recovery ward you are on the other side of surgery. From the core experience of medicine, the anaesthetic coma, you begin to dig out through the layers until you hit air. Which I will tell you about tomorrow. Because this entry has gone on pretty long. Damnit.

x365: 43 of 365: alex j.

Being a hospital patient is a bit like being a prisoner: you have to interpret the outside world through faint and unreliable signals. A nurse's voice, an alarm bell buzzing down the hall, a newspaper that someone's dropped off for your comatose roommate - you lie in bed, eyes on the ceiling, and slowly put everything together. It's like knitting with reality.

I was admitted into the hospital around 6 pm on Tuesday. A porter wheeled my bed from emergency up to the neurology ward, where the nurses introduced themselves, adjusted my posture and promptly gave me sixty milligrams of codeine. Thank you, Randi. Thank you, Barb.

At eight pm the night shift nurses showed up. They certainly didn't look like the night shift nurses I'd seen in the movies, but by then I being washed back and forth by the codeine high, already beginning to feel as if my hospital room were a small chunk of the world that had broken off from reality and had now begun to drift out into god-knows where. From my bed I could see a slice of hallway, past which people in wheelchairs and walkers went, some in bathrobes, some with great zippered scars along their skulls. They looked as unreal as anything else.

I could also hear coughing. Ropy, phlegmy coughing, like someone trying to hork up fresh concrete from their lungs. Every so often the coughing would stop and I could hear a voice that could only come from the cougher - it was a series of deep croaks, like Tom Waits calling up from the bottom of a grain silo. I couldn't make out what he was saying, but he sounded cordial. A cordial croaking frog just down the hallway.

Around 10 pm the night shift nurse came in with more codeine. She looked at her chart.

— They're calling you Aidan, right?

— Yes.

— So why do I have you down here as Alex?

Even through the declining narcotic buzz, I felt a wash of panic. It was one of those tales of hospital horror, where you come in for an ingrown toenail but leave with a lobotomy, all because someone had filled in the wrong name in a box on a chart.

— An Aidan and an Alex. We'll fix that up, she declared, and decisively scratched out the offending name. Score one for human intervention.

I could still hear the coughing man out in the hall somewhere, or maybe he was in his room, still trying to clear his lungs. Then his voice again, croaking out incomprehensible small talk.

It's good that you're coughing, Alex, a nurse said. You need to get that junk out of your lungs.

So that was Alex. He would be coughing me to sleep that night.

It turns out that hospitals are not great places to sleep. Even though the beds are comfortable and the drugs are plentiful, the unfamiliarity of the place, the constant traffic, and the subdued atmosphere of unease keep you up. I read into the night, and Alex accompanied me with his hacking cough.

I had gathered from overheard chit-chat that Alex was recovering from pneumonia, and that the hospital was monitoring oxygen levels in his blood. Apparently the congestion in his lungs had starved his brain of oxygen, and as a result he was a bit addled. Over the next couple of days, I discovered just how addled Alex could get.

Around 2:30 am one of the nurses walked past my door. She stopped dead - there really isn't any better way to describe it - and stared at something down the hall. Then she swivelled around and practically sprinted out of sight.

&mdash J-----, I heard. Alex is out of his bed. His pyjamas are spattered with blood.

A few seconds went by. Then three nurses marched past my door.

&mdash Alex, what are you doing? Get back in your room.

&mdash I'm just going to answer the door.

&mdash There's no door, Alex. Do you know where you are?

&mdash Sure I do.

&mdash Where are you Alex?

&mdash I heard Donna turning the key in the lock. I was just going to get the door.

&mdash You're in the hospital, Alex. Donna's not here. You have to stay in your room and keep the IV in your arm.

&mdash Okay.

&mdash You're going to stay in your bed?

&mdash Yes, I believe I will.

After a few minutes of silence, J---- walked by my door again, carrying a balled-up hospital robe. &mdash Goddamnit. The fucking guy ripped out his IV. He was fucking covered in blood.

Over the next couple of days the volume of coughing subsided, and Alex's voice grew lighter, although it never stopped sounding liked Tom Waits. He seemed to hang out in the hallway whenever possible, trying to stop each nurse for exceedingly polite small talk. I had a feeling that conversation kept him anchored and reminded him of where he was. I only heard him complain once, when he said to somebody No, I don't like it all. It's stupid, which reminded me of the horse from Ren & Stimpy.

On the day of my surgery, Alex tried to make another break from the neurology ward.

Alex, called a nurse.

Alex.

Where are you going, Alex?

I'm going to see Bob the Plumber.

There's no plumber here, Alex. This is a hospital.

Sure, he's just down the way there. He's the one on TV.

I searched my brain for a TV plumber named Bob, but I was on a morphine drip, and nothing was breaking the surface of that slick.

Do you want me to tell Bob that you're looking for him?

Yes please. He's just down the way.

Okay then. I'll look out for Bob and you go back to your room.

A thin old man in a yellow shirt walked carefully past my door.

Alex? Your room is the other direction.

Alex looked over his shoulder, as if he couldn't quite believe that the conversation with the nurse hadn't ended yet. A bright sickle of a scar curved down the side down of his scalp. I realized that the yellow shirt was actually the top half of a firmly belted hospital robe.

— I know. I'm just walking down to the end of the hall.

Well, you make sure to come right back when you're done. Brenda? Could you make sure Alex gets back to his room when he hits the end of the hall?

A few minutes later Alex passed by my door again, accompanied by Brenda in her maroon scrubs. We made eye contact for a moment. I smiled in an attempt to say, You're doing great and so am I! but he pulled his eyes away. He had no idea where he was or why he was here, and I was sure that any correct or lucid answers he'd given the nurses were a combination of luck and cunning. His extreme courtesy sprung from a deep fear of these alien creatures to whose safety he had been suddenly and incomprehensibly entrusted. I was no prisoner at all - I was getting out the next day. But Alex had been apprehended and locked away by agents that he would never see or understand.

&mdash Alex, where are you going? That's not your room.

&mdash I know. Thank you.

by request: something really, really gross

fast trees 2

on the way to Stapl-B-Gon

This morning, one week after my back surgery, I went to have the staples in my back removed. In my usual life, I have the staples removed from a copy of a report on festival income generated in the UK, or maybe arts policy in Newfoundland & Labrador. But these days I'm not leading my usual life - it's the life where the staples end up in my body instead of paper. When did my courses in literary theory turn so literal?

A word of caution - some of these images (captured by Das Schmutz, natch), when I took the time to stare at them, made me want to throw up. This is wounded flesh and surgical metal, after all. But if you possess a gag reflex of steel, keep reading. And a big thank you to That Girl, who took us to the clinic and roamed the city with us afterwards.

One of the unexpected bonuses of living where I do is that I had to travel only half a block and around the corner to get from the hospital to my apartment. Easy peasy Portuguesey. The magic land of Stapl-B-Gon, though, where all the staple removal fairies cavort, is a building in the south end of the city with a combination Subway/TCBY through one door and a Domino's Pizza through another. You must choose wisely when you approach. Furthermore, the building is hugged by a Burger King and a Tim Hortons Coffee. Apparently this is also where you go to get fat and die on the sidewalk.

I am waiting with my walker for a call to the back, where the nurse with her remover will tear my staples out:

staples removal 1

Pretty nice, huh? Just hanging out in the waiting room and Ahhhhfourinchcrustystapledwoundaaaahh —

staples removal 2

Staple removal machine (as sung by The Cult):

staples removal 3

If you look carefully - and why would you do such a thing? - you'll see that the nurse started by removing every other staple. The sensation of the removal was like the scratching of a deep, burning itch. It felt like each piece of metal was being flung out of my body.

The nurse was mighty obliging, and even shifted position to allow Schmutzie access to my gross, disgusting wound.

staples removal 4

Give us a smile for the camera. Okay, be that way then.

Lost little staples, like poisoned birds littering the beach.

staples removal 5

And now, even though this sort of thing is what the internet is for, let us never look at this entry again.

back update

Hey, y'all,* I went for a walk today. An honest-to-goodness walk, out the door, down the street, two blocks west, stopping at the 7-Eleven parking lot. Why didn't I go into the 7-Eleven for a soda? Because that company actively campaigns for AIDS in Africa. If you don't believe me, ask the guy who lives behind the dumpster in the 7-Eleven parking lot. He's going to bring that evil empire down.

For most folks, strolling a few blocks to look at a 7-Eleven is no great accomplishment. For me, this is the equivalent of Spinal Tap finding a 15 on their amps. Granted, I had help. I need a walker to keep me straight, but already I can make it across the room without assistance. The main problem is not pain or muscular weakness (although I do need to build my core strength back up) but reduced feeling in my feet and legs. In other words, I can't quite tell when my body is straight, when my feet are properly in contact with the ground, or when someone is butting out a cigarette on my thigh. My legs are covered in burns left by somebody or other.

Over the last few days I've been asked a few questions about my surgery, my current condition, my imperviousness to drowning, etcetera. Here are a few:

So, how is the post-op back?

The post-op back contains: 1) a 3" vertical incision at the L4/L5 site, right where I was going to get a sexy back tatoo, with several staples holding the wound together. Beneath the skin, a reduced disc and shaved-down vertebrae are doing their job pain-free. Some stabilizer muscles are exhibiting neurological weakness, so I have exercises a-plenty to do.

How's your pain?

There is no pain. There is only boredom. And then there is a DVD of Pretty in Pink, which Abigail Road brought by today.

Just curious about one thing, though. You can't walk, you can't stand up straight, you can't work ... yet, the medical care system considers this to be elective surgery?

Yup. The criterion for emergency cases is incontinence. I considered pissing on my doctor to get my surgery moved up.


I recommend taking this as an opportunity to manifest all of your worst personality traits and when people complain just point out that it's part of the healing process.

This is not a question, but it's an awfully good suggestion. Seriously. After I came home from the hospital, the pain and frustration began to pour out of me, as if the surgeons had nicked some bloated cyst during the operation. I felt anxious, angry and mean, a panic that followed me into and out of sleep, like a dolphin keeping pace with the prow of a boat. And then there's the ugliest question of all: what if my life is no better once the pain is removed? That one makes me sick to my stomach. But then I remember that I walked to the parking lot of the 7-Eleven with Schmutzie this evening, and we laughed all the way. And all the way back.

I don't mean to pry here, but a few paragraphs back you implied that your wife burnt you with cigarettes. Is this true?

Yes. She also chokes me during sex, except we're not really having sex when she does it. She calls it sex, but that's her code word for "trying to escape the apartment again". Please contact the police.

hello

Still here. Still getting things done. By 'things' I mean sitting around in a daze, doing little exercises, drinking coffee, and periodically taking my walker for walks around the apartment. This, they tell me, is the key to recovery.

Last night I drank several Guinness. They did not tell me that Guinness drinking is the other key to recovery, since, to judge from the unpleasant texture of my guts today, it isn't. That was all part of showing my body who's boss around here.

It turns out that my body is who's boss around here. I'm thinking of forming a union of the soul to stand up to my fatcat of a body. Strike vote tomorrow! Who's with me?

feels like home

I'm back! Say, have you ever had four nurses jab you seven times with an IV needle? Apparently I have extremely tough skin and extremely mobile veins. Also, my arms have so many shaved patches that they look like giraffe necks. I felt like a junkie offering up his shriveled arms for that last elusive stab.

Anyway. I'm a bit groggy right now, but I'm back home. The pain that's dogged me for months has vanished utterly. I've suffered a lot of nerve damage, which has reduced feeling in my feet and legs, such that I need a walker to get around. It feels as if my legs have fallen asleep and they're just about to get pins and needles - but they never quite get there. According to those fancy doctors, though, my nerves should slowly repair themselves over the next few months. Not fun, but I can lay flat on my back and straighten out my body now. I'll take a bit of numbness and a walker over pain any day.

A lot of you sent good thoughts, wishes and prayers my way over the last few days. Did your positive energy help me through my experience? Or was it my indomitable will? Only time will tell.

14 hours

I have no idea what's going to be happening.

It's 1:00 am, which means that in fourteen hours, I'll be getting in a car and going to the hospital. My doctor is going to try and fit me in, so there's a chance that I'll be sitting in a room or lying on my side in a bed well into the evening. There's a chance that I'll do all that sitting or lying, stomach empty and painkiller-free, only to be told that I have to come back the next day. Or maybe the next. In the world of elective surgery, you take those kind of chances. But with any luck, some time tomorrow I'll be unconscious and breathing with the kind assistance of a machine. Thanks, machine!

From what I understand, no time passes under general anaesthetic. You blank out and fade back in moments later. But that moment holds hours. It holds the entire surgery in that thin black vial of time. Maybe there are more powerful and flexible metaphors on hand to describe what I'm imagining, but my mind balks at that five-hour instant. I will know, when I come out of the anaesthetic, what's happened to me, but my mind will not understand. And the notion that my mind can be so thoroughly tricked, in a feat of prestige akin to induced death, while my consciousness holds the knowledge with such bland ease, makes me angry, afraid and nauseated. Where do I put these emotions, since what's going to happen is something I've waited and campaigned for over the last eight months? These kinds of thoughts feel churlish.

Perhaps I'm used to my crippled state. The truth is that chronic pain gives you the ultimate hall pass. My natural tendency is to hermit, to sit at home or in a coffee shop and read or write the day away, to light a tiny room inside my head and close the door. My twisted back has given me license to indulge in this behaviour. Healing returns me to the world of physical freedom and responsibility, which exhilarates and terrifies.

The last time I went for a walk by myself, it was spring. It was cool enough out that I needed a hat. I walked five blocks to a coffee shop, and then a couple more blocks to a movie theatre. Every block I had to sit down and wait for the pain to die down. In early summer, I walked six blocks with Schmutzie. It took nearly an hour, and it was the dumbest thing I could have done. I hurt my back even further and have not recovered.

Now I'm looking forward to walking again. You have no idea how good that feels. I have a list of places I want to visit, stores and galleries and coffee shops. There's a chick pea stew at one place, a falafel at another. I want a new pair of jeans. Did you know that when you're twisted and bent over, there's no fucking point in buying new clothes? Bring on the full-length mirrors and the cruel lighting. Bring on the pleasure. Bring on the boredom.

this is just to say (updated)

that I have eaten the plums Thanks to everyone who has sent good thoughts/prayers/karma scarves* my way over the last few months. I'm going in to see a surgeon in a couple of hours and there's a chance that I may not emerge until tomorrow, doped up, sliced up and restapled. If you don't hear from me for a while, it's because I'm lying in bed, and it hurts. Ah God, how it hurts.

*

*Karma scarves do not yet exist. They will be the predominant unit of currency in the post-economic order of the nuclear apocalypse. The survivors holing up through the long decades of nuclear winter will knit karma scarves and send them out as tokens of good will and human community. Mind you, they're woven from human hair, so there's an ick factor to get over.

UPDATE: I'm booked for 3:00 pm Tuesday! In your face, Lord of Discs!

oh domainity, oh doctors

DOMAIN

Look up. At the address bar. You see that? You see what I'm seeing when I look where you're looking? It's my own custom domain, www.thepalinode.com.

So far I don't know what to make of it. It looks a bit funny. A bit lumpy. Schmutzie said that she felt an instant of blog importance when she switched to a custom domain, but I feel like I'm wearing an oversize shirt or a hairstyle that demands more of me than I'm willing to give. In a few days that feeling will fade, and the new address will shrink to fit my sensibilities.

One thing I do know: aside from a few notable exceptions, blogs with custom domains are automatically taken more seriously than the blogspots and diarylands and typepads and livejournals of the blogosphere. Therefore I will take advantage of my new badge of authority to make all kinds of unfounded pronouncements/accusations/dicta on the terrible state of live-action furry fantasy role-playing conventions society.

Don't ask me if I checked out www.palinode.com, because I have, and someone is standing on it.

DOCTOR

As many of you know, my back has been messed up most of 2007. Last April I was referred to a neurosurgeon with a waitlist so long that by August I hadn't even been called for an appointment. Dave, my chiropractor, arranged to have me see another neurosurgeon. It took a total of two appointments, x-rays and CT scans over six weeks to have neurosurgeon B agree that I needed surgery. On September 28, I signed the forms in the expectation that I would be under the knife in six to eight weeks max.

After three weeks' silence from the hospital, I phoned the surgery hotline and found out that the six to eight weeks that neurosurgeon B had promised guesstimated was off by three to four months. So I took six months' leave from work. I'd be damned if I was going to keep showing up at the office, my body screaming in pain and my mind diluted by morphine. I could do all that in bed, thank you very much.

On Monday, Dave phoned me again. It turned out that my surgery had been deemed elective, which meant that as far the health care system in my province was concerned, I could sit and rot. He summed up my situation with the kind of concision that the rest of the health care system seemed unable to match: You can't work, Aidan, and that's not good. When you've reached the point that you can't work you should be considered a priority.

Exactly.

He said he'd make some phone calls.

Yesterday I got a call from the hospital. My chiropractor had spoken with another neurosurgeon, one who seemed willing to take my problem seriously. Would I be able to see neurosurgeon C on Thursday afternoon for a consultation? Um, yes.

I phoned Dave to let him know that his efforts had paid off. Dave said: You're seeing him in the afternoon?

Yes, I said.

Okay, then. Don't eat lunch.If his schedule is open and he thinks your problem is as serious as I know it is, he may be able to operate on you immediately. It's happened with two of my patients.

Tomorrow afternoon, folks. Maybe. Wish me luck.

whaa

Where to start? Between the x365 entries and the feeling sorry for myself, I've hardly had any time to write one of my more typical entries, which usually falls along the lines of: Insert ridiculous premise A into ridiculous situation B, then watch it try and hold up ludicrous, overly elaborate punchline C. I still don't want to do that. I'm suffering from a deficit of good humour lately.

OUCH

Part of that stems from the impending surgery on my back. I had my CT scan and it confirmed what I'd pretty much figured out: that my lower back is fucked. I have a 'fracture' in one of my vertebrae that looks more like a hole, through which a disc has spilled out onto my spinal cord. Have I told you this already? If I have, forgive me.

I took the scan results to my doctor and he said I had two choices. The first choice involves hobbling around in pain for the rest of my life, slowly subsiding into a wheelchair-bound life while continuing to throw money into the physical therapy pit. The other involves a date with a knife. Not surprisingly, I took the surgery. I'm now on the waitlist and am waiting for the hospital to call with a date.

A few people have tried very hard to feel sorry for me. Others have suggested that surgery may not be the way to go. If you feel the temptation, there's no need. Surgery for me is a good thing. It may not be right for other people in different circumstances, but this is what's right for me. I've been down a long road, hobbling all the way, and now that road has ended. Now I get my life back.

HOWEVER

As anyone who's waited a long time to get surgery can tell you, the last stretch is a killer. Now that I have a couple of concrete milestones, I've turned pissy and impatient, just when I should be grateful and cheery.

There are also moments when I dwell on the negative. I've been given an 80% chance of a full recovery. At times the 20% whips through my mind and I'm nauseous. I think about the possibility that I will never be quite as mobile again. Then I realize that the alternative to taking a chance is not even worth considering.

The waiting weighs heavily on my mind, though. If posting here has been largely restricted to x365s and little dribs and drabs, it's because, in the words of Jon Spencer, now I got worry.

PLUS POLITICS

Also, I have an urge to write about the local politics. And the old world politics. I tend to crush these impulses as quickly as possible, because who wants to hear some guy's opinion on whether Al Gore should run for Pres in the wake of winning a Nobel Prize?* If I want politics on a blog, I go to political blogs. I figure that you folks come here for the downloadable ice cream coupons (any day now, I swear). But I will break from my usual moratorium on politics to show you a picture I took of the Premier recently at a news conference. I had a camera, he had a face, and it all worked out.

lorne

ANYWAY

Do you like the new template? Whatcha think? Some have been enthusiastic, others have been guarded. I vote for snazzy. If this were a blog democracy, you could submit all your hanging chads, out of which I would fashion a suit. I'm not a big guy. It wouldn't take too many chads. Then when the voting is finished, I would walk the streets at night in my chad suit, threatening anyone who comes near. If I make it through the night unmolested and unarrested, then I will be president. Damn, there's that politics again.

Schmutzie, aka She Who Loves Smallville And Is Not Afraid To Admit It,** designed the whole thing. She produced a clean, sharp template that puts the emphasis on the content instead of the wrapper, which means that the burden of quality rests on my brain. Well, this is me. Stepping up.

***

*Have you seen Draftgore.com? Not to cause offense to well-meaning and passionate people, but how deranged have two Republican terms made you? If I were Al Gore, I think I'd rather join a circus sideshow than run for president. He's won an Emmny, an Oscar, and a Nobel - there is nowhere to go but down if he reënters politics. If he loses the nomination or the presidential race, then it's humiliation. If he wins, then he can do absolutely nothing but disappoint as he enters a fatally degraded public sphere weakened by two terms of lethally bad policy decisions. Don't forget that Gore was V-P for two terms, and the Clinton administration did plenty to weaken environmental regulations, not to mention fuck up rules on media ownership so badly that radio listening in the States now amounts to a choice between Rihanna or Rush Limbaugh.

One of the spiffiest things about the American political system is the limit placed on presidential power. The twentieth century is full of instructive examples of what happens when political leaders concentrate that power. It seems to me that the movement to get Gore into the race speaks of a fairytale longing for a hero to ride in and save the day. It's precisely the same attitude that had people queuing up at the Handjobs for Dubya booth after 9-11. The various power grabs, the Unitary Executive Theory of governance, the lack of oversight in the current administration: that's the stuff of leaders shooting for tyranny in the guise of heroism. And so it is I've snuck in a political discussion despite my own objections?

**Geez, give it a rest and stop talking about Smallville already. You were so totally thrilled when Clark was fighting Bizarro - I get it already. Would you let me watch PBS in peace.