Vicki was the first of the Musketeers to make the great escape. She wouldn’t have had it any other way. Her bag was packed from the moment her anaesthetic wore off. There was a class of 7-year-olds and a whole community of former-7-year-olds who missed her. That was motivation enough to get her fully dressed and into her chair with her overnight bag in hand long before the Doctors had any say in the matter. We waved her off with a bittersweet goodbye.
Thankfully, we still had Judy in our midst. I don’t think I’ve ever come across a more glamorous patient – or a positive one. She had an outfit for every day and somehow, while the rest of the women in the ward bore varying signs of dry shampoo and wet wipes, Judy remained effortlessly elegant. Not even brain surgery seemed to put a hair out of place on her perfectly styled head.
During the usual ‘What are you in for?’ introductions, Judy had told us all about her Trump Lump. Diagnosed with a brain tumour, Judy had quickly given it the nickname. A cancer; a tumour; a nuisance that needed to be removed before it could spread its nasty disease. She had nothing but praise for the NHS. Wasn’t it a marvel that her Trump Lump could be removed quickly with a talented surgical team and a six week course of radiation treatment? Much more efficient than the US democratic system.
Even on a bad day, Judy saw the bright side. She wouldn’t ask for morphine. Instead, she’d ask for ‘Cherry Liqueur’ and had us all convinced that it tasted just the same. She wasn’t far wrong and the idea lightened those moments when any of us needed the to call for the relief it offered. I quickly learned that the trick was to save a little snack size pack of biscuits for those moments so that the whole experience turned into treat time. There’s nothing that morphine and biscuits can’t fix.
We felt the sting when Judy was moved to another bay after her surgery. It was good news, though. Our bay is the one nearest to the nurse’s station. They need to keep us visible and nearby, so a move to another part of the ward is really a seal of approval from the medical and nursing teams. Thankfully, Judy was Judy and within 24 hours of the Trump Dump, she was on her feet and in to visit.
For all whose legs were failing us, Judy took us on walks. We closed our eyes and she brought us to some of the most beautiful parts of Britain. Want to visit a National Trust park in Kent? Maybe a hill walk in the Lake District? Judy’s the best possible guide. We saw the colours of the flowers along every pathway. We smelled the roses. We felt the sun and the breeze on our faces. We fed exotic ducks and breathed in fresh countryside air. Our walks with Judy became a daily pleasure that we looked forward to every morning. She brought a smile to our faces when she popped in for a ‘hello’ every afternoon and a ‘goodnight’ every evening. Every evening, that is, except for the one she couldn’t make because of her romantic date.
Three years widowed and bordering on the 70-ish mark (though she’d easily pass for 60), Judy had a companion that many might label a ‘boyfriend’ or ‘partner’. Judy made no bones about it, though, she did not call him any of those things. To her, he was her lover. When he took her to a coffee shop in the hospital for date night, he even brought a candle and lit it on their table to make the occasion a bit more special.
Judy’s positive approach fast-tracked her discharge. She refused to go straight home, though. Instead, she booked herself into a nursing home for a week of convalescence. She insisted that she had a lover and not a nurse. He would not be the one to take care of her. He had one purpose and she was adamant that she’d be back to making the most of him as soon as possible.
Then our little band was down to three. Others came and went, but over the course of the next week or so, my sanity was saved by Jo and Sarah. When a bed by the window became available, they petitioned the nurses to upgrade me to the deluxe cubicle. Suddenly, I found myself closer to my new friends, with a view of trees and blue skies. We kept each other’s spirits up. Jo, the only one partially mobile, was at my bedside with a little squeeze of the hand when I hit a low moment. Sarah, in the bed next to me, was ready with a kind word when it was called for and an eyeroll when that was needed. Usually that was when Nurse Snorts-A-Lot sneezed all over someone or got worked up about having to actually do her job.
Even when they were moved out of the bay, my new friends visited as much as possible. WhatsApp became our virtual ward. I looked forward to their visits and their messages. Our chat was a thread of hilarity and made me laugh out loud hour after hour. Without such positivity around me, I might have really struggled to keep my chin up, especially in those early days.
But then they too were gone.
No more Musketeers. No more giggles or hand-squeezes or eyerolls. Their replacements weren’t ever going to live up to our crew. I plotted an imagined escape with them and the rest of the Misfit Musketeers, where functioning legs carried me and my friends over sunlit, grassy knolls with gowns fluttering softly and arses bared to the world.
The WhatsApp chats continued beyond their departures with constant support, kindness, debates about whether compression socks could be considered sexy or not, and of course our favourite topic – bowels. If it’s possible to overuse emojis, then we made heavy work of both the crying laughing face and the poo.
Jo and Sarah warmed my heart in the way that only true friends can with their reactions to my attempt at a shower that went horribly wrong. Sarah decided that showers were over-rated. Jo decided that the shower can ‘do one’. They were going out in protest against showers in general and refused to ever shower again. Of course, I warned them that they might want to change their minds. They’d need to give themselves a good scrub. My blog post about fannies had just gone a little bit viral. Around here, it was likely that ours were the only fannies that had gone the good kind of viral. You need to look after that kind of stuff.
Who would have thought that something so good could come out a situation that started off as something so grim. If there have been silver linings to this entire spinal injury experience, then making such lovely friends is undoubtedly top of the list.