The Change Direction Blog is about the joys, and practical impacts, of working from home online. It is about online businesses and techniques for internet marketing, traffic building. It is also about what it is like to work from home, working with family around, and all the practicial issues that arise on a day to day basis for someone working from home. Plus, an ex pat view of an English guy living in Palawan, a tropical paradise in the Philippines.

Monday, December 27, 2004

Moments of Change, Choices, and Challenges

Before Christmas I recalled there were 3 moments in my life when I felt an overwhelming clarity about the future. Upon reflection, each of those moments came at what should have been low points. Yet on each occasion, I had only positive and very strong feelings of anticipation, just positive and exciting thoughts about the future.

The first of these "moments" was back in 1977. It has a Christmas connection in it, but in fact was in August. For much of the world, that week was memorable for the death of Elvis Presley. For me, it was the culmination of months and years of waiting. I recall lying in bed that particular night, awake but not because of distress, negative thoughts or anything like that. The only way I could describe it, as a 27 year old, was that it was a similar wonderment and excitement I used to feel as a young child on Christmas Eve, thinking about Santa Claus and all the gifts I would be getting the next day from Santa, and all my relatives.

People had been asking me if I was nervous. Many said how brave I was. But to me I was lucky, I was a child on Christmas Eve, with a wonderful day ahead the next day. Santa Claus was coming just for me, in August. A solo visit to give me the best possible gift.

I was lying in bed in hospital that night, having been admitted that morning. From the age of 19 I had had a progressive, degenerative type of arthritis called ankylosing spondylitis. It had started in the lower back and hip joints, and brought moments of intense pain even in those early days. Over the next few years, the agony as the vertabrae in the back fused was at times unbearable, and I would wake in the night sometimes with no choice but to yell with the pain.

There was nothing that could be done about the back pain apart from grin and bear it. There was no treatment at the time, no cure. Thankfully, by my mid 20's the fusing process has just about completed its course, so the worst of the pain had gone. Today, I get no more back pain than anybody else. I have a very stiff back, but painless.

The disease, though, seemed to have a grudge against my hip joints, and that was a far more damaging process. I would have spells of severe pain in the hip joints, and sometimes would have difficulty in walking. By my mid 20's, a spell of rapid deterioration set in and at 26 I began to wonder what it would like to ever have a day without pain. By then, most days were either painful, very painful, or excrutiatingly painful. It cannot be imagined, except by those who have experienced something similar. I had never known such a level of pain existed. But it did, and it was part of my life for many years.

Soon after my 26th birthday I was told both my hip joints would need to be replaced. I was always looking forward to the operations to replace the joints, as I was aware that, because it had got so bad, the operation was essential, and it would take away all the pain.

There was a long waiting list in those days, probably still is, I don't know. I was lucky, living in Bath, a centre for ankylosing spondylitis and a city with a long history of treatment for rheumatic diseases. I had an experienced surgeon lined up, but the months drifted by very slowly with mounting frustration.

The plan was to replace one joint, then 3 months later the other. As the months passed, though, I wrote to my surgeon and almost pleaded with him to do both at the same time, in one operation. He had never done it before, but reluctantly he agreed. I knew that if one was done, the level of pain would be just as great. If you have two severe pains, you feel the one most painful at any particular time. So, take away one, and you are left with the other. I had had enough by then. I just wanted to get on with my life, get back to work, and get rid of the pain altogether.

In August 1977 I went in to have the operation. I felt incredibly happy that evening, lying in the semi dark, just thinking over and over again that, by the same time tomorrow, the pain would be gone. It would just be cut away; extracted.

I felt so calm. The feeling is still with me today. I had no bad feelings about the past, and the years of pain. I felt wonderful. The clarity of mind was astonishing. I was sure nobody else could understand. They kept asking me if I was afraid. Why? Why should I be afraid of having unimaginable pain taken away. I would go to sleep, wake up, and the pain would be gone.

That is how it was. At 10 am I looked at the clock in the theatre anti room. I looked up again at the same clock and it said 2pm. A lovely nurse was holding my hand. "Oh," I said "not started yet?" She smiled sweetly, squeezed my hand and said "you're done now." So, she was not my angel of death, but my post operative angel. It was all over, my pain had been extracted, quicker than a tooth.

Well, to me it was quicker than a tooth. A month later I saw what the surgeon wrote to my general practitioner: "I operated successfully on Mr Thomsitt, then went on 2 weeks vacation to recover."

That night following my operation, I slept like a baby, painfree for the first night in many years. But at about 2am, I had a rude awakening. All the available night staff came in to wake me up. Six of them lifted me up, the other nurse injected a bucketload of painkiller into my buttock. I tried to stop them. I did not need painkiller. I had, a few hours earlier, been cut open both sides, sawn in half by a hacksaw, chiselled and hammered as the new joints were inserted, so they presumed I would need painkiller and sleeping tablets. Of course, they could not understand that I had experienced a dramatic reduction in pain. I would have slept all night. Pain is a comparative thing; to me I was already painfree. They just laughed at my pleas to be left alone to sleep without painkiller. Anyway, the surgeon had left orders, which they had to carry out. We laughed it all off, and I went back to sleep.

So, Santa Claus had been, and then sent his assistants back to fill my buttock with a needle and syringe. Mmmm, I think I can forgive him for that. But I am sure if I had been able to move, you would have heard all the liquid sloshing around in my buttock.

That short period was a very important one in my life. I would not want to change anything that had happened before. I consider the disease, the experience, a part of me. It improved me as a person, I am sure of that, and I was able to plan the future in a positive way without regretting anything about the past. That was a lesson which I would come to appreciate later on in life. But apart from that, I was lucky that I could appreciate something most take for granted: being able to walk. And boy, did I enjoy walking in the years ahead.


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