2 Years on and I’m finally playing Magic in Rocklands again. Photo by Jethro Watson
This post, will be the last in the continuous timeline, my recent update briefly details how I’ll be writing after this post. The post recounts some of the events and feelings of the last 4 weeks of rehab. It was busy and challenging and I applied myself fully to the process of rehab. There was however a disconnect, as my body was healing and deriving meaning from that, my mind was consumed by grief and sadness. As a disclaimer, this is a dark post, if you’re not in a space to deal with that then read it later. It is what I felt at the time and although I know a part of me feels that same sentiment now, it is definitely not the wolf that I fed. I recall Jordan Peterson saying something like its not that the world is any less chaotic and terrible than you imagine, it may even be worse, its that you as an individual are strong enough to actually contend with that. We as humans are strong enough, and its important that we use that strength. Each and every one of our journeys matter.
Monday saw a return to the productive routine of rehab. I had an hour with the physio and an hour with the occupational therapist. It felt good to do some exercise again after the emotional weekend and I stayed in the gym after the guided sessions were over. I opted for a 30 min cardio session to try to work out some frustration. It helped whilst I was doing it but my energy ran out. When I stopped I was confronted by the view of Devil’s Peak out the window. Looming large and imposing near the rehab facility, it felt as if the mountain was mocking me, “Looks like you were enjoying life, well here’s some suffering for you”.
The rest of the second week in rehab continued much the same. I actually hopped with the walking frame from bed A to bed B. I stood in the parallel bars and took one hand off, one of the most terrifying things I’ve ever done. But overall and despite the enthusiasm of the first week, the week was tedious. The loss of the old me ever-present. When asked about the sense of loss I felt by the rehab counselor I was reminded of the loss I felt when my first relationship failed and when my good friend Schalk committed suicide. I was devastated but continued on. The lessons learnt from experiencing prior loss were useful but the loss remained. Cold, hard and final. The climber I once was, was dead. And like Tolkien’s elves would forever experience the the grief of their kinslaying, so would I carry that loss with me, always.
On the more physical front, the left knee had started loosening up after being fixed straight for 8 weeks. I was becoming aware of the increasing movement and instability in the knee. It felt as if the knee was separating everytime I moved it and the lower leg was scarcely attached. It was also clicking and grinding, loud structural noises which the Physio was concerned about. Dr Laubser visited me and said that there was almost certainly further damage to the soft tissue (muscles, tendons, ligaments, etc) but that there was nothing we could do until the bone had healed. He made clear the importance of weight bearing on the broken bone. Without stimulus the bone would not heal. Once the bone was healed and the TSF removed, I could go for an MRI to assess the soft tissue damage.
The rehab professionals had now had enough time to assess my condition and held a family meeting to outline the process. I would be in rehab until the 4th of October, 6 weeks in total. To help prepare me for integration into the world beyond hospital they would send me ‘home’, first for a few hours, then a day and finally for a night before being fully discharged. That weekend I would be going to my parents house (since my home in the mountains was no more) and would see my dogs for the first time since the accident. My dogs were with me when it happened and Luthien sat right next to me until the paramedics arrived. How much they understood about the situation is debatable but they knew something terrible had happened. Judging by the reaction I’m certain that they thought me dead.
Each week in rehab was harder than the previous. The relentless regime of exercise and learning how to function in the new world was taking its toll. By the end of each day, the inflammation and pain had reached its crescendo. The exercise, moving around and adjustments to the TSF pushed the pain beyond the reach of the drugs. The phantom pain which wasn’t being blocked by the opioid painkillers was also mounting and was at times the worst pain I experienced. Each day at around 5pm I would be back in bed holding on to my sanity as the pain consumed me. Adding to this was a sense of tiredness which I had never before experienced. The tiredness was a state of living death, at times I was sure I was on the ‘other side’ looking in at life.
There was however an event which saved me from full detachment. When my sister had bought me Magic cards from the Luckshack the Lady who helped her took an interest in my story. She and the community there arranged a visit to the rehab by three wizards, Jay, Dilyn and Daniel. For the afternoon we played Magic: The Gathering. It was so good to cast spells again and take my mind off the tedium, pain and loss. I cannot express how important that gathering was. It was perhaps the first glimmer of real hope that I may be able to overcome the suffering which was all too apparent.
I would be discharged for the full sunday and would eat my first proper meal outside hospital. My mother and I would also brave the world to go to a mall and buy a vinyl player to play the Tool LP which I had bought as a form of retail therapy. Overall It was a good weekend and the magic had been such a god-send, but as the flourescent lights of the hospital rehab welcomed me back I could not escape the pain and the loss. All I wanted was to go back through the looking glass, back to my tent in the Cederberg, back to the strong energetic climber cuddled up in his bed with his dogs, back to the life I had dared dream and tenaciously created. Some feelings cannot be expressed, they can only be felt, and it was too much. Not for the last time would I think that it would have been better to have died on that mountain, to check out before the suffering that followed.
The last two weeks of rehab were a grind. Everyday doing as much exercise as my body could manage before the pain and tiredness hunted me down. The phantom pain in the amputated right leg was so severe that the doctor had put me onto a specific antidepressant that was known to have an effect on phantom pain. That combined with a higher dose of Lyrica, a drug originally for epilepsy but commonly used for nerve pain. The effect was roughly the same level of pain and a sense of lethargy and acute tiredness. The physical strength was increasing but I was drawn thin.
The end of the hospital stay had become my focus. No more 5am coffee, constant activity or fluorescent lights. An event horizon beyond which there was nothing perceivable. On the final weekend of rehab I would spend my first night out of hospital in weeks untold. Although the pain kept sleep patchy, it was still the best sleep Id had since the last night in my tent. It did nothing to alleviate the tiredness however. The next day I showered, it took almost 2 hours but I could actually achieve the task. I had been able to build enough strength and skill in 6 weeks of rehab to be able to exist outside of hospital.
I would make it out of hospital in the end. Something that at one stage wasn’t necessarily clear. What world awaited me I did not know. Even the sun looked different out the windows of the car on the way to my parents house. I was broken, in pain and tired, so fucking tired. After 12 weeks in hospital I was spent, but I had made it. I knew that the journey must continue but for now I just hoped to rest.
It was a fool’s hope. The light at the end of the tunnel was the end of the hospital stay. Without that light, the world was dark. Sleep would elude me still that first night, afraid of the dark as I was. My legs buzzing and burning as I lay there, the cage of the external fixator amplifying any movement into pain. The grief and loss consuming my mind. Would it not have been better to have just died there, on that mountain, to not have all this suffering.