The Distance Diaries: Part 4

The Summit

As we drove to the surgery it felt like we were going on holiday. The service stations, the hotel beds, they gave the sense something exciting was going to happen. There was a swimming pool in the hotel my family would use while I went under. A relaxing weekend away for everyone. That night I slept with the windows wide open, letting the gentle energy of summer settle over everything. It worked its way into my dreams – endless hurried conversations with doctors and nurses, talking through an exhausting list of outcomes. Over and over my mind would be dispatched into the night and I would walk the mile down the road to the hospital. By morning I felt I’d had the surgery a hundred times.

I feared the anaesthetic, thinking it would leave me travel sick from some psychedelic rush. Instead it was playful and comforting. It started at the back of my mouth with a burst of citrus saliva and marzipan, before spreading over my ears and crown of my head. It was a hood of weight and darkness, like dipping my head in a shadow.

In the end I never truly considered the other side of the experience. Thinking only ever about the process and never the thing itself – what it would feel like to feel better. The result meant the realisation of it being over was, surprisingly, a surprise. I don’t remember crying, just waking with the feeling of tears stroking my cheeks. It was as if my body was offering up the emotion and happy for me. I was so grateful – a year’s worth of stress released in those 90 minutes. I imagine steam billowing from my body as they first punctured the skin, finally letting down my guard as I deflated of worry.  

It was the most I’ve ever broken my body and the choice to be there made it all the more surreal. It was like supervised self-harm as they reshaped my bones and glued down the cartilage. When the extent of the damage set in, with it came the doubt. I felt exposed and uncertain of everything. What have I done?  It was as if I’d reached some kind of summit with still so much to do to come home again safely.

In the time leading up to the surgery, my relationship with the hospital resembled an unrequited love. When they called I would take it in private and my voice would shake. It felt as if they were my lifeline but they did not know it, or refused to acknowledge it. There was a helplessness in that period that was painful and damaging. On leaving the hospital, I can’t say which I was most relieved to be rid of – the symptoms of my injury or that endless vulnerability.

In the first days home my dreams were trivial and laboured. They were busy, boring, undramatic dreams that were a pleasure to wake from – like an exhausted game of eye spy, my imagination was waning. The drugs, the helplessness, it pulled myself from under me. I felt emotionally inflamed, fully aware that my threshold for life had been lowered. And yet my parents’ and partners’ commitment to take care of me still allowed me to become nothing for a moment in my life. It is not always so easy to do something so simple and in that moment, there were no limits to my appreciation.

Cycling has remained therapy for me throughout, even in its most abstract forms. I think there’s a common thread through all my captivations. There’s the same satisfaction to be gained in watching the feet pedal a bike as in watching the wind roll across a grassy field. There’s something soothing in the repetition, in the many tiny, insignificant actions strung together to create movement. It is an expression of the power of momentum, one to be emulated in the everyday. The idea that the greatest of obstacles need only be worn down by persistence and the passing of time – it makes me feel like everything’s going to be okay.

As I started moving again, my bones were tracing new territory through my joints. The new range of motion was like a revolutionary thought. From then on I have had a daily epiphany of movement. My world has expanded.