For almost three months I’ve been confined to our spare bedroom following my discharge from the Queen Elizabeth University Hospital a.k.a. the Death Star, a foreboding construction that owes little to the study of architecture.
The reason for my admission was as random as it was prosaic – a fall caused by slipping on algae-slicked paving in my back garden. It wasn’t the fall however but the landing that did for me, having torn every ligament in my right knee, an injury that according to my surgeon, Mr. Rooney was rare enough to draw spectators to the second of my two operations.
My prospects for recovery are positive though I’m told it may take a year to walk normally. Since it’s the first time in my life I’ve suffered a loss of mobility it’s been a physical and psychic shock to find the simplest task requires negotiation and forward planning.
During my thirteen days on the orthapaedic trauma ward what struck me was how one’s status is traduced when stripped of clothing and dignity. That said, with the NHS under constant threat of privatisation, I marvel how such care exists without a price tag; something we should all be grateful for.
My stay at the ward offered an insight where each day I was forced to interact with as many as 30 strangers, from cleaners to consultants, all of whom do their job with professionalism and courtesy though I reserve opinion on 1) the nurse who bellowed into my face, ‘YOU’RE IN A HOSPITAL, DEAR!’ as if addressing an elderly, senile, hard-of-hearing patient or 2) the agency night nurse who withheld pain relief from me after five hours of major surgery.
At my lowest ebb I cherished the kindness and consideration of others: the morning hug I received from the nurses starting their 12-hour shift, the care from the auxiliary staff and the catering workers who expressed concern when I missed a meal. Each of them deserves my gratitude and respect. Having no family willing to visit (apart from my husband) I was grateful too to the friends who came with welcome cards and gifts.
Awake at night, in my morphine and co-codamol daze I recalled a childhood episode when, after drinking boiling water from a geyser and burning my throat severely, I was admitted to the Victoria Infirmary. That evening, presumably a slow news night, my mother was door-stepped by a reporter from the Daily Record whose column described how ‘little Mary (sic) did not cry’ suggesting that at a tender age I showed more courage than I’m capable of today.
On realising my injury was fairly serious initially I hesitated to mention it publicly, wary of accusations of sadfishing, the latest toxic social media phenomenon. Seems it’s easier to announce a physical injury than any psychological affliction, particularly when an admission of the latter can easily be turned into ammo. That to admit depression risks greater reputational damage over say, a broken leg is a disgrace but at a time when so many feel dispossessed and lonely, it’s hardly surprising that people seek solace or catharsis among strangers. Where else can they turn?
Writing this, I think of the death of the journalist, Deborah Orr, announced last week. We weren’t well-acquainted but I was grateful that she attended a private screening of Voyageuse in London and for the encouraging message she sent the following day. Announcing my accident on Twitter, I was pleased to swap DMs with her and learned she had just been admitted to hospital for cancer treatment.
When I heard of Deborah’s death, aged 57, immediately I thought of my late sister, who died of cancer aged 56. These were not old women. I thought too – at what age do you have to die these days not to be considered ‘too young’? With ample time to dwell on such dark matters I had no choice but to confront my current existential crisis.
In January this year I reached a milestone – I turned 60, making me the longest-lived member of my family, such as it exists. Not that I’ve ever lied about my age – it’s a matter of public record – but when one’s future is outweighed by one’s past, an accident can trigger the full gamut of anxieties, doubts and regrets. Uppermost on my mind is the question – will I ever work again?
In the weeks before my accident I was making good progress with Tilo in Real Life even with the cockamamie way I work. Here I made several trips to the city centre to shoot for the film’s opening sequence, plus a few location recces to find the perfect generic idea of ‘city’. These mostly took place at night, or what passes for night during a Scottish summer when it’s still possible to read a book outdoors at 11.00pm.
Sitting in my edit room on a dull November afternoon I wonder if, as I did with my previous projects, whether or not I have the determination to pick up the pieces and will Tilo into existence. I try not to dwell on the impossibility, the futility even, of making yet another film out of nothing more than the desire to do it. No funding. No visibility. No prospect of distribution. Then I recall a quote I keep in my shed, of William Blake’s letter to Thomas Butts:
“If he who is organized by the divine for spiritual communion, refuse and bury his talent in the earth, even though he should want natural bread, shame and confusion of face will pursue him throughout life to eternity.”
In other words, if I don’t make this film, I’ll be spiritually bereft. It’s not a case of I will or I can but I must.
The good news is I’m recovering. I still take four daily doses of pain medication and spend a lot of time in bed watching the trees on the turn outside my window. And Netflix. I have visits thrice-weekly from the district nurses and perform daily exercises issued by Christine, my physiotherapist. It’s no exaggeration to say if it wasn’t for my husband and the NHS, I wouldn’t be in such good physical shape – for a woman my age – assuming, as I’ve come to learn, that age these days is nothing more than an algorithmic blip.
The above image is of the cards I received from my friends and neighbours. I’m very grateful for their kindness these past few months.