It's 2 a.m. in the emergency ward at Ottawa's civic hospital. We've been waiting to see a doctor for almost 7 hours. The woman who was brought in with police escort, the woman who the ward had heard singing and shouting from behind the door of a private waiting room, has just pulled the fire alarm. The piercing blasts of an alarm designed to rouse the dead and heavily drugged is shrieking from and grid in the ceiling above my head.
Eventually the alarm is turned off. The firemen who appeared in full dress with equipment ready are sent back to their station. The regular noises of the urgent care ward can be heard again - patients being called, people coughing, staff chatting, phones ringing... I turn back to my book while trying to shield my eyes from the three bands of neon light which glare down at me.
V is a trooper. He's been with me all night. Has read a book cover to cover and is trying to get comfortable on the stiff plastic chair.
I'm embarrassed to admit that I'm injured again. I'm embarrassed to be back in a hospital, complaining of my pain to a busy and unimpressed doctor. What is it this time? In what new way is my body expressing its displeasure?
The doctor tells me brusquely that it's a herniated disc. As far as he's concerned these are a dime a dozen. Nothing new here; why are you wasting my time? He'll write me up an illegible prescription for anti-inflammatories and get a nurse to stick a needle in my arm to take the edge off. That at least is effective - within 10 minutes the place she jabbed me hurts more than my lower back.
So now, its the following evening and I'm lying in bed as I have been for the last five days. Half-propped up against the head rest, laptop on my stomach and thighs. I've managed to do some work this way. Can't let a little back pain stop me from researching a gender perspective on urban violence. Can't let the boredom creep up through the blankets and wrap around my shoulders, whisper in my ears. Can't let the anxiety steal in...
What really am I fighting?
I've got to admit I've been feeling pretty sorry for myself, been feeling pretty resentful toward this body of mine. Strange how our identity, our well-being is so tied up in something which sometimes seems to be so beyond our control. We may do our best to exercise, eat well, sleep right, listen... yet we can never fully control what happens in and to this flesh and blood. A car accident, an illness - or even nothing we can identify - and suddenly we don't seem to be in charge anymore. This thing, this being is calling the shots
I think of friends who have been injured far worse than I, who have illnesses that keep them in bed far longer than will a slipped disc. How does one learn to reconcile with the restrictions, the pain, the frustration of a body that is not what we think need it to be? What do I need my body to be?
My cat has climbed on to my chest. He at least seems to appreciate all this time I'm spending in bed. He's fallen asleep but there is still a faint purr to his breathing. His contented warmth is a reminder of something that needed remembering. I'm not in control of what happens around me - or what happens to me. What I can control is how much energy I spend it fighting and resenting it, or in accepting it. Accepting the burning in my back, the tingling in my feet - and warmth of this bed, the weight of my kitty and my body as teacher of humility and surrender.