November 25, 2017

An Elephant, a Rabbit and Other Things

DSC01158An Elephant, a Rabbit, and Other Things

 

As I crashed to the ground my mind split in two. The crushed elbow, the body on the pavement, were not mine. I saw the back of my silk shirt decorated with red roses as I walked away. That person had to get away. I knew I’d never see her again. Then pain came. I have no memory of the six hours, from midnight to morning, when the medics operated. They wanted to save my arm, my left arm, the one that wrote stories. A plate, screws and a prosthesis, all joined together to make me bionic.

Outside my hospital window a chestnut tree transformed green into bruised yellow. When I closed my eyes an elephant, her eye so close to mine, insisted on her compassionate presence. How I loved you Morpheus, god of dreams. People talk about pain, divide it into categories, give it numbers one to ten. In the flood of darkness, extinguishing all light, pain was simple.

 

Months after my accident I still couldn’t hold a pen. Complex Regional Pain Syndrome had been diagnosed, a disease that was attacking the peripheral nerves in my hand. More excruciating therapy, more drugs.  One night, unable to sleep and in search of comfort, I read my favourite Beatrix Potter’s story again.

When I was five and still not able to read or write, I could recite The Tale of Peter Rabbit by heart. There was one drawing that fascinated me. Peter had narrowly escaped from Mr. McGregor’s vegetable garden. His mother had warned him: “Your father had an accident there; he was put in a pie by Mrs. McGregor.”As a small child, I spent hours examining the picture of rueful Peter. The longer I looked the more I felt Peter’s relief to have escaped the farmer and be back in his own home, tucked up in bed. I gazed at the letters on the page. Somehow they were attached to the picture. My finger traced them. Then I saw it; three letters resembling something I knew. They jumped from the page. bed. That was it. I could read.

 

That sleepless night, while re- reading The Tale of Peter Rabbit, I felt just as frustrated and angry as I had when letters made no sense. How could I live handicapped, dependent, and in pain? Could I ever write again? People told me how lucky I was to live in the age of computers when writing flowed easily. But my writing came slowly from somewhere below my ribs, an undigested feeling of fear or anger or love and then it  lingered in my bloodstream until it rambled down my left arm to my fingers with words forming along the way.

My fingers twitched, my brain called me to attention. “Do it.” I found a piece of paper, put a tiny pencil between my left thumb and index, and ever so slowly, ever so lightly, wrote: Relax. Go to bed. I looked at the scribble and then, almost as an afterthought, added, You can write.

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