Back to back disasters. Chapter 4 book of the Lion

Of course we know that British Airways provide excellent service but this was our first long haul, which was now very much in jeopardy, so we needed them to be on the ball. First, however, we needed to find out if the lion had had a stroke. It was certainly very frightening to observe but the whole episode had in fact lasted no more than a minute. When he finally rallied all he wanted to do was sleep and all I wanted were answers. As is normal in these situations we were made to stand out even more by waiting until everyone disembarked at Gatwick. Pitiful glances from our fellow passengers did little to advance our wait and, as you will hear as the story unravels a bit more, our travel companions waited with us… on this occasion. It was all so uncertain, we had no idea if we were on a flight to Atlanta or heading back to Edinburgh.

Once we were helped off the plane with a wheelchair for the lion, we were transferred to a buggy which rushed the patient to see a Doctor. The lion was still very much slurring his speech and perspiration was dripping from him. He just kept on about sleeping, but the doctor didn’t seem too concerned. He deemed him fit to fly and carry on our journey. It sounded like a fit he determined and I was mighty relieved at that. Although it was the first time, it would not be the last.

British Airways ground staff accompanied us throughout the process, remaining anonymous but coming to the fore if we had any questions or actions we needed taken care of. We didn’t have time for the luxury duty free shopping as this whole process had taken over a couple of hours and now it was time to get to the flight. Our driver careered the buggy through the droves of meandering public who seemed to have lost all awareness of safety on entering the airport. They were quite unaware why we were being chauffeured around and nothing but an inconvenience to their meaningless meanders. I wanted to shout out that we had every right to have this mode of transport MY HUSBAND NEEDED IT. There that felt better.

We were driven right to the gate where we handed over our boarding cards. There was an unwelcome pause as they were studied then ripped up. Oh no we were not being allowed to travel but then our BA companion advised we had all been upgraded to business. Well, not much takes me by surprise but this did, it was completely out of the blue. All 4 of us travelling together were upgraded, it was astonishing, but if I am honest rather welcome after the trauma we had suffered. And of course it would be much easier to deal with dead people in business, they’d just be left in their beds.

Champagne was such a welcome to receive, but all the lion wanted to do was get his head down and no sooner had the seatbelt sign flicked to off he got into the bed and fell instantly asleep awakening only some 2 hours before landing. I on the other hand indulged myself with the seared filet of beef, the smoked salmon and cream cheese washed down very smoothly with a perfect Rioja. Damn them it is so very hard to travel economy when you’ve sampled that experience. BA you won that round.

We landed safely in Atlanta and met our tour rep and bus driver for the next fourteen days. We were high on life, champagne and the tour that lay ahead. The lion seemed better, was rested and relaxed and up for a wee trip downtown before bed and the start of our fantastic trip. I didn’t bother ringing the kids to alert them to the disaster which had befallen us, it had after all turned out alright and their dad seemed fine now. We spent the first night in the Sheraton Suites in Atlanta, as the next day our trip would begin with a visit to Peachtree Road, where Elton John occasionally resides, although just our luck he wasn’t in. Followed by a brief reconnaaitre to ‘Tara’ the home that featured in the epic Gone with the Wind. before setting off for few days in Chattanooga.

We had two rather large suitcases that were doubling as wardrobes for the fortnight as we had rather a lot of stopovers. I flung the discarded socks and pants into a bag for laundry and closed the case. The lion spotted a scrap of paper no bigger than a fly on the floor, clearly it had annoyed him, at least it had caught his eye. He bent over and picked it up, then in a squeal of pain crumpled in a heap on the floor. He was struggling to move, I knew immediately it was his back. He could not get to his feet so lay on the floor and his muscles went into spasmodic overdrive. I watched in horror and could do little to alleviate his pain. It was incredible that within 24 hours my poor lion had gone to the dogs.

I managed to help him to the bed but what were we going to do about this trip now, was the primary thought I had in my mind. ‘I’m fine’ he kept saying and I kept hoping he was, but i knew this was bad. With much effort and pausing with every spasm we managed to get to the lobby. I found a Starbucks and ordered him a coffee but every movement, even holding the cup sent splinters of pain up and down his spine. His face was contorted in pain, it was clear he was in trouble.

There is something in the makeup of tour reps; they are eternally optimistic, ours was no different. He didn’t feel too phased by my pain beleaguered Lion and quickly produced a wheelchair to transport him to the bus, as if that was all that was required. I suppose getting him on the bus was his priority, he had 40 other passengers desperate to set off. Our friends joined us on the bus but in all honestly no one had a clue about the trouble he was in, except me and I just had a feeling it wasn’t going to end well. Even the lion thought if he got on the bus everything would be fine………………………………..

Off on holiday we go. Chapter 3 Book of the lion

So the first holiday you take as grown ups without your kids is a remarkable moment. It is s coming of age, when you arrive and suddenly make grown up decisions for you and no one else. Most of our holidays had been taken with our kids in mind, we’d gone where they wanted to go, we’d given up on our dreams, or at least put them on hold. Our hopes were also on hold, and just for the peace that’s was necessary when you have teenagers, we made sacrifices without any fuss. All of those holidays had been safe, we had gone to resorts where teenagers had been accommodated, where parents were invisible, until of course we were needed. Holidays where you blended in, merged with the sand, sea and sunshine and somehow managed to have fun in spite of your kids and their demands.

So when they were 17 and 16, and no longer wanting to travel with us, we were delighted. We tried to conceal our joy when we booked a trip to the Deep South of America and curtail our enthusiasm for this was a first for us. This was to be a journey to the musical Deep South, where we could indulge in our love of country, blues and jazz. We were uber excited and two of our then closest friends wanted to join us, what was not to like? It was after all our first grown up holiday. We booked with a company that provided us everything we needed from our dream trip; starting in Atlanta, crusing into Chattanooga before moving into Nashville, down to Memphis, Natchez, New Orleans, Baton Rouge then finally Houston. What a trip! we were beside our selves with anticipation and excitement and all without our kids.

The night before we set off we had a bit of a blitzkrieg with our daughter, significant at the time, although now, despite my best efforts I have no idea what it was about, but it was significant enough to upset us both that night. We did not sleep. It just goes to show that arguments with children in their teens are an emotional wrench and although hardly worth reflection there is little doubt we were deeply affected by this hiccup because we cared. So much so, we got up in the morning having not slept a wink, for a five o’clock taxi pick up to head to Edinburgh airport with no joy in our hearts for this trip, rather I have to admit we had heavy hearts that day.

We were travelling British Airways, again the most efficient airline customer service wise. And given what was to confront us on this journey, they were to come to the fore once again. Our flight out of Edinburgh to Gatwick was straight forward and after we had been served our breakfast, some 40 minutes into the flight, our journey suddenly turned into a nightmare. The lion who was in the middle seat, like me was making his way through a majestic scrambled egg with sausage and bacon. I glanced sideways to acknowledge the sublimity of this meal, this trip and our happiness when I noticed he was not enjoying his food. I suddenly became aware of how claustrophobic the space was between the three seats we were contained in. Suddenly, without warning, he put his knife and fork down on the tray, and in an instant his eyes rolled in his sockets as he fell backwards into the headrest and turned grey.

My observations were informed by my experiences and the pace of my thoughts had little concern for reality. I immediately thought he had had a stroke. Then I noticed his parlour a pale grey, and thought he had died. I wondered fleetingly where dead people went on a plane. These were flashing thoughts because at the same time I was panicking, I was pushing the button to alert the air hostess. I was screaming silently for help and noticed immediately that the hostess thought I was just seeking more coffee. She looked toward me with disdain but I slowly raised my arms, started waving and my face communicating that this wasn’t a request for coffee but an urgent need for her assistance. All of this while I was calculating where dead bodies might go on the plane.

The outer seat passenger was tucking into his breakfast totally unaware of the drama unfolding before him. When the air hostess arrived with oxygen in hand she dragged him out of his seat without the slightest concern for the progress of his consumption of his breakfast. With a single but swift manoeuvre he was launched into the aisle in shock. So slick was her actions he had no time to absorb what was happening, By the time this response and immediate reaction had take place the Lion was taking a deep breath and with all the effort of the flick of an electronic switch he came to life suddenly, totally unaware of the drama he had created. I was immobile stuck in the corner when this drama unfolded. I could do nothing to inform those around me about what was happening, I could not share with them that I thought he had died. I had to stay put as people were displaced, and while his life was re-ignited I knew suddenly our trip was in jeopardy. The captain was in control of what happened next. I was looking at the lion wondering what had just happened, grateful he was alive and watching those around us who were preparing to land oblivious to anything we had endured on this journey.

The lion started to perspire, slurred his speech and was disorientated. Oh my god he’s had a stroke I thought and my holiday dreams as a couple and not parents, flashed before me…………………….

Back to basics. Chapter 2 Book of the lion

A sore back accommodates a multitude of conditions, pain and discomfort. It can explain a variety of ailments ranging from muscular pain, nerve damage, disc displacement to broken bones. It may be life threatening or life limiting but rarely is it without some kind of impact on the physical or psychological wellbeing of the individual affected. Inevitably there will also be collateral damage to others affected by the level of disability experienced, the quality and intensity of the pain, alleviated only by good pain relief, effective back pain management and your partner knowing when to keep her mouth shut.

The Lion, when he was just a boy, fell from a significant height landing on his feet and jarring his back. And over the years deduced that this was the most likely event to which he has attributed over 40 years of pain and immobility. The sore back is as much a constant feature of our marriage as our bank account, and fluctuates just as frequently. It has, more than any other event, including having children, defined and proscribed much of what he can and cannot do in his adult life. We have lived with it cheek by jowl our entire married life, it’s a harlot, an unwelcome addition to our natural marital equilibrium.

We both agree this fall was the most credible explanation for what many years later was diagnosed as spondilolysis during one of our many forays into the health service to get to an explanation and hopefully a remedy. Spondilolysis is a condition more commonly associated with sports professionals, and as an avid footballer I suppose it befits him, or at least entitles him to align this debilitating condition with the career threatening injuries of his sporting colleagues . Sir Ian Botham is one of the most famous with this condition. He accquired it as a result of flexing his spine during the technique that brought him fame in his fast bowl. This flexion caused the bottom vertebrae to compress and crack. In a similar way ot ended the Lion’s football ‘career’ when he was 35 years old.

The Lion’s MRI scans revealed three of the bottom vertebrae were compressed; each disc that acts as a cushion between these bones has long since lost its functionality and instead serves only to irritate and exacerbate the nerve ends that surround the spinal column. Occasionally, but increasingly frequently, sitting, standing, stooping or squatting causes a massive unseen reaction beneath his skin. The muscles start to spasm resulting in extraordinary searing pain that jerks spasmodically and rips through his lower back muscle like an electric shock resulting in total immobility. And these episodes can be extreme resulting in hospitalisation at worst and major drug intervention at the very least.

The body naturally attempts to protect the exposed nerves most likely to ignite his pain so his spine will adopt an s-shape that pushes his hips out of alignment and makes him look remarkably like Quasimodo. It also results in unusual pressure on the cracked vertebrae that in turn perpetuates the cycle of pain and discomfort, that thereafter inflames the muscles and leaves him immobilised; unable to stand or walk. An acute episode can last anywhere between 2 days to 2 months and can be triggered by the most innocuous activity from leaning over to pick up paper, to trying to activate the brake whilst driving his truck in a more recent and concerning incident. That one cost him his job.

There have been many significant dramas associated with the ‘sore back’, and we shall visit these as and when the desire takes me over the coming days. Today’s account is about setting the scene and letting the enormity of this crippling situation settle into the consciousness. It will provide a little insight into the challenges that are presented and how we have dealt with these. It will be.a different journey to my imjury for I cannot see into his inner soul, his physical experiences can only be viewed as an onlooker a bystander to his pain and the psychological damage that it has left him with I cannot fathom and only begin to imagine.

These observations on this sore back will be mine, the impact and affect they have made on my Lion and how he has managed that and, of course as many of these experiences were joint, I therefore appoint myself qualified to report and share them with you.

For the first tale, I’m going to take you one what was our first ever holiday without our kids………………..join me next time to find out more.