Nashville and the American Superhero. Chapter 10 Book of the Lion.

So how does a West Lothian lad come to be in Nashville Tennessee? Irrespective of the story we were so glad that he was there. Our sister-in-law’s big brother had many years earlier gone to St Andrew’s University and met a girl from the other side of the world. I don’t know much about their love story, but I do know that it was about love and he followed her there, they married and had three beautiful children. Had we never landed in the hospital in Atlanta, we might never have met them. And that would have been sad. Instead it was this American Superhero who offered us a warm hand of friendship that was made all the more meaningful because it was from family, something we so badly needed at this time of crisis, even when your family links are as tenuous as this.

It’s not even that we were in as much need as we had been when the crisis was at its height; when we were alone and isolated in Atlanta, or vulnerable on the Greyhound bus. It was because we were miles away from home, that the Lion was not out of the woods yet and there was an inherent need for tactile family connections. We were with a crowd of holiday hungry tourists, hell bent on fun and frolics that our unfortunate turn of events had disabled us from being able to take part. We had talked about and longed for a trip to Nashville, because we love our country music, finally we had arrived in our most wished for location and all we really wanted was a little bit of home. Isn’t life funny.

We checked in to downtown Nashville to our hotel with the other guests, a quick resume of what was important and what our trip entailed with the tour guide and we were able to head off to explore on our own.

Nashville is synonymous with country music every street, every hostelry is linked to its musical history, The Ryman Auditorium was the original Grand Ole Opry which offered us the imagined experience of Johnny Cash, Hank Williams, Merle Haggard and Dolly Parton all standing on that centre stage gazing out on the church like pews to audiences hungry for something different. The gospel songs that so underpinned their religious life were at the heart of this music which, with that all important influence, not only sated but justified their satanic lust for entertainment. Me and the Lion sat on the pews staring at the stage, the two of us alone with our memories, sitting in silence but filled with loud imagined performances of those famous names that had filled our early lives. Memories of the Lion’s Da in the kitchen mending and making to ‘Cold Cold Heart’, or my Mum and Dad’s parties and their radiogram loaded with well thumbed vinyl albums blasted out at parties, enticing a sing-a-long to ‘ You’re my Best Friend’ by Don Williams or DIVORCE by Tammy Wynette.

The Lion told me when he was little and living in Glasgow, family parties were common and since they were the only ones with a radiogram it was hoisted precariously down the close, balanced evenly on the babies pram and guided, wobbling across Glasgow to bring Country Greats to the rest of the family and be shared by those not able to afford a music player. But country music had changed and we now had our own favourites among the legends and we headed to Legends and the Stage to hear new country from Brad Paisley, Keith Urban, Terri Clarke and Toby Keith. We were in music heaven and this was also complete with the four hours we spent in the Country Music Hall of Fame. A veritable trip down memory lane peppered with auditory treats when we opened a gold disc that stirred our hearts and minds to days gone by. We loved it, it was our dream venue what was not to like? In fact we loved it so much we have now been to Nashville five times and had a real life country star living in our home ( a blog for another day).

On day one of our two day stay in Nashville we were contacted by our American Superhero at the hotel. A message left at the desk suggested he would pick us up that evening to meet his family for dinner. The Lion was still struggling with intermittent pain, but like me equally excited to be linked with family to home. We waited in our lobby for someone we had never met before, not knowing what to expect, or what they might look like. About 6 o’clock we ventured outside to wait when a blue corvette pulled up alongside our hotel, we were seated near the door taking in the evening sunshine and eyed this beautiful car with envy. A lone man slid out of the low slung seat with all the style of a man confident with his life and location. He walked toward the hotel. Whether it was intuition or just simply the timing I was drawn to him and called out his name. He stopped, turning toward us with a smile exactly the same as his sisters and I knew he was our man. The Lion eased himself up from the chair as we ventured toward this family stranger so glad to have someone in common with him that we both loved and that had brought us together.

After our celebratory introductions he beckoned toward his beautiful car, roofless there was clearly no other way to travel in such glorious sunshine. But I noticed very subtly the Lion hesitated as the journey flashed before him and he contemplated how he might go about getting into such a low lying vehicle with his sore back. This seemed lost on our host, and reaffirmed that unless you have lived it and its happening to you its not really going to penetrate the conscious activity of others. It was not lost on me and I looked at the Lion sympathetically hoping he wouldn’t make a fuss and be able to make it into this fabulous carriage without upsetting our Hero, despite his back limiting injury…………………………….

Chattanooga Choo Choo. Chapter 9 Book of the Lion.

Chattanooga gained notoriety following the roaring success of the ‘Chattanooga Choo Choo’ a song written by Mack Gordon and originally recorded by Glenn Miller in 1941. A film was later made in 1984 but we were neither caring nor interested in the musical history of this City, we simply wanted to catch up with our tour. We had already missed out on our trip to Lookout Mountain and Ruby Falls, but this had little impact on our current state of mind. The fact we were even here was a miracle in itself.

Recently discharged from University Hospital Atlanta, the Lion was still subdued by class A drugs designed primarily to contain his back pain but also stupefying the brain and his senses for the same price. Our Greyhound bus trip had been eventful but finally as the bus lurched into the station at Chattanooga we disembarked safely, intact and none the worse for the encounters or dramas on the way. Our new found friends wished us well, and I hurriedly ushered the Lion off the bus ensuring they remained aboard for their journey to Ohio, hoping they stayed on the right side of the law.

We took a taxi to the Chattanooga Choo Choo hotel, which was located in the south side of the city trying to take in the sights while making sure the Lion was comfortable. We unloaded our cases, including our newly purchased bag for excess weight, onto the forecourt and surveilled our surroundings. A large train modified into bedrooms, dominated the landscape which, although no one told us, I was pretty sure was the infamous Choo Choo. Beyond this unusual hostelry, about 300 yards across the driveway lay the more conventional entrance to the larger standard traditional hotel,

I did hope we were sleeping in the train as I guided the Lion to the check-in desk, given our luck on the BA flight this was a strong possibility but our luck didn’t last. Having managed to coral the Lion into the reception I sought assistance to collect our baggage, while he clung to the reception counter and steadied himself. The tour guide had left instructions to be contacted as soon as we arrived and he joined us directly, It was like meeting a long lost friend, such had been the extent of our isolation in Atlanta. He hugged us, or at least approached the Lion with that intention before I prevented him from making any physical contact that would set the Lion’s back off again.

We then made our way to our room (not on the train), and flopped onto the bed exhaling an incredible sigh of relief. I was still so uncertain about continuing with the tour, but the Lion again assured me he would be fine. I studied him closely, trying to seek reassurance in his body language but seeing nothing that confirmed what he was saying. I unpacked his medication and our cash, that had made us feel so vulnerable on the bus, glad to have the security of a safe. There were significant volumes of tablets within assorted coloured containers. They had American names but appeared to include diazepam and Tramadol. These, in various permutations, were to be taken daily for the next two weeks. This didn’t bode well for the usual holiday experiences where alcohol might feature on more than the odd occasion.

We had started out on this holiday with friends, although they had continued with their holiday while the Lion was in hospital. I have tried to reconcile their abandonment of us in our hour of need with their need for a holiday. It’s something I continue to find difficult to understand, we could never have left them had the shoe been on the other foot, but then it was a holiday and perhaps I was just being unreasonable. Within the hour they arrived at our door glad we had made it in time to make the next leg of the journey to Nashville, The lion put on his mane, his bravest face and agreed to join them for dinner. I was not entirely sure this was a good idea, but we had to eat and so managed to join them despite being physically and mentally exhausted with our journey to date.

What became evident was that they had absolutely no clue how bad the situation had been, and were trying to make the most of their holiday and who could blame them. We ate and I ordered a glass of wine, I felt entitled given the last few days dramas, and soon that turned into two more. For the first time in 3 days I was able to relax, the Lion appeared to have relaxed but on closer inspection I noticed he was grinding his teeth as he continued to stay seated for longer than he was able to. We made a fast exit from the dining room, or at least as fast as the Lion could go and returned to our room. It would become a familiar pattern throughout this trip. Although it was now apparent that the potential to make the rest of our trip was looking more than hopeful the word holiday didn’t inspire me with any pleasure at all not in this situation. Back in the room I played nurse, (calm down he was ill), settled him in bed and dispensed the evening meds before tucking the Lion into one of the enormous king sized beds in our room.

I finally made it to bed, having tidied the room, arranged our clothes for the next day and re-packed the wardrobe cases ready for the off the next day. As the Lion drifted into his slumber ably assisted by diazepam. I wondered how he would be on the rest of the holiday, given his ongoing pain. He had little option at this stage, we’d made our decision coming here away from Atlanta and the airport. Our music tour of the Deep South was going to be an interesting trip, there was little doubt it would test us and as we now know, the Lion has no recollection of any of it given the meds he was prescribed for that trip.

Tomorrow we would depart for Nashville, and realise a dream we had shared for many years, but first I had to make a final sweep of the room for any small bits of paper that the Lion might be inclined to bend down and pick up……………………………

Backing into a corner. Chapter 5 book of the Lion.

Tour buses are always well equipped and super comfortable, air conditioning as standard with reclining seats and arm rests, the ultimate in luxury, In normal circumstances this would be fine, but actually with a sore back of this proportion nothing short of morphine will do. Instead he made do with a coffee and was tipped out onto the bus from the wheelchair. Our other travelling companions,as yet unknown had already boarded and so we four took our seats somewhere near the back. We were the youngest on the trip but not obviously, the fittest. The Lion wanted to sit in the aisle seat, I have learned during these testing times to forgo all territorial power grabs and points winning. I sat at the window and watched him wince in pain as he swung his behind in from the aisle onto the seat and gasped in pain as it seared across his lumber region.

Our travelling companions, once very good friends, had some sympathy but it was not sincere and I was only too conscious they had to have a holiday too. I was mostly focused on our situation to be honest, I could see the Lion grit his teeth and he was perspiring, a sure sign he was in considerable pain. The coach chugged into life, we made our way out of the hotel and toward the Peachtree Road, remember Elton… As we settled into the journey I noticed the Lion retained hold of the seat in front and had not really relaxed into the tourist role. I watched closely as he struggled to find a comfortable position, only slightly aware of the white noise of the tour guide retailing us of our wonderful trip ahead. I have very little recollection of that journey other than the drama I am about to describe as I was working our what possible options I might have to get us out of this tour. It was clear that continuing on the bus was absolutely the most unhelpful thing for the Lion. My mind went in to overdrive as every bump in the road resulted in a wince or gasp of intense pain.

The bus stopped near a shopping centre and under any other circumstances I would have been first off. It was clear we were going nowhere. So we let everyone off and remained on the bus. The driver eyed us suspiciously in his rear view mirror. The Lion used this time to try to rectify an un-rectifiable problem. He wanted to just lie on the floor for a minute and things would surely settle down. I knew he was not thinking at all straight, he would never have considered any small change in his posture as a potential remedy for this level of spasms. But nevertheless he wanted to try and so I did my best to help him out of the chair and onto the floor. In actual fact I took no part in this manoeuvre since every time I touched him he winced in pain. It was clear we were truly off this trip.

The driver. who watched closely from the comfort of his suspension floating driving seat, recognised trouble when he saw it. He lurched toward us, all 6 feet 7 of him his bulk only managing to transverse the coach side on. He asked if we needed help. The Lion stretched out on the floor was now writhing with pain, he almost lost consciousness. I said I think we might need a doctor and the driver agreed. With a single grip he lifted the Lion to his feet. This giant was gentle and caring waiting until the Lion could get his breath, while all the time I knew he was cringing with embarrassment, feeling that this level of attention was not what he planned. I was just grateful the driver could lift him up from the floor.

Balancing him on his feet the driver frogwalked the Lion slowly to the door. I exited ahead of them and noticed a taxi flying past, I waved my hands in desperation and although he failed to stop, he seemed to have noticed us and within a few minutes another taxi arrived. The Lion was dwarfed by the giant driver and dangled like a puppet under his massive biceps. The taxi drew up and the Lion was laid along the backseat, now with tears silently falling, he had finally accepted this was not going to be an easy fix.

We were transported to the Atlanta University Hospital where a team met us at the door. It felt like Grey’s Anatomy. Alone in a strange country with no idea what was ahead of us we were wheeled in to the emergency room. The Lion was prepared for a doctor and someone asked me for a credit card. Long before we had paid them a nurse practitioner entered the room, the Lion was still in some pain. I have become accustomed to medical practitioners not really believing people have such a thing as a bad back. I learned later that bad backs are the main source of people looking to source major drugs. So we have to jump through hoops to get help, thanks for that!

The nurse practitioner asked the Lion if she might check the extent of the problem, she took his foot, and I braced myself, as she thrust his leg in the air. It soon turned blue with expletives as the Lion tried to restrain the pain he was experiencing. The Nurse left the room rather hurriedly and soon we were alone, awaiting decisions that would inform our fate. Time passed and before long a Doctor, no more than a youngster, entered the room and the credit card pinged like a crescendo toward expensive.

It was clear the Lion needed treatment and was instantly sedated to alleviate the pain and for an instant I was relieved he had some respite from the pain. The tour guide joined me and took our insurance details to make the necessary arrangements since my credit card could not manage the incessant pinging we were facing, Then we were advised he had to stay. I knew that the tour guide needed to leave with his tourists. I just didn’t want to be left behind, I never felt so alone. The Lion was now in an induced coma unaware but no longer in pain. I went to the door desolate and saw our friends had thoughtfully brought out our cases to me as they waved goodbye and sailed on to Chattanooga. Me. I sat out at the back door to this hospital with two cases and no one and I cried……………….

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.

Happier Birthdays are promised. Chapter 1 Book of the family

two woman hugging each other
Photo by Daria Shevtsova on Pexels.com

Today is my daughter-in-law’s big 30 birthday, she is currently in hospital in Glasgow so not quite the nightclub, cocktail, dancing til dawn fest she was hoping for. In fact this year alone she and my son have had to cancel two awesome holidays, (seems that my lucky white heather has a phenomenal reach) and numerous concerts (thanks for the Ed Sheerhan tickets).

Nonetheless she remains, on the whole, eternally positive despite the many challenges that she has faced over the past year or so. And she has, from her sick bed, raised over £1300 for a charity aligned to her current condition; Cauda Equina Syndrome. It’s incredible that one so young could have been at risk from a potentially life limiting condition but sadly she is one of two young women we know, of the same age, that have it.

My son introduced us to his future wife 7 years ago;  he brought her to the house while we were celebrating a birthday for the mermaid. Now, although we considered we had dragged him up to the highest of social standards, nerves got the better of him  and he left her lingering in the hallway, rather than proudly announcing to the assembled family that this was his girl. Actually, he’s to be congratulated for his efforts at keeping our prying eyes and our attempts to have a premature introduction at bay. In the early days their relationship was so covert we resorted to territorial subterfuge and espionage so we did not miss an opportunity to meet, assess and vet her as a suitable partner.

Once when they were heading out on a date date she arrived in her car, we were warned not to watch, and they had cleverly arranged their rendezvous sufficiently  beyond our visual reach. Me and He were strategically positioned at different windows to maximise the opportunity to catch a glimpse, squeezing our faces flat  against the closed window, stretching as far as we could to allow our eyes to catch a  simple glimpse of  her. To no avail. In the end we had to settle for the mermaid’s birthday.

I cannot stress how really important it is when your child takes a partner; both of mine did this at the same time so stress levels associated with the choice of their prospective partners, were magnified ( I needed a lot of wine). It is the single most important decision they will take while you still have some influence (albeit diminished) in their lives. In addition that old rhyme “A son’s a son ’til he takes a wife, a daughter’s a daughter for the rest of your life” suggested that it had to be right or I’d lose him for ever. (Hmmmmm)

And breathe, from the instant we were officially introduced I instantly took to her and hoped we could establish a friendship that in mythical terms is dammed from the outset. I thought her a live wire, an effervescent, gregarious and convivial individual – just right for my son. She lit up the room with her chatter, she always had stories to tell, was intelligent, funny and broad minded. But I am aware of the myths about this kind of relationship  so I regularly check out the website http//www.scarymommy.com  where  15  mother -in- law behaviours that warrant a punch in the face are outlined,  a weekly  scan reveals so far I’m owed at least two.

When he finally announced that I needed a hat, I was delighted;  a lovely girl, nice family, his ying to her yang and that was the start of their love story and marital bliss. Then the sore back hit her like a wrecking ball.   Now we know a thing or two about sore backs in this family, it’s plagued my husband’s life since he was 15, and more recently my daughter was also diagnosed with bulging discs.

But my daughter-in-law had this very serious condition which could cause paralysis if untreated. There were many dramas associated with her diagnosis (not all mine to tell).   Her own parents were the arbiters of that revelation. However it is this condition and subsequent surgery that landed her back in hospital for treatment of a serious infection and the potential for further surgery that,  alongside my father-in-law’s illness, brought us home.

She has had the most horrendous time, but she remains strong, positive and determined, she has raised all of this money to support and highlight the condition to others. And I continue to be in awe of her ability to cope with the daily pain and discomfort her condition has caused her. Yep, it is not the birthday she would have wanted, but some good news today  suggests further surgery might not be on the cards and finally she might have  some respite from this dreadful condition…………………………

Stage 3 hamstring- 3 months update. Chapter 26

That has now been 3 months since my awful slip in Edinburgh, I’m excited to reveal my progress and what a person might expect by now if they have had the misfortune to experience a stage 3 hamstring injury. Not wanting to appear ageist, but if you’re younger than 55-60 then you might have a slightly different prognosis and experience. Although I was active and reasonably fit, there is little doubt healing takes a bit longer when you are middle-aged and menopausal.

The good news is I am now able to dress myself without assistance, take a shower (but slipping is a real and present danger) and use the toilet without a seat raiser. In the morning, for about 40 minutes, I can walk freely without sticks, I feel very little pain at this time but movement is cautious and restricted. Managing the stairs one at a time is laborious but it is possible now to manoeuvre these more than once a day.

Continuing the positive vibes, I’m now able to fix my own breakfast, dependent on the 40 minutes of freedom window, if that diminishes, it means I need the sticks to ambulate around my kitchen. It is also impossible to carry what ever delights I have created and my morning cuppa into another room. I still need assistance to do this, as sitting at the kitchen table continues to evade me. I have mastered new ways of achieving this if no help is available; I can carry my hot water bottle, that goes everywhere with me, (including the Caribbean) by my teeth. This additional holding vice also allows me to balance my mug of tea, albeit precariously with spillage highly likely, on the left handle of the crutch. If I get the right grip, and tread carefully, I can slowly hobble through the lounge and into my sanctuary- the TV room.

Impressively I can now walk outside with the sticks. The distance can vary dependent on pain thresholds which alternate continually, but the pace is inordinately slow. It is not unusual for actual turtles to move past me with ease, as I have found to be the case on this trip. Other holiday makers become impatient to get to the pool so I can be side-tracked to allow them to pass which inevitably slows me down even further. More exhausted.

Walking now requires an enormous amount of concentration, this I’d put down to my lack of right/left distinction. Coordinating the left stick and the right foot alignment in strides, just normal gait, takes me a few seconds to consciously call to my mind. So if I’m hovering like a humming bird before a step is taken its normally because I’m trying to work out how to start (or it could be a little pain has given me brain stagnation). The fairly simple and inherent ability to walk is further rocked by the fact that I’m left footed and right handed so the brain is entirely flummoxed by having to get the right foot moving first. Oh, I’m exhausted just explaining that.

I cannot swim but we have a hot tub in the pool, just perfect in 80 degree heat, because the hot water gives me instant relief. Much like my fellow travellers seeking the coolness of the swimming pool I’m in the hot tub about 8 times a day just for some reprieve from the pain. I cannot reach the tub without my sticks which are fascinatingly now amphibious and have become as frequent a feature of the poolside furniture as cocktails, floats, and loungers.

I have found, and catalogued previously, that missing meds just won’t wash. Even self medication, mainly of the red wine variety, has to be taken in moderation as I haven’t the stomach for it frankly. If I do miss the meds to increase the red wine intake Lord I pay for it the next day. On these days I have constant sharp excruciating pain in my left thigh when I move or stand. Normally this is a dull pain when medicated but without sufficient intervention I’m constantly reminded that I have a debilitating injury and my movement and just ordinary comfort is elusive. Even if meds are re-introduced I’m lagging a day behind and all because I wanted a glass of wine. So lessons still being learned and I cannot do without the pain killers yet.

Even as I type I’m laying here 10 hours good sleep in thanks to Codeine but the pain is already gnawing at me and will dictate any activity I’m able to achieve in the day. This leads me rather awkwardly into other natural bedroom activities. Normal service cannot be resumed there, they have been severely curtailed and are currently off piste. So we are all piste off about that.

However, there are so many positives for me to regale at this point, mainly that we got to our holiday despite it all and lying in the sun rather than fighting back the winter frost is glorious. I’m going to be a little bit tanned more on the front as laying on my belly causes the hamstring to sink and sting like misery. Ah the joys, 3 months down and 6 months of recovery to go……………….