By my side


I took this photo back in March, the day I had emergency surgery for my first bowel obstruction.  I had been in hospital overnight, after presenting with agonising pain, and the cause of the problem had been identified, but the surgeons had decided that there was just enough time for one more test in the morning to determine whether such drastic surgery really must take place, or something more conservative could be done.

Gaz was, as always, by my side.  When he had to leave for the night, I was peaceful and pain free, with lots of morphine on board, and I tried, as I always do, not to show how scared I was.  I urged him to go to work the next day, that I was fine, that there was nothing he could do, and I would see him after work the next day.  He said he would, and I went off to sleep.

I woke up the next morning to the feeling of a warm hand slipping into mine.  And there was my Gaz, with tears in his eyes.  But it was still dark….I was bewildered.  I asked him what the time was…it was 5.55am!  Considerably before visiting hours, but no one had the heart to turn him away.  “I tried Jules” he said.  “I tried to go to work, and I drove for a few minutes towards the truck, but then I turned the car around and came here.  I couldn’t leave you to face this alone.  So I’m here.  I’ll be here all day.”  And he was.  He never lets me face anything alone.

I talked a bit in my last post about how I have been kinda low on “luck” at various points in my life.  But I know now that the day I met that kinda height challenged guy, in motorbike leathers, with the shiny Harley in St Kilda, 15 years ago, I seriously fell on my feet like few women have ever been lucky enough to do.

When we met, I was in robust health, but for a crappy pair of hips, and was awaiting a hip replacement.  The saddest thing was not being able to share long motorbike rides with Gaz, as my hips just wouldn’t allow it.  We looked forward to the day that it was all fixed, and we could go on longer rides.

I got wheeled away for that first hip replacement surgery with a heart full of hope.  I was going to be freed from 17 years of pain, the last two of which had been nearly unbearable.  I was going to be able to walk, sit behind my man on the Harley, feel the wind in my hair, have a baby.  What a life changing day.  And it was, but not in the way we expected.

When I woke up, I found that I had been paralysed from the knee down, from my leg being slightly over-extended when they placed the new hip.  It was a horror story.  I could not move my leg at all, nor could I feel it from the knee down.  You could have hit me with a hammer and I would not have felt it, but there was all this pain inside my leg, like it had been dipped in acid from the knee down.  I was shipped off to rehab in far worse condition than when I checked into the hospital 10 days before.

Each day, instead of taking a happy and hopeful woman home to recover, Gaz visited me in the amputee unit.  Rehab for me was a terrifying and lonely place, and I was depressed and broken.  I kept waiting for Gaz to tell me that this was not what he had signed up for, and indeed I told him to leave and go on with his life, but of course, he never did.  Instead he assured me that he never would, and when I came home, he administered my 10 different types of drugs that rendered me unable to even have a conversation with him, and helped me shower and go to the toilet and do things you don’t want your partner to have to do for you.  I lost 22 kilos in 6 weeks, and could barely eat at all.  I remember waking up about 3am one morning and telling him I was hungry.  He sprung out of bed like a jack in the box, throwing on his clothes and asking what I wanted, so desperate to capture this window where I might actually eat some food.  Thankfully we lived in St Kilda and  he was able to produce the requested kebab in the middle of the night!

The world can seem like a shallow place.  And probably for that reason, I was worried that Gaz would find me less attractive after I had two 60cm scars carved in each of my legs, where the hips were replaced on both sides.  Of course he thought this was ridiculous, and didn’t bat an eyelid.

I’m not a very vain person, but the day that Gaz arrived at the hospital at 5.55am was the most challenging of my life, and was confronting to my self esteem like no other.  I was taken down for some final testing later that morning, and once this was done everything went into overdrive.   They wheeled me back to the ward, and Gaz, with tears in his eyes was the one that delivered the news to me that I would be taken straight to surgery to fit me with a colostomy bag.  Curtains were drawn around me, the nurses started to wash me in preparation for surgery, permission forms were thrust at me sign and I was told I was going straight to theatre.  I began to cry hysterically…we knew a colostomy was coming with the cancer surgery a few months down the track, but to have no time to prepare for something so life changing….I can’t even describe it. I clung to him, looking at him frantically, saying how “revolting” it would be and I didn’t know how I was going to handle it.  He cried too….”no, no, don’t be silly, it’s to save your life, as long as you are here, who cares what we have to do.  We’ll get through this”.  And he ran beside the trolley, holding my hand until they told him that he could go no further.  And of course, his was the first face I saw when I opened my eyes, on the other side, a not so proud owner of a “front bum”.

After a few hours, I decided we had to look at “it”.  No one told me that once things settle down, the bags are quite discreet, skin coloured and you can’t see through them.  Not so straight after an operation….the are roughly the size of a hot air balloon…and SEE THROUGH.  I was absolutely mortified, and pulled the sheet back up to my neck again.  He pulled it down, examined the whole business with interest, and then made some crack about drawing a face on the bag….we laughed, and we never really looked back.  The gift of knowing that you are loved, no matter what, to know that you only  have to worry about getting better, not what your partner thinks of you as you park your horrifyingly scarred body next to him in bed each night….well, it’s the greatest gift of all.  The man hasn’t got a shallow bone in his body.

The “bag” has been joined by a few more scars now, and there is one more to add, an L-shaped one over my liver.  This is the scariest yet, but it’s a great comfort to know that Gaz will be the first face I’ll see, the face I’ve always loved.

By my side, like he’s always been.

4 Comments on “By my side

  1. Your post entries inspire to me to live a fuller life Julia. You have an amazing way with words. I will be thinking of you over the next little while and beyond.

  2. That brought tears to my eyes, Julia. And restored my faith in men a bit. My grandmother had bowel cancer when she was in her late 40s, and has had a colostomy bag since that time. She will be 100 next week and she still lives in the house my grandfather built after they married (he passed away 14 years ago at age 87), with family checking in on her and people staying from time to time. She has 4 daughters like you, 15 grandchildren and 24 great grandchildren and counting.

  3. Jules that was lovely. You teo are amazingly resilient with all you have been through, and the support you provide each other. I think you were both lucky that day you met in St Kilda.

  4. Bloody hell woman – what a woman – what a man – this is the purest form of love. How amazing you both are!!!!!!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>