'Look at that!' the nice orthopaedic surgeon said, turning the screen towards me. 'That's as bad a hip joint as any I've seen.'
I peered at the grainy grey shapes of the X Ray. There was, to be sure, no gap at all between the ball joint and the hip socket, unlike in the other hip, where you could see a paler space all around it.
'Bone rubbing on bone,' he said, utterly confident, and I was 100% ready to believe him, after all these months of going down medical dead ends. Besides, he had already won me over by telling me cheerfully in our preliminary chat that he did not intend to be an orthopaedic surgeon all his life, but planned to apply to NIDA to train to become an actor. Now, three weeks later, with all manner of doubtful. doom-filled thoughts seeping in, this doesn't seem ;like quite the refreshing little jewel that it did then.
Hip replacement surgery, of course, was the solution, the one that has been loitering in the wings for ages. But it's my leg! I kept saying, it's my leg that hurts! But it's your hip that's causing the pain, someone needed to say.
'How soon do you want it done?' said the surgeon, as if no sane person would put it off for a moment longer than necessary.. And indeed, I'd made the decision before he'd finished asking the question.
'ASAP,' I said.
'May 30th is looking good,' said the surgeon..
Early last year, I wrote about going to a friend's funeral. What I didn't talk about was how this friend died. She had not been ill, and her death was wholly unexpected. She had gone into hospital for some routine procedure, (I have never been told what), and she developed complications and died.
Did she fear, I wonder, as she made her way up the winding mountain road to Canberra and to hospital, that she may never make the journey back home again? Did she think, as she went about making her preparations, (getting the washing done, making sure the fridge and pantry were stocked up, packing her overnight bag with her new PJ's and her books), that this might be the last time that she might do these things?
Of course, the chances of 'something going wrong' are very slight. Present though, and as the days are counted off to May 30th, they begin to seem larger than they are, and their presence begins to sharpen the edges of each day.
I busy myself with practical things. Do all the pruning, and tidying, and planting, and dahlia lifting, and weeding, that I possibly can, so that I don't stress about the garden for a few weeks. (And plant an oak tree, and plant bulbs, and picture the years to come in which they grow and flourish.) Clean the house from top to bottom, so it doesn't irritate me while I'm sitting about twiddling my thumbs. Write to friends who I haven't heard from for a while, (are they OK? When will I see them again?) And work through the final proof reading of the story collection, hours and hours of it, on the phone to publisher, Julian, who guides me through this extraordinarily painstaking process with unfailing patience and confidence. It must be done and ready for the printer by May 30th.
And of course, there are all the preparations for the rehab and recovery process. For although I will be, by all accounts, a 'new woman' after the op - will not, in fact, even 'know myself' - (scary thought, worthy of a Dr. Who script), yet there will be weeks of feeling worse. I must organise crutches, a raised toilet seat, a cushion for the car, a script for painkillers, a pathology workup, and new PJ's. I must make sure bills are paid, files organised, and reading material assembled. I must have a hair cut and get my laptop fixed.
Through all these preparations, I take many moments to pause and look about me. The golden spires of a line of poplars in the distance; mist lifting off the river in the morning and spreading across the paddocks; the totally-0n-to-it kookaburra perched on the gatepost watching for lizards; the sound of the river; a little pile of smooth, hard, grey sweet pea seeds in my hand, which hold the beginnings of scented flowers for the spring to come.
I count down the weeks, and then the days. Only seven days to go now! Gradually, I cross all the things off the list, feeling some small sense of achievement and control. It's what I do in my larger life, marking the years and the decades as they pass - the anniversaries, the Christmases, the holidays. Marking the achievements, the friendships, the struggles and dilemmas that give some meaning to it all.
Did my friend think of this too, as she made her way over the mountain? The inevitability of the end is foreshadowed many times in our lives, and each time provides an opportunity, maybe an insight or an epiphany. Maybe a reprieve.
How to live the time that's left?