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It has been 14 years and 8 months since that fateful hot summer day in 2004, when my life was turned upside down as a result of a biopsy operation of a spinal cord tumour unexpectedly detected by MRI. 
Walked in, Wheeled Out
(First posted on January 4, 2015 )
I walked into a hospital
in a hot summer afternoon in February 2004,
for a biopsy operation on a spinal cord tumour.
The Neurosurgeon said,
‘This is going to be a simple operation for you
because you are healthy and well.
You will be able to get out of bed tomorrow,
but I couldn’t
leave the hospital three days later,
I didn’t and couldn’t
and return to work a month from now.’
I never did
Three months later,
I wheeled myself out of
the rehabilitation ward of another hospital.
The biopsy operation resulted in ‘incomplete paraplegia’ – I couldn’t move my once good right leg  and I had spasm in my left leg . The right leg became hypersensitive to the softest feather, but the left leg was completely numb to the roughest brush . And I never stand upright or walk freely again.
When was the last time I stood upright? When was the last time I walked upright? Where was I? What was I doing? Who was with me? How did I feel? When and where were my last upright walks leading to that fateful day?
Summer, 2004. Intensely hot and dry. Midday. Wondered how much UV light my broad brimmed straw hat and reflective umbrella managed to filter out. My face seemed to have become a block of burning wood, dying for a big splash of chilled water. My loose, long-sleeved, thin, cotton blouse was flowing gently towards the back, and my below-knee, cotton skirt was like a heated, thin metal sheet wrapping around my body. My feet were also on fire. Walking along the long, exposed, above-ground walkway was like walking on a track of burning charcoals in a fire festival, or bathing in a big, hot fan-force oven with heat waves bombarding from all directions. Even the occasional breeze was like a stream of hot wave from a suddenly flung open big oven nearby. I was like a lone traveller staggering along in a hot desert, eager to reach an oasis or a shelter.
I had just finished two weeks of teaching the intensive course in the summer school, for the fifth time. Once again, I managed to cover 13 weeks of one semester’s work in ten 3-hour mornings of seminars and workshops. Relieved. Exhausted. Cranky. Feeling even more difficult to cope with the nagging pain along my spine and lower back.
I would never have imagined that this would be my last summer school teaching — in fact, my last teaching day! And my last walk along this long, exposed, above-ground walkway from the classroom to my office, with one hand holding an opened, heat-reflective umbrella against the hot sun and another hand dragging a heavy trolley full of teaching materials, handouts, a recorder, and a big bottle of precious drinking water.
About a month later, when the new academic year started, I didn’t go into the classroom. I was going on a one-month medical leave. I handed over my usual teaching to another lecturer. On Friday, February 20, 2004, late afternoon, I switched off the computer, tidied up the desk and locked up my office. I expected myself to resume my duties after the medical leave. I then walked out of the building to the car park. My last walk at work. Never would I have imagined this would be the last time I drove my car off campus. The end of my sadly missed academic life.
On Tuesday, February 24, the day before the biopsy operation, accompanied by my sister (KC) from overseas and my friend (M) from Sydney, I dragged myself to the supermarket and did our grocery shopping for the week. We bought plenty of fresh vegetables (broccoli, beans, zucchini, eggplant) for cooking and for salad (lettuce, tomato, cucumber, capsicum, fennel, celery, carrot, rocket, basil), fresh fruits, brown rice, breads, seeds and nuts, cereals, butter, jam, eggs, fresh pasta and sauce, yoghurt and ice cream, snacks, etc. The last time I ever walked upright in a supermarket.
On Wednesday, February 25, morning, just like going to work every morning, I walked out of my bedroom, through the dinning room, kitchen, sitting room, and up to the front doors and locked them up. I walked out of the house into the garage and locked up the garage doors and set the house alarm. I then got into the car, but I didn’t drive down the steep driveway to go to work. I got myself driven down the steep driveway to the hospital for the biopsy operation. Those were my last upright walks at home and from home.
On this very sunny, hot summer day, with apprehension, I walked into a private hospital, accompanied by my sister (KC) and two friends (M and Sh), for a ‘simple biopsy operation’.
The operation was scheduled at 1.30 p.m. I was warded in the morning in a room with other patients waiting to go into the theatre too. We were partitioned by curtains penetrated by whispering and quiet speaking — calming fears and giving blessings? While lying on my back, waiting, I did my usual morning exercises in bed: I raised my knees up, grabbed them with my hands, and pressed them towards my chest. I raised my legs up to a 90-degree position to my body and then grabbed my feet with my hands and stretched them down to the left and the right. I sat up, bent forward, and touched my toes with my hands. I bent my body down until my head rested on my legs. Then, I bent my legs inwards, so that the soles of my feet could touch each other; then I grabbed them with my hands and pressed my knees down repeatedly. This would be the last time I could do all these exercises without assistance.
I was then given a bar of special soap to have a good scrub of my body under the shower. That was my last standing shower.
After the shower, donned with a one-size-fits-all, over-sized hospital outfit, I walked back to the bed to wait for my turn. That was my very last upright walk on this planet, 14 years and 8 months ago!
Standing and Walking In my Dreams
In my dreams in the first few years,
I still saw myself
standing ‘tall and slim’,
walking ‘like a swimmer or dancer’;
doing things I did every day;
doing things I had never done before —
in familiar places, in strange new places,
in bright places, in dark and unfamiliar places.
In my dreams in recent years,
I often see myself in my wheelchair,
doing similar things differently, slowly, cautiously —
sometimes perfectly, sometimes clumsily, messily;
having the additional freedom of
doing things I had never done before;
doing things I had always wanted to do —
all successfully, happily!
NEXT POST : CHRONIC NEUROPATHIC PAIN (1), NOV 15, 2018
Zahara de los Atunes, Provincia de Cádiz, Andalucía, España.
Photo by M Peinado, Spain. CCA 2.0 Generic License, via –
A Desert Wanderer in the Winnemucca dunes, by John Fowler from Plascitas, NM, USA, 2017. This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.
A Woman Walking, by Daniel Case, 2016. This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license. at https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Woman_walking_in_exercise_clothing_on_Como_lakefront.jpg
A Woman Cooking at Home. Cuinar_a_casa_3.jpg. 2015. Sourced from: https://www.flickr.com/photos/128390842@N06/16322582654/
This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license. at https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Cuinar_a_casa_3.jpg
Australian wheelchair basketballer Liesl Tesch looks stoked during 2000 Sydney Paralympic Games match, by Sport the Library, sourced from Australian Paralympic Committee/Australian Sports Commission, 2000. This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license. at https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:141100_-_Wheelchair_basketball_Liesl_Tesch_stoked_3_-_3b_-_2000_Sydney_match_photo.jpg
A Wheelchair Dance. Ukrainian dance duo Vladimir and Snezhana Kernichnye. World champions 2013. On sports dances on wheelchairs. Masters of Sports of International class. Rec invasport, Donetsk, Ukraine. By Ar4en, 2014. This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license. at https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Kernichnye.jpg
Skating in cardinal during the 2006/07 season. By Jeremy vandervalk at English Wikipedia, Transferred from to Commons by Magog the Ogre using CommonsHelper. This work has been released into the public domain by its author, Jeremy vandervalk at English Wikipedia. This applies worldwide. At https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Skating_2.jpg
Baile flamenco en el museo de Baile Flamenco de Sevilla. (Flamenco dance at the Flamenco Dance Museum in Seville.) by Schnobby, 2014, Sourced from File:Flamenco in Sevilla 03.jpg, This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license. at https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Flamenca_001.jpg