Today was overall a win. I went out to the charity shops, which I now plan to do once a week as a leg-stretch and an attempt to do some weight-bearing exercise.
An armful of purchases:
– One big lump of hammer-broken red-brown-orange-purple cullet glass, that’s about the shape and size of a lung, which reminds me of a similar lump of glass which my great-aunt used to keep for luck at the bingo. Hers was green, and we have no idea where it is now, other than that I hope it’s still in the family. I’ll photograph the one that I have, and ask my Mam if she remembers it.
– One silver candlestick, to add to the slightly Victorian feel of my living room and also because candlelight is incredibly relaxing when in pain.
-One crystal ship’s decanter, to add to the collection (or I may yet give it away as a present).
– One massive industrial weaving shuttle, for keeping my medication in – Sadly I couldn’t afford to buy the second one, which had artificial flowers glued into it and was a proper bit of Yorkshire folk art.
– One cheap denim jacket, on which to sew my NABD patches and assorted others.
– One turned brass goblet, which looks like it fits into the category of “Things that someone made whilst working in manufacturing, when they should have been making something else” which is my favourite category of things (Probably because much of my grandparents’ house when I was little was furnished with woodwork and metalwork that my grandfather and great-grandfather had made when they worked in the shipyards)
– One walking stick, with ice crampon.
All for less than about £15 total, and all of which will get good use.
But there was also a disaster – There is always a disaster.
At the hospice shop, just as I was about to leave – And after a lovely twenty-minute conversation about Northern glassworking and history and stuff – one of the staff cornered me.
“Have you had an operation?”
I wasn’t immediately uncomfortable about the question, but her body-language bothered me. She’d cornered me into the shop, between two aisles, so I couldn’t get out or away, or even turn aside.
“Ha,” I said “No, just unlucky.”
99.8 percent of the time, people understand that this means that I don’t want to talk about it.
“Oh, so are you weak then?”
I didn’t answer, I just sort of shrugged noncomittally and tried to step backwards. She stepped forwards, and asked again, a bit louder;
“Are you weak? Is it weakness? Or is it pain? Or do you get tired like?”
I realise now that I should have just said “I don’t want to talk about it”, but it’s very hard to say that when you’re trying to stay polite, and when your mental conversational options are either “The truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth” or “Fuck you and the goat you rode in on”.
“Dislocations.” I replied, then as her arm came out to pat me on the back, I added “I’m really fragile, I basically can’t be touched.”
So she took this as an invitation to hug me around the shoulders, as tightly as she could.
Both shoulders, one of which was already pretty stressed from holding me upright on the stick, and the other which was already under stress from having a heavy bag dangled off it, concertinaed inwards.
I let out a little scream, and crumpled towards the floor. She tried to pull me up by the arm, as I protested “No, no, please let go of me, I just need to get down to the floor. I’m a bit faint. I’ve got two dislocated shoulders.”
After a long few seconds, I was kneeling on the floor, clutching my useless arms and trying to remember how to inhale, and she was standing over me and apologising profusely.
“You’ve gone all red. I’m really sorry!”
And she really was really, really sorry. She obviously cared, and was worried that she’d hurt me, and was having to come to terms quite fast with the fact that she’d crippled someone who was barely upright in the first place.
I shrugged out of my leather jacket, and started popping my shoulders back into their processes. – Both clavicles were out of place, both glehohumerals were out of place. Nothing too complicated, just painful and taking a while to reset.
“Would you like a cup of tea? Or a hot chocolate? Or water?”
I wanted out, as fast as fucking possible, but I still had things to pay for and still had to get back in one piece.
“A glass of water, actually, that’d be good” I said, to get myself some space.
She went off to get one, and I continued re-setting my shoulders. The other assistant came over, bringing a stool for me to perch on, and said;
“Oh you know, we’re really sorry, she’ll not sleep tonight I bet. She didn’t mean any harm. I mean. She couldn’t have known. Can I help at all?”
I thought for a second, mulling over how she definitely could have known, if she’d listened for a second, and pragmatism overcame pride;
“Can you put a hand on the flat of my back here, and push as hard as you can?”
“Ooh, not too hard…” she said, obviously still knowing my condition better than I do, and gave a feeble press onto my scapula. I pushed back, raised my arm, and cracked my shoulder into place. She flinched a bit, then said “I’ve seen people faint with pain from a dislocation before. You must be very brave.”
I shrugged. I wanted to give my speech about how it’s not brave – How every time you say “You’re so brave!” to someone just for living with a disability, you’re basically saying “How aren’t you in an institution?” or “How aren’t you dead?” She started patting me on the shoulder. Repeated taps with a little circley-rub in the middle, basically the worst possible thing to do to a freshly-dislocated shoulder.
“Please, don’t. Be careful.” I said. She stood up and backed away;
“Ooooh, sorry. You know, it’s just instinct. Hard to not.”
Reallyy? Really person-who-met-me-two-seconds-ago, it’s hard for you to not keep bloody touching me?
The first assistant, the one that had started the whole debacle, came back, just as I said;
“Even my closest friends can’t just touch me without warning. We shake hands, carefully.”
Honestly, I didn’t think that it would have ever been something that I’d need to explain to strangers. I and my friends tend to hug in an extremely gentle, basically-rest-your-head-on-the-other’s-chest-or-shoulder-and-put-a-hand-on-their-waist kind of way, which is both tremendously rare (Why hug someone when it’s probably going to hurt?) and tremendously intimate (Again, if it’s that rare, of course it has emotional value).
She sat down opposite me, as the second assistant went back to the till, and said;
“So, have you been like this since you were a baby, then? It must be very hard.”
“It’s not as bad as it sounds.”
“But have you always been like this? Since you were a baby?”
I think that the worst part is when people just repeat questions, when you don’t want to answer them. Where there is no reason for them to ask the question, and no reason for them to need to know the answer. Suddenly I wasn’t the interesting person that knew all about the local mills and the Sunderland glassmaking tradition, I was The Cripple. And people talk to The Cripple about Disability.
“It got worse when I was about twenty. But I’m doing fine. Cracking on.”
“So, can they do anything for you?”
That is the question that I wish could be stricken from the vocabulary of anyone. Sorry, you must reach at least Level Fifteen Friendship before you can force me to confront my prognosis of increasing pain and decreasing function until the bottom of the morphine bottle looks like a lovely destination for a really long one-way trip. Do not just casually ask a disabled person “if anything can be done”. The answer might well be “Well, surgery next year, and then I’ll be abled again,”, or it might be “Lots of medication and physio and hard work”, or “Actually I’m dying”.
Think about that one.
I answered, anyway;
She looked sympathetic.
“It must be terrible.”
“It’s fine.” I insisted.
She patted me on the shoulder, giving it a good hard shake that re-dislocated it, and I doubled over in pain again. She started apologising, again. This time, evidently, it was at least a little bit amusing – After all, this ridiculous, completely unpredictable thing had happened twice now.
I popped the shoulder back into place, and took an enormous swig of morphine. First assistant tried to catch what was on the label.
“Well,” I insisted, standing up, “I’ve got to be off.”
She helped me into my jacket, and I let her, since that would probably give her some sense of absolution, and she held out a hand for me to very carefully shake.
I went on my way. Feeling like shit and in a lot of pain, and wondering why I was more worried that I’d traumatised two shop assistants than about the persistent, twitchy pain in my shoulders.
In better news – I got out on the bike yesterday, for the first time since the last time I went to the garage, and it was… To go to the garage and buy a mudguard. On the other hand, I now HAVE the mudguard, so I can hopefully ride up to the whittling workshop in the woods tomorrow (Delicious alliteration there). And the day before yesterday, Dearest joined the motorcycling fraternity, with his like being delivered next Wednesday. And he’s joined the NABD too. And our year bars for 2016 have arrived. It’s all very exciting. Might be going to my first rally in May as well, if I feel up to camping…