I am spending the last bit of my children’s summer vacation in London. Who does not love the English summer? I like to spend my days in London walking around aimlessly, stumbling in and out of cafes, restaurants, bars, galleries and shops.
In preparation of my profoundly purposeless existence in London, I engage the services of a local masseuse in India a day before my departure. A day later, I am walking around Mumbai, running last minute errands with a dull but absolutely bearable pain in my left leg. I diligently see a physician, hours before my departure, just to be safe, in case the pain gets worse in foreign land. The doctor prescribes some muscle relaxants and advises I avoid walking around London and if at all I must, it should be done in running shoes. I tell her running shoes will make me look like an American tourist and that London will disown me.
Next day on the plane, I pass out. This undisturbed sleep has been long overdue. The children too are busy with the in flight programming and it does not occur to them to disturb me, surprisingly. When I arrive at Heathrow, I am unable to stand. There is stabbing pain in my leg each time I try to stand. The flight attendant suggests I take a wheelchair. Left with no choice, I drag my body into the unfamiliar contraption and am wheeled out of the airport.
I tell the concerned driver of the cab that has been hired to receive me to take me to a pharmacy right away. Sucha Singh aka Paul, our cab driver, takes me to a pharmacy owned by a holistic medical practitioner. He then bargains with the doctor there, by telling him that I am his cousin and that he ought to give me a good deal on a physiotherapy session followed by acupuncture. The doctor is confident he can put me out of my misery and minutes later, I am lying on the treatment bed with tiny needles stuck all over me. As the doctor busies himself with the task of releasing my sciatic nerve, he tells me Colin Firth is a regular at his clinic and so are some other famous English blokes I have never heard of. The doctor seems like a sincere man and I can tell that he is not lying. I like Colin Firth. The mention of his name takes my mind off my pain for a few seconds. I am pleased about the two degrees of separation between Colin Firth and myself but as far as English men go, Hugh Grant is more my type. I ask the doctor if he knows where Grant goes for acupuncture. He tells me he has no idea and wants to know if I am feeling any better. I tell him I am. He tells me I should take it easy and avoid walking too much if I want to recover fully.
I have never understood what doctors mean when they say one must avoid doing something “too much” for “too much” is not easy to quantify and it is subjective. I arrive at my serviced apartment at Seymour Street and spend a few minutes stretching myself. It is a beautiful day outside and even though the sharp pain in my leg is back, I decide to step out for a meal along with the girls. I am barely two blocks away from the apartment when I begin to howl with pain and now even passers by are looking at me and asking me if I need help. I somehow manage to return to the apartment along with the children who are feeling very helpless around me. The husband is in Mumbai and I am lying in bed crying and my children are staring at each other and sometimes at me, not knowing how to make me feel better.
I ring my sister and tell her about my situation. Before I know it, everyone in London that I know even remotely is calling me up and offering to take care of me. I spend two days crying in bed, for the pain is excruciating. Colin Firth’s doctor, and now mine too, I hasten to add, politely tells me I should not have walked so much given my state, and prescribes strict bed rest. Even bed rest is difficult, under these circumstances as my leg is hurting like somebody has put a few bullets through it.
As I lie in bed, waiting for the pain the recede I hear the sound of women hurriedly walking past my window in their stilettos. I imagine them rushing to bars and restaurants for romantic interludes or drinks with their girlfriends. I wouldn’t mind either right now. There are some chic restaurants and cafes in the neighbourhood and over the weekend I feel miserable at the sound of party revellers boogeying down the streets, much after midnight. Their drunken joy heightens my sense of solitude and physical discomfort. I have never been big on self-pity but I am making up for it right now. I am wallowing in it like a dog in a puddle of water on a hot summer’s day.
My mother is on the phone with me whenever I am not passing out with the painkillers and tells me to be patient and that London can wait. The truth is, London is not waiting.
My friends who have taken charge of my life buy me crutches and then show me around to another doctor. The doctor inspects my leg and asks me to do an echo test right away. I am sitting with my friends at King Edward hospital London waiting to do the Echo test. The hospital looks like a set from Downton Abbey. There are no patients in sight thereby confirming the fact that I am the only ill person in London presently.
600 pounds later I find out that I have no deep vein thrombosis and that my pain goes by the name of tendonitis coupled with sciatica. The British Pound is trading at Rs. 93 to a Pound and after seeing my bill I quite naturally develop deep vein thrombosis of the heart but I refuse to spend more money to confirm it.
I need to practice walking with the crutches and so I walk to Selfridges, few blocks away from where we are staying. Along the way, I indulge in a bit of shopping for myself to cheer up my girls who have also been trapped inside with me since a few days. My leg is better but my arms are hurting from balancing my weight on the crutches. I have bruises on my sides too from holding the crutches in such a way that my sides are pressing against them. Now I sore, not only in my legs but also in my shoulders and triceps. The irony of this situation is not lost on me.
My doctor here has referred me to a specialist to get a leg brace. The specialist, who is of Gujarati origin and had goes by the name of Dr Jig (short of Jignesh) does not let me talk and is irritable for the most part. He tells me I will need an MRI scan. I tell him that I am doing better since the GP who sent me to him saw me two days ago and that I have only come to see him to get a leg brace to keep my knee and calf in place. He gets a male nurse to put the brace on, charges a hefty consultation and then sends me to a lab across the road from his clinic for an MRI that I feel I do not need. They ask me to pay them 900 GBP before going in for the MRI and I beat a hasty retreat at the sound of it. I can get myself a new leg for 900 GBP, I realize and I limp out of the MRI centre.
My friends hire a wheelchair for me to time with my husband’s arrival into London. Pushing an invalid spouse around on a wheelchair is part of the deal of marriage and the husband is doing his best to keep his bit of the bargain. When I doll up for our evenings out and the husband pushes my wheelchair along the way, I can see people look at him with admiration and at me with sadness. They think I am too young to be a cripple. He tells me people must think he has married me for money. A really obese person, who is jogging past us one afternoon, catches me looking at him surreptitiously from my wheelchair. I am only trying to gauge if it is a man or a woman and feel I have been caught red handed. He looks into my eyes and smiles at me warmly. I am taken aback and then it occurs to me that I am in a wheelchair and that he probably felt sorry for me too.
London is having too many sunny afternoons suddenly and Hyde Park is throbbing with life. There are people sunbathing, children paddling away in the tiny boats, cycling, skating and Londoners picnicking all over the park. I have decided to let go of the wheelchair even though I still feel residual pain in my leg. We are having a family picnic and I long to be able to run or skate or cycle around the park but I cannot. I wistfully look at everybody walking around with healthy tendons, living their lives to the fullest. I see the beautiful African boy skateboarding while doing back flips. His calves are toned and his tendons look just fine. I notice girls in hot pants walking around in wedges. You know how it is when people can’t get pregnant, they only notice how the whole world, except them, has children? I am like those people right now. Except that I am not hoping to bear more children, I am just hoping my legs can bear my own weight.
I am seeing London from the eyes of a handicapped person, I realize that as a species, us humans are truly ungrateful for all that we have. We take all our blessings for granted. I know that in a few days I will be walking around just like everybody else and my situation is only temporary. I wonder about those who are on a wheelchair permanently and how they make their peace with being unable to do so many things that normal people take for granted.
A week later, I am doing much better and am not sure I need the wheelchair but am scared to let it go. I go along the sidewalks of London on my wheelchair but when I see pretty clothes in a shop I get out of it to try them on. The sales staff looks at me in wonder. My children are constantly laughing at me. My older one says she would rather stay indoors rather than be seen going to shops and cafes in a wheelchair. They say it looks rather strange that I get wheeled into stores and then I am suddenly fit enough to walk around and shop.
This morning, I returned the wheelchair. I am on my feet once again and am holding myself back from doing an Eliza Doolittle type gig on the streets of London. I am also offering gratitude to the universe for its largesse in bestowing me with healthy visceral, cardiac and skeletal muscles, 206 lovely bones, my kidneys, liver, spleen…and all other internal organs for I am done taking this body for granted.