I knew I had done something bad to my left knee as it has been hurting for a couple of months, feels all twisted up inside. But despite the fact that in the last week I have started walking like Quasimodo, I did not expect to be told, this morning at a Japanese orthopedic clinic, that I had torn my meniscus, that they can treat it, but that it will never fully repair unless I have an operation with a five day stay in the hospital, with two bonus months of recuperation time at home afterwards.
This is not part of my plan for this year! This is not what I wanted to be told on a cold February Monday morning. That I can’t walk down or up my beloved hill, past the trees and zen temples to the station: that I will have to get the bus everywhere, that I will turn into a chair-bound, miserable fat f*** who is unable to do any exercise, yet still supposed to teach my demanding students and work in the pressure cooker of repression that is the Japanese school without the depressurizing outlet of my night walk home, through trees, stars, night air; that I will be instead stuck, forever, on the slow, po-faced bus staring forward like a drone. Just kill me now.
Of course I realize that it is not that serious, when there are so many terrible things in this life that can befall us. It’s ‘just’ a knee operation, which I will have to schedule for the summer I reckon if I don’t want to lose my job ( a contract worker can’t just take two months off like that here in ol’ Japan). In the meantime it will have to be all steroid injections, anti-inflammatories and knee braces, undignified hobbling and all-round grumpiness, but coming home, feeling very very sorry for myself on the aforementioned bus, I started thinking about the thought of spending five days in a Japanese hospital (ugh, the food! all fishheads simmered in konbu broths and swollen floating daikons), how it would be at the height of the sweltering August heat, how I would not be able to sleep, or move, and then I thought: oh my god, no showering or bathing: I will S T I N K.
And that is almost the worst part for me; more scary even than the terrible pain of having one’s ligaments severed: the thought, hateful, of being anaesthetized, naked, vulnerable, beneath my hospital ‘gown’ and within the control of strangers who can prod me, look at me, smell me. Hideous! I can’t bear it, can’t bear even the thought of it ; I need at the very least to have some control of the scent my cadaver is giving off as they cut me up; regions of my corpse are most certainly going to be scented with something strong, something lingering that nevertheless smells nice to induce compassion. Any suggestions? What is the way to go? A nice rose oudh? A gentle patchouli? Vetiver? (ooh, vetiver, yes……) Essential oil of vetiver smeared on thigh and calf; I will smell like a royal man being embalmed in the forest; dignified, woody, the dry, healing elegance of Indian grass…..
As for the rest of the time, stuck in a bed (the idea of the bedpan and its embarrassments makes me honestly want to kill myself), I can’t imagine how I will possibly cope. Does one really have to perform one’s most shameful bodily functions in front of an entire ward? To shit for the crowd? I think the humiliation will be seriously too much for me to bear: you can’t even begin to imagine how many essential oils I will be taking with me to that place…..each ‘session’ accompanied with an entire 11ml vial of bergamot and grapefruit….
In fact, this I have actually done once before. You can bet I most certainly did take essential oils the last time I was hospitalized (something I do not make a habit of, in case you were wondering): twelve years ago, in England, for a nasty bout of pneumonia I managed to catch on one of my many transglobal flights from Tokyo to London. At that time, also, I remember, stuck in a hospital for eight days, how important smell and being clean and nice-smelling was to me. I have never felt so ill in my life, and was in fact alone, prior to being hospitalized, housesitting for a friend of a friend in an unbelievably posh house just off Hampstead Heath. Duncan had gone up to Norwich to prepare for his brother’s wedding, and I was to be joining him. Instead, I was curled up in the foetal position in the attic room at the top, unable to move or eat even one bite, totally isolated, semi-conscious… It was only when I managed, eventually, to slowly drag myself like a zombie to a nearby clinic, that I was given the news by the sweet and understanding doctor that I in fact had very serious pneumonia.
I remember tearily calling Duncan, excusing myself from the wedding, packing my bag, and walking, resignedly, down the road to the Royal Free, where I checked myself in and waited to be seen by the doctors. It was so strange. In fact, I was so feverish that the nurses couldn’t believe I had walked there (“get this man cooled down RIGHT NOW – he is forty two degrees!!!!!! Strip him off! Get him on a stretcher!!!!), but my sister, bless her, managed to get there very quickly and was in bemused hysterics as I flung lemon and lime essential oils all about me insisting that the room had to smell nice for the doctors, even as people who had been hit by cars or were in various other truly dire circumstances (“I have gone blind“) wailed and moaned in the thinly curtained off spaces next to us. No, I was more worried about my scent than the fact that my brain was about to be fried like an egg if my temperature didn’t start to go down quickly (and I am a person who never gets fevers).
My delirum continued as I kept asking for more blankets to ward off the shivers (“You are honestly the messiest patient I have ever met!!!” one Australian nurse told me as she picked up the maelstrom of bedding that surrounded my hospital bed the following morning), and I felt so miserable and gross: all greasy-haired, slimy and foul-smelling, like a barnacle clinging to filthy, hallucinogenic rock, desperate, desperate to be clean and bathed.
Duncan had of course rushed back down to London, even though he had only just arrived in Norwich, and early the next morning he arrived with me pleading for toiletries, I couldn’t stand it, I was dying etc. And never have I been so tear-filled with relief to see a comb, some soap, and a new perfume. The angel had come back with some delighftul lemon soap and L’Occitane’s Vetvyer, a bracing, masculine and scent that was so perfectly chosen on his part that I thank him to this day. Although I was banned from bathing – I remember eyeing the hospital bathtub with yearning and lust everytime I staggered past it – I remember, after a scrub, a few spritzes of that refreshing perfume and a rinse and comb of my grotesque strands, I felt a hundred times better and alive again, an effect more revivifying than any über-strengthed lung searing antibiotics could ever have hoped to achieve.
This time though ( can I be really writing about this? Should I not be processing it all before immediately splurging to the world? What is wrong with me? ) I suppose I will be much more immobile. Well I will be, of course, because my knee will have been cut up (god, I don’t think I can stand it, actually……I feel quite panicked writing this: I have always been queasy about knee-caps, the way they float in liquid, lonely above your knee, they have always felt so vulnerable….Jesus, HELP!!!! Have any of you had a similar experience or know someone who has? Will I ever dance again? Is it going to be utterly excruciating?)
I expect so. Although Duncan says I am usually fairly brave in that regard. No, facetious though it may sound, it is the psychological agonies that worry me more than the operation. I remember, that last time in London, pleading with the docs for sleeping pills as I just couldn’t sleep with all the old men coughing and spluttering, all the nurses and staff coming and going all through the night ( I will leave an address at the bottom where you can all start sending me all your discarded psychotropes and mind-altering drugs for my stay, any unneeded valium, xanax, or tamazepan, just to keep me nice and calm.) Although usually a mug of rooibos tea and some sweet marjoram on my pilow is enough to send me to sleep when agitated, at that dreadful time, I was so grateful for the ‘little helpers’, weird though they were (where usually I have incredibly bountiful, strange, shocking, beautiful dreams) on this case it all felt like a razor cut film edit by Thelma Schoonmaker: one minute I was being tucked in by the nurse, the next it was suddenly the bright and breezy person shouting out ‘BREAKFAST!!!’ I felt as though my dreams had been stolen, my brain excised). But at least I did sleep. One’s worries in these situations really must be assuaged. And aside the vile reality of my gagging on fish guts or soy-cooked, straggling beef fat and fermented soy beans, the issue of smell really really does matter to me. Essential oils are most definitely vital, also for the fact that they ward off the diseases that hospitals these days are inundated with (you won’t be able to get near me for eucalyptus and rosemary). Also, do I shave my hair off to lessen its grossness and to go the full ill-patient hog? (hair must be washed every day in my book?) More importantly, what do I drench my hospital ‘garments’ in?
And how about the ‘big day’ itself? I have just thought. What do you think about Kenzo Pour Homme? Should I go all fresh and ozonic? I have the deodorant stick and the vintage eau de toilette: fresh, edgy, patchouli sea waterish…..might work in the dire conditions of unconsciousness and butchering, and always good in summertime. Or do I go for something that I like more, one closer to my heart for comfort? Maybe not actually. Imagine five days stewing in Bal A Versailles or the lower echelons of Shalimar. I think the surgeons, faced with such a funky, reeking monstrosity, might just instead in that situation, put me out of my misery. Death by perfume. Execution style.