While sitting at the hairdressers this morning it suddenly hit me that the last time I sat here was when I was en route to Canada from the far north of Scotland.
It was late May. I had a day in Edinburgh, in-between the two legs of travel, to run errands and get my hair trimmed before making my way across the ocean to Toronto. It had been a busy week leading up to then, so I remember thinking it was nice to have this day to get my bearings a bit before going over.
Now rolling back further, I guess I first really noticed the swelling and soreness in my left arm upon waking Saturday morning, 12 May, before leading a painting workshop in Freswick Castle. It alarmed me, but before the hour was over I had convinced myself it was a pulled muscle, having started some new exercises the weeks before, and I carried on with the workshop. Even though the pain continued, it seemed to lessen, and in the busyness of the following weeks, whilst getting ready for my artist residency in Toronto, it became less of a priority in my mind.
On my arrival into Edinburgh on the 22nd, I spoke to the friends I was staying with and we decided that it might be a good idea to get an appointment with the doctor the next day if I could.
The receptionist managed to fit me in at very short notice, a near miracle in itself! So with bags in tow, and hair just cut, I made my way to my GP. After some initial blood pressure checks, the doctor said she was uncomfortable with the ‘colour’ in my arm, and while it could be a pulled muscle, she wanted to see if I could get an appointment at the hospital that same day. It was late afternoon by then. Western General had a ‘window’ free to see me so I ended up jumping on the bus and going straight to the acute receiving unit. After some initial checks, the senior nurse said that in all good conscience he could not let me fly the next day without an ultrasound and it was too late to arrange one that day, as the technician was going home. (‘Man’, I remember thinking ‘ Why did I come in?’)
On saying that, the technician agreed to stay on to do an ultrasound that evening, knowing I was scheduled to fly long-haul the next morning. That called for a big thank you note, the nurse said.
I was brought into the scanning room, and watched the screen with the student nurse who was there and the technician who was moving the scanner all around my arm and shoulder. He went back to one area on my arm, which showed up white and fuzzy on the screen, and the student nurse said ‘Ah. That’s it…’. And I’m thinking ‘what? what?’
When I walked out of the room with the student nurse, she said ‘I’m afraid you’re not flying tomorrow.’
It was a blood clot.
I think we were all surprised. The student nurse said that was one of her more dramatic evenings at the hospital....
From that point, I was jabbed with heparin, x-rayed, given 10mg of warfarin, etc. and labelled an ‘outpatient'. And me, the person who cannot even watch someone getting a needle jab on the telly!, was now getting blood tests for every which thing. They told me to come in the next morning for a new blood check, followed by another visit later in the day for a jab of thinner in the tummy. That continued for the next couple of weeks. I was ‘marooned’ in Edinburgh without a plan - only to get this under control. Emergencies do that. Suddenly your vision is funnelled and it hones in on the pure essentials.
I had such mixed feelings that night and the next day - feelings of disappointment in not being able to go to Canada to see my family and do this residency in Toronto, but another feeling of almost elation - a strong sense of being looked after, and of sheer gratefulness. This could have turned out rather differently had I got on that plane!
What occurred to me then was not regret about past, or concern of future, but just the pure simplicity and joy of presence and what was in front of me now - birdsong, lavender bushes, fresh air, springtime, people that cared….There was such an acute sense of all of it, in it’s purest form, being a bonus, a gift.
A few grey hairs later, I mentioned to my hairdresser what had happened after the last time she cut my hair. I marvel at the time that has passed since then.
Yesterday I went to the beautiful candlelight service at St. Mary’s Cathedral. At this start of the season of Advent, and on this clear day, I’m reminded of the presence of Light - what it is to be and remain in it. And what it is to have all these gifts in front of us, not least to see the morning star when we wake.
The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.
Happy Advent Everyone!