A September memory (something I wrote, but forgot to post)

It was a slow gentle start to the day, I woke to find Leo (my scruffy dog), curled up under my chin, his chest gently rising and falling with each breath, and his heart beating steadily in the palm of my hand that held him. The weight pressing against the back of my legs, I knew was my beautiful, big dog Platonas, who customarily curls neatly behind my knees; well as neatly as a 30 Kg , majestic, athletic dog can be! I must have stirred slightly, belying my wakefulness, as I soon heard Poppy’s tail thumping hard, as she wagged it enthusiastically from her bed on the floor next to me. Poppy is a Diva, and sometimes prefers her own space to sleep in, unlike the boys who prefer to remain in contact with me, even if it’s just a paw touching my leg on hot summer nights.

This morning however, there was a freshness in the air, on a sweet September day as summer starts to fade, signaling the approach of autumn. As Leo sighed and snuggled a bit closer, Poppy took her cue and jumped over both of us, then wriggled herself between my shoulder blades, her head reaching towards Platonas, her tail thrashing happily on the pillow next to me. This is how my mornings greet me, with love, warmth, happiness, affection and enthusiasm; it’s hard not to feel full to the brim with gratitude, even when it’s frequently way earlier than I would choose it to be!

The boys would probably let me lie in, content to cuddle in peaceful slumber, but not so Poppy! She’s too much of a minx, whom, after a minute of snuggles, fidgets and grumbles before leaping off the bed to position herself on the floor with her face close to mine, where she proceeds to tell me (in something not quite a growl, softer than a bark, but quite insistently), that it’s time to get up and embrace the day that is waiting.

I usually buy myself a little extra snuggle time, by drawing the blinds, and returning under the duvet to let the dogs climb all over me, before settling down when the treat jar appears, for some impulse control training (placing treats on their paws, waiting for eye contact from all three together, before giving permission to eat them).

Today the weather was cool and grey, but my view across the hills of rolling countryside is still inspiring, so it wasn’t long before I grabbed a warm sweater and a thick pair of socks, before chasing the dogs downstairs, and out in to the garden. The dew lay thick on the grass, and a dampness in the air prompted donning my winter jacket as I waited in the doorway, one eye on the dogs, one ear listening for the coffee in the mocha pot to gurgle in readiness.

I have a wooden table and bench tucked around the corner of the house, facing the sunrise in an eastward direction, where I am hidden from view in my interesting ensemble of pyjamas, hiking boots, and quilted jacket; my hot coffee cradled in my hands, and the dogs waiting, not terribly patiently, for breakfast. They tear round the garden, dig a little around the flower beds, and eventually ‘sniff n scoff’ the kibble I spread over the lawn, it’s one giant, natural snuffle mat to increase the duration of the meal and prevent indigestion. A gentle breeze sent a cascade of leaves down from the apple tree; the boughs are bowed, laden with fruit. The crispy brown leaves litter the lawn, amongst the fallen fruit, and there’s a faint damp smell of autumn in the air.

After breakfast, then some tidying up and un-packing, (one seems to negate the other, but its all still going in the right direction, albeit slowly), I did some laundry and changed the bed. My white fluffy cloud of a bed, with its feather topper and plethora of pillows (8 plus 2 cushions – yes I’m a princess!), doesn’t stay white for long, now that I share it with the dogs. I’d just finished smoothing the duvet cover when Platonas came looking for me, so I lay on the bed and waited for him to come up for a cuddle, he’s been ever so affectionate recently, probably because of the recent move to our new home, but I think because he’s happy. It wasn’t long before both Leo and Poppy sought us out, and jumped on the bed with us, playfully nuzzling and mouthing, until I was covered in a squirming pile of dogs that suddenly flopped exhausted and panting, and I realised as we lay there how happy I am, that this furry family found me. Then I thought about how lucky I am that they all adore each other, and how blessed we are with our new home (a 16th century thatched cottage), and how much the dogs enjoy our sizeable garden, how friendly the village is, and how very grateful I am for all of it.. then it hit me, how much I wished my Dad was still alive to witness all of this happiness, and the tears fell down my face, pressed into the furry necks conveniently placed in close proximity.

Grief is a strange creature, I have been acquainted with this particular emotion for almost a year since my dad’s passing. I no longer cry every day, perhaps not even usually once a week. When the waves come they no longer drown me, just knock me over, so that I stumble in my tears for only a few moments, before finding my balance, (and hopefully a tissue), take a deep breath and glance to the heavens to tell Dad how much I love and miss him. Probably because it’s a year since we knew he was ill, when a much smaller version of the Dad I was familiar with, sat in his hospital bed; that I am feeling the waves of grief more frequently (at least 3 times this week). But I also think that I miss him more because I am so happy with my life, and want to share it with him, much more so than when I’m sad or struggling. There is a bitter sweetness, finding the grief is more potent in times of happiness, but there is also a strange comfort in the emotions that refuse to submit to a world without him. So the tears are welcome, my Dad isn’t here to see how happy I am, but he is still infused in my life, especially the best bits!

Photo & words by me, Hayley Darby © 2017

The writing in between..

country morning

I used to write in the mornings, after waking slowly, languishing in my hypnopompic state, and savouring my emergence into wakefulness. I liked to recount my thoughts and realisations over a latte, reclining on the awesome white sofa, before they got lost in the misty memories of my mind. My days started with the exploration of self-reflective studies, before dashing off to work, where I found time to ponder and write in the moments between. The moments between A and B whilst travelling, often on tube trains that shuttled swiftly underground, from one side of London to the other. The moments between patients, a temporary escape from writing up notes and checking emails. The moments between the things I should be doing, a break in responsibilities and ticking off the endless lists of chores to be done. Now those gaps in my day don’t seem to present themselves, not because I’m busier, but by contrast, because those gaps in between have stretched to accommodate long walks, informal studies, designing, and being blissfully happy.

Now I wake in the mornings with my three dogs pressed into my body, waiting for signs of consciousness to present me with wet noses for kissing, and soft bellies for tickling. Platon usually stretches his full length (he’s not a small dog), whilst Leo jumps up to stand and peer into my face, and Poppy leaps off the bed to sit bolt upright beside me and chatter away (not barking, but that gentle noise dogs make, as if they are trying to verbally communicate). After I’ve paid them all sufficient attention, and acknowledged and returned their affection, I get up to raise the blinds, and creep back into bed to admire the view of rolling countryside, that stretches greenly across the valley, to the church tower a top the distant hill of the horizon. The dogs tend to take turns on the window seat, pushing their noses up again the glass, before settling back on the bed for our morning ritual of treats and cuddles. They are less enamoured by the view than the idea of chasing round the garden to determine its nocturnal visitors, so I buy myself a few moments of snuggles as my mind and body wake up, with some biscuits kept by the bed for this purpose. Then I grab a thick, shawl cardigan, and shove my toes into substantial slippers, as the dogs bound down the stairs ahead of me, to wait patiently for doors to be opened, so they can charge round the beach hedge at any wildlife that tarries unsuspectingly.

As I brew coffee in the bright farmhouse kitchen, I snatch a few moments to check on my social media accounts, and then if it’s not raining, swap slippers for wellington boots, and take my latte out into the garden to watch the dogs and inspect Mother Nature’s artwork. I am new to gardening, but enjoying it immensely, and my newly acquired garden is full of exciting plans and discoveries. Once coffee is done, the dogs are ready for breakfast, so I feed them and have mine in front of emails and admin. This is usually brief as I have three dogs waiting for walks, and I am keen to get out and on with my day. I walk each dog separately, they are all previously abused and abandoned, and each has their separate issues that we are working on. Our walks are opportunities for valuable one to one time, some training, and more importantly counter-conditioning and desensitisation for their individual fears and frustrations.

We recently moved to our new home in the country, a 16th century thatched cottage, on the edge of a delightfully friendly village, in quintessentially English countryside. We have a large garden for the dogs, and lots of wonderful walks, right on our doorstep; through tunnels of trees, or across fields of cows and horses, along pretty hawthorn hedged lanes, and over grassy meadows. I walk for approx 3 hours a day, which is great for my back, following spinal cord surgery (January 2016), and I walk in gratitude for my stunning surroundings, my darling dogs, our happy home, and this peaceful time in my life. I tend to take lots of photos of the changing season, as I notice details here and there that charm me, and of course lots of the dogs! (You can follow me on instagram under PureNourishment, a few people have copied the name, but you will recognise my account by the profile pic 🙂 ) I am also keenly aware of the desire to write again, I have so much to be thankful for, and really want to document this happiness, (which is pure contentment), of this chapter in my journey. I just have to figure out finding the best time to write, in-between those moments of magic, gratitude, abundance, joyfulness, and snuggles with the dogs 😉 Love and blessings to you all, Hxx

 

Photo sadly uncredited, via Pinterest. Words by me, Hayley Darby © 2017

Walking in gratitude

winter-walkIt’s a chilly, frosty morning, the lawn is white and spiky, the dogs’ water bowl is full of ice, but the sky is a multitude of peachy pink hues that bleed from behind the trees on the horizon, seeping towards the heavens, as the sun rises lazily. I woke this morning with Leo curled up into my chest, as Poppy came bounding on to the bed to lick my face awake, whilst Platon waited patiently from his protective post on the sofa. Poppy is always the most impatient for the day to start, and bounces about, ‘talking’, as she demands cuddles, and pleads with me to get up. She goads Leo into play, and once he has unsnuggled himself to respond to this whirling dervish, I give in and leave the warmth and comfort of the duvet. Having thrown on a big snuggly jumper and shoved my feet into cosy slippers, I let the dogs out and stand at the patio doors watching them and the sunrise, whilst waiting for my coffee to brew. Then twelve paws need wiping, and I fill their breakfast kongs with kibble, before settling down on the awesome sofa with my latte.
Today Platon lies on my legs, a mirror of a memory from this day a year ago (thanks Facebook for the reminder), when I was so grateful I could feel this lump of love on legs that I was at risk of losing all feeling of, (prior to my spinal surgery for Cauda Equina). And as I savour his warmth, and reassuring, loving presence, I am reminded that the little things really are the big things. As the sun breaks through the clouds, a pool of sunlight spills over the wooden floor, and Poppy stretches out to sunbathe. The dogs have taught me many valuable lessons; living in the moment is one of them. They keep me grounded in the now, with their joy at simple pleasures, and ability to love and trust so much, after the abuse each of them has previously suffered. The sun also highlights the dog hair that peppers the floorboards, and the smeary nose marks at dog height on the French windows. Our home is lived in and full of love, these are tokens that go with the territory, I am reminded of the poster saying ‘dull women have immaculate houses’, and smile at the notion.

Beyond the smeared glass, our view is typical English countryside, unmarred by a single building, as paddocks of horses are framed by the wintry silhouettes of the spidery branches adorning majestic trees in the distance. Behind the trees, hills of fields rise to meet the skyline, and it’s a view that I appreciate every morning. We only moved here about 6 weeks ago, so I am still discovering new things, and yesterday a new friend showed me a lovely walk for the dogs beyond the line of trees, up a muddy track to the gallops (we are on a large farm estate with both a professional yard, and amateur stables), where rabbits darted bravely across the wide open spaces before disappearing for shelter, into hedgerows of thick undergrowth. Much to Poppy’s delight as she danced around like Zebedee on the end of her lead. Platon was trusted off leash, but thankfully was too busy in his own game of bounding around, to notice the vulnerable wildlife, apart from stopping periodically to stick his nose in the ground or bushes, sniffing at trails. Leo pottered along patiently, sniffing all the new smells with excitement, and periodically leaving his own ‘eau de pee’ to enhance the fragrance.

I have moved here looking for a more dog friendly home, wanting a private paddock and plenty of safe country walks. This has taken me over an hour away from my friends and family, the familiar places I grew up in, and the proximity to my old home in London. It is a new adventure, and after a year of many changes, I have a lot to be grateful for, including reconnecting with friends who live in this direction, and grateful for dear friends who have come to visit me. The dogs are happy here too, and wait patiently for their morning walk and playtime, so I’m going to wish you a beautiful day, get dressed in lots of warm layers, and hope you notice those little things that really are the big things, and what you are grateful for too. Many blessings, Hxx

{Photo credit, via Pinterest (but so similar to my view it is uncanny), Words by me, Hayley Darby ©2017}

Looking back..

tattoo-blanket

It’s a grey rainy day, and I’m snuggled on the sofa with the dogs, and a hot cup of tea (Chamomile with spiced apple), watching the raindrops racing each other down the long window panes of the patio doors. The garden is enjoying a drenching, and the lawn is getting ready to make paws muddy. It’s a relaxing afternoon, my back is sore, partly due to someone driving into the back of my stationary car recently, but partly because it often will be, so I am indulging in horizontal therapy (lying on the sofa). Platon is curled up under my knees, and Leo has dug himself a trench in the cushions by my shoulder, on the fabulously wide sofa. Meanwhile Princess Poppy has the other matching fabulous sofa completely to her Diva self, where she stretches out and sighs, nonchalantly. I am in a reflective mood, partly due to the weather but also because today is the first anniversary of my life-changing surgery.

A year ago today, I was enduring the most terrifying moments, as I was prepared for emergency spinal surgery. After spending a night on a trolley in A&E (Accident & Emergency, or ER for my US friends), where I had been instructed not to move for fear of serious permanent damage, an MRI had confirmed my predicament, and doctors were rushing to get me into theatre. I had unwittingly sneaked a cereal bar for breakfast, and this delayed my suitability for general anaesthesia, buying me time to absorb the dreadful news and risks involved. I lay in my hospital bed feeling nauseas, and unable to focus properly on my surroundings, as adrenalin coursed through my veins, and my pounding heart drowned all other sounds to merely background din. I did at some point feel as if I was observing myself, as if this experience was happening to my body, but that I was watching somehow detached; I’m guessing the mind’s way of coping with such trauma. A surreal point in time, that will forever differentiate the before and after, a gut wrenchingly fearful realisation that my life was about to change, and that I had travelled past the point of any control at all, and the raging terror of what I would wake up to.

I had developed ‘Cauda Equina’ where a prolapsed disc was impinging on the nerve root, for the whole lower body. Termed ‘Cauda Equina’ which is Latin for horse’s tail, because it describes the appearance of the nerves that after travelling neatly in the spinal cord emerge to fan out down each leg, and affect the bowel, bladder and reproductive organs. I now know that the symptoms of ‘saddle numbness’, and changes to my toilet function, (feeling I had a full bladder, but passing little urine, and very urgent bowel movements) are red flags that my GP had wrongly ignored. On the advice of an osteopath, whom I had sought treatment for my intensely painful back, with radiating pain in my right leg (incorrectly assumed as simply sciatica), I had been admitted to hospital the evening before. He had instantly recognised the red flags, along with being horrified at my prior MRI results, and admitted that attempting to treat me could be very dangerous for me, not to mention professional suicide for him. I am so very grateful that I had been recommended to such a competent practitioner, and that because of him, I didn’t wait any longer for the medical attention I needed.

My doctors explained that the impingement on my nerves could worsen, possibly hurling me into paraplegia, or less severe walking abnormalities (from drop-foot to requiring a walking frame), incontinence, and loss of sensory feeling in my lower body. They then asked me to sign consent for the surgery required to prevent this horror, that by it’s nature of shaving the bone away from the nerves, also presented the same risks, along with the added hazard of blindness due to being operated on face down. Don’t ask me how this risk is possible, I did ask the doctors, but was too petrified to digest their answer. I remember checking photos on my phone, of the things I really wanted to see again (my three darling dogs, the turquoise Greek sea, golden Californian sunsets), and feeling so utterly helpless. I’m sure the risk is a very small one, but the threat of blindness tipped me into a tailspin of panic, of an already terrifying spiral.

Then the time came for the sides of my bed to be raised and secured, so that they could wheel me to theatre. I had a lovely care assistant that accompanied me, a beautiful Somalian girl whose cheerful countenance and compassion had managed to break through my fearfulness. She told me how much she loved her job, which was blindingly obvious as she sang and joked around the ward, and that only 3 weeks earlier she had left her post as a check-out girl at Asda (a supermarket chain). My Dad had joined in with her jokes, suggesting I needed a pound coin to take my trolley (bed) to the top floor of the hospital, where the theatres are situated. I was simultaneously grateful for his humour, and exasperated that he wasn’t taking my fear seriously; on reflection I know that he steadfastly refused to believe in the possibility of an impending problem, he didn’t do stress, unless it was completely unavoidable. As far as my Dad was concerned, I was in the hands of experts, and worrying simply wouldn’t change a thing.

I remember the tears rolling into my ears, as I lay flat on my back in my gurney as we took the lift, looking up at the kind nurse, a gentleman in scrubs, and my mother, whom I had insisted accompany me; like a child of 4 or 5 yrs rather than a woman of 45 years, still in a state of disbelief that this was actually happening. As we approached the daunting swing doors to the anaesthesia suite, the Somalian girl declared she was unable to proceed from here, and asked if she could say a prayer over me, to which I agreed gratefully. She then asked if a Muslim prayer in her own language would be OK, and I was so touched by her hesitancy, assuring her I’d appreciate absolutely anything, seriously anything. And as I was wheeled away, her kind words followed me.. ‘Inshallah’ is all I remember.

When I woke in the recovery room, I experienced blind panic, still groggy from the GA, in extreme pain, and dosed up on morphine; I couldn’t see clearly just a blurry movement of shapes initially. I remember screaming, as much as my lungs could manage, and sobbing uncontrollably, gasping for breath, and pleading for nurses to hold my hand, feeling so desolate and lost in a world I didn’t understand. This was the first panic attack of many, which haunted my nights in the next weeks, and continued with less frequency, but debilitating and embarrassingly in the following year. Apparently PTSD is not uncommon following spinal surgery, and the forums for Cauda Equina Syndrome reflect this clearly. I was eventually calmed and returned to the ward, when my vision returned, and reassured that I hadn’t lost my sight. I said goodnight to my parents who had been waiting, and giving in to the residual GA and morphine, fell into a deliciously deeply drugged sleep.

I was woken abruptly as frantic screaming pierced my consciousness; I thought the woman in the next bay was being murdered. I remember being perplexed at the nurses sitting quietly at their station, and then assumed she must be under-going some horrendously painful medical treatment. The screams shattered my fragile state, and carried on relentlessly till morning, when I noticed the woman in the bed next to me was whispering secrets to a teddy bear, and the woman opposite became aggressive, accusing a nurse of trying to kill her. I then discovered I had been placed in the only available spare bed, on a ‘dementia with trauma’ ward, full of mainly elderly patients with broken hips apparently, and one girl closer to my age with a bleached blonde pixie crop, also flat on her back in the corner.

Once properly awake, I was delighted to discover I could wiggle my toes, and notice the feeling of the sheets tucked around my feet, this induced a euphoria that overshadowed any pain I was most definitely suffering. I lay motionless, afraid to disturb my surgeon’s work, but flooded with relief; I had made it through surgery, could see, and the feeling in my feet didn’t make the possibility of walking too bleak. Actually, I am very, very, lucky; my outcomes are so much better than many of my fellow CES (Cauda Equina Syndrome) sufferers. The blonde girl was wheeled away to another location before I had a chance to talk to her; my heart sank as the only possibility of any sane conversation disappeared down a corridor. (We have since made contact, and found out we have a lot more in common than the same surgeon. She was my first lifeline of advice and support from a fellow sufferer when I eventually left hospital, and we remain in touch.) I lay there alone with my thoughts, still trying to piece together what had happened, how I had got through the fear prior to surgery, and what I might face in my recovery. My injury had occurred slowly, a number of small events that caused the disc to slip a bit further each time, over several months; and had been largely dismissed by everyone, including my GP. If this reaches one person who experiences something similar (your chances are slim, 2 in a million), I’d encourage them to demand the medical attention the red flags warrant, recovery is largely dependent on the severity and duration of nerve compression, ideally surgery is advised within 24 hours of onset, I had been struggling for several weeks.

The dementia element of my ward was extremely stressful to deal with, listening to women screaming at nurses trying to help them, repeatedly calling out the same questions, and whispering to their teddies. As I struggled with my own feelings of vulnerability, I could only imagine how frightening it must be for those with even less understanding, and a fainter grasp on reality. Then I realised that I needed the toilet, and couldn’t imagine how this would be possible, but my fears were unfounded when I was initially given a bedpan, and failing to christen it was allowed to be maneuvered by nurses onto a Kermode, which was irrelevant, because I still couldn’t pass anything. Meanwhile a kind health care assistant noticed my rising levels of anxiety, I must have been quite distressed, because I had a panic attack as they finally moved me to an orthopedic ward, minus the dementia element, where the most noticeable mental health problem was me. I gulped air as I struggled to breathe, my gown was soaked with sweat, my heart pounded in my ears, and I couldn’t stop sobbing. I am fairly sure they gave me something to calm me, and do remember being hooked to a morphine pump, before falling again into another drugged deep sleep. When I woke again, it was to the smiling, caring faces of the women in beds opposite. Jean and Maureen welcomed me to Ridge ward, both kindly supportive and encouraging, and I was so grateful to have moved there.

The next day, having been unable to pass urine and fitted with a catheter, my surgeon sent me for another MRI. I was wheeled through the maze of hospital corridors, counting the lights on the ceiling, and watching the assortment of busy people walking around me. Being lifted from my bed onto the hard trolley for the MRI, post surgery, was one of the most physically painful moments in my memory. I felt sick, and couldn’t bear to be shoved inside the tube they slide you into, as panic welled in my chest and crept up my throat, until I was crying hysterically. The medical staff were amazingly patient and understanding, turning me around so I could enter the scan feet first, and talking to me soothingly through the headphones, reassuring me they were working as fast as possible, so they could return me to the comfort of my bed on the ward. Although they expertly rolled me onto sliding boards, and across the plinth back to the gurney, it was the feeling of fragility, as much as the physical pain that I found so distressing. I am tall, with a slim build, but have always felt strong and quite robust, suddenly I was afraid that any wrong move could break me, and hurl me back to the risks I faced pre-surgery. This feeling prevailed long after leaving the hospital, where I found myself nervous on car journeys (having been advised not to sit for long), and afraid of children playing (incase they knocked me), I flatly refused to go into a supermarket in case someone knocked me with their trolley, and I avoided heavily populated areas generally.

The results of my second MRI suggested my bladder nerves were still implicated in compression, and my surgeon decided that it would be prudent to take me back to theatre to ‘tidy them up’. He explained that he would cut the same incision through flesh and muscle; to clean up any debris ensuring nerves were clean and free. I didn’t have time to worry much about the second surgery, once it was decided they all moved very quickly, this time unhampered by food in my stomach, as I hadn’t been able to face eating. By this time I was resigned to the lack of control I had over my situation, and having survived the first surgery, had built trust in my surgeon and his team. As I was wheeled again to theatre, I noticed my face was dry this time, maybe it felt too surreal to get upset, or maybe I was emotionally exhausted, or perhaps I was even getting braver, though I’m not entirely convinced about that bit. I remember being disappointed that I had a different anaesthetist attending to me, but he was friendly and joked as he sent me to sleep. When I woke again, I was in unbelievable pain, my body was throbbing, and the only way I could cope was to shut down, mercifully I was drugged enough to sleep, and with the bonus of nobody screaming murder on my new ward, this time to wake me.

The week or so that followed was a mixture of highs and lows, my first few steps were victorious, but still an inability to go to the toilet gave me nightmares about life with catheters. I had fantastic ward mates, we were a group of six women of varying ages and backgrounds, who formed a supportive cushion against our individual traumas. We checked in on each other, alerted nurses for each other when we saw someone struggling, and talked about the things that motivated our recoveries; so they all knew about my dogs and the Greek island waiting for me. By coincidence, one lady was the mother of a girl I went to school with, who now also lives in Greece, so we shared stories of my school days, and I took photos to send her daughter, after getting in touch again via the power of Facebook and thanks to hospital wifi. Eventually my bladder started working (hoorayyy!!), and I could manage the stairs, albeit very slowly, so passed the test for discharge, and to clear a bed for someone in need and waiting.

It was quite daunting leaving the safety of the hospital that had become so familiar, that I found the rhythms of medicine rounds and nurses change over comforting. It was also the beginning of a long journey of recovery, but a year later, I can look back and remain incredibly grateful. I am so thankful for everyone who sent well wishes, for competent surgeons, gentle physiotherapists, and caring, compassionate nurses, for friendships made from our hospital beds, to the thoughtful, kind visitors, for the cheerful tea lady, for friends and my Mum for looking after my dogs, for everyone that was part of my hospital experience. My gratitude extends to everyone that cared, supported, loved, encouraged, and commiserated with me on my journey, it really is in adversity that we learn who our friends really are. And of course I am grateful to be one of the lucky CES patients, who can walk unaided, can go to the toilet, and has an invisible injury. I am still wary of doing further damage; suffer with soreness, and coming to terms with limitations due to reduced strength and ability to withstand impact. I am so grateful I can walk that it would be churlish to miss skiing or horse-riding, but I still find it hard sometimes that I can’t run, even a few paces, or hike steep pathways down to favourite Greek beaches, without struggling. However, the road to recovery is not over, and as I continue to build strength, hopefully these things will be within reach.

Meanwhile, I lie here on the sofa, feeling the weight and warmth of my dogs on my legs is such a blessing. Leo has moved and lies with his chin on my thigh, watching me type one handed with my laptop in the crook of my arm. Poppy has deserted her couch, and lays on the floor beside me, looking up adoringly at Platonas, my rock, whom remains steadfastly supporting my knees, and my heart always. It’s now dark outside, and the rain gently tapping on the roof of our converted barn, echoes in the rafters, a scented candle flickers on the dresser, and I wiggle my toes to a year ago, and all that has happened in between.

Please take care of your back, and if you ever recognise any red flag symptoms for Cauda Equina, please insist you are seen by a neurosurgeon immediately! For more information, this is a very useful video: http://www.spine-health.com/video/cauda-equina-syndrome-video

Blessings & love, Hxx

{Photo credit: Britlively, Dior Homme SS14 photographer: Filep Motwary, Flo …Nooo, I don’t have a tattoo, but I do have an awesome little scar, that’s testament to my journey! Words by me, Hayley Darby ©2017}

Summer mornings

yellow hammock

I seemed to arrive in my body from somewhere else, as if sleep had released my soul to explore another realm, and on waking, gently deposited me back into a physical form. I first became aware of the loving weight of Leo, (my terrier cross), his chin resting on my ankles; and the reassuring pressure of Platon (my big dog), leaning into my side. I lay perfectly still, not to disturb them, but they can sense changes in my breathing. Leo must have been coiled like a spring, waiting for his signal to jump up and tickle my face with his whiskers, touching noses, and then stretching in a deep play bow, before settling into a down position as he balances on my supine body for a cuddle. He really is the most affectionate little ray of sunshine, and greets each morning with enthusiastic delight; it’s impossible not to start the day with a smile with his happy presence. Platon is a much cooler customer; he slowly stretches out, pushing against me as he extends to his full length, exposing his tummy for a tickle. He is my rock, reassuring and comforting, protective and vigilant, willful, independent, and stubborn, but loving, calming and fiercely loyal.

I lay for a few heavenly moments, enjoying my morning ‘love in’, watching Leo playfully nuzzle Platon, for a few brief seconds before Poppy (GSD/lurcher cross) bounded in, and bounced enthusiastically but haphazardly, onto the bed, landing on top of all of us! She is the chaos to Platon’s calm, the minx to Leo’s amenable nature, the diva of the pack, and she whips the bed up into a frenzy of playful wrestling and lands exhaustedly beside me on the pillow, panting heavily and eyeing me expectantly. By now I am completely awake, there is no chance of drifting back to dreamland, or floating in the ‘hypnopompic’ lucid dream state, I used to search my mind for clues of subconscious understanding. There is no room for wakeful dreaming, my dogs keep me firmly grounded in the present moment, it’s one of their charms, that we are engaged in the simplest pleasures of the here and now. As I lie with these three dogs that have changed my life, I am so grateful every morning, for my pack, and that they found me. Each dog has their own sad story of abuse and neglect, and yet are so loving and trusting, Poppy still struggles trusting new people, but within our family, she is confident and happy, and a little monkey!.

Eventually, I roll over onto my side, feeling the familiar ache in my back which I am now accustomed to, and I snuggle the dogs, tell them how much I love them. I then raise myself carefully into sitting position as they jump up and off the bed excitedly. Platon or Poppy will ring the goat bell that hangs from the door, if Poppy gets there first, the bell often ends up crashing to the floor as she impatiently demonstrates her desire to get into the garden. She leaps around like a slippery salmon swimming upstream, excited, insistent, and ‘singing’ a high pitched tune of frustration, as if demanding I hurry. I make them all wait, and sit in a row as I slowly open the door, reminding them to “perimenete” (Greek for wait), until I am satisfied, and release them like rockets as they charge out, into the morning sun.

We are currently in Greece, our summer home on a pretty Ionian island, where my days start with coffee on the terrace in my pyjamas and sunglasses, as the dogs sniff around the garden for evidence of our nighttime visitors. I sit noticing how many apricots have fallen from the laden tree, as I nurse a cappuccino and the dogs linger around the table in anticipation of their share of biscuits. It’s our morning ritual, as I dip cantuccini in my coffee, and feed them the Greek version of plain ‘Rich Tea’ in exchange for kisses (nose touches) and other good behaviour (sitting, lying, chins on my knee). As the morning warms up, I check my online media, and the dogs stretch out in the sun, playfully wrestling, gently until Poppy goads the boys into a pack tornado, that whirls around the garden, twisting and bouncing, occasionally yelping, when Leo bounds back to me for protection (he has an injured leg that can’t cope as well with his boisterous siblings), and finally Platon and Poppy will flop into the cool, fragrant earth under the fig tree. These are our summer mornings, and I savour every single moment, listening to the crickets (yet to fall asleep), birds chattering in the trees, and the occasional goat bells tinkling over the hill.

This is my happy place, and I commit these precious, golden moments to memory, stored up for rainy days or difficult times ahead. I feel even more blessed to be here this year, following emergency spinal surgery in January. It was my motivating goal; to be well and fit enough to drive the dogs back again, which I managed with the help of a friend (my surgeon has insisted I no longer undertake the journey alone). I am still recovering, but as I reflect on my progress, I’m proud of my journey, and so grateful to have made it to this place; where I can sit in my hammock swing, watching pairs of butterflies dance around the garden, smell the potted herbs (basil, mint, coriander) that scent the terrace, and watch the dogs lie contentedly under the dappled shadows of the fig, peach, apricot, orange, lemon and apple trees. I hope that wherever you are, you notice the little things too, because trust me, the little things really are the big things! Love & blessings, Hxx

{Photo, sadly uncredited, via Pinterest; words ~Hayley Darby © 2016}

Joy on a grey day

nurse teaIt’s a cold grey day here, and I’m lying on my day bed with Platon lying against my legs, his chin resting gently on my ankles, as he snoozes between watching the world outside the long French windows. Leo has trampled all over me, and the bed, searching for a comfy spot, but dissatisfied with all his options, has moved to the sofa where he’s curled up alone and uncharacteristically grumbling. He’s usually my sunshine, a super happy chap, full of joyful enthusiasm, and the friendliest, most affectionate dog I could think of; but today he’s having an ‘off’ moment, and comically grumbles in little half barks and almost growls at noises outside. I suspect he’s over tired, sulking and like a toddler fighting sleep, he will soon give in to that sweet dark oblivion, and float to another realm of consciousness. I wonder if he dreams of our favourite little beach in Greece, and swimming out in the clear turquoise waters, which he does so, much further than I dare to. He has a leg injury that gives him a disadvantage on land, but in the sea he’s unstoppable. Finally, his little chest has started to rise and fall rhythmically, and we are a peaceful little trio in our cosy abode. I stifle a yawn as I type, and Platon sighs loudly, as I pull the blankets up a little higher, and he snuggles back into me. I too could fall asleep, I tire easily since my surgeries; especially since I have started my physiotherapy exercises and increased my activity daily.

Yesterday I had a hospital appointment; it was the first time I had been back since my surgery. I still feel somewhat fragile; an awareness of my vulnerability, previously not even glimpsed, as I felt fit and strong, and lead an active lifestyle. Walking in public places makes me anxious, my injury (spinal) is invisible to most, as I can walk unaided and have no casts or bandages. It’s a ridiculous fear of being knocked, although I’m assured my spine is now stable, it still feels odd, and I am acutely aware of the risks associated with my condition, however small they are in reality. I saw the urology nurse, since after my first operation there was a complication with my bladder function requiring a further surgery, and yesterday I got a clean bill of health, a huge relief. My Cauda Equina experience has certainly helped me appreciate how much the little things, really are the big things!

As I waited in the hospital lobby for my lift home, I met Joy, a health care worker that truly lives up to her name. She took a moment to recognise me, (I clearly look very different with freshly washed hair, dressed and standing, to my hospital bed state), but her face soon lit up, as she recited my bed and bay number on the ward. Every morning of my hospital stay, Joy greeted the ward with her sunny smile and sing song voice, serving us breakfast, lunch and supper, remembering how we all take our tea, and our individual food preferences. She was always cheerful, thoughtful and considerate, and she brightened the room with her smile. When she made her rounds, she served us all as if we were her favourite customers in a smart restaurant. Maybe it’s maybe not the tea, but the person serving it thats the best medicine. This small part of our day made me feel more human, it was a time when as we picked our meals from the menu, however basic, that we regained some independence, choosing gave a small sense of control; when the rest of our day was determined by our medical team and hospital routines. Again, I am reminded of the little things that make a difference; and wonder how often we have missed opportunities to give a little that will mean so much to someone else, without us ever realising how much importance it is to them.

Meeting Joy yesterday reminds me how grateful I was for the compassion and kindness of the nurses and health care workers that cared for me during my hospital stay. I cannot imagine what a tough job it is, and have huge respect for all of them. If everyone worked with the same selfless enthusiasm that Joy does, we would all reflect more sunny smiles in our environments. Talking of which, it might be a cold grey day in February here, but it’s not a bad day, we have blossom on the window sill and daffodils on the table, and Leo has woken up, back to his happy smiley self, enthusiastically stretching into a play-bow and wagging his tail, ready for another adventure. I hope that you are seeing a glimmer of the joys of spring, wherever you are too.. unless of course you’re in the Southern hemisphere, in which case, enjoy your Summer, and send it back to us in the Northern hemispheres soon, please!

Blessings & love, Hxx

 

{Photo via Pinterest, sadly uncredited; words by me, Hayley Darby © 2016}

Back again..

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Photo via Pinterest

It’s a quiet wintry afternoon; I watch the sky bleed as the sun starts to set, with hues of orange and pink flaring beyond the silhouetted stark, bare, tree branches. A few geese ruffle their feathers and squawk half heartedly, and Platon, who’s snuggled against me, raises his head to check whether or not he needs to bark at them; and deciding not to, lowers his chin to rest on my leg again. He searches my face, as his expressive eyebrows bop about inquisitively; and I ruffle his voluptuous jowls, before stroking his velvety ears reassuringly. He sighs and we settle back into companionable silence; apart from the muttering geese, at the end of the garden.

We moved here a week ago, to a tastefully converted barn, on a working farm. It’s a temporary home, a stop gap in-between selling a property in London, our summer home in Greece, and an unknown future. It’s a haven for recuperation, a little time out from the normal stresses of life following an emergency surgery and a shock to the system. It’s my treat to myself as I digest and process a life-changing experience, and a peaceful place to heal and rehabilitate.

At the start of the year, after struggling with niggling back issues, I unexpectedly underwent emergency spinal surgery. I had a herniated disc that was impinging on the nerve root for the whole lower body, called ‘Cauda Equina” as it resembles a horse’s tail. If you google ‘cauda equina syndrome’, you’ll see how dangerous and scary it is; all I knew was that the risks of my condition were immense (loss of lower body feeling & function), and that I had been naively ‘soldiering on’, (since my GP hadn’t been too alarmed at what I now know are classic ‘red flag’ symptoms), walking my dogs and lifting heavy cases. I am incredibly lucky that I didn’t do more damage. Eventually, I was fortunate that a well-informed osteopath sent me straight to A&E (Emergency room), and I was soon signing consent forms that acknowledged terrifying risks, before swiftly being whisked to theatre for intricate neurosurgery. It should be noted, that I have always had a fear of hospitals, and have been terrified of General anaesthesia, but the emotional roller coaster I rode in this instance elevated me to a surreal state, a strange mixture of denial and resignation, that fear was neatly sidelined to a manageable degree. An experience almost as if watching myself in this situation, disbelieving it was really happening, a bad dream I couldn’t wake up from; yet coupled with an acceptance that nothing I could do could change the course I was hurtling along. I guess at some point, I mentally handed over responsibility for my future mobility to my medical team and God, the Universe, a higher power; whatever you want to call it, the name is irrelevant, in times like this you find ‘something/someone’ to have internal conversations with.

I am incredibly blessed, my surgeons were skilled and my nurses compassionate, and after several successful operations I am able to walk unaided. I have some numbness and a little nerve damage, but these are small, manageable issues compared to the potential difficulties I could otherwise face. I have found an online community, a support group of CES patients, and am aware of how fortunate I am to be one of the lucky ones. I’m also aware of how brave so many people are, quietly battling such a debilitating, and often invisible condition, that spinal injuries present. I’ve come through the initial trauma, feeling extremely grateful, yet also suffered anxiety associated with the fragility and vulnerability. I think that previously being relatively fit and fiercely independent, I have found the contrasting lack of mobility and reliance on others, particularly frightening, and understanding the risks, worry that every twinge could be dreadfully damaging. However, I am having physiotherapy, and each day is a step forward, and I’m gaining strength and confidence with each one.

My best medicine has been my darling dogs, their caring cuddles and unwavering affection have been comforting and heart-warming. It’s very difficult to feel sorry for yourself when you feel such love and loyalty. They are also very motivating, I can’t wait to walk them, or even be able to drive them to the paddock to watch them run. I have however been very fortunate to have some wonderful help looking after them, and am very grateful for everyone who has taken care of them. It’s in times of crisis we really find out who our friends are, and I have been very blessed with lots of love and support too.

As I write, I hear footsteps on the gravel outside, and Platon’s ears prick up in anticipation, as KG, my friend and current carer, returns from a walk with Leo (my other dog). Once he is sure, Platon launches himself off my daybed, and stands expectantly at the door, his tail wagging forcefully, like a metronome; until he can contain himself no longer and jumps up, bracing himself with his paws on the door as he peeks out the window. This means that the peace
I needed to write is about to cease, since my boys, thrilled to be reunited after a whole heart-breaking hour, will play exuberantly and require my attention.

I just wanted to pop in here, and let you know what’s been happening, by way of introduction to my current situation, as suddenly I find myself with time, and lots of material for writing again. I feel as if I have missed chatting with old friends and have lots to catch up on; the arrival of Leo into our lives will be a chapter, as well as our journeying between London & Greece. There are stories to share about my injury and the beacons of light that shone in the darkest moments, the caring compassionate nurses, the bravery of fellow patients on my ward, and realisations about life’s unexpected twists and turns that may actually have been necessary in guiding us to where we are meant to be. Meanwhile, two young and lively dogs are calling me with their playful antics, so I hope you are all well and I’ll write again soon, I promise! Blessings & love, Hxx

{Photo ~Via pinterest, sadly uncredited, words ~by me, Hayley Darby ©2016}

Thank you 2014

basilica

Dear 2014, thank you for being a year of my life, for the places you’ve taken me, all that you’ve taught me, the gifts you’ve given me, and the love that you brought me. You have been a special year for me, it wasn’t always easy, there were certainly difficult moments and painful realizations, but you brought me the biggest bundle of love in the most unexpected circumstances, and that made you a wonderful year, despite everything.

You were the year that driving through the Greek countryside, I found the most loveable puppy, and he found someone to love him; fiercely, protectively, affectionately, patiently, playfully, unconditionally. I wasn’t looking for a companion, was irresponsibly, independently, commitment phobic, but one look into his soulful eyes, and I was committed to doing the very best I could for him, and it eventually dawned on me that this meant changing my life to accommodate being ‘home’ to him, wherever on this planet, that happens to be.

It turns out that changing my life wasn’t so hard, I am getting used to early morning walks, and dog hair absolutely everywhere, not to mention paw prints on white sofas and bed linen; and it’s all well worth the bright eyes and wagging tail that greet me with such joy and enthusiasm every morning, and the cheeky playful bows inviting me to ditch whatever I’m doing to throw a ball, tickle a tummy or chase some stolen belonging in the jaws of this bouncing creature throughout the day. In the quiet times we snuggle together on the sofa, I have the most fabulous foot warmer ever, and this bundle of love is such a peaceful presence, he’s made such an enormous impact on my existence.

My little buddy and I have discovered remote beaches, spent afternoons wandering along goat paths, swam in turquoise seas and climbed rocks together in Greece. We’ve driven through Italy, discovering ancient cities on rainy days, and sharing pastries on sunny terraces. We treated ourselves to a romantic hotel in Portofino, somewhere I’ve waited to decades to visit, just waiting for the right ‘boy ‘to accompany me. We stopped in Monaco and met a friend for lunch and a walk round the port in Cannes, stayed in a fabulous country house hotel in rural France, sharing cheese and crackers by the fire, before he sat by me sipping champagne in the Jacuzzi. We visited friends at their French farmhouse, enjoying fresh autumnal walks, delicious dinners and evenings chatting by the fire. We even took a private jet to the Cote d’Azur for a chic Christmas in Monaco, hiking in Nietzsche’s footsteps in Eze, and admiring breathtaking views over morning coffees from the medieval chateau. All in all, he’s been the perfect travel companion, sharing the journey with excited eyes and enthusiastic tail wagging, something I hadn’t realised was missing from my previous trips until I found him. Life is so much sweeter with this cheeky little travel companion, and sharing my experiences with him have enriched every moment.

So thank you 2014, for being the year that I found Platonas, thank you Platonas for finding me at the perfect moment, and thank you to everyone that’s been part of our story. Here’s to 2015 and the adventures awaiting, and the mischief that’s bound to weave its way so charmingly around my heart, and the lessons we’ll share along the way.

Much love and blessing to everyone; may each day greet you with endless possibilities for kindness and compassion, and your hearts overflow with love. ❤ Hxx

Spring awakening

contemplative

Good morning everyone! Today I woke early, something my heart is struggling with, dragged me from the sweet oblivion of dark nothingness and peaceful silence, wrestling me to the surface of consciousness. Despite the early hour (6.30am-ish) a pale light softly diffused around the edge of the blind, a small consolation that spring is slowly stretching out the days in preparation for summer, and the promise of such shone brightly in the distance, a spark of hope beckoning towards the future. I lay for a while in the present, wondering how I got here; stuck in some kind of holding pattern whilst I try to figure out which direction will lead me to wherever I’m meant to be; which is indeed the start of another interesting question whose answer currently eludes me.

I made an attempt to escape back to sweet sleep, swimming against the tide, towards the depths; but the questions I tried to avoid gave chase, until I surrendered eventually and headed them off by checking my phone for the time and other important information. I am reminded of my own advice to keep a clock or watch by the bed, but to keep the phone at a distance and save emails and texts for a reasonable time after waking. Advice, I realised a moment too late, to which I had somehow stopped adhering, so once the wheels of my mind were well and truly whirring, I got up for coffee and to embrace the morning.

It was a cool grey start to the day here in London, after two prior consecutive, blue-sky mornings that were a very convincing start to spring; the opaque, over-cast light was rather disappointing. I wrapped up tightly in a warm robe and descended the stairs to the kitchen, where the cool wooden floor greeted my toes with an icy reminder that Spring is indeed rather shy about her beauty early in the season. Turning to my beloved coffee machine for consolation, I sighed and inhaled the rich, comforting aroma and smiled appreciatively for the little things. I noticed the bunch of daffodils on the window sill have started to open, slowly unfurling their petals and stretching their trumpets, so I raised my arms and arched my back, then armed with my latte retreated back to my white fluffy cloud of a bed, snuggling back under the duvet to contemplate the day ahead.

Today’s weather may not be the crisp, fragrant example for which I was hoping, but it is definitely spring and a fresh start awaiting. The sky may be cloudy and grey, but I am reassured that there is a patient blueness above. I cannot see from a distance, but I know that the trees are adorned with tight little buds at each of their distal branches. A host of golden daffodils adorn the banks of The Heath by Kenwood house, inspiring all those who wander lonely as a cloud, despite the company they walk with. And in the undergrowth of the skeletal woods, tiny yellow Celandine flowers are smattered haphazardly as nature proudly asserts her intention. I found myself on an unfamiliar path, waterlogged and muddy, fragranced with damp earthiness, and after carefully skirting the edges, avoiding the nettles and brambles, decided to walk right through the squelchiness, which wasn’t so bad once I’d started.

Time ticks steadily by, and I might not know yet which steps to take, but I certainly do have choices; and walking through the messy bits, rather than trying to avoid any disappointment seems the best option. Meanwhile the clouds are starting to shift and I feel like writing. Sometimes I guess we are so busy searching that we miss the things that seek us, and sometimes we have to be patient with our hearts, because winter is always followed by spring eventually. Blessings & love, Hxx

{Photo sadly uncredited, via Pinterest; Words ~Hayley Darby ©2014}

Dear 2013

HD beach

Dear 2013

You have been a year of my life, and I am grateful for you. We haven’t always seen eye to eye, and there have certainly been times when I wished you were shorter than 365 days, but that was only when I was hurt and upset, struggling with my human-ness and fighting to get ahead of the pain I was feeling; which really wasn’t your fault at all, rather mine for having expectations that could be disappointed and an immense impatience inherent of my personality. However, despite my faults you always stood by me, and managed to surprise me with wonderful, unexpected gifts and joyful memories, a reminder that things are often better than we can imagine, as long as we can let go of our plans and let life take us blissfully and carefree to where we are meant to be.

With you I have wandered along sandy Californian beaches, and sat watching the early surfers with my morning coffee, as dolphins played delightedly. I met blue whales, whose peaceful presence held me in awe and took me to new depths emotionally. You were there when I conquered my fears and braced the waves for surfing lessons, and let the tide carry me, accepting things the way they’re supposed to be. We danced at concerts in the park, and around bonfires on the beach, we sang along (loudly and badly) to the radio, driving PCH with my hair dancing in the breeze. Together we wandered round art galleries and enjoyed good company, and watched sunsets that burst my heart with gratitude for their beauty.

We returned to float in the turquoise blue of favourite Greek seas, and watch sunlight sparkle on the water feeling blessed and carefree. With you I enjoyed peaceful hours at the beach, and submerged into a marine underworld, snorkelling and scuba diving. We hiked through the villages, visiting interesting characters and revisiting memories; and we followed in the footsteps of mythological heroes to climb mountains and worship at ancient temples. We watched storms rage in the sky and toss the world around angrily, then suddenly forgive and restore calm, quickly and quietly. We discovered cracks in hearts that were quietly bleeding, and found forgiveness and love are by far the best remedy.

With you I found myself tempted into unexpected adventures, and let my heart lead without plans or itinerary. I celebrated my first Thanksgiving holiday, danced on bars in Vegas and flew to Mexico for an escapade in Acapulco. We let the night time breeze sweep through dreams to the sonorous sounds of the ocean, feasting on papayas for breakfast and drank pina coladas for supper. I was charmed by customs in Houston (who’d of dreamed!) and skied in Colorado, where I left a smarting hurt on a moonlit road through the mountains, and found some salve in the Garden of The Gods. I shared shrimp with Tiny Tim on Malibu beach, and had a delicious Mexican meal for Christmas dinner instead of traditional turkey, with dear friends in Laguna.

So dear 2013, thank you for being the year that turned an unexpected corner, and after a bump in the road, took flight towards the previously undreamed. You have been a serendipitous year that changed my direction by several degrees. With you I have learned to accept that letting go is often stronger than hanging on, and often an opportunity to discover a new route engraved on the map of my heart, for perhaps a more scenic journey. I appreciate all that you have given me, even those bits that hurt like hell in the beginning, but are shaping me towards the person I am meant to become. I’m excited in anticipation of future adventures, ready for the unwritten chapters waiting to take shape in the year to come. So as I prepare to say goodbye, know that I appreciate you, and tell 2014 I’m ready!! Blessings & love, Hxx

{Photo & words ~Hayley Darby ©2013}