Don't Look Down
The Other Room.jpg

The Other Room

For my girls, Emma and Ava. You save me, everyday. 

And for everyone who volunteered so much love and support along the way. You know who you are. I am eternally grateful.

We're still standing. And this is the story of what happened.  

Chapter | 9 The Wrong Curve

Surrender, that these times are accelerated and intense….”

He wasn’t sure what she meant. The timing seemed odd. Cruel even.

“What’s your point?” The Bar Man interceded softly, noticing the bruised expression growing across his face.

“Surrender…I just meant, you seemed to have arrived at a place of real surrender. Everything was happening so quickly.”

They both watched her studiously for a while as the words hung in the air.

“It’s ‘deeply’ accelerated, and ‘very’ intense”; he eventually replied with an unusually defensive edge. “But that’s a dangerous place to go. Not all notes are meant for the same music.”

“And yet music is the one energy you all have, that can be harnessed without limitation.”

Her reply was slow and deep, unnerving both of them.

“It’s not the same thing. I know where you’re going with this, but it’s not the same thing. It can’t be. I’ve never even contemplated it…”

The three rested quietly together, bathed in the soothing light emanating from the open fire. Dusk had faded by unnoticed under the brooding canopy of the low storm clouds, stealthily dragging in the authentic darkness of the night ahead.

He heard the words in his head gently rise up; “And all that is unconscious is becoming conscious. And all that has been hidden is being revealed.”

And with perfect timing, he turned his gaze, to see her smiling back at him knowingly.

“She heard that? How could she hear that?”, he questioned in his mind.

The pub, all of a sudden, felt very small indeed.

 he medical center that Dr S worked at was nestled in one the large towers that flanked the beginning of Dubai’s infamous Sheik Zayed road. Thankfully, they provided a valet service for patients, as parking and access to the place would have been neigh on impossible in such a chaotic part of the city. But it was still far from ideal for anyone tackling immobility.

Thanks to Nat’s relationship with him, we managed to get an appointment with the good Doctor the next morning. Which was great on the one hand, but it did mean heading into the world specialist care with little time to emotionally prepare. This was all still horribly new to me. We decided we’d just have get on with it, and ‘make it work’. A phrase that could end up being my epitaph.

Dr S was every bit the calm and compassionate man we’d been promised. He stared attentively through old, wise eyes as I relayed the facts and feelings of the last few weeks. Asking questions and investigating certain points in a very measured, soft, Southern Indian accent. Initial signs were good.

Once we’d completed the fact finding, he asked me to climb up onto the bed so he could examine my back. The trauma of Spasmgate still lingered, so I was naturally extremely tense as he begun his prodding and poking, lest we trigger another. But it was all very painless, and whilst he couldn’t offer any immediate diagnosis, he booked me in for an immediate MRI scan, writing me a prescription for what seemed like an unnecessarily large arsenal of drugs. Tramadol and high-dose NSAID’s for pain management, along with several other delicacies, none if which I’d ever seen or heard of before. One knows that things aren’t all they should be when one leaves a pharmacy with two carrier bags full of pills. The descent continued.

Unusually, given the size and apparent capability of this particular medical center, the MRI scans would have to be done a few kilometers away in another facility. Set back in a miserable, low-rise industrial part of the city. Despite DR S’s assertions that this was the best MRI facility in town, inside or out, it did little to support such a reputation.

I’d never had an MRI before, and was unsure whether or not it was one of those x-ray procedures that required dye to be injected into the blood stream first. So I braced myself for the worst, and hobbled in with that scared, 4-year-old expression painted across my face. Turns out it wasn’t, and neither was it the usual claustrophobic tunnel that I later discovered was MRI norm. Oddly enough, this version- “the best in town” – was a strange contraption, raised 5ft from the floor requiring patients to climb up a small wooden step-ladder before they could lie back in position. Once in place, the attending staff would lower the top down before running for the safety of the glass fronted control room.

I didn’t know any better, and so with some help from Emma, carefully climbed up and gingerly slid into the position they needed me. After being warned that the machine would make some very loud and hostile noises, the room was cleared, and the top of the scanner lowered down to within a hairs breadth of my nose. Clearly the potential for extreme claustrophobia comes as standard in any type of MRI machine. They weren’t lying about the noises either. Deep, pounding, hammering thuds came hailing from everywhere. I don’t suffer from claustrophobia, but in a space as tight as that, with those noises bombarding my already fragile nerves, I came close several times to pressing the alarm button.

Dr S had ordered a full spinal and pelvic scan, which meant I was to be subjected to the shrink-wrapped blitzkrieg for over an hour.  But once I got through the first 20 minutes, I managed to kick back a little with some deep, controlled breathing, and forced myself into a daydream about my daughter. Her face. Her laughter. Imagining what she was doing right then at nursery. Imagining seeing her later that afternoon.  Acknowledging with a warm sense of gratitude, that I needed her now, just as much as she needed me.

(Our hearts hold the key)

Eventually the noises stopped, and calm crept back into time and space. The door to the room opened before the scanner finally lifted up and away from my face, and I was told I could get down and leave. It was all a little unceremonious to say the least, and I could have done with some assistance which I quickly discovered wasn’t going to come. The attending staff was a Local Emirati lady who clearly wasn’t too keen on ‘touching’ me.  Maybe she wasn’t allowed to. Nonetheless I was going to have to tackle the descent on my own.

Pondering a strategy for a few minutes, I began gently fidgeting down the scanner bed towards the far edge of the machine. Hyper-aware of any signs of pressure or pain coming from my lower back. Once in position, I carefully pivoted my legs around until I was able to get my feet on the first of the five steps on the ladder. It was the climb down that worried me, understanding as I did what would be required of the lower back to support the movement.  I stared down at the five wooden steps for a while before gripping the side rail with death like intensity, raising myself up to start stepping down.

Slow and steady, I winced down with extreme care and focus, like a cat walking on snow for its first time. Feeling every atom of matter with the sole of my foot before committing to the full step. It all seemed to be going well until the penultimate step. Suddenly curious as to what the hell the Emirati lady was actually doing, other than watching me, I looked up for a split second only to lose my concentration. My right foot lost its grip and slipped down the last two steps. The sudden jolt of pressure sent shockwaves up my legs and into my lower back, immediately detonating Spasm 2.0. A quite extraordinary bomb, of a million razor blades.

The pain threw me off balance completely, and I seemed to black out for a split second, before falling back and sliding down the rest of the steps on my backside. Screaming and swearing uncontrollably as my entire lower back and pelvis felt as if they’d shattered into a million pieces. I reached back with my right hand in a vein attempt to provide some support, only to feel my vertebrae pressing out against the skin with terrifying force. If I hadn’t twisted to my side, I swear it would’ve burst through the skin.

I was in another dimension. Unable to breath, think, or fully grasp the reality of what was happening. The room, the Emirati lady, the MRI contraption, none of it was tangible. Like a terrible, suffocating acid trip. The razors and knives and fuck-you’s screamed out from every part of my lower back. I wanted Ava, Emma. Now. How was any of this happening to me? God? Anyone? FUCK!


White Noise.

Fade back in.




It wasn’t until I finally came to rest in yet another fetal position at the foot of the ladder; crying, trembling and pleading with the nurse get my wife, that I began to understand where I was and what had happened. I knew I’d slipped and fallen, but had no idea what the extent of the damage was. The pain suggested something life changing. I wrestled back control over my panic and fear, I begun surveying the bombsite a little less dramatically.

Thankfully, like the Spasm in Fareeda’s office a few weeks earlier, the pain begun to slowly subside after a few minutes. The room was deathly quiet, and as Emma finally came into the room, I was beginning to very slowly, and very carefully prop myself up on my right arm. Utterly exhausted, and emotionally spent, I looked up at her with an expression of pitiful surrender.

As the world pulled back into focus, I found myself wildly oscillating between my anger at the ridiculous and ironic requirement for patients to have to navigate vertical wooden steps (up to a machine that is designed to investigate physical impairment), my seething frustration at the Emirati lady’s lack of help, and a terrified inner-investigation as to what the hell theses spams could actually be.

In terms of pain, nothing had ever come close to that. Mercifully however, it did seem to sweep out with the smoke fairly quickly. So logic led me to assume that it wasn’t the pain of anything breaking, or anything too permanent (how wrong, how wrong).

Nevertheless, it was unlike anything I could have ever imagined. It terrified me. Deeply. And unfortunately, the incidence in the MRI room that afternoon somehow unleashed it as a permanent threat, that sat ready to strike at the slightest wrong move. Not a day would go by over the next few weeks when it make its presence known.

It was a torrid, pivotal afternoon in so many ways. After paying the equivalent of a weekend-away for the experience (such madness), Emma helped me get dressed, into the clinic’s 1980’s wheel chair, back into the Jeep and home. I’d never been so happy to get there, yet was equally weighed down with the emotion of knowing that the MRI fall had dragged the situation to new depths. Driving, walking and moving unaided now was extremely precarious and painful. Which in turn unearthed a whole new source of anxiety and stress. My posture of optimism and positivity was evolving quickly, in its both importance, and its difficulty. But in time of such descent, what else do we have?  “The mind is a powerful thing; it can make a hell of heaven, or a heaven of hell”; said someone once whose name I don’t recall.

I spent the rest of the afternoon in bed. Drugged up and deeply pensive about what had happened, and what was going to happen over the next few days. Emma ventured backed out to keep the family running and shoulder a load that was way too much in so many ways. Her mood was lifted however by the imminent arrival of her younger brother and his girl friend, who were escaping the Swedish winter for some much needed desert sun.

Bjorn is a wonderful chap. One of those people who are just naturally very good at being alive. Emma’s relationship with him is very strong and energizing, so in so many ways his arrival was a perfect tonic. Selfishly I was a little disappointed that I wouldn’t be able to join in on the beach trips, bbq’s and bar hops that represented the usual agenda of visiting guests. But at the same time, I understood that Emma would benefit hugely from a break from her disintegrating husband.

A couple of days later we were back in DR S’s office for the MRI results. Before we got to the exposures, I explained what had happened during the fall, to try and get a professional opinion on what the spam’s might be. Frustratingly he didn’t seem to offer much clarity. ‘Could’s’ and ‘Maybe’s’ don’t chart a route to healing. I needed more if I was to do my part in avoiding the potential of that hell ever returning.

He quickly threw the MRI images up on a screen and began explaining the in’s and out of a healthy spine. Good alignment, healthy and juicy (sic) cartilage around the vertebrae and so on. All which I had apparently. Finally turning his attention, and ours, to what he deemed to be the problem. One of my lower vertebrae looked as it had slipped out of place slightly, and the cartilage that was ‘bulging’ might be what was causing the discomfort. I vaguely understood what he was showing me, and visually it seemed to stack up. But my intuition kicked in, whispering support to a feeling I was already having by myself. It didn’t make sense.

Ok, the MRI image clearly showed something was a little of out of place, but that could have happened a few days earlier, three stairs down an MRI ladder. A bulging disc didn’t explain the last 4 months of growing lower back and pelvis pain. It certainly didn’t explain the mysterious razor-blade bombs. When he confirmed that the bulge wasn’t too bad, and no nerves were comprised, my disappointment grew deeper. I threw back a few carefully worded questions in a vein attempt to explain my anxiety and suspicion, that there was more to this than the MRI’s showed, but he seemed both confident and adamant. Even going so far as to declare that apart from that, I had a very healthy spine (wait for it…..)

His suggested treatment was bed-rest for 10 days, careful back exercises and daily drugs. We were to come back in 2 weeks time. I had to trust him, and there was a little relief that we’d gotten something definitive to work with, but I couldn’t ignore my intuition. Neither could I ignore something I saw out of the corner of my eye as we were leaving. Throwing a final, somewhat cynical glance back at the MRI images on the screen, I noticed something that left a harrowing, sinking feeling in my stomach. A feeling that momentarily rendered me speechless, unable to pull up and do what I should have done; share it with DR S.  But I was so taken aback and confused I just needed to get out of the clinic as fast as possible, and process the question it presented, in the quiet and safety of home; “since when did my spine curve outwards?