The following is the first in a series of blogs called Such Is Life 2.0, the self-written story of Michael Pulman by the man himself. Please note, some names have been changed to protect the identities of people and their families whilst trying to tell an accurate a story as possible.
Our story begins in November, 2004.
“Hello Michael?”, he asks, “hello Michael can you hear me?”.
Visions of my dream fade, a bright light appears. I start to wonder if this is indeed the moment where I’ve met my maker. All the signs of such are there, including this mysterious voice.
I don’t even know if my eyes are open when I hear that same voice once again.
“Michael”, he says, “Michael can you hear me?”.
I’ve never heard this voice before, but he sounds friendly. As I open my eyes I notice that the bright light I had visions of is in fact real. It’s one of those medical light stands, sitting directly above my face I can feel the warmth the lightbulbs omit onto me.
My eyes finally open and I see the man behind the voice. A man, somewhere in his mid-twenties, smiles at me. Next to him are a group of others, two down by my feet on the right side of the bed, writing down notes, and two doing the exact same thing on the left side.
I turn my head to the right and I see a familiar face. It’s Jason, the surgical assistant.
“Hey buddy”, Jason greets still in his blue uniform with a mask around his neck, “we are all done here my friend”.
I close my eyes and start to notice the sounds of a machine whirring underneath me, it sounds like a generator of some sort and its consistent noise makes sleep impossible.
It’s at this moment that I realize that the surgery is done. I don’t know how long I laid there in that room, the next thing I remember is being moved into a larger area than the one I had been confined to upon awakening. Two big doors electronically open, Jason swipes his card upon entry, and then the next thing I know curtains are being drawn around each side of the bed.
“Righto Michael”, another voice says, “I am going to get you all hooked up here”.
An Indian lady starts pulling cords, which I immediately notice are connected to different parts of my body, and plugs them into machines that are on stands next to the bed. The pull of the cords hurt my skin, I can feel plastic tape pulling hairs out of my arms and legs.
As it would turn out, that’s the least of my worries.
“Now Michael”, she says, “I want you to have a drink please but you must only take a sip okay Michael”.
Water never tasted so good, I’m so thirsty. I can’t cough, my throat is sore and the water is soothing. I want to ask for more, she obliges, but then I want more. She places the cup on the bedside table but it’s off-limits, I guess.
This would be a lesson that would serve me well in the coming years. Here is this cup, with water I want to drink, but it’s just out of reach. Sometimes the things in life that you want, the things which hold value to you, are always just out of reach.
“Oh my god” another voice cries, “oh my god is he ok?”.
I know this voice, it’s my sister. She sits next to my bed side, tears are streaming down her pale cheeks, she holds my hand and sobs quietly. Mum is there, Dad stands right behind her, all of them are in tears.
“It’s all done now mate”, Mum says, “we are all going to be right here next to you”.
Sleep is impossible that night. The pain comes and goes, each time I get close to drifting off I’m woken by the Indian nurse who constantly checks the machines I’m hooked up to. Not only is that getting on my nerves, but I’m not allowed to move much at all.
Each time I ask to be turned over, there is a reason why I cannot.
Since waking from surgery my back has felt heavy. My whole body is numb but I can oddly still feel all sensations.
Mum tells me that I look swollen, sister keeps on crying, and Dad does what Dad always does, he’s just there.
It turns out that the body requires a lot of adjusting when titanium structures are put into it. This isn’t just any old titanium, I’ve now got two rods fused into my spinal cord which run the length of my back, from my neck to my pelvis. All the body wants to do is reject these changes, and that’s where the pain comes in. For the first time, I am being moved around with these new parts of my body.
The pain levels were so intense that I cannot describe them to this day. Because your body is close to shutting down, it takes a long time for everything to get up and running again. Much of those little developmental milestones you achieve as a toddler are now lost, you’ve got to learn them again. Realizing you are going to the toilet without knowing it, being unable to eat, or vomiting mid sleep really rams home the reality that this is indeed a new beginning.
I did a lot of sleeping that week. The alternative was hell, it felt like every time I so much as twiddled a finger, I’d be in a world of pain and my body was reacting in ways that I couldn’t control.
The ceiling becomes my best friend, because it’s the only thing that doesn’t hurt or change my body’s behavior.
“You must have counted every bloody dot up there”, Uncle Gary laughs when he comes to visit. Gary is exactly right, I did indeed count every last one of them, and looking back, I can say I knew them all in very intimate detail.
It’s November, 2004, a month before my 13th birthday, a birthday I would spend in Starship Hospital. Eventually the pain subsided, the recovery concluded, and if nothing else, I had banked some wonderfully graphic memories of what it feels like to come to the absolute brink of mental sanity.
Trauma is something that I had to learn about and respond to at a very young age. Looking back on that time, I am thankful for it. Whether it be surgery required in order to survive, a choice you have to make in life, or the decision to start anew at something, you run the risk of facing considerable trauma.
November 2004 would be my first big experience of it, and it wouldn’t be the last.