Since my pulmonary embolism a couple of years ago, I have become something of a connoisseur of pain. The agony — a deep ache of the purest intensity — is caused by the pressure of a blood clot on the highly sensitive membrane of the lungs. It’s so exquisite it’s almost a religious experience. Your world is pain; all you want to do is to curl into a foetal ball and allow the earth to swallow you up: anything to make it stop. Mothers who’ve experienced it tell me it’s worse than giving birth.
I never wanted to go through such pain again but this week I nearly did: completely out of the blue and for no reason I could think of. One day I was feeling a bit achy in the upper back; the next it was worse; the day after that, it hurt so much I almost wanted to cry out to my Mummy and beg her to make it go away.
Unfortunately the last coincided with my appearance at the Durham Union in a debate about Brexit. Perhaps in normal circumstances, it might have been quite dispiriting hearing Anna Soubry come on after me and announce to the audience, in that charming, winning way she has, how crap my speech was and how utterly ignorable my opinions were, given all I’d ever achieved in life (apparently) was to have ‘once been a Telegraph journalist’. But on this occasion I couldn’t have cared less — nor even if we had won or lost.
No doubt the subsequent speeches by my teammates Peter Lilley and Steven Wolfe were brilliant, but all I could think of by that stage was the succession of double gin and tonics waiting for me in the union bar. Being students, they don’t do ice and lemon there, but the prices are low and the ambiance is charmingly scuzzy. Also, being Durham rather than Oxbridge, there are fewer social justice warriors lurking to harangue you as you drown your sorrows. Indeed, three undergraduates actually congratulated me on how weirdly compelling my quasi-hallucinogenic attempt at an argument my pain-wracked speech had been.
Better still, as luck would have it, somebody — not a student — had some legally prescribed Tramadol going spare. ‘Bosh one of those on top of the G&Ts and with any luck, I’ll be in toy town,’ I mused happily, like the late 1980s rave casualty I’ll always be at heart. But this was optimistic. One Tramadol, it turned out, wasn’t nearly enough. I spent the night writhing on my bed, wondering whether Durham had a hospital with an A&E, and if so how long I’d have to wait before they gave me something proper, like morphine…
Morphine’s great. I wouldn’t necessarily call it a fun drug in the way that my childhood favourite, MDMA, is but there’s a reason why medics carry ampoules of it in combat. It doesn’t kill the pain; it just takes you to a place where you’re at one remove from it, so that while you can still feel it throbbing away, it’s as if someone else is doing the actual suffering for you.
The downside of morphine though is that it makes it hard to write or indeed achieve anything useful. That’s why my brother-in-law, David Winwood, tries to keep down his intake. He’s stuck in a wheelchair with a terrible degenerative spine condition which causes him pain far worse than mine, 24/7. But because he is a hugely successful painter, much in demand, he has to quite literally suffer for his art — laying off the best painkillers, except in extremis, so as not to lose his artistic mojo or kill his productivity.
It’s in tribute to the heroic David that I am writing this without painkillers too. One odd side effect, I notice, is that I haven’t been checking Twitter every few seconds like I normally do. Perhaps the stabs of pain — together with whatever chemicals my body is producing in its attempts to cope — are acting as a substitute for the nagging stimulus of social media.
What I’ve done, the sports physio told me when I saw him this morning, is I’ve trapped a nerve somewhere in my spine. This has the odd effect of making the pain crop up in all sorts of strange places, down my arm as far as my fingertips, quite remote from where the actual trapped nerve is. I had rather hoped that it would be a question of ‘click, crunch, wow that’s better’. But it doesn’t work like that. I have to wait till the inflammation becomes less acute, which could mean several days more misery ahead.
If you have not been put off by the preceding paragraphs of wheedling self-pity, you’ll possibly be wondering how such extreme pain could have appeared out of nowhere. I did too till I racked my brain and finally worked out the answer: it was the result of an incident over a week ago when, very foolishly and entirely uncharacteristically, I had attempted some DIY.
This involved trying to screw a screw into a fence post. It was that simple but even there I failed. I slipped on a muddy bank, grabbed the post as I fell and wrenched my shoulder and neck in the process. I was so traumatised that not only did I fail to complete the job, but I also lost the cap to the ratchet screwdriver and one of the multiple heads, causing the Fawn to mock me greatly for my risible incompetence.
She’s right. There is a very important lesson here which I hope she has learned. Never, ever, ever let your husband perform DIY tasks beyond his capabilities. Either do it yourself or pay a handyman to do it, thus leaving your husband free to engage in less dangerous pursuits. Fox hunting, say.