I’ve had a lifetime of bad posture. Long, weak limbs combined with horrendously low self-esteem resulted in years of tightly curling myself up into as little space as possible.
To sleep, I always lay on my right side in the foetal position. HImself often urged me to sleep on my back like he did, to which I’d pretend to listen while biting back comments on his propensity to snore when in that position. And an article saying sleeping on your right side was best for the body further bolstered my enthusiasm for the position.
But then, when the news came that open heart surgery was necessary, my world went flat. Because the health problem runs in my family and I’d seen many relatives go through this, I knew the surgery would also involve cutting open the sternum and rib cage, which would need a lot of lying flat on my back to recover. I was dreading going into hospital, convinced I wouldn’t sleep a wink if I couldn’t twist and turn.
As the surgery day approached, the weather was getting cold, so my cat started crawling under the duvet to lie stretched out against my side. I’d lay my arm along her outside flank, and we’d keep each other warm. I said she was getting me in training for hospital. But I didn’t sleep much- I kept thinking of stories about junkie mothers suffocating their babies by lying on them. And eventually, I would no longer be able to resist the urge to turn on my side. When the cat decided my movements were too disruptive for her sleep and slinked off to her mat, I gleefully rolled over on my stomach and reached out to Morpheus.
Well, my worries about not sleeping in hospital turned out to groundless. The drugs took care of that, of course. However, mobility was an issue. A big T of aches spread from the chestbone out to both shoulders, with the occasional side splinter down a rib. Turning onto either side was impossible; it felt like resting on a knife. Sitting up and lying down required the help of a team of nurses. Or a mechanised bed. Scooching over an inch sparked off a crescendo of pain along the ribs, But still, I found it almost impossible to lie straight. I couldn’t control the urge to bend a knee or clutch the blankets under my chin, even when lying straight-limbed eased the pressure in them.
But it was when I got home that the big problems started. My bed had always seemed comfortable before, and I went to sleep quickly on my first night home. But I woke up in the wee hours of the morning to discover I was lying on a stone slab. My ribcage felt like it was a ton weight pressing into the bed. I was pinioned down like a worm on a pin – unable to haul myself up, unable to roll over to relieve the pressure. All I could do was wriggle my shoulders from side to side a bit, and raise my knees. I could hear Himself, my live-in nurse, in the throes of deep sleep on the mattress on the floor at the foot of the bed. I tried calling him, but he was in another universe.
The white cat appeared at the bedroom door and answered me, shimmering like a tiny angel in the dark as always. It was sweet of her to respond to me, but not much help. Or so I thought. As I lay there, I dreamed up a giant teddy bear that could inflate to raise you up, and deflate to lie you down. There could also be other versions, like inflatable sex dolls or hunky men. But I wanted a teddy bear that night. As I fantasised about blow-up teddies, he cat began playing around, scratching her board, chasing a ball, and grabbing her favourite nighttime toy, the elasticated string of foam balls and tin bells. It hung down from where I’d once tied it to the table. Once she’d discovered it bounced back into place from there, and swung freely, and made lots of noise, she was sold.
Now, the bells started to tinkle more and more, as she got more excited by the string’s responding movements to her swipes and grabs. I began to grow nervous, with the reflex thought “She’ll wake him up” flashing across my mind. I almost forgot about my physical agony in my consternation. And sure enough, soon I heard my own Nightingale trill out, “Why can’t you play in the daytime?”. Himself was awake! I called out to him, “Honey?” and — though he took his own precious time about getting up — I was soon lifted out of bed and sitting in the living room, keeping the cat company while the rest of the household slept. A win-win situation all round.