A year in people #74 – Emma

“Tara! I need your help.” My friend Emma shouted from downstairs. “I think you need to call an ambulance.”

She was staying with me after an operation in which a metal coil was put down the main (femoral) artery in her leg. 

“I think something’s bleeding inside, it’s happened really quickly.” She lifted the covers and pointed to a tennis-ball sized lump at the top of her leg. 

“Holy shit!” I knew that definitely wasn’t there 10 minutes ago. She was worried, and a bit panicky. “OK, try to stay calm.”

The nurse had gone through with me what to do if the artery had started spurting out all over the room, but she hadn’t talked about any internal bleeding. I rang the ambulance first and made sure they were on the way, then found the after-care instructions we’d been given ‘press hard an inch above the incision site, and feel for the pulse.’ OK. Hmmm. How hard is too hard? How would I know which bit to press on? How much actually is an inch? Should I press the lump? What IS the lump? Will it explode?

I sat by the side of the bed, and pressed above the lump. I felt a pulse and figured hoped I was in the right place. We both stared at each other and laughed. Emma was laid there in her knickers and I was pressing hard into her groin at 10pm on a Monday night, both hoping that she wasn’t bleeding into her lungs or something equally horrific. What else to do but laugh, right?

“I don’t think it’s getting any bigger. I think that’s got to be good.” 

Emma had been waiting for this operation for two years. Two years of leg pain. Two years of no diagnosis, then wrong diagnosis, then no diagnosis again. Two years of physio, podiatrists and doctors both in New Zealand and the UK. Two years of trying to get people to listen. Two years of starting to question whether it was even real, whether her brain was making up the pain.

She’s a Guinness world record holder (for the longest journey by elliptical cycle in a single country). She’s ran across and through Africa. Up and down mountains. Rollerskating across the Netherlands. Long distance, endurance challenges are her bag. Also a climbing instructor, she was never far from being active. 

Then all of a sudden she couldn’t even walk down the road without being in pain. Imagine your whole life changing in the blink of an eye. The things that bring you calm, the things that make you, you, you can’t do. What do you do? The things you do to earn money, that make up your identity, you can’t do. 

What would YOU do? 

It’s been so hard for her, and no one can even pretend to understand. 

She’s excited for this operation, because she can get her life back. She can start to do the things that she loves again. Rather, she can start to make a new life.  Over the last two years she’s spent the time figuring out different stuff. Like learning patience, and how a less-active life works for her. Learning not to take things for granted, like the basic things that most people don’t even think about, such as being able to walk without pain or being able to work. I know it’s been hard. Really fucking hard.

She’s rediscovered her drawing mojo, forging a career in art in New Zealand. If you go through international departures at Queenstown airport, you’ll see one of her giant paintings on the doors. At some point soon you’ll be able to buy a children’s book she’s written. You can buy prints and cards and stickers of all things kiwi, pounamu and bees. She admits she’d have never done all that if she hadn’t had the problems with her leg, and for that she’s grateful (you can see/buy all her AWESOME stuff here). She’s not sat still (well, figuratively).

But she sure as hell misses the mountains and the running. Tennis ball now gone and artery plugged up, she’s now on the road to recovery and I’m crossing everything that it all goes to plan, and quickly (I can’t wait to plan some NZ adventures with her soon).

Sometimes life gives you lemons. As that cliched-probably-used-way-too-much-saying goes, you can either make lemonade or something-that-I-can’t-remember. Emma chose to make lemonade, and it’s pretty tasty. I think she might have even put a bit of gin in it.

She’s ruddy marvellous.

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