Since I was 23 and experienced the delights of being catapulted off a runaway, galloping horse and onto a number of very uncomfortable logs in the high country of Victoria, I have had a reasonably and reluctantly close acquaintance with bodily pain. Four years after the above, just as the compressed spinal fractures and broken ankle were improving, I developed sudden and severe rheumatoid arthritis, to which I had, unbeknownst to me, a genetic predisposition and which was triggered off by childbirth. The trials of developing RA were exacerbated by living in the hippy enclave of Fremantle, where every second person wanted to lend me Louise Hay’s You Can Heal Your Life, possibly the vilest, most fatuous, and most victim-blaming book ever to be published, or else wanted to suggest various green-lipped mussel/no nightshade/grass-only diets, past life therapies and/or applications of leeches that would definitely cure me, because it had cured a friend-of-a-friend-of-a-friend who had EXACTLY the same thing that I did. (Note: RA has been around since the fossil record of hominids began, so if anything cured it, believe me, we’d all know about it by now.) The only thing that has stopped me from being in a wheelchair, able to wield a fork only by having someone weave its handle through my stiff fingers, like my poor great-grandmother, are recently developed and powerful drugs, for which I pay deep homage to medical researchers and Big Pharma.
So I can assure you that while I was mildly terrified about chairing last week’s panels, I would have preferred to have chaired one a day for the next ten years than have done what I in fact did, which was to cause, by the mere act of bending over and straightening up, a lumbar disc to prolapse. The pain was evil and total. I may be an atheist in most circumstances, but I thanked God for the swift and effective treatment I got at St John of God Murdoch, and, after that, for the physiotherapy I’ve got from Silas St Physiotherapy.
Hence, I have spent most of the last week in a drugged stupor, cursing incipient middle age and having new sympathy for Frida Kahlo. The only thing I’ve learnt from pain is that, past a certain point, you have to respect it. If it tells you to stop, you stop. And if you’re lucky, and it recedes, it makes you grateful for the rest of your life, once you can get back to it.
Even chairing panels.