I have been thinking about bodies this summer, specifically my own, and the extraordinary privilege I enjoy of being very able-bodied.
I’ve been house-painting every spare moment, with the help of many wonderful friends. There is scaffolding on two sides of my perched-atop-a-Wellington-hill whare, to make it possible to reach the many, many oddly shaped bits. Of all my friends, I’ve been nearly the only one comfortable on every level of the scaffolding. Some friends have struggled with heights, some with the contortions required of their backs to access lower bits, some have been unable to move between areas because it would require balance they do not have.
And I’ve not just been comfortable, I’ve been playing on the scaffolding, climbing all over it like a monkey, moving from the roof of my house to the ground via swinging on bars and shinnying up and down supports. It’s been almost as much fun as being evicted from Kew Gardens for excessively high tree climbing.
Midst the fun has been the sobering noticing that for some of my friends, helping me has been painful, and they have needed to be careful with how long they spend.
And then two weeks ago, for the third time in my adult life, I was hit by a car while cycling, and taken to hospital via ambulance for tests because of the impact on my body. I spent hours in a neck brace, staring at the ceiling, because there was the possibility of spine damage due to where I’d been hit.
I am terrified of hospitals, medical interventions, needles and blood. So terrified I have been fainting since I was 19 – in plays, movies, doctor’s surgeries, during conversations with friends, when I cut myself while cooking. So this was pretty scary, as was being strapped to a stretcher while they measured different indicators of bodily wellbeing.
After discovering no internal organs were damaged and no bones broken – “just” extensive soft tissue damage – I was sent home, to bed, for a week. Now I’m up and trying to go about regular living for me, and I can’t, it still hurts too much. I’m trying to cycle and I’m scared of being hit again, wincing away from traffic. I’m having flashbacks of hitting the car, and lying on the road, being told not to move, and all the smells, sights, noises I experienced from that prone position. I can’t carry anything heavier than a couple of books. The house painting is stalled for now.
My body feels violate-able, and I’m in near constant pain, and I hate it.
Yet this and my scaffolding reminder of my typically privileged experience of my body is timely. Not because I think it means I understand what it might be like to be unable to bend my back at all, or need a chair to help me move around, or need assistance to wash and make food and get into and out of bed. But because it helps remind me that my usual experience IS a privilege, which I hope helps remind me to not make assumptions about other people’s lives.