“In Maintenance” by Rick White

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One of the most horribly unpleasant things about getting older (and bear in mind I’m not that old) is that you start picking up injuries that don’t properly heal. Whether it’s the result of a significant past trauma, or just life’s general wear and tear, you start to find yourself living with pain that you realise will never go away.

I’ve got a pain in my ass – quite literally. It was about seven years ago in January, on a long train journey, when I noticed that my tailbone was really hurting. I went to the doctor about it, he had a good rummage around the ‘area’ (unsurprisingly) doctors are mainly perverts. And then he said, ‘did you go out drinking over Christmas?’

‘Of course. I was celebrating the birth of our lord Jesus, as is tradition.’

‘Did you fall over on your arse?’

‘Well I can’t be sure but I would say it’s highly likely.’

‘I think you’ve probably broken your coccyx without realising it.’

‘I see and what is the treatment?’

‘Nothing you can do. It may not fully get better either, these things can stay with you for life.’

‘Oh.’ I replied. ‘Shit.’ So far it hasn’t gone away.

I’ve had many injuries in my life, especially when I was younger. As a kid I broke my wrist three times, each time trying to copy something which my younger and far more physically adroit brother had successfully carried off. One was on a rope-swing, one on a motorbike and one on a mountain bike. On each occasion my brother swung, skidded and pirouetted elegantly to safety whereas I smacked the deck hard and ended up in the infirmary.

Very recently – twenty and a bit years later – I started noticing a nagging pain in my right wrist, the one I had previously broken. It started getting a bit sore when I was driving, it felt awkward putting pressure on it when I was getting out of bed in the morning.

I realised there was really something up with it after I played tennis and my wrist was so fucked I couldn’t cut through a pizza with a chef’s knife.

So I decided to go to the doctors (perverts, naturally) because at least they can supply you with drugs. This kind of injury though has certain connotations and it was always going to be a slightly awkward conversation, especially with a doctor who looks like he’s only just out of school.

‘So Mr. White, sore wrist on the dominant hand is it? I see this sort of thing a lot. Can I ask, are you currently single?’

‘Well as flattered as I am by your attentions I must tell you that I am in fact married.’

‘Ah, even worse.’

‘What are you driving at you scurrilous student oik? Are you even qualified to practice medicine?’

‘I think this is likely to be some sort of repetitive strain injury if you follow me?’

‘No – what exactly are you insinuating?’

‘It’s wankers cramp.’

‘How dare you! I can assure you sir, that I have never in my life resorted to onanism. I’m not some sort of deranged chimpanzee!’

‘Very well Mr. White, whatever you say.’

‘I demand a full battery of tests. Extract every available fluid from me at once for analysis. Wait…that came out wrong.’

Begrudgingly, that doctor did actually carry out some blood tests in order to check for rheumatoid arthritis which came back negative but did show that my iron levels were through the fucking roof. I was told that this was most likely an indication of Haemochromatosis which I thought sounded horrendous, although amazing for scrabble.

‘Could it be something else?’ I enquired.

‘No. Haemochromatosis is literally just iron overload. So it’s that.’

‘I see. And what are the most common symptoms?’

‘Lethargy and fatigue, joint pain….and erectile dysfunction.’

‘How dare you sir! I can assure you that never in my life have I failed to perform, well I mean, maybe once or twice but still HOW DARE YOU!? I’ll prove it to you right this minute. Wait, wait…’

I wasn’t falling into that trap! No sir. I definitely did have haemochromatosis though, there was no doubt about that. The treatment is very simple, you get a pint of blood drained out of you on a regular basis.

Haemochromatosis is a genetic disorder which means that you naturally absorb too much iron from anything you consume. Over time the iron builds up in your system and starts to deposit itself in your vital organs, fucking them up royally in the process. It usually goes undiagnosed for a long time so the first you know about it is when you start getting all sorts of weird symptoms like the ones that pervert mentioned to me but by then it’s too late as your organs are already shredded.

So it was a good job they (or rather I) had caught it early. Iron takes a long time to build up in your blood, so you drain some of your blood and make new blood, that blood is relatively iron free so it dilutes the iron that’s already in your blood. Nice and easy.

For the next four months I had a pint of my delicious, iron-rich blood drained off once a week until I was well and truly anaemic and looked like a white walker. My iron levels were now back within normal range though so I am now ‘In Maintenance’ which means I get a check up every  six months and in the meantime I just donate blood like any normal person and that sorts me out.

 


Incidentally – last time I went to give blood, the nurse informed me that my blood contains a specific antigen (or something like that) which means that they only give my blood to babies of 28 days or younger. So, I’m actually kind of a baby-saving superhero. Quite a neat way for the Universe to put my stupid sore wrist in to perspective

 

I’ll have to live with haemochromatosis for the rest of my life but as long as I’m in maintenance then I shouldn’t develop any of the symptoms as long as it’s kept under control.

After all this though, my wrist is still completely buggered. I went to see a specialist about it and he told me, in a very disinterested manner, that the bones are out of whack and it needs surgery. One of the bones wants chopping, filing down and then stapling back on. It would mean six weeks in a cast, three months (at least) of physio and there’s only about a 50% chance that it would improve. There’s a good chance it would remain exactly the same but it could actually make it worse so Fuck. That.

It’s only a sore wrist; but it’s a nagging, constant pain that I will just have to live with. Plus it means I can never play tennis again, something which I previously enjoyed and was good at. Feels odd to completely lose the ability to do something due to the unexpected failure of a minor body part. But that – my Dad assures me – is a major part of growing older. ‘Wait until you’re 65.’ He tells me. ‘You’ll need a team of physicians 24/7.’

It was during this same conversation that I told my Dad about the haemochromatosis and his was response was typically, brilliantly, Dad-ish;

‘Well you get that from your mother not from me.’

‘Well I get it from both of you actually, it’s genetic.’

‘No. I’ve been tested for all genetic disorders.’

‘Right well it’s a recessive gene which means that both parents have to have it in order to pass it on so if you’re interested in keeping up this line of defence it can only end with the logical conclusion that you are not my father.’

‘Well who told you that?’

‘A doctor, and the internet.’

‘They’re all perverts mate.’

I meant to tell my brother about this as well because he should really get tested but he won’t have it. He’ll be fine. He got all the good genes from my parents, that’s why he’s got pecs, an eight-pack and 0% body fat. It’s also slightly to do with the fact that he works out like a motherfucker and sticks to a healthy diet but still, it’s bloody unfair.

I inherited haemochromatosis and my mother’s legs.

I’ve always thought my hips were a bit weird. They’re jut out quite a bit and they seem a bit too wide. ‘Child-bearing hips’ you might almost describe them as. Growing up I was incredibly self conscious about it as my body seemed the wrong shape, my torso was not very masculine. I’ve got long, skinny legs like my mum, sticky-outy hips and a ring of stubborn fat around the middle. To me, my body looks like a toad being dangled by its head.

The hips, it turns out, are a problem. About a year ago I started noticing a sharp pain right in my groin. It was always there when I was doing any sort of movement and always in the exact same place. I tried physio, two different women and one man have fettled with my groin for a prolonged period of time. Perverts? Sure. Enjoyable? A bit. Completely ineffective though, as I knew it would be.

I have a hip spur; an extra bit of bone that grows on the ball of the hip joint and then bashes in to the soft tissue within the joint whenever you move. I had keyhole surgery to remove it, but the tissue within the joint is damaged and cannot be repaired with keyhole surgery. So the pain is still there, in exactly the same spot. The hip seizes up very badly after long periods of sitting down, especially after driving, which also hurts my ass, and wrist.

I’ve seen a specialist and – quelle surprise – it needs a full surgery. They would need to chop my leg off completely, rummage around in my hip joint, then staple the leg back on. Long recovery, lots of physio, 50% chance it will work. FUCK. THAT.

The doc was concerned about both of my hips and said it’s highly likely that I will need early replacement surgery on both of them. Could be ten years, could be twenty, but they’ll need to come out.

And in the meantime I will just have to live with the pain. Don’t get me wrong, it’s mild to moderate. It’s not ruining my quality of life that much and it’s nothing compared to what other people have to deal with. I struggle to run though, which does bother me.

I don’t like the idea that if I have kids one day I might not be able to run around with them.

I can do other stuff though of course. I can ride a bike, I can swim, I can box. Boxing doesn’t actually hurt my wrist at all and it’s now something I do regularly. I do it mainly for fitness, I’m amazing at hitting the pads but I find it considerably harder when someone is trying to hit me back.

I train regularly at the gym, I lift weights, not just to try and improve my appearance although vanity is obviously a factor. Mainly I just want to make sure that I can stay relatively fit and strong. I may not win the Dads 100 metres at Sports Day but if do have kids I want to be able to pick ‘em up and swing ‘em round by the legs for my own amusement. And I want to be able to beat up at least one other dad in the playground, should the need ever arise.

If I’m honest, I hate my body. I know that these days you’re supposed to love every inch of yourself and be body positive no matter what but it’s just not that easy. It’s not just that I hate the way it looks, it’s more that I feel it is constantly conspiring against me, trying to stop me at every turn. These little aches, pains and niggles are not too serious but they add up. They take a toll and start weighing on your body, but more importantly on your mind. At 35 I sometimes feel as though I’m already too old to have kids, like I won’t be able to find the energy that’s required.

But then I think, maybe I’m just trying way too hard, putting too much pressure on myself. I go to the gym because I know that I’ve only got a few years left of being able to call myself ‘young’, so I want to try and make the most of that. I spent my teens and my twenties being completely sedentary and filling myself with all kinds of junk, just like most people do. But I missed out on the pleasures of actually being fit and healthy. Now that I want to enjoy those aspects of life, I feel as though I’ve not got much time left to really fulfill them.

In a few years I will realistically be ‘middle-aged’ and that’s ok, there’s nothing wrong with that. Some of the inevitable signs of ageing will start to appear on me and I shouldn’t have to fight them too hard. It’s far more dignified, cooler even, to accept these things as natural consequences of a life that has been lived, rather than to keep battling non-stop against them, to the detriment of everything else.

My wife isn’t bothered about me going to the gym, I think she’d probably prefer it if I didn’t. She was first attracted to me because I had, in her words, ‘a funny face’. She also tells me that she ‘likes her men fat.’ So I know there’s no pressure from her, only what I put on myself.

As I get older I’ll continue to do everything I can but I’ll try not to overdo it. And I will make a conscious effort to be happier with myself. Hopefully I will start to move away from trying to cut away and drain all of the things I don’t like, and more towards taking good care of what I have. For me, that is what it means to be ‘In Maintenance’ and if you think about it, it’s not a bad strategy to apply to most aspects of life.

 

 

P.S – My mother-in-law is a natural worrier and was very concerned when she read about the symptoms of haemochromatosis online. Thankfully my wife assured her that I was not exhibiting any of the symptoms (most of the time). She also told me that there is a Haemochromatosis Society so I will definitely be running for president of that in 20/21. I’m sure it’s not exactly the Bullingdon Club but I’ll give it a go.

 


If you’re reading this and you happen to be American, the Bullingdon Club is pretty much exactly what you’ll imagine a British fraternity to be like.


 

 

 

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