As my fans and followers – all two of us – will have realised by now, my activities the past few months have been overshadowed by a painful and debilitating condition called lumbar disc hernia – sciatica for short. The only position where I don’t feel pain and numbness in my left leg is sitting down, which of course was not the ideal situation for taking my son Gianluca for one of our ‘adventures’, this time to Girona in Spain (sorry, Catalonia…).
The flight tickets had been bought ages ago, but in the meantime my condition was worsening until I reached the stage where I became chair bound. It began to seem quite likely that we would have to give up on our trip to Girona. Among various other medical professionals (and to my eternal shame, a quack) I saw an orthopedic surgeon who recommended that I take a course of ‘epidural injections’ in my lower back as the recommended conservative treatment option before the last resort, i.e. surgery. In 80 percent of cases, these injections enable the patient to recover and return to normal life.
This news about probable recovery was a great morale booster and I told Gianluca that the chances of our going to Girona had just gone up to 75%. After the injection, for one or two days, I should feel a worsening of the pain but then it would begin to subside. Then a second injection, a week later, would, sort of, complete the job. In actual reality, if there was any slight improvement it may have been due to just my imagination. With each passing day and no tangible easing of the sciatica, my estimated probability of recovering in time for Girona kept diminishing and went down to 10 percent a week before our booked flight.
Apparently (and I have to stress the word as I’ve already listened to and read various contrasting accounts and theories from doctors, well meaning friends, on the internet… while the situation may well have changed since April, when I had the MRI scan which provides my doctors with their diagnosis) this hernia of mine will eventually shrink by itself within a year. When I learned this, I started to imagine, again, that I was “definitely” walking better than some weeks ago. I could walk for a short distance, sit down to rest wherever I find a seat, and press on for another short distance. I decided that I would gradually resume my normal life, attend a staff dinner that was to be organised soon, resume going to work at the office, and of course… give substance to that 10 percent probability of going to Girona.
Both Gianluca and I dearly wished to go on our ‘adventure’. Most of our trips abroad, for us, are adventures anyway. For the first time all by ourselves in a strange land – Macedonia – and then Barcelona, Montenegro, Iceland and Bucharest each was an interesting challenge in its own way. This time, it would be an adventure with a different dimension. Defy sciatica to visit a beautiful old town in Spain on our week alone together during Gianluca’s summer holidays, rather than stay at home staring at a computer screen for the whole week.
I booked an Airbnb apartment right in the heart of the old town, a pedestrian zone in what is known as the Jewish quarter, within short walking distance of the main attractions of Girona. Except for the 33 steps to reach the apartment (“16 steps” according to our good hostess Imma) it was the ideal accommodation for me. We would take it easy and limit ourselves to short excursions and taking pictures. As if I can ever take it easy while travelling… I should have realised this the moment I researched train trips to Barcelona and how to obtain tickets to enter Gaudì’s masterpiece, the Sagrada Familia basilica.
And therefore, at mid-day on Sunday 16th July 2017, I had my first experience of what was awaiting me for the following five days – an 800 metre hobble from the 10B parking line at the Charleroi P2 towards the airport terminal and many queues, security checkpoints, et cetera. Peak holiday season, very crowded. But we managed, and I knew that one way or another we were going to make a success of this crazy trip.