written yesterday but not posted as internet decided to pretend it was not there when it actually was.
I decided to go to Bristol for a two day visit; the town where I spent three of the happiest most fun-filled years whilst studying at university. I had a list of people to visit, the majority of which had not seen me (or had only briefly seen me) since my transplant. I was very blaze about it all - I think because it feels like a second home to me - and had absolutely no idea just what a hugely emotional trip it would be.
As I drove into the town centre, a big grin made its way across my face; I really do love Bristol, not only do I have a million very fond memories there but it’s a great town in its own right. I drove up to the flat where I lived for two years to be greeted by a manically waving and grinning ex-flatmate, who is still there as she’s a medic therefore will be studying for what seems to me to be the rest of her life. The flat hasn’t changed much, in fact to such an extent that there was still 2 old (empty) oxygen cylinders in the hallway and Claire’s eyes (the eyes we made and stuck on my oxygen machine) are still pinned on the notice board, which made me giggle.
Me and my girlies went out for lunch in one of the local cafés which I never managed to get to as it has stairs in and I tended to go for ground floor close proximity places. Whilst we were munching our lunch and catching up, I suddenly realised; these girls have never known me as a "well" person. I mean by the time I moved to Bristol in 2002 my lung function percentage was already in the 40s and I was on 3 monthly IVs. It was quite a peculiar realisation as whilst they shared possibly the biggest part of my life with me so far, it was only a small segment time-wise, and so the “well” me is a new and novel thing, even more so than for people at home.
Walking along the roads past University buildings really bought back sharp memories of how I used to struggle; I'd arrive at the French department which was about 2 roads away from the flat breathless, sweating and exhausted, and would ensure I arrived about 20 minutes early so I could sit in the foyer and recover. It was all just normal life to me then however, and I didn't think twice about these allowances which had to be made for naughty lungs.
Of course it’s not just the people – I’d never been in Bristol as a well person either, although I never thought of myself as ill when I moved there to begin uni. I’d go to pubs and clubs with everyone else (mind you I still did that even once on oxygen) but I’d always be that little bit slower, be the one to get the taxi back, be the one to sleep all day the next day. Not that any of that mattered – as there were quite a few students who’d sleep all day completely independently of any health issues.
This morning I decided to wander down to the Drama department. As I wandered up the road, which sloped gently upwards towards the department, I was surprised to find tears pricking my eyes. I didn’t realise how emotional it would be. I didn’t walk up that road once in the final year; I was always either driven or pushed in my wheelchair. To walk towards the door just seemed so significant.
I figured everyone would have gone home as term ended last week so was delighted when I saw my favourite porter in the doorway, and even more thrilled to find quite a few members of the department still hovering around. The reaction from everyone I saw was the same; a polite “hello” with a look of “I’m sure I know you” followed by a very slow realisation sometimes prompted by me saying “I suspect I’ll seem more familiar to you if I sit down and stick some tubing on my face.” One tutor who only taught me in the third year commented “you look so different standing up!” but everyone was delighted and so lovely. They’d all followed my progress (always most bizarre when everyone already knows all the news you’ve come to tell them) and it was so lovely to catch up with them all. I had great trouble not bursting into tears on several occasions as I relayed events over the last 2 years; so much has happened since I was last in those four walls – which incidentally was when I was given day release for graduation whilst still having a chest drain in in the summer of 2005.
After tea, chats and a great catch-up, I headed towards the BRI to see the team that cared for me whilst I was studying. The look on their faces was fantastic as I walked in, and we hugged laughed and chatted whilst I threw many a wedding photo at them, until it was time for me to go. I am hoping to go back to the Brompton too at the beginning of next year as teams who care for you when you’re so sick don’t really get to see the positive results as your transplant hospital takes over your care. They worked tirelessly to get me that far and preserve my health until a transplant materialised and it’s very important not to forget that.
I drove home this evening tired, a little emotionally drained, but very very happy. Bristol is much the same as it ever was, but my life has changed beyond recognition and that made this visit a very strange but beautiful one.