Something amazing happened to me last week.
For those who don’t know, I’m currently totally housebound as I await an operation on my spine. I haven’t left my flat in almost three weeks (and I’m going quietly insane, by the way!). I’ve had to give up office work entirely, of course, and while I can work a little at my desk, things look bleak for the future unless I get this operation quickly. It’s very depressing.
The other depressing thing is the pain. I have sciatica, which is one of those illnesses that is so common that everybody knows somebody who has it, although many people don’t quite know what it is. To put it simply: a disc in my lower back has begun to bulge, and that bulge is pressing on the top of the big sciatic nerve that runs down my left leg. This means that I get a horrible, stabbing pain in the back of my thigh when I do wild and crazy things such as standing, walking or sitting – sometimes it even hurts when I lie down. If I don’t stop what I’m doing instantly, the pain becomes a horrible, crampy feeling in the back of my calf, and then my whole leg goes dead and I get pins and needles. Sometimes the pain is so bad that I wake up screaming at night when my drugs wear off, and no, I’m not exaggerating that. I know I’m a journalist and we like to exaggerate, but that’s the truth. I scream in my sleep. It’s a good thing I sleep alone…
In short, it’s absolutely horrible and I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy.
This also happened to me in 2007, when I was housebound for three months while I waited for surgery (which did take the pain away, up until it started again last February). The thing is, back then it only hurt when I stood, so I could sit down and feel absolutely normal. Three months on the sofa watching TV wasn’t really that bad in comparison to this. Right now, I can’t sit on the sofa. It hurts. It hurts when I do anything, really, except lie down or sit at my desk (some days I can’t even do that).
Two months ago, I built a bed in my lounge so that I could watch TV lying down. I haven’t sat on my sofa since June: it hurts too much. This is how I spend 90% of my waking day now – on this collection of quilt and pillows that my friend Paul calls my “dog bed”:
Frankly, I’m sick of this dog bed. It’s less painful than the sofa and it’s better than sitting on the floor, but really, I’m a 41-year-old woman and I’m reduced to curling up on the floor to watch TV because I can’t do anything else. Pathetic, eh? The longer I use it, the more miserable it makes me. Nothing reminds you that you’re ill more than the fact that you have to lie on the floor to watch TV because sitting up is agonising. Bah.
Then a few weeks ago, my friend Olympia emailed me out of the blue. “If you could afford it, which of these chairs would you have if you could?” she said, and sent me a list of links to websites. It was a bit random, but I had a look out of curiosity, and didn’t see one I liked. I sent her this photo instead, of my dream chair:
Frasier’s Eames chair has always looked wonderful to me. Isn’t it pretty? So comfortable-looking, yet so stylish, even with a Jack Russell sitting on it. Way out of my price range, of course, but a girl can dream.
Last week I suddenly received an email from a furniture company telling me that Olympia had just purchased a reproduction Eames chair for me.
I’m sure you can imagine, I was freaked out. No way should anybody spend that amount of money on me! I was horrified! But when I started emailing her and my other friends in shock, I found out this:
The chair was a gift from Random Acts, a charity set up by Supernatural actor Misha Collins to do good deeds around the world. I’ve interviewed Misha a few times – once about Random Acts itself – so of course I knew about it, but it never occurred to me for an instant that I would qualify for a gift from them. It turned out that Olympia had applied for money, citing my need for a decent chair to help with my poorly back, and they’d paid for the chair. Then Olympia and my other friends Biddy, Vanesha and Tracy had all chipped in for any other costs.
It’s my birthday on 1 October. Happy birthday to me!
Incidentally, when it arrived my neighbour brought her brother round to build it for me – a man I’d never met before in my life. He built it while she got rid of all the packaging and even vacuumed my lounge afterwards. I just sat there on my dog bed and kept saying, “Thank you.” It was humbling, to say the least.
Once built, I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to use the chair, as my back is so very (annoyingly) fussy these days. But I can sit without pain for about half an hour before I have to retreat to my dog bed, and then I can sit on the chair again once I’ve rested. It’s also perfect for sitting on when I use my laptop (because I rest the computer on the ottoman and lean over it, thus opening up my vertebrae and reducing the pressure on my disc). And I can eat meals off the ottoman, too, because that also means I lean over and it doesn’t hurt!
In short, the chair has reduced my dog-bed time each day by about 80%. I can’t stress how wonderful this is! And once I’ve had my surgery and I’m hopefully fixed up, it will be comfortable enough not to aggravate my back again, something my sofas have always done. This is a chair for life. It will go with me everywhere. I love everything about it: the fact it’s so smart, the fact it’s synthetic leather (I’m a vegetarian, so that’s perfect for my guilt levels), the fact it has given me more movement when I sit down because it swivels – again, good for my back – and the fact it’s just so goddamn gorgeous!
But most of all, I love it because my friends thought of buying it for me, and Random Acts made that possible. What an amazing thing that charity is; I’m always amazed at the things they do (such as building an orphanage in Haiti – far more important than buying someone a new chair!). The sheer kindness of some people is breathtaking. When I’m healed, I will most definitely find a random act of kindness to perform myself so that I can pay this forward. That’s what life’s about, really: looking out for people who are going through tough times. Hopefully mine won’t last much longer; I have a surgical consultation on Tuesday – my birthday! – so I could have surgery soon. Until then, and afterwards, I have something to make the pain go away. It’s only a chair, but it now means the world to me, and I won’t ever take it for granted.
I’ve called it Frasier, by the way. I’m resisting the urge to buy a little dog so it can sit on the ottoman and stare at me.