Hemi Story Part 1 – My right leg


My right leg is the part of my body that is probably most affected by hemiplegia. It’s a bit shorter than my left leg, though I don’t know how much by. My right foot is also smaller than my left – by one shoe size – but because my right foot sometimes swells up I take size 6 for both feet. (My right ankle also swells up.) Because I rarely use a wheelchair or a stick – in fact, I don’t actually have a wheelchair or a stick at the moment – some people angrily insist there’s nothing wrong with my right leg. My neighbours insist that the reason why I drag my right leg is because, according to these self-styled cerebral palsy experts, I must be severely incontinent. I once tried to explain to somebody, who wrongly assumed (because of something she’d seen on television and because I don’t use a wheelchair) that my right arm was the only part of my body affected by hemi, that my right leg is the part of my body most affected by hemi; because I said the words “take” and “that”  – albeit in different sentences – she thought I was saying “ooh, I love Gary Barlow, I think he’s gorgeous” (I have never found Gary Barlow, Robbie Williams, Howard Orange or the other one attractive at all -and the only Take That song I like is their version of Could It Be Magic).

I’ve had three operations on my right leg:

1ST OPERATION, AGED 4: Although I can’t remember anything about the actual day of the operation, I had a room to myself in the ward – though on a couple of nights I had to share the room with babies. There was also a room where I’d watch TV and play with other kids; I remember playing with a Play Boot (Note for younger readers: a Play Boot was nothing like a PlayStation) in there. I also have a vague recollection of the TV from the play room being wheeled into my room one day. When my pot was removed, a small red Stickle Brick fell out; I hadn’t had any inkling that the Stickle Brick was there and I don’t know how it got there.

2ND OPERATION, AGED 10: My op scar from this operation is massive and goes all the way up the back of my right foot. (Around the 20th anniversary of this op, the op scar turned blue and my GP put me on a course of antibiotics as a precaution.) I can remember the day of this operation vividly. I was woken up really early so I could have toast & cereal before the “nil by mouth” sign went up, and in the downtime before the op I did a jigsaw of the Disney space film The Black Hole (a film that I still haven’t seen but I’d like to see it just to see if it’s as bad as everyone says it is) and read Blue Jeans, which had a gorgeous poster of Roger Taylor (the Duran Duran one) in the centre pages. The anaesthetists had to have two or three goes at zonking me out for the operation; their first attempt was by injecting the back of my left hand (which I did think at the time was a strange place to inject somebody) but I was still awake, so I then had to sniff a blue rubber thing. After the op I felt absolutely lousy and was throwing up a lot; I was still spewing while trying to watch Doctor Who and TOTP that night (according to the book A Concise Guide To Eighties Music which my dad got me for my birthday a few years ago the op was the week before Lionel Richie’s spewfest Hello got to number 1 so the vomit-inducing video for that might have been on that evening’s TOTP, which wouldn’t have helped matters). I was still puking up and feeling op-groggy when I watched Doctor Who the following night (the final episode of The Caves Of Androzani, culminating in the Fifth / Sixth regeneration).

I still had the pot on my leg when I left hospital a few days later, and it was during this time that the kitchen ceiling fell down. My bedroom was directly above the kitchen, and when my late grandmother (the same grandmother who bizarrely considered Tony Blair and the Clintons to be radical left-wingers) heard the bang she got panicky and wrongly assumed I’d fallen over. I don’t know what the hell my grandmother thought I was doing in my bedroom with a pot on my hemi leg (she was always making ignorant comments about my hemi). If I remember correctly, at the moment the kitchen ceiling fell down I was lying on my bed reading; when I heard the loud bang I thought either the cat had knocked a large object over or something had fallen down in the shed. (I can’t remember why the kitchen ceiling fell down.)


I actually took part in a fun run a few weeks before this operation. Doctors had already told me that I was going to have the op. I remember my mother was unhappy about me doing the fun run, and because I was so keen to do the race my school let me do the fun run if I only did half the course (which I was annoyed about because I’d been training to do the whole course, and I’d been doing this training every day for weeks). The doctors had told me that my right leg was going to be “rebuilt” – making it sound similar to the surgery Banzo had on his knee last season.

Unlike the op I had when I was 10 – when I was operated on after being in hospital three or four days – this time I was operated on the day after going into hospital. At first I had a pot that went all the way up my hemi leg, because I had a big pin inserted into it, which meant that I couldn’t walk, bend the leg or go to the loo for several weeks. My late grandmother – somewhat ironically considering she was such a prude she deemed the word “poo” to be swearing – thought that me being unable to go to the loo and having to use a bedpan instead was the most hilarious thing that had ever happened; my grandmother decided to call my bedpan “BP” and constantly made so-called “jokes” about my bodily waste using the slogan “be part of it” – the advertising slogan for the privatization of BP (the oil company) which was going on at the time. My grandmother’s “jokes” about this were so unfunny that they made Scary Movie 2 look like The Life Of Brian. When the pin was removed and I had a smaller pot put on, physiotherapists got me walking again. The physios gave me a plastic patten (a patten is a sole which is strapped on to protect shoes or feet – in Victorian times, people wore wooden pattens to protect their shoes from rain) and a huge thick sock; I think they gave me the patten because the sole of my pot wasn’t flat. Before I left hospital the physios also gave me a stick, which my mother wasn’t happy about. A few months later (by which time I’d turned 14) we were at South Mimms Services and my mother – apropos of nothing – suddenly said “WE don’t need THIS any more, DO WE?” in her trademark aggressively patronizing way, angrily took the stick off me and threw it into the nearest bin. I felt embarrassed and humiliated by my mother’s behaviour. I actually found the stick to be a great help and I have often tried to source a stick since (though I know my neighbours would make nasty comments about me using a stick).

I am not a naturally slim person and have to watch my weight to avoid putting too much weight on my right leg (fortunately I like healthy food anyway).

Sometimes I get cramp in my non-hemi foot, which is akin to the overuse injuries that I get in my non-hemi arm (which I will go into in more detail in Hemi Story Part 2). When I was 14 I had swimming lessons one evening a week, and I’d get cramp in my left foot after doing that. I remember the worst cramp I ever had in my left foot was one night when I was 17. I’d began that evening by washing my hair before spending the rest of the evening hibernating in my bedroom reading (it was around the time I read Tom Sharpe’s Wilt, and I also probably read the NME or Melody Maker that night) and listening to music. I had horrific cramp in my left foot that night which kept me awake for much of the night, and was woken up at about 5 in the morning (it was a Sunday) by my mother shouting at somebody. Lately I’ve been getting occasional cramp in my left foot just after putting shoes on; when that happens the best thing to do is walk it off, as with when I get pins & needles in either foot.


About cometorachel

I am a stand-up comedian and writer who has had hemiplegia, a rare-ish form of cerebral palsy which affects one side of the body (in my case the right) since birth. I also have curvature of the spine. I speak German, Spanish and Italian just about fluently, French badly, and am currently learning Portuguese. I have been a vegetarian for many years. I am on Facebook at www.facebook.com/rachel.collinslister and Twitter at www.twitter.com/rcollinslister
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