THE BLOG

Friends Are the New Family

22/11/2014 22:11 GMT | Updated 22/01/2015 10:59 GMT

To borrow a phrase, 2014 has been something of an annus horribilis for me. It's been a year of ill health and personal traumas that I never imagined in my worst nightmares. But the one thing that has made everything bearable and kept me going when I was struggling to cope has been my network of friends (apart from work, but that's another blog post).

This might sound corny, obvious and trite, but I think it brings an important point to bear about life in the 21st Century. Whilst many bemoan our hyper-connected age and the distance some would say it puts between people and real human interaction, I have discovered quite the opposite. In fact, I've found friends are not only more important than ever, but the internet keeps them closer than has ever been possible.

For some background to some of the trauma and hopefully without boring everyone with the medical minutiae, in May, after years of problems, my back gave way big time. On the eve of a holiday with my oldest best mate (we've been thick as thieves since we were three), a disc in my spine popped out, completely blocking my spinal canal. On the upside, it meant I wasn't in as much pain as I have been before with my back as effectively, I was partially paralysed and most pain signals weren't being transmitted. On the downside, I was at risk of becoming permanently incontinent (both bits) and permanently losing all sexual function (iknowrite?) and it still bloody hurt, in addition to my left leg not working anymore.

It emerged I had to have an emergency operation to remove the runaway disc and shave bone where the vertebra was now compressing the nerve, followed by a week in hospital. I live on my own and on my discharge from the spinal unit, I would be housebound for at least a month, unable to stand or sit for longer than five minutes for the first two weeks, followed by another three (or was it four?) where I was limited to 30 minutes at a time away from horizontal, all the while forbidden from any lifting, cooking, housework, gardening or, well, anything useful. All the while filled to the gills on liquid morphine, tramadol and nortryptaline.

Only two decades ago pre internet, it would have put me in an impossible situation.

But from the moment I announced what was happening on Facebook - for brevity and because I was too upset to ring/email everyone that I thought wanted to know - they all sprang into action. And thank god they did, because my family, well, there's not a lot of us. My dad died years ago, my mum has too many health issues herself to look after me (she's recovering from breast cancer amongst other things) and I have no brothers or sisters. So my friends stepped into the breach. And thank crikey. There was a man, but my friends also patched me back together when that ended in the midst of all this too.

A rota of carers emerged - virtually every single day of my surgery-induced house arrest, a different friend would come round to keep me company and/or cook me dinner and more importantly, make me laugh and remind me that hey, life's really not so bad - no one's died and I don't have ie ebola. Luckily for them with internet shopping, at least I'd stocked the fridge with cava.

They plotted and planned together to make sure I was okay and not going to be on my own, and generally provided care that would have cost thousands and that wasn't forthcoming on the NHS, my medical insurance or that I had the cash to pay for.

And as well as that, oh, the support via Facebook when I was stuck in my flat! When you're bedbound, being able to chat to your friends for nothing and at length (my phone bills would have been HUGE otherwise) was literally priceless. Close mates who now live in the US, Belgium, Thailand, Germany, Australia - all there on a click of chat to keep me company, boost my spirits and just talk rubbish to. And the ones here in the UK have equally been there for me to chew their virtual ear off 24/7 via FB chat.

My friends (and that includes friends I work with) have been amazing and helped me in my physical and emotional recovery more than I can say and Facebook has totally made that happen. More pertinently, it's proved my support network is my friends and as much as I'm sorry they've had to go through all of it, I am indebted to them.

I would imagine I am one of thousands if not millions in the modern age who feels the same way. We all tend to live miles away from any family we have nowadays through pressure of work and the cost of living (I can only really do my job in London and less of us now live in the same place we grew up anyway) and the nuances of modern life mean we increasingly rely on friends who live physically near to us or those that are closest via cyber means.

This is no bad thing and to be celebrated. Any meaningful human interaction surely is, by whatever means.

Now six months on, I'd like to say thanks to my mates who've helped me get better. Only physically, the op made no difference as my rotten luck has seen more disc come out and trap the nerve right in the same place as before and cause more pain and problems. Sadly, my neurosurgeon tells me I need another surgery to replace one or two discs with artificial ones (I will be bionic!) which will be an even bigger procedure than before.

So instead of just thanking my incredible friends, can I say see you all again round my gaff soon? I'll let you know when the next op is on Facebook... and the cava's on me.