Livin’ la vida lockdown

Well, it’s been a while since my last post (quelle surprise) but this time I have a good reason: nothing has happened. And by nothing I mean: nada, zilch, nuffink. In March, the day before I was due to go in for my group information session with the spinal cord stimulator nurses, pain physios, other patients awaiting the surgery and previous patients who had one implanted and were going to tell us about their experience: BAM, Covid-19. All pain clinic appointments cancelled indefinitely; don’t call us, we’ll call you.

So what have I been doing since then? I’d love to tell you I discovered a heretofore unknown love of breadmaking and am an expert on sourdough starters like so many of my friends but unfortunately the triple whammy of appointments cancellations, yet more delays to my surgery and the scary virus out there sent me into a bit of a spiral and I basically did nothing all day except endure the pain and await bedtime and the blessed pain relief of chemically prescribed unconsciousness.

My amazing GP (who I’m semi-convinced can actually walk on water) took up the slack from the pain clinic and had me retry all the meds I’ve been on since my accident but one at a time (well, plus the ever present pregabalin although we did switch it up for gabapentin to see what would happen: spoiler alert, nothing) as before I was sort of on everyhing all at the same time. When I got out of hospital I was taking oxycodone (both slow and quick release), tramadol, duloxetine, pregabalin, amitriptyline, an occasional swig of oramorph and others I’ve forgotten. I do remember my dad having to make up my doses for me because I was taking 32 tablets a day between all the various meds and couldn’t be relied on to get it right myself because opiate zombie brainfog.

Anyway, after 6 months I’d ditched all the opiates/opioids without ill-effect and just carried on with pregabalin and from time to time various other meds: mirtazapine, carbamezapine, noritriptyline etc etc but they either did nothing or made things worse. I’ve since discovered through this re-evaluation of previously prescribed medications that I have ‘opiate induced hyperalgesia’; yes that’s right, my body hates me enough that opiate based painkillers have the reverse effect. Yay me!

There’s also been the joy of wrestling with the DWP who seem convinced I’m a feckless scrounger despite supporting myself for the last six years and are determined to sign me off as fit for work. Well the only work I can think of that can be done from a prone position (my pain has increased to permanent 9s and 10s over the last 18 months and I find myself bedbound 2 or 3 days a week) is probably not encouraged by the local jobcentre. Still, said aforementioned awesome GP just keeps issuing me with ‘fit notes’ that say I’m unfit for work. Let’s see who caves in first; my money is on the government.

As I’m sure many many other people have endured, the lockdown period has not been good for my mental health. I find distraction to be the only way to take my mind off my pain, and being stuck indoors means I’ve only really got videogames (and my cats!) to keep me occupied during the day. I have tried to take on projects such as volunteering to help the Haddo House Choral and Operatic Society scan their paper based records into a more modern digital archive format and work progresses slowly on that. I find I can only do a few hours at a time before my stupid arm says no.

Before lockdown I was writing about how I was getting a prosthetic arm to hopefully help me get back into painting models. Well, I got my arm (see below) and I can see the potential in it although I need some adjustments making. I need a different attachment at the end to grip a semi-cylindrical ‘painting handle’ that you slot your miniatures into, and I need part of the socket removing to allow the arm mechanism to ratchet higher towards my face as it would appear I no longer have the pin-sharp laser vision of my youth and can’t see all the details on the models as clearly as I would like. But of course, the prosthetic department is effectively shut because of Covid, so I’ve been making do with blu-tack to hold the miniatures for me.

Rise of the machines

So anyone not into wargaming or general nerdy hobbies, look away now. I decided to get into Warhammer 40k, something I’d been aware of since jealously eyeing up my elder brother’s Harlequins back when I was about 6. Before lockdown I’d been down to the Games Workshop store in Aberdeen and the lovely manager, Rich, suggested Space Marines as the easiest faction to assemble and paint, which was fine by me. now I really like the story behind the Imperial Fists and the White Scars but I am not painting my first model in 15 years, with the wrong hand, in their colour schemes: respectively, yellow and white. Both those colours are utter bastards to paint because they generally require a zillion thin coats to build up decent opacity and there’s no way to hide your mistakes on a yellow or white background, and I knew I would be making plenty of those. Besides, there was a Chapter that appealed to me much more on a personal level and bonus – they wear black power armour: the Iron Hands.

An Iron Hands Hellblaster, image uploaded by Montonius here

So why do these guys appeal to me? Because they’re all elective amputees. No, wait, come back – in the grim darkness of the far future there is only war and this particular chapter believe that the flesh is weak and that replacing bits of themselves with bionics is the way to go. To be fair, if someone offered me a bionic arm I’d be all over that. When a new recruit gets accepted to join the Iron Hands, his left hand is cut off and replaced with a bionic one, and as the Marine gets older they generally end up with bionic arms, legs, optical implants and suchlike. I won’t bore you all with the rest of the lore but this is a good place to start.

Learning to paint with the wrong hand has been a real challenge, most of which is due to the lack of brush control through spatial awareness and the annoying tendency of my right hand to tremble like mad whenever fine detail is required, which is most of the time. I’ve completed two miniatures so far. This is my chaplain who wanders the battlefield inspiring his brethren and smiting heretics with his skull-onna-stick:

Hello, do you have a moment to talk about our saviour, the God-Emperor of Mankind?

And here’s my captain, who I’m quietly proud of because that bastard of a shield nearly broke me. You do not want to know how hard it is to not only write with your wrong hand but paint writing with your wrong hand. Stupid shield. Still, I did enjoy doing the spooky glowing eyes on the skellie. Not convinced that using the revered bones of your fallen brethren to stop bullets is particularly respectful but eh, it’s the 41st millenium, I guess times have changed.

These have both taken aaaages to paint, literally hours and hours of painting, messing up, painting again, but it’s been an enjoyable if frustrating experience. I couldn’t have done it without the awesome Juan and his amazing videos – they gave me the confidence to even try and paint again because he uses such simple techniques and clear narration. Plus he’s a really nice guy – I joined his patreon and am now in a discord channel full of lovely people who help me out with all my dumb newbie questions.

Anyway, that’s enough rambling for now, I’ll keep you updated with my progress towards getting my spinal cord implant which will hopefully be this side of 2028 and there will be more posts on my miniature painting which you are free to ignore if it’s not your bag, baby. If you want to follow me on Instagram (where all the cool kids are, apparently) I’m the_real_iron_hand