Monday, October 1, 2018

Michael Makes His Mark

Every weekday morning around 10:30 I take a short flight out of bed in the Hoyer Lift and into my wheelchair. Then the sweet and lovely Natalie pushes me to Occupational Therapy where I exercise my upper body. Natalie is pretty no doubt but so much more than that.  She is so kind and gentle she guards my injured foot like it matters to her as I swing round the Hoyer Lift. She is planning a career in therapy as she supports her boyfriend through chiropractor school so healthcare is all in the family as it were. If I had a daughter I’d be proud of one like Natalie. 

Once at the gym Elias takes over and sets me weights and tasks to build upper body strength. Then he brings me a chocolate espresso from the machine, a huge incentive! My tasks are to curl weights in my hands, lift and stretch in various ways. Yesterday a little old lady was sitting next to me at the table in her wheelchair. She looked a wreck with purple mottled skin and a thick head of unkempt hair she was bent double and holding a hand exerciser, one of those plastic gates with elastic bands intended to make your hand stronger. 

Elias and I posing for the inevitable selfie...
I’m not allowed to photograph patients and to avoid being able to identify her I’ll change her name but the conversation went like this. 
“Hi. I’m Michael. What’s your name.” That got me a grimace. “Do you speak English? Hablas EspaƱol?” That got me a grunted Yes.  No English speaker in Miami wants to be addressed in Spanish especially not my Italian accented pidgin Spanish with Italian thrown in when I forget the Spanish. I was encouraged by that one word. 
“Where are you from?”   - Here 
“Miami? Cool no one is from Miami” I said.  - I am
“Squeeze that elastic band. Imagine it’s all those people who moved to Miami and screwed up your home town.” The previously comatose patient started squeezing her hand tool. The therapists were in a juvenile huddle gossiping. 

“What’s your name? And keep squeezing...” -Rosie.  
“How do you do.” - I hate this place. 
“Squeeze the damned rubber band.” I said and Rosie started giggling hunched over in her chair. All it took was a little interest. Then before I could ask about her family or anything interesting (I’ll bet she was a spy in World War Two or something equally outlandish) her cold therapist wheeled her away. I’ll talk to anyone these days.  I was nearly dead a month ago. 

After lunch I go to physical therapy and work on my legs and core strength. Eddy lifts me out of the chair with another Hoyer Lift and stretches me out on a plastic pad that looks more like a four poster bed with bondage apparatus than an exercise platform but that is what it is. 

Yesterday we didn’t use the Redcord pulleys, we practiced rolling. Let’s face it rolling sounds as energy consuming as raising a six pound weight but let me tell you learning to roll to the left with a bum right leg and using no hands was quite something. I started by trying to raise my legs and while under control letting them back down to the mat. That set my incisions burning. Nothing like fire in your leg to focus your attention. Then Eddy had me sit up from side to side. Then the big kahuna, he made me position my legs, left under right and immobile right as far forward as possible and...roll!

Damn! I did it! And I didn’t grab those black carabiners in the upright post you can see in the picture above.  I couldn’t believe it!  I was so grateful I grabbed Eddy’s hand and pretended to kiss it. He laughed and that sealed my fate.  A complete stranger across the room shouted “Michael’s happy!”  General hilarity. I guess my noisy progress has been under observation. I laid back on the mat and laughed. Hell of a day.

The Edge Of The Unknown

I have managed for many years to drift along in what I can only call a very satisfactory way, dodging reality and getting bored from time to time. The trouble is this  near death experience has thrown into stark relief the cracks in my life. I write this essay with some trepidation as I don’t really know how to “make every day count” but I feel some obligation now to do just that.  Only boring people get bored, right?  How could I get bored?  Marking time till retirement...that rabbit hole I was so eager to start down in 2021. 

And in the midst of these musings I’ve had conversations that have illuminated my thoughts. In conversation with my oldest friend in the US whom I met on my Vespa voyage of exploration in 1982 we were talking last night (instead of writing this blog) and I mentioned Anthony Bourdain whom I admired and whose last shows illuminate my Sunday nights in rehab. For my friend the late chef was no more than a loud New Yorker and I wanted to correct that image but it soon came clear there would be none of that.  In her mind he was no more than that. This despite the fact both myself and another traveler friend both thought highly of him. Nope, no change no way no how. Her mind is closed no new opinions wanted. 

This brings me to Meg Cabot a well known author among youngsters and fans of her book and film The Princess Diaries. I knew of her thanks to the Key West Citizen but I was not drawn to descriptions of her books. I am not the demographic. So I’m lying in bed, as you do in my situation when Luis the handyman drops a package in my lap. And this author who has your average giant publishing empire to handle has taken the time to package some books and write the most personal and kind, dare I say flattering note to me and packaged it all up and figured my address and mailed it all off in good order. Bit of a head spinner really. So now I’m trying to write this damned page forgetting she actually reads it. The weirdest thing is I started into one of the books and I like it. How about that? Once again my closed mind is forced open. There is no end to it. I tried to say thank you by Facebook an uncertain medium so let me say it here untrammeled by gatekeepers and the vagaries of giant corporations. Thank you. 

I got chocolates puzzles and games from Internet friends and my wife’s cousin in Chicago Lyn whom we visit from time to time but never enough. Plus I got a rather fun read from a visitor who dropped in unhappily while I was at the doctors. Check this out:

I think all this ebullience and lust for life sits badly with some people.  I rather fear I have put one friend in the lost category in my pursuit of abundance. It’s not all good marching through daily life like a bull in a china shop and I don’t recommend it. The trouble is when you are in my position finesse gets lost at the wayside. Somewhere in this process I need to find the brakes I’m thinking, and I will need to slow down but right now I’m alive and I don’t want to waste a minute.  Fear or trepidation have no place in my life. Not helplessness neither.

I often think back to a morning driving to Big Pine when I saw a car stop in the highway and drop some trash on the ground. I reached the spot after they left and found a tortoise upside in the road condemned to die. I did the right thing but I knew not whence it came so all I could was put it in safety but not put it back home poor thing. I figured the car was loaded with future serial killers and hoped for the best for them too. Torturing animals doesn’t make me like you actually. Being a tortoise in bed unable to help myself much puts me in mind of that day. Yet I still want to live fully even here. 

And that brings me to Webb Chiles. I have come to terms with the idea that an icon of my youth can be a close friend in my later life as unlikely as that sounds. He has written some of the most personal and illuminating literature of sailing in small boats that you can find.   Webb is closing in on his sixth circumnavigation by boat and he has taken joy in not making it easy for himself. He has sailed most of the way round the planet in an open boat, he sailed Cape Horn in an unsuitable sailboat prone to failure, he has been jailed in Saudi Arabia for an accidental landing and he nearly drowned when his boat sank off Florida.  He describes his life as going to the edge of human experience and sending back reports. 
Webb and I keep up a lively correspondence and he brings the outside world daily into these four walls. Which is the greatest gift all these packages gifts letters and communications bring to me. I cherish them all.  Webb paid me the compliment of reversing the journey. He’s not a man given to flattery so I believe him and feel encouraged to keep on keeping on, adding his remarks to the heaps of notes encouraging me in this time of tedium and repetition. 
“You are going through experience beyond mine and you are doing what I have professed to do:  go to the edge of human experience and send back reports.  Your reports are excellent.  Whatever else you think you are, you are an artist.” 
All of you need to know my sense of myself is wobbly at the moment and if I have offended I am sorry and if I have encouraged I am glad. If I have taken you over the top and shown you worlds you don’t want to see I apologize for my nature often leads me to excess. Maybe I  am an artist. That’s a new one for me to think about. 

He doesn’t care.  I’m just his Dad and he flopped on me. Lovely.