Monday, January 14, 2019

Stumbling Along

After months of pretty much nothing but the state of my parlous health I realize I haven't mentioned much about me and my wretched legs. If like me you are tired of seeing me as a cripple skip this page. 
I have a fairly rigorous regimen of working my legs and the rest of my body with physical therapy three days a week and on three other days I am at the gym in a class called rather nicely, "Aging Boldly"  with a bunch of people, sometimes  two dozen, my age or a good bit older. The classes last 90 minutes and they may be designed for old people but Dean our fearless leader does not spare us. I sweat copiously which is an image you probably didn't need to see in your mind's eye. On top of all the exercise I also see a chiropractor twice a week.  
I doubt much of what I am writing about here comes as a surprise to people more experienced than me but all this broken bone activity has given me dreadful posture. I walk like Frankenstein's monster, lurching relatively long distances behind my walker or far shorter distances on my cane or even just for a few steps at a time on my feet alone. The chiropractor sees me twice a week and is helping to straighten me out. I am consciously trying to walk better with a  straight back and less weight on my callused palms. The doctor has started the slow process of cutting back my Percocet prescription. People keep freaking out about Oxycodone addiction but please don't bother me with that stuff. First go through what I went through then talk to me about pain management and no: hemp oil is not going to hack it right now. It's a paradox but if I work out to get my legs functioning I create lots of pain. 
This phase of my excessively protracted recovery is highlighted for me by what I cannot do in the gym. Where before the accident last August I was strong in ways I myself did not understand now I find myself stymied by a seven pound weight, or a walk longer than a few blocks. On a good day I can walk an hour propelling my rolling walker but on a bad day, and I have a few, getting out of bed is an exercise in willpower. In the gym I used to be able to squat fifty or even a hundred times in a Broga class, all the way to the ground, now a squat for me is a gentle dip, more of a curtsy really.  
Everything takes longer than it takes. My wife coined the phrase when we were out cruising on our sailboat years ago and we still use the term. With my inability to move fast she teases me now by saying: "I'll do it, it'll take you hours..." To get out of the car which I am now allowed to drive, I have to swing my legs out of the car, balance my bottom on the edge of the seat and propel myself forward and UP "nose over toes" as my physical therapist puts it. Then I walk to the back of the car one hand at least gripping the rain gutter on the roof as I swing my legs along. At the trunk I pull out the walker with my residual core strength and set it up. Then I go back and release the hell hound and leash him up which is easy because he is super cooperative. Then I'm ready to go. An operation that you do in 30 seconds takes me five minutes.   
My wife said when I can walk normally she'll agree to my getting another Burgman 200 scooter which seems a reasonable enough condition. But it is also strong motivation. That's another thing that bugs me, aside from unsolicited medical advice is the suggestion I should give up riding. Why? My wife says if I get into a serious accident once every 48  years riding that'll be okay by her. For myself I would as soon die on a motorcycle as from cancer or a roof tile falling to the ground by way of my head. Riding a motorcycle obsessively as I do in the benign South Florida climate seems a harmless addiction on the whole and yet people who post memes on Facebook about living life to the fullest encourage me to exist without my greatest joy. I could be like the angry man in rehab with a broken back who nagged at me about motorcycles and when I asked him how he broke himself he said he fell out of a tree with a chainsaw. At least I was having fun was my comment and ended that conversation. 
I was coming out of the dermatologist's office on yet another visit to yet another medical professional, a consistent theme in my life these  days and I was fairly buoyant as he told me I have no skin cancer - for now...First decent medical news I've had in months I told the man as I stumbled out of his office chasing my walker. The elevator opened and inside was an older man clutching a rolling  walker just like mine...
...except his was red. I asked him how he was doing and he was about as gloomy as gloomy could be without actually saying anything relevant about himself. "Have fun!" I said brightly as we parted ways and he stopped and looked at me: "How can you have fun pushing a walker?" He sounded genuinely puzzled. I was glad to see the last of him. But Key West is a small town and sure enough at my next Aging Boldly exercise class there he was looking like thunder as I took my place nearby. He stuck it out for 90 full minutes acting like a petulant child refusing to participate.  I really hope that is the actual last time I see him as his gloom spread across the ceiling all around him, poor man. I just don't feel that way. I know I'm lucky as I have no nerve damage and all I have to do is wait for my bones and muscles to heal but getting out of sorts over this stuff helps no one. 
Sometimes I take my cane and go for a walk relying on that. Walking unassisted is a matter of a dozen steps but with the came I have walked  a measured hundred yards before I was overtaken by exhaustion. Balance and concentration suck the life out of me, as weird as that sounds. And balance is involved in turning too. Another trick my physical therapist taught me was when turning to treat the turn as a pizza cut into slices. I can't just swivel like a normal person would, as I will lose my balance and fall without doubt. So instead I have to shuffle my slippered feet a little slice at a time, one foot at a time while adjusting my grip on whatever I am holding.  And my feet are in slippers as that is all I can wear as the swelling in my feet has yet to go down appreciably. Quite normal they tell me breezily so in bed I rotate my feet in the approved manner to reduce inflammation. One more exercise. 
That's me then, four and a half months since I got knocked off my scooter. Later this month I will increase my shifts at work from four hours five nights a week to six hours at a time. I hope by March I'll be up to eight. The support I have received at work continues with hundreds of donated sick leave hours in my account to make sure I get a full paycheck every two weeks, which is very generous help from my co-workers and another reason I feel fortunate to live and work here.
Self pity in these circumstances is an easy trap to fall into and I have done my best to avoid it. I have tried to avoid thinking too much about what might have been had I not got knocked to the ground. I would still have four months worth of sick leave- I'd have got to see the Dali exhibit I was planning on that weekend- my wife would have had a week's vacation in California with friends- and so forth. In all this she is the one who has had to work hardest and least noticed. Everyone feels sorry for the guy in the hospital bed but his valiant helper not so much where she is in fact the hero of the story. All I did was recover, she cleaned did the paperwork and communicated with the insurance company, cajoled argued and pleaded. For me the whole experience was one giant classroom. I'd never been seriously sick, never broken a bone or spent a night in the hospital. Well, I broke all those records with bows on. My list of meds is so impressive and unintelligible I keep it in the Notes page on my phone and point it at anyone that asks. Pantoprazole?  Never heard of him. Prazosin? Or him...
That's life in recovery. It drags on and on and I'm ready to throw away the parking permit and get up and walk. Sometimes when I'm daydreaming I get the feeling, the memory perhaps, of what  it's like to get up and just go for a stroll, one foot in front of the other and I imagine that day when it will happen. I know now that the world is changed for me permanently and in ways I'd never suspected. I view every building every sidewalk every doorway as an obstacle to a wheel chair. I greet people actually in chairs as though they are normal because I know behind the wheels and machinery they are. I remember all too well what it's like to live and roll at waist level and get treated as a freak or an object of compassion or embarrassment. My goal is to treat other cripples normally, for the rest of my life whether I can walk or not. And now I know that even if I lose the use of my legs I have what it takes to make it. I don't fear death after coming face to face with that impostor, but also I don't fear being a cripple because there is a life there as well, as worth living as any, as full of compromises as any life, but no less valid.