Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Thanks For The Memories

I do this thing weekends when I work where I take my lunch break inordinately early, change into a  t-shirt and shorts and run out of the police station as though my hair is on fire. Saturdays the circus starts around 8:20 and Sundays around 9:50 as I drive a couple of miles up the Boulevard to get to the gym in time for the start of the bicycle spinning classes with John at Bodyzone
This exercise program during work caused so much upset on the other shift that I have cut back my overtime hours to avoid annoying the dispatchers who despite needing help, complained when I first signed out for ninety minutes to complete the classes and then I came back and signed back in forfeiting my paid lunch break and the overtime for an hour and a half...No one had done this before and they didn't like it. Then I tried fitting the exercise program into a  60 minute lunch break and that went over badly enough they disrupted my start time by deliberately leaving their desks to make me late for class as only one dispatcher can get up at a time lest we miss a 911 call obviously. I don't need the overtime that badly so I just go in after class if I go in at all.
So whey does my obsession with exercise cause so much angst? A colleague on my regular shift prompted me to spend some time thinking about this when he asked me about the intensity of my class schedule. I'm not sure he understood but I told him I am anxious not to get back in a wheelchair and that is the long and the short of it. I exercise to remain upright. I don't exercise to influence or annoy others nor to prove I am better than them or to rub their noses in their armchair bound work stations. I used to do Broga as a way to compensate for my job sitting down but I never had to do it during work as I was on night shift and no one knew what I did by day. Now I work days and my quirks are visible and apparently irritating to some for which I am sorry. But unrepentant.
Honestly I have never enjoyed going to the gym, unlike my wife who makes of exercise an obsession. And nowadays even though I go four or five days a week and I do find some pleasure in the people I exercise with, the reality is that my appearance in the gym is mandated by my desire to keep walking. Puzzled at first my day shift coworker gets it after I explained it to him. 
It might seem obvious that being in a wheelchair sucks but I remember when I lived in California and the language had to be changed. Being in a wheelchair was no longer "being confined" it was now merely an alternative means of locomotion, almost a choice if you weren't going to be too fussy. I can tell you having to be in a wheelchair is no barrel of laughs, at least it wasn't for me. I foudn it confining.
The wheelchair itself is crude and uncomfortable as delivered at the hospital and I spent some time looking for better, i.e: vastly more expensive alternatives should it become a permanent part of my life. Modern technology offers interesting electric motors and i was glad to see if I forked over a few thousand I could get a chair with the wheels slanted inwards to make them easier to roll. Vertical wheels are extremely hard to roll when you have to bend your arms over them to grab the   push rim. More often I would just grab the unsanitary tire and push that to get better and more effective purchase.
The social aspects of being in a  wheelchair aren't much better either. Watching your wife labor to get the contraption out of the trunk  and force it open for you as you totter beside the car holding onto the rain gutter on the roof with the tips of your straining fingers isn't much fun. At first after I came out of the hospital I couldn't stand so I had to train my long suffering wife how to position the chair exactly at the right angle with the BRAKES ON before I could slide myself into from the car seat or the edge of the bed or wherever I was. Learning to transfer to a wheelchair is the first step to semi-autonomy when you can't walk. When I could do that without a  board and with fear of falling I felt like I had made improvements worth noting in my life.
The other social aspect of rolling around in a chair is a severe lack of independence. NEVER touch a chair unless asked to by the occupant, it's absolutely the worst thing you can do, worse than being rude and staring which happens a lot when you perambulate at waist height. I hated being stared at but having someone hold the handles was the worst. I wished I'd had this solution when I read about it online. Perfect!.
I was lucky as i was wearing a helmet which saved my life and I had been active doing Broga, the only form of exercise I tolerated before I got run down. Broga saved my spine so I had every chance of learning to walk again after my leg muscles came back. At the time I wondered why my legs wouldn't move but atrophy sets in after just a  few days in bed. Then I wondered how I was ever going to walk again as I just couldn't get my legs to obey and that felt very very weird. My legs were numb too as the nerves grew back and as I struggled to practice stair climbing, on cement stairs with strong metal hand rails ( I sought them out around Key West) I couldn't feel my feet so I had no idea if they were on the step. I got in the habit of kicking my feet forward after I lifted them to make sure they were properly on the next step. I must have looked very odd. Luckily I still had a lot of upper body strength from Broga.
Even today with some residual numbness in my thighs walking is a conscious act. I never get up and walk without thinking about putting one foot in front of the other. But dammit I am walking! That's a good thing. I can even climb up and down stairs if i forget something and have to go up again. I don't care much about handrails. I carry boxes on stairs and I dodge Rusty whose approach to stair climbing is to treat it as a dangerous act to be completed as fast as possible and damn any pedestrians in the way. Even cripples.
 I remember pissing off some anonymous critic in Miami when I was rolling through the UM facility on my way to an outpatient check up and all these irritating ambulatory people were crowding the elevators like they feared getting left behind or something. All I had to do was roll past to the surgeon's ground floor office but I couldn't get through and no one seemed to see me down there. So I yelled "Make way for the cripple!" and people scattered from the path of the fat old maniac in the chair. From the rear of the crowd a voice called "You aren't a cripple, you're handicapped!" I cackled. because whatever I was no one offered to swap places.
I don't ride anymore. Traffic is dismal and distracted rivers are everywhere and I fear another wreck would wear out my wife and induce compassion fatigue at work where the authorities have been amazingly kind and generous to me. It would be a churlish thing to get knocked down again and expect them all to come through for me with sick leave donations and money to help my recovery, not to mention Cigna forking over for months of recovery treatments. So now I spend as much time as I can with my dog and camera, and make plans with my wife for a worthwhile future and a retirement filled with challenges. I lived through an unlivable hurricane in 2017 and a an accident in 2018 that should have killed me dead instead of only managing a near death. Retirement sitting in a chair seems a response loaded with ingratitude after surviving that lot . 
Looking forward to 2020 I hope we can all figure out how to live together and wouldn't it be nice if we learned to make America even more great by dint of believing in ourselves and our capacity to build and create and take care of what needs to be taken care of instead of always seeking the lowest common denominator in everything. If you do have your own immobility to cope with just bear in mind my recovery wasn't a miracle: it was earned every day at the gym and it goes on being earned no excuses. Do the same whatever your challenge is in life. And don't be afraid to ask for help.