Wednesday, July 22, 2009
At ten last night, I plopped into bed exhausted, expecting sleep to overtake me. My sciata had other ideas. What was particularly depressing was I had been up and about that day, with recovery in plain sight. Now I had a possible major setback to contend with. It wasn’t till about four in morning that I was able to drop off into an approximation of sleep.
I literally had to force myself to get out of the house and go have breakfast and put on a happy face. Bantering with waitresses is part of my recovery bag of tricks. I managed to make a lame joke about adding a Coors Light to the coffee and orange juice and water that JoAnn, my other favorite waitress of all time, was bringing me.
Please, God. No setbacks please. I don’t know how much more of this I can take.
I was hoeing into my California omelette when I started paying attention to the conversation at the adjacent table:
A woman about my age was bringing a neighbor up to date on her husband. Half his foot had been amputated. It was touch and go. He had diabetes. He had been experiencing loss of feeling in his extremities for years. He’d had a major infection. He’d been on crutches for more than a year.
That wasn’t the end of the story. He’d had complications. A severe rash. Meds side effects. Plus stupid doctors. Emergency room visits. On and on, it went.
Diabetes runs in my family. My father mercifully died before doctors got a chance to amputate him piecemeal. He was a cripple the last six or seven years of his life. My younger cousin barely made it to age 40. The last time I saw her, my aunt was pushing her in a wheelchair. Her complexion was ashen gray and I didn’t recognize her.
Then I thought of a spur-of-the-moment visit I had made two years before when I was in Washington DC. “Walter Reed Hospital,” I said to the cab driver. I found my way to what appeared to be the main unit. A young man with no leg, with what appeared to be his family in tow, was being wheeled down a corridor.
I found my way to a smaller out of the way building. Young men - kids - in wheelchairs were enjoying the spring sun outside. Everyone of them had a missing limb. I approached the first one. “Hello, sir,” I said. “I’d like to shake your hand.”
I did this a number of times. Then I found my way to the lobby of a rec center and did it again.
I paused in a grove of trees. There I lost it. My body shook uncontrollably. Tears streamed down my face.
JoAnn came over to my table. “You know,” I said. “I can’t help but think how lucky I am.”
The sciatica? Nothing.
I returned home, still feeling pain, but in a rare state of transcendent contentment. I settled into a comfortable sitting position on the couch with my laptop, performing small chores, savoring my temporary splendid relationship with my universe.
For the heck of it, I pulled up an educational video I had done earlier this year. In one scene, I am running full tilt as I leap onto a small rock, which becomes the platform for a spectacular sub-orbital mission. The film freezes at the apogee of my ascent. The closing segment of the video opens on the same freeze frame, then shows me gracefully descending in slow motion. It is a beautiful sight.
I was 59 when I filmed that piece. I’ll be 60 in a few months. I joked to my daughter in an email two days ago that age is the biggest risk factor for everything that can go wrong with you. So don’t be stupid like me, I advised her - stay young.
I may or may not be able to attempt that kind of leap again, but it doesn’t matter. Age has its compensations. I will be a grandfather in a few months. Yesterday, my daughter emailed me a recent photo. She is a natural beauty, but now she radiated a special aura.
The sciata is a bitch, a taste of things to come. I’m entering the decade where things fall apart. But, right now, I’m okay with that. That could very well change tomorrow. But at this very moment, trust me, I have so much to feel lucky about.