Comeback Trail

The comeback trail…is there one? More to the point, is there always one? Or, viewed differently, who maintains it? And can one always find the trailhead?

You’re not walking enough, my physical medicine emissaries keeping intoning. Of course, if you’re doing something like writing, not to mention reading, you do find yourself sitting. And as walking grows more difficult…and with age, what doesn’t…it is terribly easy to walk less and less.

The antidote being walking more and more, which brings us to the current state of things. I now make it a point to get up and schlep about the apartment on a daily basis. I do make sure someone is about. And if the first steps are mildly terrifying, carpet and walls wavering, it does get better. My prescribed route, a very modest limp from bedroom to hall to office and back, always precedes more swiftly on the return. And as with any minor ordeal, there’s a definite sense of relief that comes with completion. Such as yesterday when I maneuvered the home stretch down the hallway, across the bedroom, leaned my crutch against the wall in anticipation dropping back into the wheelchair…and felt things go wonky. When you lose your balance, where do you find it? Does it go somewhere? Really, an interesting retrospective question, made moot at the time by my sideways toppling onto the bed. Very fortunate, the latter.

The Great Ambulatory Circle Route through my apartment proceeds in a series of fears.

First, rising and stepping forward with the crutch, there is that wavering moment that comes with diminished proprioception. Where am I in physical space? Taking another step, begins to answer the question…I am moving forward, legs bent these days to pay homage to Groucho and to avoid hyper-extending my left knee. Thus we proceed, the limbs and I, lower ones slightly flexed, moving along the end of the bed. This is a good safe start.

My fear, my worst fear, involves toppling to the uncontrollable right. This side of my body is so neuromuscularly underequipped that falling means…like a wooden post. The things one would do to break a fall are simply out of the picture. There’s no extending my right arm, because the limb is virtually useless in this context. And fortunately the context does change. Because once beyond the safe falling zone along the edge of the bed, if I can somehow get through the wide open spaces between bed and wall, well, one is home free, as it were. Mind you, this gap, measuring less than two meters in overland carpet, requires a careful focus on the wall itself, a reminder that the closer I get, the more likely I can fall against it…not to mention constant words of soothing and assurance. It’s okay, you’re almost there, and so on.

Then there is the hall. Wolf Hall, Hillary Mantel’s Tudor saga, currently occupies me, so a comparison seems inevitable. My hall is tightly defined and the proximate walls give me a sense of security, something I can topple against. Yet the large gap in the bathroom doorway really doesn’t terrify me even though it is on my perilous right side…because I am up and moving, momentum with me. And fear, if one analyzes it, definitely reduced. Wolf Hall, doesn’t seem to reduce at all. Mantel’s impenetrable technique of ever confusing the speaker with the subject, a novelistic tendency that seems to have delighted the Booker Prize committee, makes one struggle to find a way through the present tense…which equally applies to my hallway, not to mention the entire walk. Good thing that I am not turning the corner into the final phase, my office.

Here, it’s a right-wall world. That’s because I make a right turn just inside the doorway, schlepping along the open closet, then the file cabinet, then the desk, then…and if you are counting your turns, you know we are now heading out of the office. Homeward bound, as it were. An epic journey, if one measures meters of anxiety, for the whole thing has involved wavering, the occasional muscle twinge that suggests the imminent collapse of the one supporting leg, not to mention the odd back step to regain balance…although it is not clear if the balance has been lost. Let us say to be terribly precise, occasional moments of hyper consciousness, vis-à-vis, fear.

Passing the open space that leads to the living room, carrying down the hall, and back into the bedroom. The wheelchair looms. It beckons. And now there are only the last few steps, antique desk to the right, then two old wheelchairs in permanent storage, all of this stuff on my right side, offering something to fall against. Yes, any of these objects would be hard, not to mention sharp, but never mind. The unimpeded fall could only be worse. Or so the logic goes. And, yes, it was at this stage yesterday that I actually fell. A good reminder. That the danger is real, that inattention is not a good thing. A reminder of something like self trust. The anxiety has a solid premise. There is every reason to be attentive. And things have gotten more difficult with age. It’s true, that in an unguarded moment, the one when I fell, my guard should have been up. Perhaps it will be next time. More important, remember to make sure there is a next time. Because it is the waning of next times that led to this situation, this need to hit the Comeback Trail.

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