How easily one gets knocked off one’s neuromuscular perch. Only yesterday I was en route to have a long overdue lunch with my old friend Arnie. When damned if my one working foot didn’t keep snagging on the brake. When you put a finer point on this, the edge of the sole of my left shoe would briefly catch just under the pedal. And to be clear, for a reaction-compromised driver, to have one’s limbs mispositioned ‘briefly’ is way too long. I would like to think that time and experience will help me get beyond this sense of being out of control of my vehicle. Which in one’s dream world, is closely linked to being out of control of one’s life. My neurology is out of control, and that’s enough, thank you very much.
Still, there was lunch. A destination and a deadline. And dead on the line I could easily imagine myself, driving south toward Los Altos. For things start to cascade under such circumstances. I’m trying to slip my foot from the accelerator – which in my adapted vehicle is to the left of the brake – onto the brake pedal. I can only half feel what I’m doing. And one thing I’m not able to sense adequately is spatial position.
Lost in space it is, my leg. It takes extra concentration to remember to lift the foot high when sliding it from gas pedal to brake pedal. And even with extra concentration one quickly forgets. After all, one keeps remembering the road itself, what’s on it and what might be on it. Whoops, another catch as I’m trying to brake. What if this happens just as a car darts in front of me?
The latter hardly being a remote possibility. That’s the nature of traffic. Darting, weaving, halting. And, let us add, this is the season of merry, jingle and yo ho-ho, which somehow translates into an abundance of cars on the road. The latter never quite making sense to me. Are all these people really shopping? It doesn’t entirely make sense, but then look at my own situation. Having not seen Arnie for nine months, I have chosen this December moment to drive lunchward. Join the throngs.
Lunch with Arnie is great, but the Los Altos traffic isn’t. Not just that, the tony Silicon Valley suburb is traffic-engineered on a toy scale. The disabled parking space doesn’t really accommodate the length of my van, and the ramp on whch my wheelchair descends to the pavement somehow sticks into one traffic lane of the parking lot. What the hell, I am here and alive. This realization alone is enough to make one repair to Peet’s Los Altos for a post-lunch machiatto. Arnie, pressed for time, says goodbye at the door. And within moments, another sort of door opens, a telephonic one, my mother-in-law ringing from Hawaii to give me news of survival. Not just hers, although that’s part of the story, but Dick, her husband. He is fighting, that being the only word for it, to deal with the basics, such as swallowing. I should not be surprised that there are exercises for such things. I should know that there are exercises for everything. Currently in a convalescent hospital, Dick has to get the swallowing thing down before medical officialdom will release him. The battle to exist. Perhaps that is the timing of this phone call, the reminder of what it feels like. I am touched that Dick and Joan have gone out of their way to phone me, to let me know where they are in life. A difficult place. But it is life.
When I get home, there is more life, of course. Night life, one might say. Jane, briefly freed from her overwhelming holiday clerical duties, is making a spectacular dinner. While I face my daily battle with neuromuscular destiny, vis-à-vis walking down the apartment hallway. This keeps me going, the reasoning goes. In particular, it keeps my proprioception going. It’s only a short walk, but it’s a walk without support. I am not leaving on anyone – or anything, but the crutch. I tilt and teeter but generally stay upright. Although this evening is not generally anything but mildly disastrous. Where has my balance gone? It’s dark. And since visual cues have replaced proprioceptive ones, eyesight substituting for balance, the nighttime interior lighting may account for what’s happening. And what’s happening isn’t good. Each step feels like it may be my last.
Will the next step I take knock me so seriously off-balance that a fall is inevitable? Who knows where this level of anxiety comes from. More to the point, how does one handle it? Unfortunately, there is only one way forward. I have to do more walking, not less. And my balance is what it is. The same must be said of driving. And if one is lucky, the two will prove to be conjoined. More walking should loosen and strengthen the foot, making car pedal action easier. Stay tuned.