Night fear is the worst. My bladder woke me at some undefinable hour, perhaps 3 AM. Right away it was apparent, I was a bit too awake. And thinking about what? Well, ‘thinking’ would be overstating it. I was immersed in the repetitive anticipation of my upcoming traffic accident en route to the next day’s lunch. Why an accident? No particular reason necessary, of course, for it is night, the time of anxious imaginings. Oh, the drive would take me into the center of town, to the edge of the Financial District. Yes, there are more honking cars and impatient drivers. So what, for I’ve done it before, during rush hour, yet. Doesn’t matter. Fear. Night. Worries.
What to do? Well, I have discovered one essential and very helpful principle. Sit up. Get into the sedentary. This literally pulls me out of my obsessive thoughts, those fears and worries that keep looping around. Driving downtown and crashing. Driving downtown and crashing…for example. No, really, just sit up, say, on the edge of the bed, and the perspective shifts. Or there is a perspective, a better description. Seated, I can both feel my feelings and think my thoughts, a more effective combination.
Problem is, to swing my disabled legs off the bed, get myself sitting…well, it takes so much energy that I transition from partly awake to fully awake…at a most unwelcome hour. And my quadriplegic thrashings tend to wake Jane. However, there is an answer in bed automation. No other word for it. I am the owner of one of those hospital-type beds that fold in various directions and, among other things, lift into a seating posture. So I gingerly reach for the wireless remote, a strangely-shaped Scandinavian design, more or less a plastic teardrop. There is a moment of quadriplegic fumbling…but the buttons do light up when pushed. And the one I am pushing appears to be the right one, being pushed, as I am, into the sedentary. There’s only a mild whirring as my torso ascends into the night.
And now I feel it, a definite bite of nameless fear. Which, things being what they are, I set about naming. Fear of…well, there’s the general trepidation about going away for a few weeks. Something would occur to interfere with our vacation. Perhaps the psyche’s way of reminding us that we need one. A change of scene from endless discussions of paint color and curtain heft. Best way to change the topic…change the scene. And driving? Yes, a definite source of anxiety, but what’s behind it?
In the next half hour or so what’s behind it appears…as aging and mortality. I feel both these days. A lessening of stamina. The sense that my resilience isn’t what it was. Even my mental acuity is slowing, maybe. Okay, and the anxiety? Upon reflection, I go back to my injury. Age 21, the panicky sense of a body immobilized…then recovering, but drastically lessened. The bodily loss that goes with aging feels a little too much like my injury. As for the inevitable decline and death…well, I must acknowledge, mechanically propped up in my bed, that this isn’t so inevitable in my case….having survived half a century on half a spinal cord. One can’t complain.
Well, one can, which is why I’m sitting here staring into nocturnal space. I will have people around, I tell myself, as I face old age and, not to forget, death. Meanwhile, what can I do? My exercises. I have more to do than ever, and I heartily resent every minute spent pulling, pushing, straining against the resistance of various physiotherapeutic mechanisms. Perhaps more to the point, beyond my resentment lies that matter of will. It seems to be harder and harder to goad myself into exercise. Still, this is what I do. This is the challenge.
Who knows what time it is? It’s time to be sleeping. And in an uncertain amount of time…the bed having been mechanically restored to being a bed…damned if I’m not doing exactly that. I wake up deciding that it’s a lot of work, the night shift.