Trail of Tears

‘Have a nice day,’ my countrymen regularly urge each other. The skeptics among us cast a jaundiced eye on such goings-on, of course. Perhaps we cast too quickly. What is this ‘un-nice day’ that the body politic so fears? Fears, indeed. What else could throw this particular day off the rails so thoroughly, so early?

Lorna, who captains Team Filipina, my support crew, was walking me this fine morning. Yes, ‘walking me’ like a dog. Why not? In fact, there is even a sort of collar and leash available for such activities. In physical medicine parlance, it’s a gait belt. Let’s skip the details. Anyway, we do this virtually every morning, and my physiotherapist assures me that it is essential to my well-being. I don’t argue. I don’t like it, in particular, this excursion up and down the footpath in front of my apartment. But within about 15 minutes a fair amount of cardiovascular and neuromuscular work gets done. In physiotherapy terms, it’s reasonably efficient.

Normally, it’s not much else. Except, of course, work. Far too much effort expended far too early, if you ask me. But no one is asking me. That’s the thing. I know my job. A quadriplegic is part citizen, part patient. And in both cases, freedom is something of an illusion. Where was I?

Rising from my wheelchair, getting that initial sense of proprioception and that supports balance, and setting off. Something invisibly went wrong right away. Thing is, when balance is uncertain, so is every other physical parameter. Principally, how fast can I go? How likely am I to fall? With my paralyzed right arm hooked through Lorna’s, my left arm in the aluminum crutch, would we both go down? I’m not really thinking about these things, more feeling them. And, trust me, something so fundamental and automatic as walking, even quadriplegic limping, does not hold up under scrutiny. It’s got to be automatic, or semi-automatic, even impaired ambulation.

It had to be the shoes. And true, there was a bit of wiggle room in the left one. I kept having the feeling of losing my balance, which I imputed to something slipping inside the shoe. The simple answer was to have Jane, just out the door on her way to work, stop and retie my shoelaces. Yes, the footing is a bit firmer now, that wobbly sensation reduced. Unfortunately, this does not seem to matter much. Once off my neuromuscular stride, I can’t seem to get it back, or my confidence. In fact, that blithe, worry-free state is so vital to forward motion, well, I simply can’t recapture it. Now, every step takes me closer to doom.

Even in my best moments, my ‘walking’ amounts to a sort of lurch. Note that this is not my best moment. The natural lurch also involves the twisting free of my right paralyzed foot. Again, I am used to this, or should be, but not now. Each musculoskeletal moment dawns afresh. And somehow I’ve become convinced that I cannot kick my right foot free of the supporting concrete. I stop, literally dead in my tracks. I try to regain my mojo. I start again. Step, twist, step, twist. This should work. As I say, this is my normal morning activity. Except for the gross consumption of time in a fairly boring endeavor, this doesn’t faze me. Or it shouldn’t. Or it didn’t used to.

I seriously consider pulling the plug on this morning walk. However, somehow I get to the raised beds with the spring garlic, the traditional turning point in this, my ambulatory road. Where, you guessed it, I turn 180°, set my sights on the distant wheelchair, and set off again. Honestly, this ‘putting one foot in front of the other’ is sometimes all one can do.

In every sense of the word…. For recovery, naturally I wind up at Peet’s. Knowing that one can only drink so much coffee, or withstand so much kaffeeklatsch conversation, I bring Sunday’s New York Times.  It is Thursday. Why am I ever so slightly behind? Because these days I continue to overdose on the polemical. Things look terribly interesting in each day’s Times, until I begin reading them. Then, the world and its sorrows crowd in on me. I want not so much escape as uplift, more lyrical than factual. Meaning, it is time for almost anything Irish. Of which I have quite a bit. My discipline here is a simple one. I read what I can, principally, Paul Krugman. Then I jettison the balance of the Times. I leave it on the table. I go home. There is, no doubt about it, plenty to worry about there.

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