Into The Blue Again
I’ve been in the water now for nearly a week. Every afternoon a lift transfers me from wheelchair to the pool. For about an hour I do aqua therapy. It is really the key to my recovery since I have multiple fractures. One of the exercises is to try walking on my toes while floating at the deep end of the pool. I’m still under doctor’s orders not to put any weight on my fractured heels. It takes me about a half minute to cover 15 feet. Why, you may ask? Well, for me it feels like an electric shock every time each foot touches the bottom. “Nerve damage,” say my physical therapist. “But keep on doing it. You need to regain a normal sensation.” So I do keep on keepin’ on. Tactile encounters. And even after only a week I feel that at least my right foot is less sensitive.
I’ve been reading a lot of book lately. Those that have put some things into perspective after the fall are Churchill-A Life by Martin Gilbert, Hoda by NBC News correspondent Hoda Kotbe and Back From The Dead by NBA great, Bill Walton. Winston Churchill talks in depth about the horrors of trench warfare in WWI. Hoda Kotbe details the violence of her breast cancer surgery. And Bill Walton explains the hundreds of surgeries he endured during his basketball career due to micro fractures that no one readily detected. After reading all that, I feel less inclined to write further posts of Wheelchair Diaries.
So this one, Number Eleven, is my last. I’ve done enough therapeutic writing to last me for a while. Plus, describing this very long, slow recovery is just not very riveting. Rather, I’m going to go back to being Worldkid. Granted, my new life style (hopefully temporary) is quite altered. But I plan to focus more on my island life as much as I can—those parts of it that still engage me after nearly a decade on Bonaire.
So with that in mind, I bid adieu to the Wheelchair Diaries. I suggest for you to do the same. Dial up The Talking Heads, turn up your stereo to 10, and celebrate the spirit of Once In A Lifetime. I know that I am.
Gonna use my arms
Gonna use my legs
Gonna use my style
Gonna use my side step
Gonna use my fingers…
Brass In My Pocket Chrissie Hynde & the Pretenders, 1980
Ah yes, my fingers. I got all my casts cut off over a week ago. I now learn about the collateral damage they caused in seven weeks. All the strength in my hand is gone. When I hold out my arm, the skin of the upper portion just sags where my triceps once held everything strong. My fingers are stiff from non-use.
Enter Sabina, my new, young Dutch physio therapist. She lays out four exercises for me to work my hand and wrist. “If you don’t do these, your fingers will become stokjes (sticks). You need to learn to bend each segment of each finger to get them flexible and working again. And you should do these exercises every hour.”
Sabina also instructed me how to do the same with my feet. I still have strict doctor’s orders not to put any weight on my feet. Healing of the shattered heel bones takes months. Thus I do my feet PT with my legs elevated horizontally in the air.
So the first day I do all my exercises every hour on the hour. I set an alarm on the I phone to remind me. By day’s end, my left hand and foot are swollen and throbbing with pain. Bring on the opiates. The following day my left foot is still bad. I touch the sole and the skin is as tight as the head of a drum. I continue the PT with my hand and right foot but cut back to only three sessions. The next day I can only do two, but I begin working the left foot again.
Then there are the hemtomas. The impact of my fall caused several blood vessels to rupture. The blood then traveled out of the pipe and grouped together in what looks from the outside like a very bad bruise. The one under the cast of my arm traveled up to my tricep. I looked terrible but didn’t hurt. However, when my left foot’s cast was removed I found a nasty one the covered half of my sole. That one still gives great pain daily. Then a few days later, a tiny hematoma appear on the middle toe of my right foot with absolutely no pain. Man, this recovery process is very weird.
And so it goes. The game with physical therapy is tricky. Do too much and you regress. Don’t do enough and your fingers become stokjes, stiff as sticks. And as Chrissie Hynde finishes the chorus, Gonna use my, my, my imagination, I consider my options. Yes, I’m going to use that brass in my pocket. It’s the only thing that I can do at this point.
where the doves fly…
Set Me Free
Set me free, little girl
All you gotta do is set me free, little girl
You know you can do it if you try
All you gotta do is set me free, free. Free, free.
Set Me Free The Kinks. 1965.
The room filled with sound from the plaster cutter as the nurse began cutting the first of my three casts. The noise is less than my orbital sander, but much more than an electronic pencil sharpener. I see the circular blade cut through and then feel it bounce off my skin below. No harm, no foul. This reminds me of those prankster fake knives from my childhood that gave the illusion that the blade was penetrating deep inside somebody while in fact it would simply slide up into the knife’s handle. I always wondered as a kid what would happen if the blade jammed. Now I start to have the same doubts about this cast cutter. But no worries. 45 minutes later all the casts lay in a heap by the garbage can.
We roll on to the x-ray room for new photos. The technician who was there last time greets me. She is from Switzerland. We talk about the oppressively gray weather of Zürich. I tell her about my very good friend Erich Weiss who lives on Wasserwerkstrasse downtown. Erich is my comrade. He is an extraordinary writer, a champion of the oppressed and a vagabond wunderkind with a gypsy’s soul. We met Erich traveling decades ago on the Magic Bus, a low cost hippy bus service that traveled overland from Europe to India. We still have contact.
But I digress. The orthopedic surgeon visiting from Curacao appears after reading my X-rays. He is the first doctor that I have seen in six unsupervised weeks. I’ve been stranded on a sandbar. He begins by manipulating all my broken joints, moving them with two hands in various directions. “Do you feel any pain?” “No, only heavy stiffness”. “And now?” “No. Just the same stiffness.” He seems a bit surprised by my reactions or lack thereof. “Well, then there is no sense in putting you back into casts.” Bingo. I hit the trifecta. This has been a good day at the track.
We pitch him the idea of hydrotherapy to take place in our terrace pool. He’s enthusiastic about this and I later arrange for a hydrotherapy specialist to lead my physical therapy in the water. The doc also says to return in 6 weeks for new x-rays and a new plan.
The ambulance delivers us home by four o’clock. We have been gone for five hours. We each drink a pint of Guinness in celebration of my new found freedom. Sitting in the wheelchair, I glance down to my two pathetic appendages. They are deeply discolored. The skin is wrinkled and hangs off the bone due to a lack of activity. I mention that I look like Gandhi after a long hunger strike. Hettie thinks I resemble Yoda from Star Wars, Episode Two. I stare at a scab on the side of my left heel. Underneath I discover a large hematoma (think of the biggest badass bruise that you’ve ever seen) hanging from the bottom of my left foot. Now I know where all that intense pain has been coming from that past two weeks. With the plaster removed, it should now heal quickly.
It has been a wonderful day and only getting better. Without casts, I can now rehab all three fractures in the pool. Our local freighter delivers a lift today, having completed a two-step tango voyaging from Miami to Curacao to here. Once installed, I will be able to transfer my sorry ass from wheelchair to pool. I’m a water dog panting in anticipation. Let the games begin.