Those of you who have read my book, On Silver Wings: A Life Reconstructed, are familiar with the chapter called “The Other Side of the Scrubs,” in which I return to the rehab center as a coach for a patient, my friend Kathleen, after her knee replacement.
I’ve returned with Kathleen 3 times now, once after spinal surgery and once after her hip replacement. Kathleen is nonetheless active enough to wear me out, and she makes a trip to Europe to celebrate each recovery, walking long distances in her travels.
By going back to the rehab center with Kathleen, I’ve stayed current with the news there. The old building where I did my hitch was loaded with asbestos and deemed not fixable without taking the whole thing down. The center split into two, with the inpatient rehab moved to a special wing at the hospital, and the outpatient center in a renovated building on the hospital campus.
I enjoyed going back as a coach. Everyone remembers me; I was a rehab rock star. I used to arrive early for my sessions and ride 10 miles on the stationary bike before we even began. The rapidity and extent of my recovery took everyone by surprise and I’m one of their best success stories.
Last week I had to return to the outpatient center as a patient. I have a knee injury that has not improved in 5 months—if anything, it’s gotten steadily worse. I realized it was not going to get better without intervention. This was complicated by my health insurance issue in which I was bumped onto Apple Care (Washington’s Medicaid) because my income fell, and I was not able to see any of my regular care team. There was a 5-month wait to see an Apple doctor so I had to use a stranger at urgent care to get a referral to physical therapy. (I’m back on my old plan again!)
It was further complicated by the fact that the initial injury occurred at my job as a food delivery driver. I went to a customer’s house and their walkway had a frost-heaved panel in the middle that formed a 4-inch-high trip hazard. I fell with both hands full and landed first on my knees, then my face. That case is still in litigation and I’m not free to discuss the details, but I had to get an exam at the rehab center in order to find out if the injury could be conclusively tied to the fall (and it turns out it could).
I’ve lost a lot of ground over the last 3 months. I’ve been swimming 3 times a week but it’s not weight-bearing exercise so I still packed on 10 extra pounds, despite some major healthy changes in my diet. When I get up in the morning, I walk unsteadily and I’m in terrible pain all over for the first half hour or so. There is no joy in lying slug-a-bed; rather, I grab what sleep I can and nap during the day to make up the difference. This is what happens when I lose my grip on my physical well-being. I become (shudder) an average elderly American, and I am only 54.
I remember summer mornings in peak bike season, waking up refreshed at sunrise to let the cats out and enjoy the crisp, cool air before the heat sets in. I remember the energy, the strength, the sense of well-being, and I want it back. Badly enough to gamely grit my teeth through every awkward motion that Dave the Therapist can dream up for me.
The sensation I feel as I walk into the therapy gym in my shorts, stripped of the dignity of a coach’s street clothes, is like that recurring dream many of us have, of being back in high school and not knowing why. I don’t belong here… but there I am, lying on the raised mat I spent so many hours on 7 years ago, this time working on my legs rather than my arms, back and shoulder. The familiar therapists do a double-take when they see me actually doing exercises rather than holding the counting device and clicking off Kathleen’s reps. First there was Dave, who was Kathleen’s therapist too. Then Loretta, Diana, and Ken, my occupational therapist from the crash days. “Oh, this will not do,” Ken says. I assure him of Dave’s prognosis and he still looks at me in disbelief, like a bounced check he was sure had been covered with a generous balance.
At home, I’m exhausted. I try to resume my work day, but I can’t stay awake and I go nap in the living room. Six months ago I was zipping around on the Galloping Goose Trail in Victoria, the sun warm on my tanned skin and glinting off my bike wherever the trail dust hadn’t settled on the polished finish.
This has been humbling, and not in a good way. But I trust Dave when he assures me I can make it back in time for the summer touring season, even though I should definitely hold off on the mountainous Sunshine Coast Highway this year to give my leg a more gradual comeback. I was thrilled when Dave insisted that I get on Silver and ride a few miles every day that the weather allows. That is the best exercise to pull my kneecap back into proper alignment.
So off I go to do my exercises. I took a picture of Dave’s freehand drawings—that took him less than 3 minutes to draw. His drawings are loaded with codes to remind me of proper body placement and movement—for example, a rumpled pant leg denotes a knee that is loose and not locked. Isn’t he amazing?
When have you had a big setback that you had to overcome? Did you feel like you were in that high school dream too?