If there's a lesson in the unpleasant health events of this summer — if you're just tuning in, my inability to walk straight led to a lumbar laminectomy on four vertebrae out of a possible five, which cost me much coin of the realm and which has left me, four months later, with an inability to walk straight — I'm guessing it's this: maximum attention to safety protocols may well result in minimal recovery.
I am serious. My three weeks in the hospital were traumatic in several ways, but ultimately they boiled down to two words: Don't fall. It was on behalf of "Don't fall" that they activated some hellish device on my bed that would emit horrendous noises if I shifted my weight in a manner that its programming did not approve; it was necessary according to "Don't fall" protocol that I summon assistance every time I had to go to the john. And inevitably I internalized these instructions; once I got home, a visiting occupational therapist insisted that I bring my cell phone into the bathroom if I'm going to take a shower, just in case I fall.
Perhaps this was inevitable. One of my earliest memories involves taking a fall, and the mere fact that it remains with me after six decades means it was imprinted on my toddler consciousness about as hard as possible. Besides, last year I fell down a lot, or at least a lot more than I would have wanted to: in the fall, so to speak, I faceplanted into the yard while attempting to retrieve the newspaper, and in midwinter I slipped into horizontalness in the bathtub. Both of these events were sufficiently horrifying to make me wish to avoid repeating them; but now, after the mantra of "Don't fall," I worry about them even more. In fact, I canceled the newspaper subscription, going to digital distribution only, so I wouldn't have the opportunity to faceplant into the yard. (It took the paper several tries to comprehend that I was in fact switching away from the dead-tree version, but that's a matter for another time.)
So: "Don't fall." The walker, issued to me by the hospital, is never more than a few feet away, and I seldom venture much beyond it, lest I take a spill. I stand up pretty well, at least when I'm awake. (Early-morning ablutions are done at a weird angle for some reason.) I have not, in fact, fallen, though I've had a couple of near misses. But I'm no nearer to walking unassisted again than I was four months and several thousand dollars ago, and I suspect I never will be.
Two factors combine to bring me to this unpleasant conclusion. You've already heard about one of them. The other, though, might be more insidious: before there was nerve damage from the spinal cord being squashed, there was nerve damage of the peripheral-neuropathy variety, which I am told is payback for my failure to maintain satisfactory glucose levels. I don't find this explanation entirely persuasive. For one thing, I know lots of people with numbers that make mine look relatively insignificant, and they don't stumble around with random foot ailments. But having two different flavors of nerve damage inevitably must complicate the matter of healing. Weirdly, the major problem area seems to be around the ankles: I can't flex these monstrous clodhoppers well enough to climb into, or out of, the car with any degree of grace. And both knees, it seems, are in bad need of replacement: they resist motion the way Republicans pretend to resist taxation, and the right one, in particular, likes to buckle for a split second, as though it were programmed to precipitate a fall.
Still, I suppose it could be worse. Had I been bedridden all this time, I surely would have gone crazy. But at least I wouldn't fall — unless, of course, I rolled out of bed. And my new bed is at least a foot and a half taller than the old one.
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Copyright © 2016 by Charles G. Hill