|Posted on February 28, 2015 at 7:55 PM||comments (1)|
The fog wrapped dawn slides across my window. I’m watching from my bed as the sky slowly lightens from blue-black to pearly pinks. I can’t believe I’m awake, it’s only six a.m. and I am in a sour mood caused in a large part by my nervous sleeplessness the night before. I know I need to rest before I go to the hospital, but I’m wired. Wired and tired. I pull myself to a sitting position, drag my flaccid legs across the bed, dangle and drop them to the floor, stand up and pivot semi-gracefully into my Quantum Q6 Edge power chair, waiting next to my bed like a faithful metal horse. This chair is new, paid for by the Great State of Washington, my true patron, and fits me like a glove. When I plop myself into it, the soft foam, molded to fit my crooked back and my uneven sitting position, wraps around my spindly body and holds me in a tender hug, sweetly for a machine. And it is a machine, a fact I forget at my peril. This rig has a top speed of fifteen miles per hour and a range of fifteen miles, and can crush an ankle in three seconds flat if accidentally rammed into a toilet pedestal. Or if you happen to be beetling down the sidewalk at top speed and stop suddenly and it may fling you to the sidewalk and then in an acrobatic miracle of metal, flip over on top of you, pinning you to the sidewalk and breaking your tibia – a bone that is as strong and indestructible as cement. And yes, I speak from experience.
Right now I need the bathroom and something wet and fruity for this Death Valley mouth. Like everything else on my sixty-nine year old body, my mouth goes slack-jawed in my sleep, and I find myself breathing through it. When I wake up, it’s so dry, I can hardly close it. Probably due to one of the sixteen medications I take every day to stay alive.
I remember the first pill I ever had to take regularly. I had been diagnosed as hypertensive in the dentist’s office, of all places, and given a prescription by my general practitioner. Taking one pill a day for the rest of my life was a commitment I just couldn’t get my head around at forty, but we humans can get used to anything. I think it’s a major key to our survival on earth, a major key to mine, anyway. Now I take three pills daily for the same problem, and never miss a beat. I used to watch my grandmother in amazement as she took her pile of pills every day for many of the same inherited problems. Now I am a grandma and have my own rainbow nuggets to swallow at breakfast, lunch and dinner. I tell myself these pills are going to help me live forever and I wash them and a Vicodin down with a scalding hot cup of coffee. Breakfast of champions.
I pull up to the altar in my bedroom and chant a quick Nam Myho Renge Kyo. I’m a Buddhist and have been for most of my adult life. I learned all I needed to know about Christianity early on in grades one through eight of Lutheran parochial school. I think my Christian background actually propelled me into looking for answers that were more practical and better suited to me than what that bully Jehovah and his martyred son, Jesus, had to say about things. And don’t get me started on the poor fourteen year old Virgin Mary, who had to be raped by an angel to even get into the story, and finally left behind to clean up the mess. There is no way around it, Christianity pisses me off.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a total heathen. I am impressed by the Ten Commandments as a civilizing guidepost of do’s and don’ts, but why the ridiculous story about Jehovah carving the stone tablets up in the mountain? Obviously, Moses was a high level social engineer and dummied up so he could use the god persona to pad his own tentative rulership. And why must every religion become a polarizing club to subdue all other ideas of who we are and where we come from. The Church grills us to “have faith” – faith in what they say is true. I am of the opinion that Faith is a cop-out, an exercise in accepting for a fact something you can’t understand because it is too unbelievable, like most of the bible. Maybe this is a sore spot for me. Faith and Healing were interchangeable when I was young. If I only had faith, I could have dropped off the body braces and walk unencumbered. But that never happened. No matter how hard I prayed or tried to be good, my body just kept twisting and curling like a well- tended bonsai tree.
I’m sixty-nine now and this body of mine is definitely on its’ last hurrah, but I didn’t have much to work with after polio had its nasty way with me when I was two. I was born in the Ohio River Valley area, one of the main vortexes for the water-borne epidemic of 1948. No one really knows how all those children contracted the disease, lots of theories, not much proof, except for the thousands of crippled and deformed children left behind.
I feel so sorry for my mother when I think of the exact type of horror she went through watching me succumb to the fever and paralysis, and finally, not able to move. I had walked at seven months, but didn’t walk again for a year and a half, which I spent in the Children’s Hospital in Toledo, Ohio. I remember very little of my hospitalizations, but one dreamlike memory is imprinted in my memory.
I am in a darkened room filled with drab olive green and brown metal beds. The beds have side bars that go up and down with loud scraping noises whenever the nurses or doctors attend to me. The bars, or the thought of bars, doesn’t bother me because I am so tired and nothing moves on my body. I don’t even have the strength to cry. This bed is all I know and it feels safe. The sounds of the other children in the room are a backdrop of moans and cries, but not very loud. Mostly it is the sound of the nurses, staunch ships in the gloom, their starched whites rustling through the wards, their soft, sweet smelling hands flitting through the dimness like pale moths.
A group of nurses come close and I see one is pushing a square metal box on wheels. A gleaming white ice-cream cart. But when she opens the top, a cloud of steam rises to the tiled ceiling. An expert jab with the long sliver tongs brings up a hot square of bright red felt and the other nurses carefully spread it across my leg. Another steaming patch is retrieved.
This time it’s yellow, and my foot is covered. Next a green square is put on my hip. The nurses bending over me are talking and encouraging me with sweet words, mother sounds, as they continue to cover me in this fashion. Soon look like a small pile of colored steaming rags. The warm, moist heat encourages my painfully contracted limbs to relax, stretch out and maybe, someday, walk again. The warm wraps feel good and my cramped legs slowly relax as the heat penetrates, turning my rigid muscles to warm pudding. I slip from consciousness into blessed sleep.
Sleeping is still one of my favorite pastimes. I’m an active dreamer and sometimes my dream life is much more exciting than what I wake up to. Especially on mornings like this. I wish to hell I was still asleep, but I’m awake and it’s time to roll on down to the hospital to see my girl.
It’s bitterly cold out, not our usual seaside marina weather. The fog has frozen on the spikes of green grass glittering blindingly as the sun breaks through. I wince at the glare, like most north westerners I have a love hate relationship with the sun. I love to see it come out, but soon become annoyed at it’s angle in the sky, always a little low, always shining directly into my eyes. Sunglasses would help but those plastic horrors that fit over your glasses never fit right, they are too heavy and pretty soon the bridge of my nose starts to hurt…..making me irritable. I could wear a ball cap with a protective brim but I’m way too vain to go there. Nothing worse than an old disabled dyke wheeling around in her ball cap. I am not that butch.
Twelve blocks later, I’m rolling into the main entrance of Providence Hospital. I’m getting to know this place pretty well. I’ve been coming here almost every day for three weeks now. Hospitals are made for wheelchairs and gurneys, so it’s really a pleasure tooling down those smooth as glass polished floors. It’s so easy and pleasant that I have to watch out for the pedestrians. They see me coming at them and they get nervous and start darting around trying to get out of my way. Usually they end up putting themselves directly in my path. I try to make eye contact as I approach, but nine out of ten people just continue looking over my head or at their cell phones. The cell phone people are the ones I really have to watch for. They are so busy reading or texting about the latest drama in their lives, I could pick them off at 15mph, easily. But I don’t. I am the picture of civility, smiling and nodding at them as I zoom past.
Hospitals don’t bother me like they do a lot of people. Maybe because I spent so much time in them as a kid. It seemed like every summer I needed some kind of orthopedic sugery. As I grew, tendons needed to be lengthened, spines needed to be straightened, toes needed to be fused. There was always something. I didn’t fight these hospitalizations too hard because I was always promised that I could drop off one of my braces with every surgery. And god knows, I hated those braces.
When I started walking again at around age four, I had the full package of Minnesota body braces; back brace supported with metal stays and leg braces that came to the top of both thighs. In those days the braces were made of metal and leather. Plastic had not yet been perfected for prosthetics. There was a little sliding lock device at both knees so that when I sat down, I could slide it up and bend my knees so I wouldn’t look like an idiot sitting there with my legs all stiff and sticking straight out in front of me. I remember that I started using twine to keep this lock open so I could bend my knees when I walked, so that summer, in I went for surgery. When I came home in a cast with something looking like a huge nail sticking out of my toe, there was a beautiful blue girl’s bicycle waiting for me. I couldn’t ride it till I got the cast off at the end of summer, but that didn’t stop me from posing for the camera standing tall beside it holding my cat and wearing my most favorite dress that stuck out like an umbrella from the five starched petticoats I wore under it. I felt like a princess that day. When I finally got the cast off that fall, my new brace only came to my knee and my left leg was brace free for the first time in eight years.
At the time, before the curving of my spine began in earnest, I was tall for my age and it was a big bike. I had to start with training wheels, but it didn’t take long for them to come off and I was sailing along at top speed with my playing card clothes pinned to the wheel guard so it snapped every time a spoke hit it, sounding like a little motor. I loved that sound and how it got louder as I went faster. I got my first taste for speed on that bike. I wasn’t allowed to cross the street, but I could go around the block as many times as I wanted.