A Bigger World, A Draining World

(NOTE: Based on time elapsed since the posting of this entry, the BS-o-meter calculates this is 14.472% likely to be something that Ferrett now regrets.)

I used to jog around this block, I thought.  And not even be winded when I got back home.
Yet there I was, teetering along, huffing and panting at a pace so slow our tiny dog kept looking back in puzzlement to wonder what the holdup was.  That distance, once so casually manageable, seemed like the trek to Mount Doom.  I was mentally remapping old landmarks to fit my new framing, thinking, okay, after those footprints in the cement, there’s the tree three-quarters of the way up the road.  And, if that’s true, then we’ve been doing this long enough for my shirt to be soaked in sweat and we’re not halfway done.
The world has swelled since I had my heart attack.  It is a larger place, filled with more spaces and intervals, scary in its immensity.  I remain undaunted – I know where I am, I can find my way back home – but it is like opening up your back door to discover the thatch of woods in your back yard has become a deep and dark forest, thick with tripping roots and quicksand.
It’s a bit mystical, as Gini is by my side and to her, the world is normal-sized.  I am bewitched.  To her, this is just the block around her house, and I have been transformed into a feeble patient, a withered husk to be shuffled along.  And that’s the curse.  I’m still me – my sense of humor is intact, my drive is intact, my ferocity and latching onto every opportunity is still there – it’s everything else that’s changed.  Yet she cannot see that.
To her, I’m the one who’s shrunk.
Among the disabled, there’s a popular essay short-handed as spoon theory – where you’re given so many spoons per day to use, and burn them up on mundane tasks, and when you’re out of spoons you are unable to do anything else.  But that is in many ways a bad metaphor, for there are very few places that will accept spoons as valid currency.  No, after a devastating illness your whole internal economy has been devastated, like post-war Iraq, where you used to be able to count on a steady flow of electricity and now there are storms of brownouts and whole days where your house is dark.  Things that used to be free now cost.  There was a time when nipping off to the bathroom was a gimme and I – holder of the teacup-sized bladder – could pee at will.
In this larger world, where the chair is bigger and the hallway is now the size of a city block, the effort it takes to get to the bathroom has a distinct cost.  It’s not an unpayable cost, but it is rather like arising to realize that a toll-taker has taken up residence at the end of your driveway and it’s gonna cost you a quarter every time you back out.
Yet you are still you.  Here I am, giggling at the same Big Bang Theory reruns, plotting the same stories, snarking on the usual social networks.  I’m not changed.  The world has.  It’s full of more drugs, more routines, more checkups, more doctors, and all of that is getting in the way of being who I want to be.
Yet for all of this hugeness, it’s also smaller.  Because my wife has had the trauma of watching her husband have a close-to-death experience – nothing where I was going down on the table, but having the question of Will Ferrett still be around? kicks up all sorts of ugly psychic residue, like a malicious child stomping through a well-tended garden.  You can see the stress on her face, the way she can barely concentrate on work.  Her whole future has been smeared and must be rebuilt.
It’s a smaller world for me because Gini takes her cues from me.  If I have a crying breakdown in the shower, she’s going to resonate with that like a struck fork.  If I apologize for not being able to do something, then she gets upset because, well, that’s just another reminder of how transformed I am at this instant.  She gets knocked askew when I tell her that I’m sorry that she has to do something for me, or express frustration and/or terror at a huge thing that used to be trivial, or just do anything aside from being brave.
She will bear my weaknesses, of course, because we are a loving couple.  She is here to support me.  She has not asked me to change my behavior in one iota, nor would she.  But the truth is, she’d feel a lot better if I just acted as though I was well again.  Which means if I want Gini to feel as good as possible – and of course I do – then in the middle of this hubbub, I must be stoic.  This neighborhood block, which seems to go on like a boring movie with no end credits in sight, is no big deal.  This pain is minor.  This inability to do things is, well, just part of it, for I must be chipper.
I wound her if I react the wrong way, and I want both of us to be healthy when it is all done.  And so here we are, two people absolutely committed to each other’s wellness, locked in to trying our best.  For us, it’s temporary – I will, I am told, be an ordinary feeble man in another three to four weeks, at which point the rehabilitation takes place, in which case I’ll be stronger than I was before. Which is a gratitude I carry.  This is not forever.  Unlike many of my disabled friends, I am a tourist, and will be exiting given a little luck.
But for now, I’m enspelled.  I have to go for a walk around the block today, as a part of my therapy.  I do not know how large it will be.  It could be trivial, it could be devastating.  Yet no matter how large it is, I must step out with confidence, grasp my wife’s hand, and tell her that it’s all good today.
This is love.  This pain.  This is rehabilitation and life and adoration all in a basket, and doubtlessly I’ll weaken at some point and lean on Gini because I must, and feel her strain as she takes up my load, because we’re both in love.  And in transition.  And so very, very human.

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