Monday, July 8, 2013

Walking that mile

The first walk I took after five days of immobility in ICU was to the bathroom, so I could pee like an adult. That successfully accomplished, I took my IV unit back to my bed, sat down and nearly blacked out. Baby steps, revisited.

On Sunday, after I moved to the regular ward, I took a walk around the floor. I had on two hospital gowns so I wouldn’t flash anybody my backside, I went minimalist with footwear in my special anti-skid socks, and I pushed along my mobile IV unit. Let’s just say I’m not vain enough to care what I looked like but not enough of an exhibitionist to have taken a photo to post. Actually I rather enjoyed the thought of how silly I looked because, you know what? who the fuck cares—I’m walking again.
When I got off the IV drip (yay) because the surgeon needed to slice into my arm (not so yay), I could walk the halls freely. This was equal parts liberating and exasperating. I didn’t think anything could be as boring as the treadmill, but it turns out hospital corridors are far, far worse. Everything is hospital-colored, everything smells and sounds like hospital, and all paths lead to another part of the hospital before you have to turn around and go back to your part of the hospital. When I came to a dead-end corridor with a “NO EXIT” sign, I wished I had a Sharpie pen so I could scribble “Sartre was here” on the wall. Or maybe just “No shit.”

On Wednesday, I’d reached the end of my rope. I had heard nothing all day about the possibility that I could go home, and I was facing yet another night of bad sleep and blood draws. When I took my walk around the halls, this time I didn’t smile at people, didn’t make eye contact, couldn’t manage to mask how utterly miserable I felt right then. I probably looked like that “Yellow Wallpaper” woman, going ‘round and ‘round in mad, awful circles.
I’m out now, and I’m walking the places where I used to run. Being mobile again is still a thrill, but I can’t pretend there is only simple pleasure in my activity. A fellow hard-core runner recently told me she finds walking far harder and more exhausting than running; it doesn’t really make sense, yet I understand what she means. Running feels purposeful, even when its purpose is itself and no more. Walking threatens to feel aimless at times, and it gives me too much time to think about the aimlessness of my life, about my complete inability to figure out where the hell I’m supposed to go from here. I remember how tired I felt before all this happened. Being tired during a run can be disheartening; being tired while walking threatens to be defeating.

When I came back from my utterly miserable walk around the corridors that Wednesday, back to the room I thought I’d be staying in yet another night, a phlebotomist came to see me. I’d recognized him from one of the previous blood draws, and he me. “Hey! How ya doing?” he said with a grin. I liked him; he’d told me some good jokes the last time he came for his vial, but at the moment I couldn’t muster even fake good cheer. I want to go home. He feigned hurt—“How can you say that, don’t you love us no more?” I looked at him. I want to go home.
He stopped what he was doing and peered over at me. I hate it here. I can’t sleep, can’t eat. Nobody will tell me what’s going to happen to me next. I’m just so…damned…tired…

I looked up at him, and shook my head. Sorry. Sorry for that. Everyone here’s been great, and I know I’m lucky, there are so many people here a whole lot worse off than I am, and I’m sorry for complaining to you like this…
He held up his hand. “Hey. You know that expression about how you got to walk a mile in someone else’s shoes?” I nodded dumbly. “Well, right now you are walking a mile in your own shoes.”

I smiled, liking what he said even though at the moment I wasn’t quite sure what it meant. The rest of the blood draw continued as normal, and he left the room with a quiet nod of encouragement.
Sometime this week I’ll run my first mile since all this happened. Meanwhile I am still walking that mile in my own shoes, trying to understand myself as I go.



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