Didn’t think much about my body ’til I almost lost it.
Slept little; ate less.
Worked hard (paid and volunteer work). Played harder.
But after being confined to numerous hospitals for two months, then two years of rehab and reconstructive surgery, I had to slow.
I was forced to pay more attention to my body — the parts disfigured and scarred, the parts peppered with shrapnel still, and the part no longer working.
Nowhere was this made more apparent to me than at Berkeley, whose rolling hills were a source of inspiration, but also a daily mobility challenge in my first year away from doctors.
I was walking to campus one day when my injured leg stopped, mid-stride. It refused to move.
I clearly remember walking through a construction zone, when the leg just seemed to freeze.
It. would. not. move.
By now more attuned to the “mind-body thing”, as I called it, I was certain I could just will the leg to perform.
(Since my last surgery, I had been encouraged by Uma Thurman in Kill Bill II, trying to will her paralyzed legs to life.)
I tried to relax; tried to ease the anxiety of being late for class; and visualized walking. (As a rehabilitation counselor, I later learned the import of guided imagery.)
Got moving again, albeit more slowly and much more awkwardly. Finished the day’s classes, worried, and reluctantly found a physiotherapist.
The physiotherapist made it clear that I was doing more damage to my body by not following through on all the stretching and other exercises I had been taught during recovery.
Once more, I was reliving the stretching-contortions-pain I had despised in rehab.
It seemed so tedious and painful then. Finally, I could see it was essential.
My mobility improved again, and I resumed a daily stretching/exercise routine that I have seldom missed since. I’m ever-thankful to every physiotherapist who has taught me.
This is not about inner will. It’s an easy action-reaction equation: Stretch, mobility improves. Reduce the exercise, reduce the mobility.
(And, kids, as you grow older, a daily stretch of all the body parts is not only good for boosting mobility, it can be a wondrous start to any morning.)
I was reminded of all this yesterday, during a particularly strenuous hike through the woods.
Since I’m desk-bound, writing far more than usual, I recently decided to boost my daily hike by another 30 minutes, at least every other day to start.
About 70 minutes in, on a 90-minute, uphill hike, yesterday, my atrophied leg balked at the last climb.
It. just. refused. to. budge.
I was instantly back at that Berkeley construction site, remembering my loss, then, at what to do.
Uma Thurman in mind, I picked up the leg with both hands yesterday, and just lifted it over a tree root in my way.
Step. Lift. Step. Lift.
This was exactly the type of monotonous mental exercise I adopted when relearning to walk a decade ago.
But actually having to pick up my leg was new.
Soon, I could move again — more slowly, but it was the end of the hike and partly downhill, so I was relieved the “leg freeze” was only temporary.
But the pain level has soared, so I’m cutting back today, to more stretching and less walking.
I am thankful for every lesson in mobility I’ve learned in the past 10 years.
I’m thankful for Quentin Tarantino’s realization that people who suffer catastrophic body damage — Thurman’s character was in a coma too — try to will their wounded parts to move, at some point.
I’m thankful for seeing Uma Thurman’s depiction of this: First in a hospital bed, after waking from the coma; and later, in the back seat of a getaway car. (Even though the film is fiction, just knowing that someone, somewhere, has experienced the same thing is powerful for people struggling to adjust to disability.)
I’m thankful for everything I’ve learned — am still learning — about the mind-body connection, body mechanics, and inner will.
I have no desire to be the martial arts avenger of Kill Bill, but I want to be that strong.
I believe I’m that determined.