small steps

I’m learning to appreciate small steps — literally.
A couple of winters ago, [redacted for legal reasons].

I know how lucky I am. It could have been so much worse: I can walk. I’m in one piece. I have no scars or marks, just a slight limp. I never spent more than a few hours in the hospital. I know how lucky I am.

I spent so much time reminding myself of my luck that it’s been hard to accept that I’m not going to recover fully. I had a fine body. Aging, somewhat unfit, and sometimes overweight, yes, but a fine body, a strong body that carried me around without notable pain or limits. I tromped a few miles every day, shouldered heavy loads of books, flung my nieces and nephews around with joy. In a moment, just a moment during which a driver was looking for a parking space instead of looking at the road, all of that changed.

After six seasons of recovery time, plenty of doctor’s visits and physical therapy, and a lot of crying, I’m learning to recalibrate my expectations.

I expect now that I’ll never have a day without pain. I expect I’ll never be able to hold a toddler for more than a few minutes, never again carry home my canvas sacks full of groceries, never pick up my usual comically tall stacks of library books for research, never go backpacking or spend a full day working an archaeological dig. The Fella has taken over laundry duty, because carrying the heavy bags a block to the laundromat is too much for me. (I’m looking into buying a little laundry cart so we can split the task.)
But I am making progress, and it’s important to celebrate the small steps.

I can no longer bolt up stairs two steps at a time as I used to. But I can climb the three flights to my classes, if I go slowly. For classes four flights up, I still take the elevator… for now.

I can, on well-judged occasions, walk all the way downtown with a couple of library books to swap, wander for 30 minutes, and walk all the way home without incident, if I rest and ice my back on returning home.
I can perform my entire physical therapy routine without swearing. (I can do it without swearing, which doesn’t mean I do do it without swearing.)

To my blissful astonishment, this month I learned that while floating in a pool I have almost no pain.
Lately, I can often wash an entire sinkful of dishes at a time, though I’m tall enough to find the counter height uncomfortable, so I have to assume a wide Billy Zoom stance partway through.

One Minute Dance Party, a near-daily ritual in which I put on music and gingerly Shake It TM for a minimum of 60 seconds just to loosen up my back (and incidentally perform essential upkeep on my groove thang) has, all unbidden, turned into Two Minute Dance Party.

Last weekend, I spent several hours in cars and trains, slept on a sofa, and handled both my and my mother-out-law’s* overnight bags, all without going into spasm or requiring medication.

*And glad to do it: she was (we hope temporarily) stricken with severe back spasms herself at the time.
Today, I carried a medium-heavy grocery bag and a six-pack of soda half a block without having to stop. I have to browbeat The Fella into letting me handle any grocery bags at all, but I must regain my previous strength.

And the most exciting** small step: last night, I painted my toenails for the first time since [redacted]. For a long time, I wasn’t able to curl up into pedicure posture. Last night, I did! Everytime my electric blue toenails peep into my field of vision, I’m startled, then deeply pleased. It’s not just a pedicure: it’s progress.

*Okay, there’s one thing more exciting, but it’s private. Rest assured: it’s good.

7 thoughts on “small steps

  1. You can tell me anything! (Just do not wait so long to do it.) My mind has fully recovered from the stroke of seven years ago but my body has not. I do not know about yours but it sounds like progress to me and that progress is all that matters.

  2. You know, sweetheart, you could’ve asked me; I would’ve painted your toenails. I know you would never ask such a thing, but you COULD. And I know I’m not the only one who would do it, either.
    I had an epiphany about toenails the other day. I have not had the heart to paint my toenails since, well, you know. It just seemed too frivolous. But then I saw a young woman getting her chemo pumped into her, and she had the most beautiful hot pink toenails. And I thought, if she can do it, who am I to not have the heart? Now I have to go cry a little. And paint my toenails. Bak son.

  3. Gaoo, I know, I do know. The Fella said the same after I hobbled around doing my victory dance. Thank you, and thank him, but it’s not about the toenails, as I’m sure you know.
    I didn’t know it mattered, and the only reason it does matter is because I did it. I did it!
    Little children understand the importance of small accomplishments: “I did it!” At what age do we start to discount our own small steps, to diminish our sense of accomplishment? One marvelous thing that came out of this: I’m reclaiming the pleasure of small victories.

  4. I painted my toenails when JM was in the emergency room several years ago and then blogged about it. I felt so guilty but a) I couldn’t get to him, and b) I needed something to do other than eat more sugar and start bouncing around more.

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