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.