Giáo trình

The Healing Tree


Chapter 21

Tác giả: unknown

Sitting in the physical therapy department waiting room, waiting for my appointment, I noticed they’d put a new poster up on the wall.  It had Leonardo Da Vinci’s famous cruciform image of a blueprint figure, the one you see in medical offices everywhere that looks like a naked man doing jumping jacks without even mussing his hair.  Then, in big bold print, the poster proclaimed:

We Repair the World’s Most Complex Machine

With that in mind, I scribbled in the pink journal as I watched people come out of the gym: a teenage girl on crutches, a pot-bellied couch potato shuffling along on wobbly knees, a weekend warrior hobbling out with a cane, a frail little old lady leaning on a walker.  And I would have traded places with any one of them if it would have meant I could walk again, or even feel pain in my legs again.  The time of my appointment came and went – 5 minutes, then 10 minutes behind schedule.  As seems to happen when I’m in a morose mood, the words came quickly, and by the time I was called in for my workout (or more accurately, my work-over), I’d completed a new poem:

A Most Complex Machine

I am the world’s most complex machine

My heart has been broken, there’s a hole my soul

My feelings are aching, my emotions stone cold

My funny bone is fractured and my

wish bone’s been cracked

Bruised is my ego, wounded my pride

My gut issues warnings, my spirit has died

No doctor can fix me

No nurse ease the pain

I’m running on empty

And lost in the rain

Maggie used to say that she’d write her sorrows in the pink journal, then close the covers and leave them inside.  More often than not, however, I found that my sorrows dragged me into the journal after them.  Thus it was that my self-pity was churning itself into high gear when Amanda came for me.  “Sorry to keep you waiting, Carrie Anne, we’ve been incredibly busy this morning.  But now I’m ready for you if you’re ready for me.”

“I don’t really have a choice,” I replied, “since the transporter who brought me over won’t be back for another hour.”  At that point, anything sounded better than exercising with Amanda – especially indulging myself in the poetry of woe.  But she just laughed and wheeled me back into the little torture chamber she called her gym.

“Okay, today we’re going to start working on your arm strength,” Amanda said as she lifted two dumbbells from the farthest end of the weight rack.  Laying my hands flat on my lap, she set one dumbbell in each palm and asked me to lift them in a curling motion.  They looked like extra-long toothpicks with a marshmallow stuck on each end, but I could barely pick them up.

After a few feeble attempts, I let the dumbbells fall to the floor.  They even sounded like marshmallows when they hit.  “Look, Amanda,” I said, “I’ve been thinking about this, and I’ve decided I’m going to get an electric wheelchair.  I just don’t think I’ll ever have the strength to push myself around.  At least not in anything approaching real time.”  I tried to cross my arms and was appalled to discover that I was already exhausted by what I’m sure Amanda had assumed would be a light warm-up.  “I’ll graduate to the manual model when I get stronger.”

As she always did when she was about to give me a talking-to, Amanda rolled over the big green exercise ball and sat on it.  “This is your decision, Carrie Anne, but please don’t make it lightly.  Electric wheelchairs can be a life-enhancing resource for people who really need them.  But in all my years of physical therapy, I don’t know that I’ve ever seen anyone graduate, as you put it, from an electric to a manual wheelchair.”

“So what’s wrong with just going electric?  Seems a lot easier and more convenient.”

Amanda rolled back and forth on her green exercise ball.  “Two things.  First, now more than ever you need to exercise and keep yourself as strong as possible.  If for no other reason, scientists are doing some amazing research on spinal cord injuries.  It’s possible that, within your lifetime, they’ll figure out how to help people walk again.  You know as well as I do, the first patients they select will be the ones most likely to do well, and that means those who are strong.  No guarantees, of course, but you want to be ready just in case.”

“And the second reason?”

“You mean other than just the fact that you’ll feel better?”  I nodded and she continued.  “When you fall into that electric wheelchair lifestyle – and make no mistake, it is a lifestyle – you’ll profoundly change the way other people look at you, and place all sorts of restrictions on your own activities.”

“What sort of restrictions?”

“Well, for example, people in electric wheelchairs don’t ski or participate in marathons.”

“Marathons?  You’ve got to be kidding.  I can’t even wheel myself up the ramp to the main hospital.”

“Not yet.  Never forget that word, yet.  Some of the wheelchair athletes I work with today were once in the same shape you’re in now.  They had to work hard, and were often tempted to quit, but to a person they’ll tell you it was worth the effort.”

Before I could respond, the receptionist stepped into the entryway and said, “Amanda, Bill Terry is here to see you, and also Faye Milliken is here for her 11 o’clock appointment.”

“Could you please tell Bill I’ll be right with him, and go ahead and bring Faye in?  Thanks, Shirley.”

Faye appeared to be about 16 years old, with a smile that belied the obvious seriousness of her condition.  Not only was she in a wheelchair, her head and neck were immobilized by a halo device.  Amanda picked up the toothpick-and-marshmallow dumbbells from the floor and handed them to Faye.  Then she walked over to the weight rack, picked up the next-larger set, and laid them in my hands.  “Faye, this is Carrie Anne.  She’s going to be your coach this morning.”  Turning to me, Amanda said, “Carrie Anne, could you please start by showing Faye how to do the arm curls, and I’ll be right back.”

I tried to knock Amanda off her feet with my eyes, but she just laughed and said, “See one, do one, teach one. I’ll be back in a bit.”

For the next 15 minutes, Faye and I got to know each other.  Her neck had been broken when she was thrown from her dirt bike, something she seemed to consider nothing more than a minor speed bump.  I’m not sure whether it was from having been put in the position of being someone’s coach, or from having a workout buddy, but the new weights somehow seemed lighter than the marshmallow ones. 

When Amanda returned, she was accompanied by a man in a wheelchair.  It was one of those little three-wheeled buggy things that paraplegics race with. The shoulders peering through his tank-top t-shirt suggested that he was probably pretty good at it. “Carrie Anne and Faye, I’d like you to meet Bill Terry.”

After a bit of small talk, Amanda asked Bill to share some of the most important lessons he’d learned about life in a wheelchair.  “The first thing I learned is to be careful what you pray for,” he said with a hearty laugh.  “Fifteen years ago, we were building a custom house and one of our laborers no-showed.  So I had to fill in for the deadbeat.  The last thing I remember saying to myself was ‘Lord, I wish I didn’t have to haul this lumber around anymore; I’ve got more important things to do.’  Well, seven minutes later a pile of roofing shingles landed on top of me.  I haven’t hauled a stick of lumber since that day!”  He laughed again, and it was yet one more variation on the sound of an icebreaker plowing through a frozen sea.

We talked for over an hour.  Amanda canceled the transporter – said she’d wheel me back herself (which I knew really meant she’d try to make me push myself most of the way).  Bill shared a few practical strategies for being what he called ‘a wheelestrian’ in a pedestrian world.  But mostly, he spoke about the power of vision.  “The book of Proverbs says that without vision, people perish.  I know I’d have perished without new dreams to sustain me.  I knew I’d never play golf again, so I took up wheelchair racing.  Knew I’d never supervise a construction site, so I started my own business.  You know, it’s funny, but if it hadn’t been for that accident, I never would have given myself permission to make a living following my heart’s true passion.”

“So, what your heart’s true passion?” Faye asked the question.

Bill grabbed the rear wheels of his chair and leaned way back so the front wheel was suspended mid-air. Then he tipped to one side and while balanced on just one wheel, spun his wheelchair around in a complete 360-degree circle, then did another, then another.  “I’m a wheelchair juggler,” he exclaimed while still balancing on one wheel.  “The only one in the world, as far as I know.”

“You make a living juggling wheelchairs?” Faye asked.

“That’s a great idea,” Bill replied with a laugh, “maybe I’ll try that someday. But I juggle just about anything else while sitting in a wheelchair. Hammers, bowling balls, ostrich feathers, pretty much anything. As far as making a living at it, technically I suppose you’d call me a motivational speaker. But the juggling opens doors into principals’ offices and into the hearts and minds of students.  First I juggle bowling balls, then I juggle words,” he said with another of those icebreaker laughs.  After planting all three wheels firmly on the ground (to my great relief) Bill said, “one of the most helpful things I learned was something Amanda taught me: bilateral visualization.”

Bill looked over at Amanda, and she took her cue.  “I’m a big believer in visualization.  Like, if my patient will actually see herself doing an exercise in her mind, she always gets a better performance from her body.  But I take that one step further.  If I myself also visualize my patient doing the exercise, we get an even greater range of motion.  I don’t know why it works, but every therapist I know agrees with me that it does work.”

Bill nodded.  “It’s true.  When I’m teaching someone to juggle, not only do I ask them to visualize themselves keeping the balls in the air, I also keep that picture in my own mind.  It works every time.”  He looked from me to Faye and back to me, then said, “a few more weeks of weight-lifting, and you’ll both be ready for juggling lessons.”  I don’t know if it was the strength of Bill’s mind, or the weakness of my own, but in that moment I actually had a mental picture of myself sitting in my wheelchair juggling three tennis balls.

I’d been correct in my assumption that Amanda would try to make me do all the work getting myself back to my room.  I made it as far as the ramp that links the medical arts building to the hospital.  “Someday I’ll be able to do this, Amanda,” I said, “but not yet.”  Still, it was the farthest I’d ever pushed my wheelchair, and the first time I knew with certainty that someday I would power myself up inclines like this.  Sitting in my room that afternoon, I rewrote the poem I’d done in the waiting room. 

A Most Complex Machine, Indeed!

I am the world’s most complex machine

I can be cured by a word

Healed with a touch

Touched by a thought

I use love as a crutch

The things that most matter

You can’t really see

It takes invisible tools to fix

The machine that is me

I liked the second poem much better.

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