I was already walking by the time I was nine months old. Now, 447 months later, my muscles are nearly in a full state of atrophy. The combination of being bedridden, and not digesting what little food I can eat, has made my muscles vanish. I have always been thin, but now I look as if I am a man who is sick, but in his upper 60s. I am 38 years old, and this was not supposed to happen this fast. Alcoholic cirrhosis latches on later in life, so I still had time to quit. I surely wouldn't have, though. This had to happen.
The corridor is busy, like a department store that is having a big sale. One day only. I am trying to drag myself up the middle of the path, but my steering of the walker is lacking in execution. Doctors and nurses trot by swiftly, and I can feel a cool, air-conditioned breeze when they pass. During any other moment in this cave of illness, I am freezing. Now, I am sweating like I just threw back three shots of Grand Marnier in the summer heat.
I am breathing heavily, and I think off all the times I toed the line for a track meet. I need to take the approach that our coach always gave us. One race was 1600 meters. Four laps of 400 meters. It was ingrained in me to start out hard for the first lap, and then settle into my groove for the second lap. Yet, on the third, I had to push harder. Coach found that the third lap was always the slowest. Of course, the fourth, and final lap was an all out kick to the finish. Currently, I feel like this is more of an obstacle course, and not a track.
The obstructions dressed as physicians, all have their own mobile lab stations. The gadgets are navy blue, with red boxes on top, that look like they are about to play the $1,000 pyramid with Dick Clark. It's no surprise, when they tell me to "Pass." I snag the walker's right wheel on one of the wires hanging off the first hurdle. "Be careful", she tells me. No kidding, lady.
"Stand up straight. Pick up your feet. Fall forward, not backward", is the physical therapist's regular chant.
On the left is my next barrier, and this time I begin to lurch forward. Just when I have set myself into some kind of rhythm, the walker's left wheel is tangled up with the contraption used to check vital signs. In the same instant, my right knee buckles, and the sweaty palm of my right hand skids off. I slide down, and bang my elbow on the front of the brace, followed by my chin shortly after. At least, I didn't bite my tongue.
With the help of my team of walking trainers, I correct my stance, and move on. I finally lumber to the final double doors. I parallel park next to the slate doors, and grab the silver handle. It feels so cool that the hair on my forearm stands on end. I have reached my goal, and with a much needed push from my help, I saunter through the door.
I enter the next hall, and it is perpendicular to the one I just left. I am instantly hit in the face with a flurry of sunshine. This oasis is lined with windows from end to end. It faces the ocean, and there is a deep, blue shade to the November sky. I can see the marina, and the bridge, and the white caps on what looks like a cool, but brilliant afternoon.
"Good job", says the physical trainer. "We are gong to take a solid break before we head back to your room."
"That's...good...", I agree.
I stand at the window, and think of all the time I spent at the beach last summer. Swimming, running, playing catch, laughing, renting wave-runners, and diving off of boats.
Of course, there was also a lot of drinking.
Photo: Solstice Moon