It started with a Zimmer frame.
I’m lying on a plinth in the physio gym, feeling the effects of ten weeks worth of hospital quality sleep. In a very un-Ruthie moment, I’ve mixed up my appointment time. I run through some of my stretches while I wait patiently for nobody and I do what I love doing best. I people-watch.
Chenelle, a sassy-but-badassy fellow patient is hard at work opposite me. I watch her being coaxed by her physiotherapist into a standing position on a zimmerframe. She grips on. Her forehead creases in concentration. She’s the kind of girl who’ll accept a challenge. She bends from the hips. She leans forward. Her legs knock together a little. She grips tighter. She pushes herself upright, the zimmer frame supporting her.
She’s done it.
I smile in my corner and a memory pops into my mind. It’s from the Abu Dhabi days, a lifetime ago when I believed I would forever be 22 and that around every corner was another dance floor, a tax free salary and an army of friends at the ready for whatever adventure or mis-adventure came our way.
Like the time we went ice-skating. Abu Dhabi in the noughties was still relatively unknown and undeveloped. It was our playground. Ice-skating, it turned out, was as sophisticated as it got. Being the people-of-the-world that we were, we decided to give it a go.
I was terrible. I won’t even pretend anything else. My ankles were as useless as an able bodied person’s ankles could be – though I might have appreciated them more back then if I’d had a crystal ball. After three or four falls in as many minutes (or less), my friends were nowhere to be seen. I thought it was the shame of being seen with me, or maybe just that I’d fallen behind. I glared at the bodies gliding gracefully along the ice, all pirouettes and twirls.
(‘Yeah, but are they happy?’)
I clung fiercely to the bar at the edge of the rink and tried to sweet-talk my feet into doing what I needed them to do. I’ve seen babies learning to walk who would have mastered it quicker than me – and get up off their arses more gracefully when they fall.
I tried again.
Nope. It was big clonking steps or nothing at all. My biggest focus, really, was just on taking one step at a time and not falling flat on my face.
Raucous laughter rose up somewhere behind me and I turned around. From the waist, obviously. My friends hurtled towards me, sliding between them a zimmer frame and laughing at my complete uselessness. I laughed along.
‘Haha. I’m total shite!’.
Joke or not, I grabbed hold of that Zimmer frame, knees buckling and hips bending. I clung to it, safe in the knowledge that I could let go soon. As they skated off ahead of me, I happily trundled along with my frame and aimed to make one circuit of the rink before I hit the bar to wait for the others. Or coffee shop, most likely. As I said; Abu Dhabi in the noughties. The memory has grown rosey.
Rosey or not, it was a memory that came unbidden and surprised me with sadness. I turned my back to the room and moved into a position on my plinth that might look like an exercise if anyone were to look over. It was meant to mask the hot tears that fell.
Was this my life now?
From here on, was I just going to be a collection of stories about all those things that I once did? Things I’ll never do again. Were those happy moments all in the past?
Looking for a cocktail of misery? Try mixing one giant helping of exhaustion, lashings of a wheelchair that causes severe backache, the largest possible helping of toxicity on the ward and mix it all together with a generous sprinkling of bitter disappointment after being badly let down yet again by someone you depended on (when you really shouldn’t expect any better). The recipe worked a treat on me.
It’s a difficult headspace to get out of and I don’t know how I would have managed if it hadn’t been for the swimming pool. My rehab includes hydrotherapy and while I’m sure the hydro part of it is important for my physical wellbeing, it felt like a whole different kind of therapy once I hit the water.
Actually, the precise moment when things turned around was as I held on to the side of the pool with Superman (turned Aquaman for one time only) issuing instructions about kicking my legs. More memories came flooding back. Thursday evenings with my family in the swimming pool of Riversdale House in Ballinamore, kicking legs and splashing arms as we learned the basics. Those lessons frustrated the hell out of me. I vividly remembered concentrating on keeping myself afloat and kicking at the same time. It was a tough task for a 6 year old.
Later came the summers cycling to Drumshanbo for swimming lessons and plenty of play time. Most of my time was spent bombing into the pool with my friends, splashing and shrieking the way children should. Utter joy.
It was at the pool in Drumshanbo that friendships were cemented. Nicknames that stuck for life were created. Hours and childhoods were whiled away. It’s where I spent those early years with my friend Cheryl. Thoughts of her have never been far from my mind since she passed away less than 2 years ago, and these memories left me almost feeling her 10 year old self bombing in on top of me during my hydrotherapy session.
The 3 or 4 mile cycle home in those days was just as much fun as the pool. We’d stop off first at Minnie’s shop for Mr. Freezes and then at the huts to climb trees or fall out of them. We’d take our hands and feet off our bikes when we came down the big hill on the ‘little road’.
The memories made me laugh out loud while I was suppose to be concentrating on kicking my legs. I’m sure Superman thought I was going crazy – the last time he’d seen me, I was bawling on a plinth in the physio gym, apparently looking like a kicked puppy. I started to explain, but realised I couldn’t.
Instead of getting upset like I had when I remembered the zimmer frame, I basked in the glow of those memories. I thought about those early lessons in Ballinamore and all of the times I’d taken on water and gone under. I’d kept going when it seemed like I was never going to get there. Because of it, I built a lifetime of happy moments. So what’s stopping me from doing the same again?
I didn’t bother trying to explain my sudden transformation. Let him think I was nuts. I just enjoyed the moment. It was mine.
And now it’s yours.
It ended with a Zimmer frame.
I roll into my physio session this afternoon, my mood cheerful as it’s been since that day in the pool. I’m ready for what the world has to throw at me. I’m not sure that I’ve taken into account what Superman has to throw at me. I line my wheelchair up at the bars as has been the norm over the past week or so, but he shakes his head. He has a look of mischief on his face that tells me I’m in trouble.
“You told me not to go easy on you” he reminds me.
This is true.
It doesn’t mean I’m prepared to have a zimmerframe put in front of me.
I wonder if I should maybe report him for having lost his mind, but he’s thought this through. That frame is going nowhere unless I go with it.
It’s like deja-vu.
Superman coaxes me. I grip on. My forehead creases in concentration. I’m able for this challenge. I bend from the hips. I lean forward. My legs knock together a little. I grip tighter. I push myself upright, the zimmerframe supporting me.
And I’ve done it.