When we are born into this world, we are unable to do anything for ourselves. All we have is our voice. When we are in need, we call out and our needs are met, we are fed, we are cleaned, and we are comforted. As we grow we learn to interact with our world. First, we crawl, then we walk, and then we'll run. We see a big new world full of things to discover. We learn to throw a baseball, to swim in the deep end, and to sled down the big hills. The spirit of adventure is born within us. As we grow older we refine our skills. We are no longer the children whose weeks were filled with after school activities. We become garage band musicians, budding athletes, and enthusiastic video gamers, and then we learn how to drive. We move off to college, every day building our education in the ways of this world, and our independence.
Waking up in the rehab unit, all of my needs are met. A tube that runs through my nose and down into my stomach provides a path for a nutrient rich paste. When I make a mess, my diaper is changed. If I need anything, I need only raise my voice. But as the time passes, there is no realization of what I can do, only of what I can't. I cannot crawl, I cannot walk, I cannot run. The transition is so sudden that it is impossible to understand the implications all at once. Each day brings a new discovery that something else is missing. So much is out of sight and out of mind, but what is in front of you cannot be ignored. When it is time for something new, everyone says that it must feel great. When a sling and a lift pull me out of bed and put me in a chair, they say that it must feel great to be up. I smile, but if they could only look deeply enough into my eyes, they might see the truth. A piece of me is dying, 25 years of walking, 25 years of running, 25 years of independence. The story repeats again and again, when dressed for the first time, when it's time to eat. Any conversation, or phrase, or word, can show me something new that I'm no longer capable of. It is the time of learning, it is a time of discovery, and when everyone else sees me slowly coming back to life, I feel like I'm slowly dying. In one moment, I cannot help but laugh at the grim irony. The nurse brings in a device aptly named a shower/commode chair and calls it the throne. When we have our freedom, we each rule our bodies. So there I was, sitting upon my throne, the broken king.
After a traumatic event like my accident, detachment is the name of the game. It is all too much to handle at once, and so we have to take it one day at a time. If I can just focus on today, I will make it to tomorrow. Everyone wants to be encouraging, but that doesn't mean they understand. If I had a broken leg, it would be great to get out of bed again; it would be great to get out of a hospital gown and into normal clothes; and it would be great to get outside. All of these things signal a return to normality. The difference is in the permanence of the injury. For me there is no normal to return to, only future that I do not yet have the strength to contemplate. I can stand being confined to a bed in a hospital gown. In a way, it helps me to deal with things on just this day. It helps confine things to just one day at a time.
Everyone takes this process differently. A nurse told me, during my second week, that I was not like other patients. I did not know then what she meant, but I think I do now. The guy in the room next door to me swears loud enough for the sound to drift into my room. He wants something, or he needs something, or things are just not going quickly enough. We all deal with the pain in different ways. I take much the opposite route. I say very little, other than thank you, and I wait. I want very little. I just want to lay silently in my bed, and let the emotions roll over me until peace presents itself. If I wait long enough, the water pooling in my eyes will evaporate, and I will learn what it means to live life as the broken king.