Welcome to the Wide World of Post-Op Sports. We don’t have video of a guy cartwheeling off the end of a ski jump. We have that same guy, post-op, thrilled to be walking down a set of stairs without having to think hard about every step he takes. We have guys for whom getting up off the toilet is the new balance sport.
Seriously. All you folks out there who are still invincible, who are still in the prime of your athletic careers, you have no idea. No idea how lucky you are. No idea how pleased you are going to be someday just to be able to turn over in bed.
I mean it. This was a big triumph for me recently. About five or six weeks after my hip replacement, I could lie comfortably, for a while, on my side. It felt good to be off my back. Then the hip would get achy and I’d have to shift positions: wake up half-way; do a reverse push-up on my elbows to take the weight off and move my butt; groan, but try not to wake Ellen; adjust the pillow between my knees, and ease back over to supine.
Now, almost six weeks farther along, I can not only lie on both sides, I can also spend time, some of it asleep, on my belly. Getting there while in bed is a hugely underappreciated sport requiring focus, strength and balance. I’m not talking here about rolling like a rolling pin, advancing sideways, gobbling territory. That’s easy. It’s also not fair to your spouse who will retreat to the far edge of the mattress should you practice such extravagance.
No, I’m talking about the sport of turning over a full 180 degrees, back-to-stomach, in place, without encroachment. I’m sure you don’t think about it while you’re doing it. Next time, do. Appreciate the intricacy, the beauty of the coordinated movements, legs and hips leading the way: lead leg bridges; hips rotate, slide lightly over sheet; one elbow slips almost unnoticed underneath your chest while the other hand and elbow support the turning of the shoulders, hips and finally, head.
Properly done, it’s as thrilling a combination as one of those 3.5 degree-of-difficulty dives off the springboard.
Some of my other favorite post-op sports are: getting down on both knees to scrape up the most recent pile of cat barf; then getting back up, spatula and paper towel in hand; tying my own shoes; becoming flexible enough again to wash the bottoms of my feet in the shower; and—one of the biggies—balancing on one leg long enough to slip into a pair of boxer shorts.
Of course, this last has been an Olympian challenge for many men regardless of surgical history. And I am still capable of tipping over, or almost tipping over and hopping around on one foot like an idiot half-tangled in my drawers. But with a dollop of Zen concentration, the undertaking can result in a sly satisfaction not unlike, I imagine, the pleasure David Carradine, as Grasshopper, experienced learning to walk on rice paper.
Truly, simple things like walking have become wonderful on this post-op journey. And I do mean wonder, as in child-like wonder.
I went for a walk in the high country the other day. I walked slowly, deliberately, placing my feet just so on the rocks and fallen trees and tufts of tundra. I felt at once very old and very young. Old for obvious reasons, though the dexterity, the body’s accumulated wisdom, is coming back a little each day.
I felt young because every step was an adventure. Like when you are first learning to walk, and every step comes with a degree of uncertainty and delight. Walking actually requires a lovely act of faith. As Laurie Anderson says on her Big Science album: When you’re walking you’re falling, falling forward, and then catching yourself from falling. Falling, and catching yourself from falling. Over and over again, past the columbine and the elk turds and the owl clover.
It’s a good thing, this rebalancing of brain and body. The brain so often takes more than his share of the available time. The body, in slow recovery, reasserts its claim.