It is night-time, and Mat has left me with a wet flannel on my head and a handheld fan pointed at the hole in my neck brace. It’s funny how you can become accustomed to a certain state of normality. Being uncomfortable all the of the time is my default now, my benchmark against which everything else is a variant. But it does overcome me sometimes, especially when I get hot. I get so hot I can’t bear it. It makes me short-tempered and irritable. It makes me hate myself.
The good news is I’ve finally been moved out of ICU, and into a normal hospital bed. My new room is seemingly very similar to the old one, the only difference, so far as I can tell, is that the nurses come in to see me less often. The upside is that I don’t need my vitals checked every hour, and the nurses don’t come in during the night and wake me up 3 am to administer my next dose of sleeping medication, the irony of which seems lost on them.
The sun rises and a bald-headed man walks into my room.
“Hi Lucy, I’m Mark, the physical therapist”
“Great”, I say. “I’m really keen to get started!”
“Ok, well let’s start with a bit of a chat shall we?”
He settles himself onto the edge of my bed.
“What do you want to achieve with your therapy?” he begins, massaging a bushy moustache with his thumb and forefinger. “What are your goals?”
I resist the urge to say I want to get better. It seems too obvious.
“Well,” I think hard for something tangible. “I’m due to be getting married in ten months, and I want to able to walk down the aisle”.
Mark’s eyes narrow. “Where are you getting married?”
“On a beach,” I say.
“So you’ll be walking on sand?” He tucks his lips into his mouth.
“Yes,” I say. “Barefoot”.
There is a long silence.
“Well”, he says, sucking air through his inverted lips, “… I guess it’s possible”.
He feigns a smile, but I don’t mind. I can work with possible.
“The first thing we’ve got to get you used to is sitting up a bit more”, he says. “Then we’ll be able to get you into a reclining wheel chair and it will be much easier to move you around”.
With the help of the electric bed, we start by moving my upper body to about thirty degrees. I feel woozy as the blood leaves my head, my pulse pounding at my temples.
“I’ll come back soon, and we will try to get you even further” Mark says, easing me back to my familiar view of the ceiling.
Three days later Mark returns to lift me to a full 45 degrees. He rolls me onto my side and places a green sling underneath me, before rolling me back over on top of it while I catch my breath. Clipping three corners of the sling onto a metal lift above my head he presses a button on a remote and the sling pulls up around me, launching me into the air like the least graceful hot air balloon you have ever seen.
“It’s like a magic carpet Luce!” Mat says, beaming.
Manoeuvring the sling with the ceiling lift, Mark slowly lowers me into a giant reclined wheelchair next to the bed. Everything is painful and numb at the same time as my seat makes contact with the chair and the sling falls down around me.
It takes a while to dawn on me that I’m now somehow out of bed and in a massive fucking wheelchair. This is actual magic.
“You’re up!” Mat says with glee.
“Do you want to take her for a little walk?” Mark asks Mat.
“Yes please!” I erupt in excitement.
As Mat pushes me outside for a lap of the nurses’ station, I am overwhelmed by the sensation of moving air on my face. Like a dog leaning it’s head out of the car window my eyes bulge as the air rushes by, every nerve in my body tingling in ecstasy.
“Again, again, again”. I make Mat wheel me round and round in circles, giddy with delight as I rediscover the joy of something I had no idea I missed so much; the joy of motion.
Ten minutes later, the excitement concedes to exhaustion and I ask to be transferred back to my bed, where I promptly take a six-hour nap.
“Mark says he’ll be back to do this again tomorrow” Mat tells me as I open my eyes.
“Ten more laps of the nursing station?” I ask.
“Sure,” Mat laughs, “if you like, yeah”.
I stare at the ceiling and a grin spreads across my face. What a time to be alive.