We’re going to conduct a literary experiment, you and I. Well, in fact you’re going to play the role of observer and I’m going to conduct it. We’re going to see if I can snap myself out of the post-surgery doldrums by writing about it.
Yes, about a month ago I had to go into the hospital for surgery and stay there overnight. Most of the hospital stay was very relaxing, in fact: a sort of vacation in which I could kick back and let go of all the day to day responsibilities and stresses I usually face. There’s not much I can do about them anyway, is there, if I am on a hospital bed unable to move, a catheter shoved up inside me? On the day of my discharge, though, the catheter was removed, which was exceedingly painful, and I was told that I had to establish a normal flow before I went home. It was a suspenseful time, touch and go for a while, as I gulped down bottle after bottle of water and blood gradually gave way to something approximating urine.
Anyway, I don’t want to gross you out too much, so we won’t go into any more details of that at the moment.
Once home, I was unable to exercise, unable to lift heavy loads, unable to increase my speed to anything faster than a slow walk. The first day after I got back, I couldn’t sit at my desk at all. I had to move my computer and whatever other odds and ends I needed to my bed and work there propped up with pillows. Afterwards for a long time I couldn’t sit at my desk for very long without discomfort. I tried putting cushions on the chair, sitting sideways on one leg and then the other, but the only thing that helped was to get up frequently and walk around. So I did. I did whatever it took to get myself back to at least a semblance of normalcy. I couldn’t afford to take time off.
And I progressed, slowly and steadily. The first week or so I had strong pain medication to help me. I could understand why people got addicted to that stuff. After I’d take one, a fuzzy warm feeling would cluster like a cushion around reality. I kept to the schedule and didn’t take more than I was supposed to, but I did begin to look forward more and more to medication time.
Within a few days of my return I could walk a mile a day again through the neighborhood, as I used to do, although it took longer than before. Within a few weeks I felt my strength returning, and two and a half weeks after surgery I resumed most of my three day a week yoga and calisthenics routine, although I had to leave off a few of the most strenuous exercises.
The thing that saved me along the way was the writing. Since the beginning of the year, I have got into the habit of writing at least five hundred words of creative prose first thing in the morning before I do anything else. I have kept it up seven days a week except for the day of and the day after surgery, when it was impossible.
It’s now been almost a month since my discharge from the hospital, and I feel much stronger. I can walk faster; I can lift heavier loads, I can exercise without discomfort. But some sort of psychic funk, some sort of mental unease, has remained. The experiment I referred to at the beginning of this essay has to do with that lingering shadow.
I always thought, when I was young and in the midst of my adventures on the road in a multitude of countries and circumstances, that my experiences then would be enough to satisfy me when I was older. I could look back at what I had been through, what I had accomplished, and masticate the memories the way an herbivore coughs up and re-chews partially digested plant matter while out to pasture.
It doesn’t work like that. Sure, I have had these experiences, and I have written about them. It’s good to have had them – much better than never to have attempted them and to have lived in a state of regret for deeds undone. But I find myself longing for the open road sometimes, to stand at the edge of oceans, to hike through forests, to climb mountains – like Bilbo says to Gandalf at the beginning of The Fellowship of the Ring before he takes off again: “I want to see mountains, Gandalf…”
And yet my responsibilities, and my finances, and my health – they all keep me here instead.
And the experiment? Hypothesis: Can writing about it snap me out of my discouragement?
Yes. Yes, it can. And it has, for now. I sure as hell better keep it up every day – to keep the system properly cleaned out.