There’s a theory about the news business that says they publish stories of disasters in far-off countries to help remind their audience that no matter how bad things get at home, it’s a lot worse elsewhere.
I don’t know how much truth is in that, but I was reminded of it on day two of rehab. As much of a disruption to my life this injury has been and will continue to be for months to come, it’s a chin scrape compared to the situation of three men I’ve seen in the changing room, therapy pool, leg workout, and stretching classes.
One of them is an older fellow who looks like he’s worked outdoors his whole life. He has a vertical scar running from way above to way below each knee, and he walks so slowly… I haven’t found out whether he’s got artificial knees, but maybe we’ll get to talking tomorrow.
Another fellow looks completely normal until he’s in the change room, where you see a long, curving scar running from his hip to his knee. He had a rare form of bone cancer and they’ve installed an artificial femur. Though he had to stay six months without moving in hospital – I was climbing the walls after six days – he says he’s lucky: the medical technology used to give him the new femur is so new, had he been diagnosed with the disease only three years previously, they would have had to amputate the whole leg.
The third guy makes me weep just to think about. He is tall and good-looking, but looks like he’s been in a serious car or motorbike accident. He has absolutely no use of one arm, which dangles bone-thin, limp and lifeless at his side. His hip and leg on the same side are very deeply gashed, and he walks very awkwardly. I haven’t talked to him, am kind of waiting for the right moment to engage him in conversation, so for the moment I remain in respectful awe at his guts and determination as he works his way through the workout routines.
I am so very humbled by what I’ve seen over the past two days. Though I see it only from a distance, I have a new-found perspective on what it means to be profoundly injured, and the strength these people have to work on overcoming it.
I’m also gaining even more respect for the people who go to work every day determined to help people in such bad shape get well enough so that they can lead a reasonably normal life again. They see them arrive and leave again a few weeks or months later, like a carousel of pain. There must be deep satisfaction in knowing their work is vital to the people they treat, but the energy, enthusiasm and often humour with which they approach their work must come from some profound place only they know where to draw from. I know I wouldn’t last a week in their position.
In the weeks since I’ve been getting around the city for better or worse, I’ve also been on the receiving end of countless acts of kindness from people whose names I’ll never know. From the man who went all the way back down a spiral staircase to hold the door open for me to make sure I left the doctor’s office in one piece, to the men and women, young and old who without fail will see me with a crutch and stand up and offer me a seat on the bus, to the random people on the street who catch my eye and with a little smile wordlessly tell me: hey, I’ve been there, too – I can only say: thank you, Hamburg.
And there is progress. One month after the operation, I could only bend it a little:
Three weeks later after 12 days of physio and two days of rehab, still a ways to go, but it’s coming along: