Getting to Recovery

People often ask me if I have recovered from my injuries. I’m often stumped. I’m not quite sure what to answer anymore, because really, how will I ever know?

It’s not as if there’s a gauge that can objectively measure my ongoing rehabilitation, with the assurance that I will awake one day to realize that I have recovered totally. It won’t be in the form of a letter that I receive from one of my physicians or healthcare practitioners, with the following message: We would like to inform you that you have now officially recovered.

In this business called recovery, I have learned there are no guarantees.

So the question remains: how will I know when I have ‘recovered’? Where is the endpoint for my recovery? Who defines it and how?

The other day, while out for a walk, I tried to imagine what it would take for me to feel that I had more fully recovered.

It was a beautiful sunny morning, so I decided to take a longer walk than usual. Before heading down a path into the forest nearby, I stopped to ask a couple that had just emerged, whether the path was slippery. With their reassurance, I set out for a short hike amidst tall leafless trees, felled logs and rustling leaves on the ground. My purpose, really, was to spot one of the deer that live in those woods.

I had walked less than a half-mile down the path, the silence tainted only by sounds of nature, when I heard the unmistakable sound of footsteps behind me. I turned around, and perhaps 20 yards behind, a man was walking in my direction. This was a weekday morning, not a time when one generally sees middle-aged adults out for a hike. So I was slightly alarmed by his presence (past experience might also have tainted my sense of security). Once I passed him, I understood what my fears were really about:

With my cane in plain sight, and a wobble to my gait, I felt exposed and vulnerable. I suddenly sensed that, had I needed to run, I couldn’t have done so – yet – to save my life. Which is why, as I left the forest and returned to walking on the sidewalks, surrounded by homes and cars and people walking their dogs, I knew that at least part of my recovery would entail feeling sure-footed enough to know that I could run if I had to.

It is possible that the epiphany (aha, am I now recovered?!) may strike when I least expect it. I might genuinely sense a significant improvement when I can comfortably sit for an hour or more at a time. Or when the pain peters off considerably. Then again, it might just be that recovery is merely a process, unbounded by restrictions of time and measurable gains (and losses).

Perhaps it’s best to acknowledge that, one year later, I still reside in the realm of recovery – with all the joys and sorrows involved – and that, given the nature of my injuries, there may be no endpoint per se.

If you have to ask, don’t be surprised if I tell you that this is where I am today, and where my body will lead me, on this immeasurable continuum of life, is anyone’s guess.

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