Tim drew back the drapes and opened the windows. Drawing back the drapes signified ushering in the new day, stepping over a new threshold and bidding goodbye to the night. The night that had passed was synonymous with the way things used to be.
The sunlight poured into the room. Tim looked up at the tufts of cirrus clouds scattered across the azure sky. He could already hear the sound of the heat; the squirrel calls in the trees and the stillness in the air. He looked over at the garden which lay before him, past the greenish brown parched lawn. Hydrangeas interspersed with hosta were in full bloom in all their white glory.
Tim stretched his right arm over his head and then did the same with his left arm. He did so repeatedly and then flexed his fingers. He did this for a few minutes. He was grateful to be able to do so with greater ease. Sunlight and movement, these were all things he had previously taken for granted. They were so ordinary, so expected, so matter of fact.
Tim headed towards the kitchen, where he could hear the strains of music. Janey was preparing breakfast for the two of them. Music. How wonderful it was to hear music! To be carried away to a place in time, through a song or to discover some new song that you really liked. To hear the words to a song that was timely, or to just tap away to a catchy beat. The gift of hearing, another thing he had previously taken for granted.
‘How could I know daylight, if I knew not midnight?’crooned the singer, who was unknown to Tim. Janey was intentional about the music she listened to. “Sensible music,” she called it. He stood at the doorway and looked at his wife of 25 years. She was dressed in her usual morning attire, a light cardigan worn over a t-shirt with some catchy phrase, a casual pair of pants and fuzzy house slippers. She was bobbing her head and singing along. He was a debtor who owed a debt that could never be repaid. How did one quantify kindness, patience or strength in adversity?
“Alex says he is coming by later today! I hope we’ll be back from the doctor’s office,” Janey said, placing her phone on the counter.
“Would you like tea?” she asked.
“Coffee please! I think I’ve had enough tea for a lifetime!” Tim replied.
“Not too much, though, “said Janey.
“Yes, nurse!,” Tim replied jokingly.
Coffee. Toast or waffles. Eggs. Bacon. That had been his breakfast routine for years, until last year. Janey sat down with hers; an assortment of fruit, tea in the largest mug she could find, multi-grain toast and a small bowl of cereal with warm milk, topped with raisins.
“How are you feeling today?” she asked. He took a moment to respond because he had to chew slowly and deliberately.
“I feel less foggy. I did my morning exercises. I’ll go for a short walk after breakfast” he replied.
“That’s great!” Janey said.
They both fell silent.
Morning exercises. Short walk. Tim felt the familiar cloud of frustration and despair come over him when he allowed himself to think back on what he used to do. Two to three times a week, without fail, he would workout at the gym or swim laps at the nearby pool before going to work. He ran on weekends. He missed that ‘feel good’ high after a workout. He missed doing what he wanted to do, when he wanted to do it.
After breakfast was done, Tim went for his daily walk, to the nearby park and back. Despite the momentary angst, Tim was grateful to be able to walk again. Several months ago at the hospital, his daily exercise routine included standing up and sitting down on the hospital bed.
He got home as Janey was heading to the car. He went into the house, changed clothes and put on his shoes; slip-ons. He wasn't ready to do laces yet. Janey would have helped him, but he wanted to do it himself. He picked up his phone though he still didn’t use it much. It was disconcerting to answer the phone, hear a familiar voice and not know who it was. Initially, he couldn’t read the caller’s name on the screen. Most people didn’t mind identifying themselves when he requested, but it irked him. It was a reminder of what he’d lost. Still, he told himself, I can speak and people care enough to call.
He got in the passenger seat. This was another adjustment. All their married life, when they were together, he drove. Janey backed out and headed down the familiar turns which had become their monthly routine. He looked out at the window. How ordinary everything seemed. People at bus stops, mail delivery vans zipping about, cyclists and traffic lights. But, in a moment, it could all change.
He read the ads as they drove. He could now make out the words. Hmm, he thought, I never thought I would be doing ‘Word Search’ exercises, but they must have worked.
‘Have you booked your dental appointment? Call today.’
‘Struggling with back pain? Your office chair might be the problem.’
‘Tiny Tots Paradise’
‘Window cleaning services’
He could read again. He was thrilled.
From his childhood, Tim was a voracious reader with an incredibly brilliant mind. He had worked for almost 30 years in the financial sector. Prior to his illness, he was a respected senior executive at a global financial firm. He travelled widely and spoke in many forums. He loved what he did and was good at it. I really miss it, Tim thought.
Brookside Medical Centre, a place they’d come to know intimately. They walked towards the glass doors which automatically opened into the lobby. They headed to the elevator. 6th floor. The doors opened and they walked down the hall to the door on the right and walked in. The reception was empty. They headed to Patty’s desk.
“Hi Tim and Janey,” Patty said with a smile. How she remembered the names of patients was a miracle. “What beautiful weather we have today!”
They both nodded, as Patty processed Tim’s paperwork.
She got up and motioned for him to follow her, to have his blood pressure and weight checked.
“Another 5 pounds added! You are doing great!” Patty said.
“If I’d added those pounds previously, you wouldn’t have been so pleased!” he said jokingly.
She laughed. “Doc will be with you shortly.”
Tim walked into the room and sat down. He looked around at the familiar charts showing cardio-vascular and brain function, charts that he had stared at numerous times. The sink with the gloves, soap, sanitiser, and needle tray. The fliers on the table beside him always advertised new medication. I need less medication, not more, Tim thought.
“Hello,” boomed Dr. Carehart, as he walked in, “how are you doing today?”
“I’m feeling better,” Tim said, as Dr. Carehart glanced at the screen.
Twenty minutes later, Tim was done. Janey and Tim waved to Patty as they left the office, down the elevator and back to their car. They drove to a nearby park, parked the car and found a bench by the pond. This had become the location of their post appointment debrief.
Janey waited expectantly.
“The movement in my right arm and leg is almost back to normal. He allowed me to add swimming to my exercise routine.” Tim said.
“How much swimming?” Janey asked cautiously.
“One or two laps and then slowly build up, if I feel up to it,” Tim replied.
“I have to keep taking the blood thinners. The fogginess will lift eventually.”
“That’s positive news!” Janey said. “Anything else?”
“I need lots of patience,” Tim said with a smile. Janey hugged Tim.
Tim didn’t think he had any flaws, not major ones anyway. He was a faithful husband and a good father, respected by his peers and an accomplished professional. But, he learnt, we all have blindspots. He expected things in life and had a sense of entitlement. Success directly resulted from hard work and health from an active lifestyle. No justifications or excuses. He pushed himself and others too.
Six months ago, he was heading out to work, keys in hand, when a feeling came over him. Janey said that he called out to her and hours later, woke up in the hospital. Stroke. One word that changed his life. For days and weeks, he plunged into despair, unable to come to terms with his dependency, the loss of his body’s ability to do what he required of it and the stillness. No phones, no TV and timed visits to reduce mental fatigue. He couldn’t read. He forgot words.
That was not even half of it. Doctors, nurses, unclear timelines, needles, tests, on and on it went.
Janey. His champion, cheerleader, nurse, bodyguard, rock, confidante and friend. She pushed through long nights, grim medical results, medical terms and appointments unwaveringly. He loved her, but was patronising at times. She was laid back and took one day at a time. She loved music, nature and naps. She hated office politics and crazy schedules. Her ‘weaknesses’ had turned out to be the strengths that saved him. Taking one day at a time, rest, music, nature were as important as medicine.
Today, he was seated by a pond with his lovely wife, on the way to recovery from a near death sentence. The only ‘appointment’ he had later in the day was lunch with Alex, their son. They both looked towards the pond. There was a pair of Mallard ducks in the water. Their bodies still, as their feet paddled furiously beneath the surface. What a perfect Wednesday morning Tim thought. Months ago, he would have been well into his work day, buried in projections, budgets and statistics. He remembered the words of the song he heard earlier in the day, ‘how could I know daylight, if I knew not midnight?’