Monday 29th May 2017 at the Institution for Musculoskeletal Rehabilitation in Budapest. I arrived for – what I thought would be – a simple consultation of physiotherapy.
“- Where were you operated?” “In Veszprém.” “- Who operated you?” “The Surgeon.”
“- And tell me, what is it that you could not let go?” Within the first 3 questions of our acquaintance, the Head of the Department saw through me. “Don’t worry, this room sees more tears than smiles” – she said, while handing over a pack of handkerchiefs.
“- Listen you have 2 choices. You either keep fooling around by coming in twice a week for some physiotherapy exercise, or you take it seriously: in which case you immediately enter our hospital for a 3 weeks’ intensive physiotherapy treatment. Your leg is suffering from a stage 1 Sudeck syndrome. To cut it short: stage 3 is is characterized by osteoporosis, and irreversible changes to your leg. You have 30 minutes to decide. Make your call.” I made three calls only. To my wife, to my friend and to my manager.
The hospital and its infrastructure was in a sad condition. No significant renovation since the seventies or eighties as it seemed. It was like as if I entered a time machine. The staff however, were the opposite. Committed, hard working, kind, encouraging and professionally excellent. I felt blessed with the physiotherapists I could work with.
What followed was three weeks of repetitive routine: 45 mins of physiotherapy exercise in the morning, 45 mins on the flexion-extension machine, 15 mins of laser physiotherapy, another 45 mins of physiotherapy exercise, 45 mins of exercise in the swimming pool and 30 mins massage every second day. There were days of despair when the simplest movement seemed impossible to accomplish. I spent several hours sitting on a chair staring at my foot, focusing, concentrating, grinding my teeth, stretching all my muscles, groaning… all this only to simply lift my foot off the ground while my ankle had to stay down. And initially, it would not move. Not. One. Single. Bit.
But, inch by inch, little by little. I was making progress. I started to learn why slow is good. I was always a person of dynamism, speed and energy. I never appreciated something that was slow. I was always attracted to the strongest and the fastest. I admire Ferrari. I admire the tiger, the cheetah, the shark, the orca, the eagle: but never showed fondness of a snail, nor a sloth. Here, I learned how muscles flex slowly. You gain a greater control and ability of motion by being slow. To pay attention to the signs of your body, being patient and celebrating small successes. To watch every step you make. And while every second step hurt, and I had moments as grey as the asphalt below my feet: I learned what solitude in this challenge meant. I learned about my mental strength, my ability to overcome pain, and handling solitude: for I have been making those grey steps alone. Initially with two crutches, a week later with one, another week later: there was none…
One morning at the hospital I only had 95 forints left. So I decided to get rid of all coins, and the only thing I could buy from this money was a fortune cookie. I never buy such stuff normally: but there I was, in the basement of the dilapidated hospital building’s buffet, picking a pack which ironically said “made in Germany” 🙂
The note said:
“Use this forced break and
get rid of your ambitions for a little while”
Sounded like a message that was really written to me. Perfectly timed. Perfectly confusing.
So what should be my next step?