Sunday, February 7, 2010

Nine Smokers

Don’t stop me, if you’ve heard this one. I just have to tell new versions, because things keep looking different the more I look at them, and maybe sometimes something has changed for other people, too. So, I turned 65 my last birthday. Getting old is not for the faint of heart, but consider the alternative. Four years ago next month, I went to bed one night complaining of my worse headache ever and flu, and it was almost my last complaint. The ambulance came. I was in the ICU in a coma for three weeks, woke up alive but 100 percent unable to hear anything. Another three weeks in rehab, trying to learn how to not fall down when I walked, from the bed to the bathroom, so that nobody would have to pamper me. Watched a lot of baseball on television, because it was the only thing I could understand in total silence. One of the first articles I read in the hospital began, “So, you had spinal meningitis, and now you are deaf. Boy, are you lucky!”

Nine months later I received a cochlear implant, electronic bionic hearing, an ear bypass. Everybody sounds like Alvin and the Chipmunks announcing the concourse stops on the airport subway. So, Puccini may never be exactly as beautiful again. My 1991 Honda Accord station wagon with the plumbing parts, 2x4’s, and tools sat in the driveway undriven for a year, before I sold it. I became a regular at the DeKalb Wellness Center, the only place I know with as many parking spaces marked handicap blue as unmarked. Inside, survivors of major medical crises, mostly no longer young, limp and gimp around the track and on the workout equipment with walkers, oxygen canisters, and body parts that either won‘t bend or won‘t straighten out. The indoor track is 1/15 of a mile. A banner on the wall reads, “Triumph of the Human Spirit.” On my first visit, I could barely walk around the track once. I have built up to 15 laps. Now, I include eight laps, over half a mile, at a jog. If I stopped working out for six months, I am certain I would be a bed-ridden invalid.

I needed a replacement car to carry the tools and equipment required for my rental property maintenance and repairs, and I found a 1999 Saturn station wagon, on Craigslist. I used my caption telephone to call the number. A trained operator repeats the other end of the conversation to me, and voice-recognition technology transcribes it into captions. The seller described the car. Automatic transmission. Very clean and well maintained. A nine-smoker vehicle. I envisioned a line of circus clowns exiting the car with big cigars, corn-cob pipes, and lit Winstons and Marlboros puffing away. Maybe non-smoker vehicle would be a better selling point. Best guesses are what I do myself all day every day.

As I drove the 1999 Saturn station wagon home for the first time, I listened to the radio broadcast of Simon Boccanegra with Plácido Domingo. It sounded a little like music. Every little bit helps. Every step counts. Like a journey of a thousand miles.

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