Column: Looking up after a month of ups and downs


For the Valley News

Published: 03-08-2023 9:08 AM

January 2023 was a month of Sundays, ending abruptly on the 29th with a fourth and final Sunday fall on ice underfoot. My friend Bea and I left my house for church that morning, and that was the last time I saw the house till the day after yesterday, when my son drove me home from the rehabilitation center. It looked very good to me.

There was a pile of letters, newspapers and magazines on my desk awaiting triage. There were several hundred emails on my computer. I tore the month of January off my desk calendar so I could enter my new appointments and obligations, realized I was looking at the month that never was, and tore off another to reveal March. Whoops! I began sorting the mail to look for unpaid bills. Coming back to my normal life was a lot like hopping a moving railroad train. The telephone, which moves much faster than checks in the mail, repaired most of the damage (I think) this morning.

Ups and downs, ins and outs, yins and yangs, hopes and disappointments, victories and defeats, positives and negatives — take your pick — ran through that whole missing month. When I first graduated from the hospital to the nursing facility, I was essentially an inert, pain-racked sack with limbs that had to be raised, transported, and set back down by an amazing hydraulic transporter. The physical therapist showed up on the second day, transferred me from bed to wheelchair, stood me up (it took two of ’em) in a walker, and made me walk. Which I did: 8 tiny shuffling feet in the first burst and 9 in the next, before collapsing happily into the wheelchair following close behind. Next day I made 30 feet, and the next, 56. Within a couple of days I was doing the 560-foot circuit of the home’s hollow square. The apparently rapid healing of my cracked pelvis was a great boost to my spirits.

An X-ray of my previously broken elbow (Fall #2), however, revealed that its surgical repair had failed. That was not a boost to my spirits; a further procedure was scheduled. This was the point at which a lifetime of collecting cheerful and inspiring aphorisms rallied to my rescue. The surgery cost me a day of recovery time and left me in a rigid cast that hurts like hell if I try to do anything with the hand on that side — which may be the point of it. Just typing, as I’m trying to do right now, is quite painful.

This is not a pity party. The folks at the rehab center needed assurance that I’d have help if I went home. I did, in spades. My son and his wife flew up from Arkansas; Bea drove up from Nahant, Mass.; and my daughter Martha (who’s spent the past few weeks typing for me) came down from North Montpelier with Kiki, who’d been away from her home as long as I had. We invited the tenant up from downstairs and had a great spaghetti supper. Yep, I had plenty of help. That was definitely a big boost.

Getting back to my own bed was wonderful. Likewise my kitchen, whence the first Omelette Guillaume issued my first morning home. Likewise my own shower. Lingering in the background is the hope — and “hope” is hardly a strong enough word — that I never again shall have to lie recumbent in a hospital bed contemplating the growing need to pee somehow into a plastic gravy boat without causing an environmental catastrophe.

So on we shuffle, my walker Herschel and I, into an unpredictable future whose only certainty is that we must not stumble, teeter, slip, slide, totter or fall. Kiki is banished from my company anywhere that we must be connected by a leash. A cellphone will now always be in my bedroom, ready to call for help. I will daily credit my late wife’s genius in designing the layout of my single-level life, and my own for installing the entrance ramp (originally for a failing old dog) and many sturdy grab bars here and there.

I’ve seen one possible future — it was all around me at the nursing home — and as Scrooge says at the prospect of being visited by ghosts, I think I’d rather not. There’s just too much still to look forward to — hosting a trip to France in less than eight weeks, a night at the fabulous Chateau Montebello in Quebec on Canada Day, a weekend in Harpswell, Maine. Life certainly has its ups and downs, some more extreme than others, but I don’t know where it’s likely to go better.

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Willem Lange can be reached at