My physical and occupational therapy period was drawing to an end in late October. I was proud of the modest gains I had made, but my left arm and leg were nowhere near the recovery that I had hoped. I had learned many new stretches and exercise, and my occupational therapy had focused on tasks such as carrying laundry with both hands and cooking. While these were things I needed to master for daily life, I had hoped to recover more muscle function as opposed to finding ways to accommodate my body. But there was simply no substitute for home, time, hard work, and chance.
Patience was required of me whether or not I was to achieve my goal of full recovery. I had to start enjoying life between the therapy and workout sessions. One way to stay on track was to attend events that aligned with my values. My friend Sandra bought us tickets to see Ron Stallworth speak at Beth El synagogue that Thursday. Stallworth was the title character of the movie BLACK KLANSMAN. He was on a national book tour speaking about his experiences infiltrating the white supremacist organization. I had always supported multiculturalism and ant-bigotry campaigns, so I was excited to go to the synagogue.
We had dinner at a crowded Mexican restaurant in the suburb of Saint Louis Park. Because I had been working at keeping my left leg beneath me when I walked, I didn’t have to worry about tripping over the feet of patrons or other obstacles on our way to the table. After dinner, I went to the restroom as a precaution. It was on the other side of the dining room. I had to walk a long, circuitous route to get there. It tested my balance and my ability to pivot. The lights were so dim that I could barely see the floor in front of me, so I relied on instincts and taking small steps. All I could think of was how nervous this diinng room would have made me a few months earlier. Now it was just another night out.
When we got to the synagogue, it was packed. We found seats so far back that we could barely see the speakers. Stallworth told us his unique story, also talked about how many of the talking points important to the 1970s are the same ones that found their way into the 2016 election. He talked about how he feels that law enforcement is an honorable profession, yet he also supports Black Lives Matter. In his view, the only way to maintain the nobility of police is to call out the immoral actions of the minority. He advises his children to comply with the commands of police officers so that they can survive to fight unjust incidents in other venues. Stallworth and the majority of the room seemed to have come there to engage in a dialogue that worked towards solutions. If we are to survive, we must always struggle to embrace our common humanity.
That weekend I got to spend time with my friend Manny again. I had been trying to get together with him, but he always seemed to be at some sort of political event, since he is very involved in equal rights activism. He was attending a rally that day, but he was able to meet afterwards. Manny’s commitment to causes of social justice often leave me feeling inadequate. I question whether my inability to frequently be on the front lines is a valid result of my injuries or if I’m simply being lazy.
I went for a grueling workout session for a couple of hours to keep my energy up. Manny picked me up for dinner at 4:00, and along the way, we drove by a tent city that had sprung up in south Minneapolis. I had first heard of it in the summer. Groups of homeless people had begun putting up tents along Franklin and Hiawatha Avenues. The police didn’t shoo them away. Instead they increased patrols, and people began bringing food for the squatters. It is the sort of community effort I have come to expect in Minnesota.
Over the months, the settlement continued to grow. Now it stretched for blocks. Since it was now late October, I asked Manny what would happen to all those people.
“Your guess is as good as mine.”
“They’re in danger of getting frostbite.”
“I don’t think that’ll happen. Most of them are probably heated anyway.”
“I don’t know. When I was in transitional care, several people were there because of frostbite. They assumed heated tents would keep them safe and warm, but it’s still Minnesota.”
“They ended up falling asleep and losing fingers and toes. That’s actually why I agreed to go to transitional care. Rehabbing from this stroke is hard enough with a whole body.”
Since Manny had bought dinner the last time we hung out, I had agreed to treat this time. I wanted Manny to pick the stop, figuring that he would know good local spots where we could have exotic food. He suggested that we go to Hamburguesas El Gordo, a latin hamburger joint. He let me out at the corner in front of the restaurant. After months of weightlifting and physical therapy, maneuvering from car to curb was a simple exercise.
The restaurant was adequately named. My burger contained chorizo, hotdogs, and avocado. It felt like I was consuming all the calories I needed for a week. It was delicious. Manny and I sat there eating and talking politics in the fading light of large windows. I watched the cars cruise past thinking about how wonderful it was to be alive. Walking and using my left arm had their challenges, but doing each was becoming easier through the weeks and months of determination.
I woke up Monday morning with no plans to go anywhere outside of the building. I packed up my computer and went down to the basement to write. On the one hand, I hated leaving Mary behind. I know she feels sad every time I leave her alone. On the other hand, it’s hard for me to get anything done with her around. She is constantly nuzzling or barking for attention. So often I will go somewhere else to write the first 500 words of a blog post, just so I can establish momentum.
The basement community room was abandoned and quiet. The only light came from the windows facing the backyard. Since very few people came in before 5:00 pm, I looked forward to hours of solitude. Writing the blog was how I looked back on my progress. It gave me hope, because I got the chance to write about the limitations I had faced during the previous month. Without the blog, I would have perpetually felt disappointed at not doing enough in my last set in the gym or enough of an exercise in physical therapy. I needed the solitude of writing on mornings like this. It was the emotional spark that kept me going when the day started weighing on me.
I had to finish a blog post that day because my friend Allene was coming back to Minnesota for a minor medical procedure. Since it was going to be on Tuesday, I told her to stay at my apartment Monday night. When she got to my place, as usual, Mary didn’t initially recognize her scent. Mary sniffed at Allene for about half a minute, then her memory was triggered. Once she recognized Allene, she affectionately climbed all over her. Mary slept with Allene that night, snuggling happily.
The next morning, Allene and I went to Planet Fitness before her appointment. I got her in on a guest pass, then she used the massage chair. Knowing that she has a bad back, I only used one massage chair coin, then I gave her my extra. I went out on the weight room floor for a quick workout. It started with a lat row which I used to strengthen the grip of my left hand and to straighten my arm. I finished it up by reintroducing seated leg presses to my workout.
A year ago, I had scarcely been able to sit on the leg press machine without worrying about losing balance. Now there was enough strength in my left leg to lift it unaided. I pressed my foot against the platform and easily began pushing myself back. I started on the lowest setting and did 15 reps. I gradually increased the weight for the additional sets. When we left the gym, I walked easily, lifting my left leg with each step. I was on an exercise high.
Allene and I went to the University of Minnesota, where she had to have a procedure done on her ear. I had been outside of the clinic building several times, but I had never been inside. The interior was gorgeous and modern. It was spacious, and everything was organized digitally. I used a wheelchair so we could move around faster. We went up to the 4th floor where Allene had her eardrum scraped. It looked painful, but the doctor had wonderful bedside manner, and it was over quickly. I was just happy to not be the patient this time.
After her ear surgery, Allene wanted to go out to eat. However she knew that I was about to have my monthly lunch with my friend John, who always likes his food extremely spicy. We were going to a local cajun restaurant, because we wanted to try food that reminded us of home. With Allene’s ear and throat issue, she didn’t want spicy food on her sensitive tongue. She thought about it for a while before she decided not to join us.
John was waiting in the parking lot of my building when we got back. I got in his car and we headed out for our monthly lunch. When we go to the restaurant, we saw that there was no on-street parking. John didn’t want to pay for a meter, so he let me out and I walked back to the restaurant while he looked for a lot. My stiff leg was on the side opposite the street, and the sidewalk slanted downward towards the street. It made walking difficult, since my left leg could barely bend, but the past few weeks walking Mary to the park had prepared me for the challenge. So although it took me a while to get to the door of the restaurant, it was doable.
When John got settled, he wanted the crawfish boil. He asked for the hottest seasoning and asked the waitress to double it. The waitress’ mouth was agape, but John assured her several times that he could handle it. After she was gone, John started telling me about his new job securing housing loans for low-income buyers. As a committed leftist, he was really excited about the chance to help struggling people. We talked politics, and he was filled with anticipation about the upcoming midterm elections. Over the next couple of hours, we also discussed things like the economy, health care system, and the social safety net. Minnesota was a wonderful place that fit us like a glove.