My time back in Mississippi had been devoted to working out and walking around with family. I typically gain weight any time I visit the Deep South. With all of the rich culinary delights, it’s hard not to. Before the stroke, I would lose about ten pounds before my annual trip home, knowing that I would add them back during the two weeks I was down there. I loved the fried catfish, crawfish, and oysters that seemed pretty ubiquitous, and I would always return to Minnesota with the waistline to reflect that. You just couldn’t often get that kind of seafood in the Upper Midwest.
Dad enjoys cafeteria-style dining. So when Sharon and Ivory came down the following weekend, we all went out to one of Dad’s favorite restaurants. The last time I had eaten here was two years ago, during the period where I was newly out of the hospital and still in a wheelchair. One person had had to push me through the cafeteria line while another pushed my food tray. I felt powerless having to look up and point at the food I wanted. I didn’t want to be a burden.
Presently, I had the leg strength to stand in line until the restaurant closed. It was empowering to look down at the arrayed food and clearly tell the staff what I wanted. When they handed the plates across, I was able to take them myself. I switched my cane to my right hand so I could push my own tray along the line as I headed toward the register. It sounds trivial to me as I write this, but there are no adequate words to express how humbling not being able to walk and push my own tray had been. Whatever I was feeling now was the opposite of humiliation.
That same week, I had gotten sick. I had begun developing a cough. I wasn’t coughing up anything, but it was constant enough to hinder my sleep. Since it also seemed worse when I slept, I asked Dad to help me sterilize my CPAP mask and tubing, and buy some cold & cough medicine. Finally, I decided to take some time away from the gym to rest. None of this seemed to help much, so on Saturday, I had Dad drive me to urgent care.
When we arrived at the clinic, Dad asked me if I wanted him to drop me off at the front door. I said no. Despite the fact that I was sick, I knew that walking across the lot would be easy. When I got to the front desk to check in, one of the employees recognized me immediately. She exclaimed over how good I looked, because I hadn’t been able to walk very well the last time I was there. When I got back to see the doctor, I told him that it was probably the annual lung infection that I get every fall. With the difference in climate, it probably happened a bit sooner. It’s normally resolved by a breathing treatment and a prescription for steroids and antibiotics.
I told the doctor that a shot was preferable to an oral 5-day script. So when the nurse came back, I started pumping my right fist to produce a visible vein. Then she asked me to stand up.
“Why do you need me to stand?”
“’Cause I gotta shoot you in the butt.”
I had assumed it was going to be in the arm. The last time I had been shot in the butt, I’d experienced pain and stiffness for a couple of days.
Dad and I checked out of the clinic and went to the pharmacy. As they handed me my prescriptions, I thought of why I was so thankful to be living in Minneapolis again: the office visit and pharmacy bill cost me zero dollars. When I had been a Mississippi resident, the whole affair cost me $200 The affordable health care, along with free gym memberships and free rides from the county made it easy to keep advancing my recovery. Peace of mind helped me concentrate on daily commitment to rehabilitation. I went home, took my first dose of pills, took a long nap, and dreamed about working out again.
Because my brothers decided to come back to town a second time, I wasn’t able to go to the coast for the final weekend of my vacation. As a result, I couldn’t meet up with a lot of my friends. My friend Marcus and his wife Fontreia did come up to have dinner with me on Sunday. I had only met Fontreia once, the last time I was in town. They were just dating at the time, but they had married during the past year. I was looking forward to seeing them again.
They picked me up at my Dad’s house. Coming down the steps and walking the length of the driveway was simple now that I could lift my foot easily. Getting into the car and walking into the restaurant was simple. We ate at my favorite New Orleans style restaurant in Jackson. I ordered the oyster po-boy with remoulade and tabasco sauces. We also ordered drinks and an assortment of appetizers. The food and drinks were perfect – an ideal dining experienced for my last night out.
Fontreia and Marcus are an interracial couple. They know several people who harbor prejudices about other races and them as a couple. However, they are both grounded, educated individuals who have cultivated a welcoming community of like-minded people. We spent the evening discussing topics as varied as politics, race, faith, and atheism. Fontreia remarked at how much healthier I looked. I told her how different benefits in Hennepin County accommodated my rehabilitation needs. Marcus has lived in Chicago before; we tried to convince Fontreia that visiting Minnesota during the snowy months really wouldn’t be that bad.
We laughed and talked for about two hours. Just like with the other outings, it felt good to be energetic and fully engaged. We drove home talking about the next time we could get together. I walked back up the steps, went to my bedroom, and fell asleep immediately. I love how I don’t realize how tired I am until I arrive at home later. Physical fitness and high spirits allow me to thoroughly enjoy the moments with loved ones.
The next day was Monday. Since I was feeling fairly healthy again, I decided to make it my last workout in Mississippi. I did a generous amount of time on the stationary bike and followed that up with fifteen minutes on the hand bike. All of this gave me a good amount of cardio, so I was breathing more freely than I had in a week. With this increased oxygenation I had the energy to get a great workout session in. I did a couple of leg strengthening exercises, and I even added some back exercises with the purpose of stretching my left shoulder. When I finally walked out, I was ready to travel again. I was looking forward to getting more muscle relaxant injections in a week.
I spent Tuesday packing my suitcase slowly so that I could make sure I was ready to go. The next day, I got up early so I could eat, buy souvenirs, and leave Jackson by 11:00 am. That would get me to New Orleans three hours before my flight took off. Dad thought that was far too soon, but I wanted to make sure that we could make it on time, even if we encountered the unforeseen problems.
We made good time, and by noon, we were already at the Louisiana state line. We stopped at the welcome center to use the restroom. The last time I had stopped at this welcome center, I was still using the wheelchair. My brother had wheeled me up to the sculpture of the state map so I could take pictures. Proud of my continued progress, I walked over to it again. It felt like I had struggled a lifetime to get to this point. A journey of years had led to this confident series of steps.
By the time we made it to the airport, it was still hours before my d timeeparture. We checked in at curbside. The agent told me to wait on a nearby bench so they could have someone bring out a wheelchair (at this point, the only time I take a wheelchair is so I can speed through airports). So Dad and I sat down and chatted about how much fun the visit had been. I told him how much confidence I now had about traveling by myself. Next year, I would no longer need a cane to walk outdoors, either. We said our goodbyes before I turned to go into the airport.
Going through security was pretty automatic by now. I slipped off my belt and shoes. The agents told me that I could keep my leg brace on, but I told them that it was to slippery for walking without a shoe. So I sent the brace through the x-ray machine. They were skeptical about my ability to hold my left hand above my head, but I assured them that it was no problem. I walked into the full body scanner and held my arms high above my head.
The agent helped me get dressed and sped me to my terminal. Once we got there, I told him that I wanted to eat – local cuisine, if he could help it. He advised me that there was a Copeland’s in the terminal “Perfect.” When we arrived at Copeland’s, I got out of the wheelchair, placed my order, and stood in line. Even though I was indoors, I was still sweating. It would feel like autumn when I was back in Minneapolis in a few hours. My shrimp po-boy was up before long. I sat back down in my wheelchair and found an agent to push me to my gate.
I made it to my gate with almost two hours to spare. Getting out of the wheelchair, I sat in a regular seat again. I closed my eyes and bit into the sandwich. This was the last time I would be able to eat in New Orleans for months. I finished eating and waited for them to call my name for early boarding.
When they called my name, I got up to walk down the jet way. The gate agent asked if I wanted a wheelchair. Again I refused it. I walked down to the plane and found my seat. Once there, I placed my cane in the overhead compartment and sat down. I held onto my seat belt with my left hand and pulled the buckle end across my lap. Now that I was safely strapped in, I stared out the window and waited to return to my life.