Once I stopped using the wheelchair, I began to feel supremely empowered. I started walking indoors every day, counting thousands of steps each day. At first, I began by calculating how many steps make up a mile – 2000 – then walking that every single day. I achieved this step count consistently for one week, so I increased my step count to two miles.
Finally, I looked up online how many steps the average person walks in a day. It was 6000. This seemed like a daunting challenge. However, after I had built up a lot of endurance, I realized that I was pausing more time than was necessary between sets of steps. I decided to only rest a maximum of fifteen minutes between intervals of three hundred steps. On the first day I tried, I achieved my goal by 10:00 pm. I couldn’t believe how easy it actually was.
Outpatient therapy was so easy that it was almost becoming an afterthought. A couple of weeks after I stopped using the wheelchair, I was told that it was time to graduate from the program. On my last day of therapy, we went through exercises. The only problems I was still having were that my left arm was not working and my shoulder hurt. However, since my leg had slowly started working again, I assumed that it was only a matter of time before I would start using my arm again too. We took pictures, then I left Methodist Outpatient Rehabilitation.
We drove down Lakeland Drive to Quest Rehabilitation Center. It was also part of the Methodist network. Inpatient and outpatient were structured around getting the patient through the trauma of injury; this new stage was about getting the patient back to work and life in the community. The first thing I learned at Quest was that they expected you to know your own schedule. This was to help jumpstart independence. I also began seeing many more people for each type of therapy. As a result, I couldn’t even remember all of their names.
Outside of therapy, I was still traveling every other weekend. In early December, I connected with a classmate from fourth through twelfth grades. Monica had grown up a couple of miles near my houseand was now a veterinarian practicing in suburban Memphis. I chatted with her on Facebook, and we decided that I that I should visit her the following weekend.
On Friday, December 12th, Dad drove me to a meet Monica. We went to a Greek restaurant for dinner. Over gyros, we talked about dozens of things from childhood. She told me how she had always been intimidated by my father. I told her that she was one of the best students I had known. She recalled how I had teased her so often. I replied that I honestly had no idea that it had caused her so much anxiety. We talked about how we both had felt like we were living in the shadows of older brothers as children, and what they were doing now. We could have talked all might, but eventually our waitress informed us that they were closing.
When we arrived at her house, I discovered that Monica had several cats. I am highly allergic to cats. Hoping that they wouldn’t affect me, I sat down on the couch. Naturally, the cats slowly started crowding around to explore. We shooed them away, but there was so much dander in the air that I started wheezing. I took out my rescue inhaler and took two puffs That only helped for about five minutes, then the tightness in my chest returned. So she took me to the guest room where I would be sleeping.
The first thing I noticed was a large wall map of the United States. There were keychains on almost every state.
“Have you been to all of these places?”
“No. But whenever somebody a state, I ask them to bring me a keychain.”
“Too bad you already have Wisconsin and Minnesota. I could’ve gotten you those.”
“You still can. See? I have multiple ones for a few states.”
Monica finished setting up my things and left. I lay down on the bed on tried to relax. The wheezing returned, so I took two more puffs of my inhaler. That worked temporarily, but before I fell asleep, I needed it again. I was growing fearful of having an asthma attack. Eventually, I did fall asleep, but I had a very fitful night. I woke up the next morning around 6:00. Since I didn’t want to be a burden, I decided to wait for Monica to wake so she could take me to an urgent care, so I could be ready to go out for the day.
At urgent care, they gave me a breathing treatment. As I breathed in the medicine, I felt my lungs begin to open up. My breath grew stronger, my energy returned and my anxiety fell away. After ten minutes, I felt completely rejuvenated. We checked out at the front desk and left to go to the Memphis Zoo.
The day was overcast and just a little chilly. So I put on shorts and a light jacket, because I knew that I would be warm after a few minutes of walking. Monica dropped me off at the entrance and parked the car. I was just a little nervous about falling over, because I had never been left standing alone for this long. However, if I was here to challenge myself, this was the time to start.
I was quite impressed by the zoo. It had an ancient Egypt motif because of the city’s namesake. It was also clean and well laid out. The thing I liked the most was that it was sprawling to me. It might not have been larger than the average zoo, but this was the first time I really had the opportunity to walk around a large area. I really challenged myself that day, walking from exhibit to exhibit. I would pause to rest every thousand steps or so, resting and admiring giraffes, elephants, or exotic animals, but mostly I was thrilled from all of the walking.
One thing I didn’t know about the Memphis Zoo was that they had pandas. According to Monica, they had to jump through several hoops before the Chinese government would let them have them. This included building a section of the zoo that was devoted entirely to animals from China. There were guardian lions, a giant pagoda, other pieces of imitation Chinese architecture, and a separate gift shop devoted to paying for it. The pandas themselves were doing nothing more remarkable than chewing on stalks of bamboo. They had no idea that the city had gone to such extraordinary lengths to acquire them. They were simply another pair of animals being held in captivity.
I stopped and bought a couple of things at the panda gift shop because I definitely wanted to support the enterprise. Then we made our way to the entrance., where I stopped and bought a few souvenirs at the main gift shop because I wanted to amass a collection from all of my travels from the first year after almost dying. I imagined building a display case one day that would serve as an inspirational testament to never giving up on oneself.
Monica had season tickets to Memphis Theatre. She was planning on going to see Newsies that night, so we had to hurry across town and change, and speed back downtown. The play was at the Orpheum, an historical theatre. Our seats were on the upper level. However, since I was special needs, they took us to handicapped seating. Since this was lower level, the seats were even better.
My eyes had been bothering me for a while. Each eye could see farther than average, but since the stroke, I could not get them to work in tandem. So I had a problem with double vision. It had gotten much better, but it had not gone away completely. Thus, I worried about being able to adequately enjoy the show.
However, as the curtain came down, I was pleasantly surprised. I had no difficulty moving my eyes from one side of the stage to another. I could track each performer, and I was even able to follow the movements of the people changing the stage between scenes. The music excited me as well, causing my heart to beat faster. I felt rapturous throughout the play.
When it was over, we went out to eat with a friend of hers. We laughed and exchanged stories about our lives. I am always self-conscious about my voice, but I have to force myself to use it, because the only way to get it back to normal is to work the muscles required for speech. By the time we had finished dinner, I was exhausted. I had walked more miles in one day than I had in months, and the amount my lungs had worked speaking only exacerbated the feeling of having put in a long day’s work. So after we got home, I had no problem falling asleep and staying asleep.
The next day we were going to the National Civil Rights Museum. But first, Monica drove me out to a place where she likes to go walking called Shelby Farms. Shelby Farms is a large park that is acres of trees, hills, creeks, lakes, and trails. We decided to take one of the paved walking trails and go for an hour walk.
After I got out of the car, I noticed that the air was more chilly and windy than it had been the previous day. I worried a little about losing my balance and falling over. I was also concerned that there was nowhere to sit. If I grew tired, I had no place to stop and rest. Nonetheless, I decided to try.
I was very slow, and I knew that I couldn’t cover much ground. So I told Monica to go on ahead of me and I would do my best. As soon as she disappeared around the first bend, I started to feel very vulnerable. I was out in an open area without police traffic or witnesses. What if I managed to fall off the path into a ditch? How would I get back on my feet and up the incline? Rather than work myself into a panic, I just concentrated on carefully placing each foot slightly forward in front of the other.
Monica soon returned, and I had her snap a few photos, because I had never walked anywhere that wasn’t in an urban environment. It didn’t feel like I was doing that much, but less than half a year before, I had been fearful of never walking again. This was slow and arduous, but it was also triumphant. I couldn’t wait to upload them the photos and show people my progress.
Before long, Monica came back and told me that it was time to turn around and head back to the car. I was secretly relieved. I didn’t want to admit it, but it had been an exhausting week. Although I had thoroughly enjoyed myself, I was tired of walking.
We arrived at the National Civil Rights Museum just after noon. Because my legs were exhausted, I decided to go through in a wheelchair. The museum is in the Lorraine Motel – the place where Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated. It simply must be experienced to be fully appreciated. It has many rooms of exhibits that are lovingly detailed, mockups of building structures, and full-sized vehicles. The entire museum does what any good museum does – removes one from the realm of everyday life. Rather than attempt to do it justice in writing, I’ll leave you with these images:
After you walk through the hallowed space for a few hours, the main museum tour ends in the room where King was living when he was shot. A replica of his final meal is preserved along with a copy of the Memphis Commercial Appeal that will forever read April, 4th, 1968. On the balcony outside, there hangs a wreath to mark the path of the bullet that felled King.
A trip to the National Civil Rights museum, for me, is always a somber event. I find it stunning, melancholic, yet a place filled with hope. This was a perfect way to end my weekend in Memphis. I was tired from all of the effort, but I had more than enough determination for the road ahead.