The sky was grey and brooding with a faint smell of rain in the air. Still it felt good to be outdoors. My Sexy Legs was on his stationary bike training for an Ironman event. We chatted like we always did when he pedalled at home but that day I was more pensive than usual.
There was a lull in the conversation. The squeak of the pedals seemed loud – too loud. A fly buzzed and bounced off my cheek. I shook my head, sucked in a breath and blew hard after it as it flew away. The sticky ones were fearless though. They always came back.
I looked to Sexy Legs for sympathy but he hadn’t noticed the fly or my discomfort.
His eyes were glassy, cheeks slack. He was in the zone – that pain zone sport fanatics crave. I remembered it well. That burn in the muscles was exhilarating. It could be controlled and was addictive. It signalled that you were getting stronger, fitter. I closed my eyes for a second and imagined me pedalling, saw my legs turning. I wanted to get into that zone with him and yearned for that pain.
I felt the burn. But it nagged throughout my body. It was constant and couldn’t be controlled. Nerve pain is what they call it, the doctors, and they’ll give you drugs, strong ones, but the pain never really leaves. It’s as debilitating as backache or a sore tooth which can’t be fixed, except you can have a tooth removed, kill the nerve, get rid of the pain but after a spinal-cord injury you can’t remove every nerve in your body. So the pain stays and you have to learn to live with it.
Life was so unfair.
I bit down on my tongue. Come on Tracy why go there?
I bit harder and winced. You wanted pain? Well now you have it. My tongue stung. Was that blood I tasted?
Sexy Legs stood and pedalled. Sweat dripped off the tip of his nose. Instinctively, I wiggled mine wanting to sleeve it. I drew a frustrated breath.
Another droplet plummeted and was immediately replaced. Fuck that would annoy me, probably in equal proportion to an irritating fly. Why doesn’t he use the damn towel? It lay loosely over his shoulder, unused. He had a collection of them in his closet and a growing number of bright, branded T-shirts, bold proof of all his completed Ironman events. If he wasn’t in his work clothes then he had on one of those in your face T-shirts. Did he have to wear them all the time?
He’d sure as hell earned them. So if I were him, I’d probably wear them too. This man – my husband – was a machine. At 62 he’d completed all three Ironman events in the country in the same year. Un-freaking-believable. A proud smile took hold of my face.
“Ten more minutes,” he confirmed after checking the bike’s fitness monitor and returned the smile with a thumbs up.
My gaze descended with the next drop of sweat and stopped. I caught my breath. His legs were carved, his muscles flexed and contracted with each push and pull of the pedal. I couldn’t tear my eyes off them. Both legs gleamed. I felt a sudden urge to touch him and almost whimpered. My body as usual refused the command. How is it that I can desire with such intensity and yet my body won’t… can’t… react?
Feeling heat in my cheeks, I lowered my eyes. The moisture, his sweat, seeped into the paving. Again my thoughts turned to self-pity. If only my paralysis was partial. Why did it have to be from the neck down?
I lifted my chin and blurted, “I’m jealous. So jealous”
His brow creased and he looked me in the eye. I said it again and instantly regretted it. What’s the point Tracy? Why go back there? It’s been more than twenty years for fuck sake. Stop. Will these mind wars ever end?
His eyes softened. “I’m going to design something that will move your legs while I’m pedalling then we can cycle together.”
I forced a smile and the negative thoughts out.
“Good idea,” I enthused, my cheeks hot with shame.
I hated making him feel guilty for exercising. If anything, I wanted to encourage him. Swim, cycle and run as much as possible for no other reason than simply because you can. Isn’t that what I preach to everybody? You never know when things may change, when your body gets tired, old or injured. It could be your turn next. Use your body while it still works. Exercise because you can.
The more I thought about his idea, the more I warmed to it. Imagine how wonderful it would be to ‘cycle’ again. So what if he did all the work. We’d make it fun.
The following day I mentioned it to Tanya, one of my physio’s.
“But you get one,” she said.
“Yes, we used it in the rehab I worked in.” She reached for her phone and scrolled through some pictures.
“I don’t know why I hadn’t thought of that for you before,” her voice was apologetic. I hadn’t given it a thought either until my Sexy Legs came up with the idea. “We used to put our stroke patients onto them,” she continued and pointed to one of the pedalling machines. It looked similar to an exercise bicycle you’d find in a gym but it was electronic and would turn my legs for me. “You’d love it.” She patted me on the shoulder.
After discussions with all my physio’s we decided that it was a good idea, not only for the feeling of some mobility but also for increased circulation. And maybe, just maybe, it would help me to get my tummy going again. Being full of shit wasn’t always a choice.
I should know by now though, that anything related to disability in this country is astronomically expensive, an absolute rip off.
To cut a long story short, we eventually found one on eBay and thanks to an earth angel friend Ina, I became the proud owner of an exercise bicycle.
Dad pieced it together and Berna and Tanya strapped me in. The excitement was palpable as someone plugged it in and another flicked the switch. A red light appeared on the control with a simultaneous beep.
My tummy fluttered. Here I go.
The light went out. After some more plugging in and out and flicking of switches it was clear that the machine was dead.
Disappointment wrapped me up and sucked me in.
“Don’t worry,” said Berna. “Hein and Ernst will sort it.” Berna’s husband and son were electronic wizards and had helped me sort out many issues in the past.
Berna called a couple of hours later laughing, “Hein and Ernst just rolled their eyes at me.”
“They said that everybody knows that when you buy something from America you can’t plug it in to our plugs because we use a different voltage of electricity.”
I swallowed. I remembered reading something like that. It had slipped my mind in the excitement. Will I ever learn patience?
I swore out loud. How was I going to tell Ina that she had just spent a small fortune on nothing? Berna laughed louder.
“Don’t worry. You know my husband. He’s good with these things. He’ll open it up and I’m sure he’ll get it going again.” I don’t know if she was trying to convince me because she was feeling bad or if she genuinely believed he could fix it. But it was all the hope I had and I was going to cling to it.
I did let Ina know that there was going to be a delay in getting it going and sheepishly told her why.
In a couple of weeks Hein and Ernst did their magic and I had my ‘bicycle’ back. My orthotist friend, Peter helped me sort out the leg straps to keep my knees and hips properly aligned and we were ready to go.
Here is the video clip we took for Ina of my first time ‘cycling’ in over 20 years.
I think my care assistant’s giggles in the background and my wraparound smile say it all.
And I’m freewheeling…