I generally have a soft spot for family occasions and warm weather, which is an obvious reason for my contentment today. Not only is the sun shining down on a brilliant spring morning, it is also Mother s Day, and my wife, April, and her sisters have planned a small gathering at our house to celebrate. At this moment I am off by myself in a corner of the sitting room where the windows meet, contemplating how occasions like this inevitably bring bittersweet memories to the surface, and looking forward to them.
Since it is still early, I have settled into a luxurious leather chair that my wife bought for me recently. The new chair is also elaborate with stainless steel rails and machinery that electronically tilts the user back and raises the legs to an optimal therapeutic point. It is equipped with a glass holder and a retractable desk that allows me to write with the least discomfort. The manufacturer calls my catbird seat “The Perfect Chair,” and from where I am perched I would not argue. Its price, if you were curious, has been set accordingly and would discourage many people from even considering the option. It certainly would have discouraged me if the decision had been mine. But it was a surprise from April on my release from Los Robles Hospital’s acute physical therapy unit, where I was laid up for two weeks for reasons I will divulge shortly. It is one of many gifts that bear the imprint of a wifely concern for my well-being, which is a healing balm in itself.
Along with the chair, she has set up a new movable desk by my bed, and these two pieces of furniture are where I spend most of my time now, since I am no longer mobile. A little over a month ago, I went into the hospital for what I thought was a routine hip replacement, but while I was under the anesthetic the surgeon slipped up and damaged my sciatic nerve, leaving me with a paralyzed left foot and a reservoir of neuropathic pain. Until this mishap, like most people I took my limbs for granted and had no idea how a useless foot and damaged nerves could take a person down.
My wife is understandably upset about my condition and pressing me to sue. I have contacted an attorney but am skeptical about securing any positive result. In the litigious environment of the medical profession, doctors have availed themselves of elaborate defenses that are difficult to breach. Only time will tell whether I will ever recover the use of my limb or whether the courts will deliver me a modicum of satisfaction.
When I signed up for the operation, I had not the slightest inkling that a calamity like this might be awaiting me. I had undergone a similar procedure on my right hip ten years earlier, after which I was out of the hospital in a day, and functioning reasonably well within a few weeks. This encouraged me to follow my normal approach to problems: just get them out of the way and get back to work. But when I awoke from this procedure in my hospital bed, I knew immediately that something was very wrong. My foot was hanging lifeless from the ankle, a syndrome known as “drop foot,” and instead of my release papers the hospital had provided me with a morphine pump. I could not move my toes. I could not feel my toes, and barely the foot itself.
My doctors have told me that my present condition is not hopeless and some sort of recovery is likely. But they remain evasive as to when this might materialize and what it might be like. Nerves apparently have their own schedule and manner of repair. Whether they will heal enough to restore what I once took for granted remains disconcertingly uncertain. Nonetheless, I have accepted the ambivalent prognoses and canceled engagements for the next several months, at not a little personal cost. Two of the speeches I was scheduled to give would have been before thousands of people and carried with them honorariums I now have plenty of use for. I have accepted this setback with as much philosophical attitude as I can muster, having found in the course of many lost battles that it is better not to fight the inevitable when it is staring you in the face.
It is also wise to try to enjoy the life you have before the gates begin to close. In the years before sixty, I led a physically robust existence and never paid much attention to matters of health. But in 2001, as the country reeled under the attacks of 9/11, I was diagnosed with a prostate cancer and underwent a radical prostatectomy to remove it. I seem to have been battling significant ailments ever since. I don’t wish to exaggerate these trials, because until my present unfortunate case, I have managed each of the problems without too much disruption of my activities and accepted the new limits my body has laid on me.
Entering this new world naturally prompts thoughts about “last things.” I have written three philosophical memoirs about the lessons to be drawn from our brief journeys on this earth, and this is undoubtedly the beginning of a fourth. I began them with a book called The End of Time, a title with dual meanings since the “end of time” can refer either to the purpose that we give to our lives or the purpose our limited allotment of time imparts to them. In this book, I also included observations on the Utopian quest for a perfect world, which is a secular religion for many, and has been the focus of most of my thinking life. This quest is really an attempt to deny the permanence of injustice, of which death is the exemplary case.
The second memoir, A Cracking of the Heart, was about the admirable life and untimely demise of my daughter Sarah. You do not really know death until you have lost someone you love, and lost her forever. Writing about my child was a way of salving my grief, and the book has been helpful to others dealing with irreparable loss. The third volume, A Point in Time, while slim like the others, is actually a summa of my life’s work. Its focus is again the social redeemers who want to escape the meaninglessness of life by pursuing the fantasy of a heaven on earth, while sewing the seeds of catastrophes along the way.