Overcoming

I begin my hyperbaric treatment on Monday. There are two options. I could either sit in a chamber with others with a transparent hood is placed on my shoulders in which I breathe oxygen while the pressure in the chamber is increased. Or I could lay in a bed within a transparent tube. Again, oxygen is delivered while the pressure is increased.

I preferred the first. Laying in a bed wearing hospital scrubs is not for me unless absolutely necessary. That’s what I will be doing now. The choice came down to start that on Monday or the other sometime in July. I’m keen to get it done and feel the effects, so Monday it is.

I’m not sure what to expect. I hear good things but don’t know what benefits I’ll feel, if any, and how much my health will improve.

I’ve no doubt it will be positive; I’m wary of expecting too much of it. At the very least, I hope to experience some general health benefits. The combination of pure oxygen and high pressure accelerates natural healing. In my case, the focus is mending the bones in my face and aiding the regrowth of skin in my mouth over the exposed bone.

I hope it also reduces swelling and returns greater mobility to my mouth and face. It would be nice if it improved my sinus also, if it repairs my nerve damage, and if it frees up my hip. These things are less likely.

What I do know is at the end of it, I should be in a better place – how good, I don’t know. If it fails to meet primary objectives, I’m looking at surgery again.

I can’t worry too much about how things may turn out. Every day is a mission to get more exercise and become stronger while managing symptoms. I have become accustomed to many of the symptoms. I’m far from full health, but now I’m dealing with a collection of lesser issues rather than one big issue. It can be annoying, and it certainly inhibits my lifestyle, but you accept it for now and keep going.

Overall, within these constraints, I think I’m doing pretty well. There was a time I couldn’t walk to the front door without feeling I would collapse. Many a time, I would cling to the doorknob for dear life until the wave passed. Later, when I was more capable, I would still need to rest every 50-60 metres walking. All my fitness was gone, every skerrick of stamina a distant memory, and I felt as weak as a child.

I’m much stronger now, in fact, and appearance. I lost most of my muscle after surgery, and it took a long time before I felt any strength return to me. I’m lucky, though, in that I muscle up quite easily, and much has now returned – my chest is deep, my shoulders broad. I’m not what I was. I can’t run as far as I could before, nor as straight, thanks to my hip, but I can walk for hours if my hip allows it, and I’m taking stairs two at a time again, in defiance of the pain.

I even feel a bit of (crooked) swagger return to me.

I was in the city yesterday for a rare occasion in the office. At lunchtime, I walked through the streets, checking out the places I knew so well before. I ended up in a bookshop where I bought a few books. I felt my old self, in spirit, at least.

It’s curious how important it is that I return to some semblance of physical capability as before. In ways, it makes perfect sense, but though I was always physically robust, I’m more the cerebral type. It’s clear, however, that much of my sense of self is concentrated in my physical being.

I liked being tall and strong. Year’s roaming streets on my travels had made me physically enduring. There’s no doubt there were occasions I enjoyed imposing my frame into situations. And, for the most part, I felt attractive, even in contradiction to reality at times.

I guess it’s not enough for me to be a mind; I want to be a mind in a body. And when I consider my inclination to the sensual, it begins to make more sense.

It’s very true also that when you have something taken from you, you yearn for its return. I am made aware of this capacity more keenly because it has been lost to me.

There’s something innate in it, however. I remember reading ancient Greek history. I was drawn to the Spartans more than the Athenians. I have more in common culturally with an Athenian, I think – the love of art and discourse, good living and philosophy. Not to mention, democracy. But it was the Spartans I loved for their fierce virility and stoic sense of civic duty. I admire them for their hardness and willingness to put their beliefs into battle. And, in action, their ruthless ability.

I love the arts. I love thinking and wondering. I could read all day long, and I never want to stop learning. These are comforts. They’re what makes life a pleasure, among other things. But I’m aware also that comfort must be earned, or so I believe. They’re the pay-off from living with a rigorous outlook and understanding they’re a luxury and a privilege. It’s a perspective, I guess, which echoes stoicism and even an unexpected WASPish attitude.

For me, it means I need to feel physically capable as well as everything else. I take pride in being independent, and physical health is necessary to maintain that – which is another reason becoming critically ill is so difficult. Add the usual mix of male ego and vanity, and the picture completes itself.

I want to be out in the world, and I want to be capable and robust and putting myself forward as if nothing ever happened to me.

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