Sunday, October 22, 2006

Prisoner of the Brace

Tomorrow afternoon I return to see the Orthopedist. It’s been four weeks. The surgery itself is now fully healed, at least on the outside of the leg. I’ll have a nice scar. My physical therapist said some folks get tattoos in the form of a zipper, to dress up the scar from this type of surgery. I’ll probably pass on that one; I’m not a tattoo kind of guy, but if I were to change my mind I probably should do it soon, since to the touch my leg doesn’t have a lot of feeling around the knee where the surgery was done. I was told that lack of feeing was normal and it might take quite a while – up to a year – for the feeling to return. I’ve met all my milestones in the physical therapy. I can do quadriceps squeezes and leg lifts out the wazoo. And now I can flex the leg to 60 degrees, the max that the brace will allow at this point, without too much of a warm up, and then hold that stretch for maybe 10 minutes or so before the leg starts to fatigue from being in that position. I can go up and down stairs fairly readily. And now getting into the car and driving is not such a big deal. With that I can go to work and be modestly productive. So life has achieved a certain normalcy.

But there are still some pretty humdrum things I can’t do – putting on shoes and socks by myself or taking a real shower without getting assistance, for example, and wearing long pants instead of shorts, even though it’s starting to get cold outside, for another. (I can't get the long pants on over the brace.) And because of the logic of the brace design and that for this purpose it is better to think of the leg as a cone rather than as a cylinder, narrower at the ankle than at the thigh, and hence when I’m walking the brace is apt to slide down my leg and will do so unless the straps are pulled very tight, and with that and the further fact that with just the surgical stocking alone and no brace whatsoever, the skin on my leg would chafe and get irritated, the brace rubs me the wrong way, if you'll pardon the pun.

All of these are minor in themselves and collectively are not worth writing about either except for the following observation. I’m aware of my leg and the brace most of the time. Sometimes it becomes the focus of my attention, because I can’t sit comfortably for long spells and hence I must change position, get up and walk around, or adjust the brace itself so I can be at ease. This regular reminder the brace provides creates my own little jail cell, locked into an existence of infirmity with no way out, at least for the time being.

For a very long time, certainly since I was a teenager and maybe even before that, I found refuge and joy in getting lost in thought. I recall that though I’m slothful by nature I actually looked forward to washing the dishes or mowing the lawn (some of the chores I adopted as a kid) because while doing that I could think about whatever I wanted to – I didn’t have to pay attention to something else. And I know when I was at Northwestern and would occasionally drive home to New York, sometimes by myself, I would actually look forward to the drive (between Illinois and Pennsylvania on I-80 there is not much of a view) because it would be an opportunity for being awake yet in reverie, something I thoroughly enjoyed, and I believe an important source of my own personal creativity.

To achieve that state of mind, however, I need to be free from concern about more prosaic real world matters. In that sense, the expression lost in though is misleading. I’m actually found in thought and quite alive in this way. Where I’m lost is in the real world immediacy, where I’ve entirely stopped paying attention or if not that then am doing the minimum so that I don’t get into trouble, but that requires a sufficiently low level of mental power that it doesn’t tax my thinking at all. Over time I’ve found I’m quite happy this way and more recently, since I’ve been blogging, I’ve come to learn that I need to do this from time to time to generate anything that others might find interesting in the writing. (I stumbled upon this short journal which has taken up the creativity theme and which seems sympathetic to my view, though its focus is creativity in the corporate setting.)

The brace makes all of this problematic, and frequently entirely impossible. Indeed it has lessened the intensity of my thinking and, I fear, made me duller. And, as a practical reality, it has made sleep more difficult. Optimism is harder to sustain as a result and optimism seems a critical ingredient for creativity. The lack of sleep itself may matter too.

I don’t even know where to sit. I’m most comfortable in my recliner, with leg raised. But that is for napping or reading, or doing the Soduku from the Sunday paper. When I write I do that sitting at a keyboard and need to be upright for that purpose. But sitting upright is less comfortable, not painful but not comfortable either. So what to do, go for comfort or productivity? I find I bounce back and forth. When I’m bouncing, I know I’m not really into it.

My prison sentence will be of limited duration. I’m hoping the doc will tell me tomorrow that I don’t have to wear the brace at all, but even if I do, I know its only going to be a few weeks longer. In the meantime, I may write more posts about the technology because those don’t require as much introspection, just some time playing with the software. The thing is, I don’t believe what we do with learning technology is really about the software.

Ah, penance!

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