I was, as always, with my son today. After he had downed the green sludge he calls a smoothie and I simply call vile, he suggested he needed time for it to settle before breakfast. I had to agree, this stuff simply gloops into the glass. I couldn’t agree, however, that exercise was the best way to keep it going down. I’m fairly sure my own stomach would have other ideas were I ever to drink the stuff.
Now some of these exercises are a bit of a joint effort. Much of the time, thankfully, all I have to do these days is observe and make sure he’s getting it right. Sometimes, however, I have to demonstrate and I was thankful today that he agreed the shots of me with my feet in the air should never see the light of day. It worries me a tad that he still has them as ammunition… However, I couldn’t complain as I had been snapping pictures myself. “There has to be an article in those shots…” I had laughed. He said I should write it, given what we had been discussing.
I seem to have written a lot about Nick lately. There are reasons, mainly to do with how much he is progressing. This morning, as I was dismantling the heavy, weighted walking frame he has hitherto needed just to cross his living room, I couldn’t help thinking about that. To be folding this thing up after several years and consigning it to the shed had me near tears. It had already been an emotional morning. It had all started with the balancemaster, a machine he had installed to help him regain that function, lost to his injuries. He had showed me the latest, quite amazing progress and I, as often happens, had ended up in tears. A screwdriver through the brain is bad enough, but while his recovery from the damage caused by that initial injury was utterly miraculous. The secondary damage from the prolonged subarachnoid bleeding and excessive pressure within the brain cavity is a different matter and affects many of his motor functions and balance. He had woken from the coma paralysed down his entire right side, and though hemiplegia had fairly soon given way to hemiparesis, with the spasticity and the lack of coordination and control, the outlook wasn’t good. His chances of recovering , we were given to understand, were about zero. I could bore you with the details, but Nick suggested I show you instead.
We, of course, we simply overjoyed to still have him with us and his personality definitely ‘all there’. I had told the surgeon that if Nick came back, he would come back fighting and I was right. There was the first time he was able to move at all.. the first words.. the first time he sat alone and stood… There was also the hidden damage, the emotional rollercoaster and the dark times. It has not been plain sailing. Nor is recovery from such an injury merely a case of waiting for time to heal and perhaps a little physiotherapy to get things underway.
There were ten, twelve, fourteen hour days… where Nick spent every minute working for his recovery. There was seldom a minute where he was not doing something focussed. His body, weakened, unresponsive and malfunctioning, he honed, strengthened and bullied, bit by painful bit, into doing as he asked. Everything from facial exercises to reading aloud, from lifting weights to sweating on a gym ball. It was non stop. What we didn’t know, we learned, what we couldn’t learn, we made up for with improvised gadgetry and common sense. Little by little he made headway.
There were times… are times… when the progress seemed to halt. Those plateau moments are hard. Nick seldom looks back to see where he has come from. To begin with his mind, still only functioning in low gear, simply thought he would recover, as if the injuries were no different from a broken bone. Then he determined he would recover. He blocked out the way he was in the early days. It was too much. Now, finally, he can look back without shame at ‘what he was’ and see what he has achieved.
Watching him exercise today, we were laughing. To be fair, there was no way you couldn’t… some of the positions he got himself into were just very strange. At one point he looked as if he was bidding fair to become a one-man human alphabet. On the other hand, the control, the strength and the flexibility he has acquired are incredible. Yet these are not goals in themselves, but tools he can use to carry himself to the next step… quite literally.
Today I put the heavyweight walking frame away and replaced it with a lightweight version he can take outdoors with him; something that may be hard to really understand for the rest of us, but which, to him, is a major victory. He shouldn’t be able to walk at all, yet he can…albeit slowly and with support. The next step is to learn to do it outside, alone…. Then unsupported.
So far the journey has lasted almost six years.. six years of unremitting hard work. And we don’t know how long it will take to achieve the goal. We don’t even know if it is possible. We do, however, believe that it is. And that is what prompted me to write today… and why Nick thought I could.
Because it doesn’t matter what it is, we all face impossible-seeming tasks and situations at some point in our lives. We all have unrealistic dreams we want to achieve. Uphill struggles where we seem to be wading through treacle. We all have a goal that hovers just out of reach. We will never reach that goal, achieve that dream or beat the odds if we do not try. “I would hate to look back and wonder if I could have done it… I don’t want to regret not having tried,“ said Nick.
If you aim for the moon and miss, you might just hit an unexpected star… you can never tell what is out there, but it is certain that you will hit nothing unless you pull back the bow and let the arrow fly, if you allow your dreams to be silenced. No matter what your dream may be… take aim for the moon and see where the arrow falls. Nick may never attain his goal of walking, alone and unaided through a green field. He may never walk alone along a deserted shoreline at dawn. He knows this. So do I. But there is a chance that he could and for this he works. Even if he ‘fails’, he has already gained much, not least his health and fitness, a huge amount of control of his own body… and the right to hold his head up high for what he has achieved.