The sweetly dreaded question, “How are you?” comes round many times a day. It is both a social exchange and true curiosity. It is also an implied declarative statement of, “ I see you are up and around after major surgery, you look great, and now what? ” The dilemma is how to answer it without an inner snarl because there are a lot of people to pass in the halls everyday. The question arises from nurses, aids, fellow residents, friends and strangers to me (but who somehow seem to know my name even if I’m not wearing my name tag).
Each one requires a different answer depending on their role in my life. It is also a stumper because everyday so far has been very different from the last. One day I walked 300 feet to and then back again from a farther dining area. The next day, walking that far wasn’t possible but I sat up for an hour, four different times that day without too much pain. I am definitely standing taller as I use my rollater. My neck realignment requires a new, improved posture to keep the sharp animal claws from sinking into my shoulders when I slump forward, as opposed to the dull ache of the creatures just hanging there when I am upright. When I take a step, I can ask my left heel to hit the floor first, avoiding the former foot drop issue I had on my left foot. I wore an foot/ankle/orthotic (FAO) brace for many years to prevent falls when my left toes refused to lift and were tripping me up. Now my PTs suggest not using it unless I am walking long distances. Rather than the brace holding my foot flat for safety, I need to work those small muscles to flex and extend again on their own.
The source of my ongoing back pain is also more clear to me. Now that I can feel how atrophied my muscles are in my trunk, back and butt, it is evident how much my inability to hold myself up is the cause of that pain. Because it will take a long time to build up muscles again, it will be a while before the ‘sitting up” pain issue is resolved. It is not a separate category of pain. It was neither caused nor immediately cured by the surgery. Rather the surgery offers me a welcome pathway to relief over time.
“How am I?” is a very loaded question to answer. Mostly a cheery, “Hanging in there,” or “Pretty good, and you?” is sufficient. I can also say, “I am fine, but my body is going to take at least a year to heal.” That is the truth and backs off the eagerness people have to hear the happy ending of my story. The ending is a lot of ongoing hard work, and it is the best job I could have. People love drama- either the sadness on learning of a recent death of a fellow resident, or the happy ending to a recovery story. Everyone is entitled to their share of the story pie. In a community, we belong to one another no matter how close our social interaction level. Your story is my story, too. And yet, we are all plagued by our own politeness. My friend down the hall who just lost his wife of 63 years, says the question drives him crazy. I know that I am not the only one.
For the limerick assignment in our poetry class last fall, I wrote this one as part of a series:
“How are you doing today?”
I’m bamboozled to know what to say.
I say that,” I’m fine.”
Such a meaningless line,
We’re relieved just to be on our way.
A little snarky, but it rings a bell for many of us who live within the Care Center of Kendal; we who are here because we have designated compromises and do not live independently in an apartment or cottage. It is hard to treat the phrase as a simple greeting. How about, “Good to see you,”? “Good to see you, too,” is a lovely response. Of course you can ask me how I am… if you really want to know.