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     Volume 7 Issue 19 | May 9, 2008 |

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A Romun Column

Magic Feet

Neeman Sobhan

A trip to the hospital, even if it's just to visit someone else, puts ones own life and health into perspective. The robust arrogance that we humans are naturally endowed with, which makes us take the precarious fragility of our normal good health for granted, gets the necessary and rude shake-up each time we enter a medical institution. Observing someone who until yesterday might have been like us, carefree and careless perhaps, now laid low by some malaise or accident, is an essential lesson for most of us.

I think these thoughts on a sunny Saturday morning as I maneuver my car across the cobble stone roads of Viale Trastevere and up the Gianiculum hills and head for the Salvatore Mundi clinic to visit a close friend. She is there for a fractured ankle and facing surgery on Monday. It seems like a simple case of middle aged bones needing to be cobbled back. Unfortunately, the problem is not the fracture itself but the fact that my friend G is suffering from Lupus, which complicates everything.

I had no idea what Lupus was until G, my most bubbly, gregarious and physically active friend was diagnosed with it about eight years ago. All I learnt from the books was its definition as an auto-immune disease that can affect any part of a woman's body making her vulnerable to other illnesses. But what I saw from my friend's particular case was what this disease was capable of destroying. In a few years this insidious disease and its cortisone-steroid cure slowly took my slim, vivacious and dynamic friend and reduced her to a limping, bloated woman, who slowly turned in her tennis racket and took to crutches. She refused to surrender to the wheel chair for years.

But a Catch Twenty-two situation emerged when she suffered a lapse and her legs were semi-paralyzed; now, hormones and medication made her gain an enormous amount of weight, which obstructed any progress with physical therapy. Diet alone was not sufficient to shed off excess weight, and her semi-paralyzed legs under her weight made exercising her legs and feet even less effective. She could neither slim down nor strengthen her leg muscles.

The first time I saw her after her legs were semi-paralyzed she asked me plaintively: "Do you think I will walk again?" I replied from my heart, "Of course you will. I know you will walk again. We will just have to get your legs back into shape." The doctor had recommended therapy and exercise, and I gave her a pep-talk about that. Then hugging her tight I came away quickly and went straight to the nearby park where she and I used to power-walk twice a week for years. Now, strolling down the hilly, tree shaded paths bordered with flowering Azalea bushes I gave way to the tears that I had hidden in front of her.

Two women came chattering and jogging down the path. Their laughter brushed past me like a breeze from the past. Those two friends could have been G and I, so filled with the vitality and appetite for life that even when we met to catch up on each other's news or have a heart-to-heart chat we didn't do it sitting down but while helping each other do our 45 minutes of fast-walking in fresh air.

I looked at the strong calves and firm, sneaker-shod feet of the women receding behind the distant pine trees. Treacherous body, I thought, you have stolen and broken my friend's spirit. Will she walk again? I asked the sky, the birds, the trees, the oblivious lovers sitting clasped on benches. The two women ran past me again on their second lap, and the snatches of their panting conversation and rhythmic footfalls said to me: she will walk; she won't walk; she will walk; she won't…. She WILL, I breathed raggedly as I ran out of the park.

And for a few years, she seemed almost to be winning the battle. With her own enormous resources of will and invincible spirit she continued with therapy sessions, medical treatments and diets, and hobbled her way undeterred through her life, which except for tennis, driving and walking was as pro-active as before. Her busy daily routine, and her energy and enthusiasm for life would put me and other friends to shame. She entertained as graciously at home as always and attended lunches and dinners, traveled and did all her obligations and chores as efficiently as before, leaning on crutches or someone's arm.

Then just the other day, she had an unfortunate fall in her own corridor and is now lying in a hospital bed before me, her leg in a cast, awaiting surgery and perhaps the prospect of facing an indefinite period of being confined to a wheel chair after all.

I am looking out of the window of her room in this clinic on one of the prettiest hilltops of Rome. The view outside is lovely. I had my two babies here and so am fond of this place. But today, it is just a hospital; a place of uncertainty and fear where my friend lies trapped between resignation and despair. The complex state of G's medically coordinated internal system makes any surgery a risky proposition.

"All I want in life is to be able to walk again. This is my only wish and dream…… to take off by myself on my own two feet across a floor, down the steps, over a street, a sidewalk, a park…." She is talking as if of wings and of flying; dreaming of gliding over hills and dales and valleys and oceans. She is talking of the impossible things that I do everyday without thinking.

Then she says matter-of-factly. "Actually, I would be content to just be able to get up from a chair and walk from my bed to the bathroom unaided. Just that." She gazes at her elevated sheet-shrouded limb and sighs: "Some days I simply give up hope."

I mutter empty reassurances and leave. Down the hospital corridor I pass the chapel and keep walking till I'm outside in the car park. I don't want to get into the car. Today, I want to walk and walk and walk. I want to walk for her and for me on my blessed, magic feet, my winged feet. I want to pound the paths of that shady park on Viale Musica whose music was the shared footfalls of two friends, two palpitating hearts filled with excitement about everything in life except that ordinary miracle whose regular beat on the ground we took for granted since the first step of childhood.

Today, I want to nurse my feet and take them for a meditative, prayerful walk. I want to pray against G's loss of hope, so that her surgery is successful and the path to healing and recovery is smooth, so that we can start her battle again with courage, one step at a time. I start the march of hope: she'll walk; she'll walk; she-will, she-will.

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