The damn branch broke my concentration. I had not planned for an overhanging tree limb to block the pathway walking three-quarters of a mile from my home to the train station with my head facing my feet the entire time. But I was ordered by an eye doctor to lean my head all the way toward the ground 50 out of 60 minutes of each hour for seven straight days.
So there I was yesterday, less than 24 hours after a two-hour operation for a torn retina, returning to the Philadelphia VA Hospital for a follow-up check, heeding medical instructions to the letter.
You don’t know how hard it is to continually hold your head down toward your feet. Not the front of the feet, but with your eyes making direct contact with your heels.
It creates the worst pain in the neck you’ll ever suffer! I don’t know whether the pain I experienced was solely due to the neck strain or partly from the anesthesia I had had, but my whole body ached. It ached from the stomach up to the head. My throat was the worst. Ironically, I felt little if any pain in the left eye where doctors had performed the third operation in less than two years to repair two torn retinas and remove a cataract.
It’s difficult to cross the street with a traffic light when your head is faced downward. I tried it, “feeling” my way by listening to the sounds of cars coming to a stop. Trouble is, cars will turn no matter who might be walking in front of their path, including a disabled veteran with a white patch covering the whole left side of his face.
I had to look up, and just as I did, the sun shone into my one good eye. Oh brother, what a day this is going to be, I thought.
Crossing the street, it was all downhill from there. That is, until I walked a little too close to one of the new trees planted on a sidewalk. Who would have expected that a sapling whose base was no thicker than 4 inches in diameter could have branches stretching out two to three feet from that base?
A branch caught my hat nearly ripping it off as I walked into it, backing up as quickly as I could, cursing out the stupid tree. The tree took on a life of its own. It became one more obstacle in my path to recovery, and I reverted to the kid I had once been in the old neighborhood who felt he had to fight to get anywhere in life.
I felt better after cursing at the tree. I felt stronger and more confident somehow.
Made it the train station and sat with some eight to 10 other passengers. I no sooner had closed my eyes when I heard the rushing sound of a large object streaming outside the small station building. When I looked up, everyone had gotten up and exited the door, not one of them asking the guy with the bandaged face whether he was waiting for the train.
Sons of bitches, I said out loud, then jumped up, ran to the door, and nearly fell as I lost my balance on the handicapped walkway that made it longer to get to the platform than the stairs. I yelled at no one in particular, hoping that someone would hold the train for me.
I made it somehow, the last one on.
The fates were out to get me. I did not want to look out the window to see the stops, and had hoped to hear the conductor announce each stop. Not once during the 10 stops from Conshohocken to Philly did I hear that voice. Even when I got to 30th Street Station, the last stop for the train, not one word was broadcast via the loudspeaker.
Well, I made it to the station and safely boarded a bus that took me the rest of the way to the hospital. Veterans getting off the bus helped me cross another traffic light intersection and guided me to the elevators where I made my way to the eye lab and the appointed meeting with the eye doctors.
The eye looked good, the surgeon told me. Now, all I have to do I remain in this humbled position, counting my blessings from the ground up. I had nowhere to go but up after another few days of this!
Here’s looking up at you, kid.