Small Movements

The subway and then the bus took me east to the hospital, through the neighborhoods of Los Angeles, to say what I know we should have said to each other years ago. Decades ago.

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BY MARIA HSIN //
ART BY GETTY IMAGES

The subway and then the bus took me east to the hospital, through the neighborhoods of Los Angeles, to say what I know we should have said to each other years ago. Decades ago. He wouldn’t respond—he couldn’t—but at least I would have said it out loud.

“Stay With Me” played on my Pandora station. Fitting. I was headed there to plead that he stay. That he open his eyes and understand me.

My father and I had a long, rocky relationship, and in the past year he had suffered a major stroke. It rendered him speechless and unable to swallow or move the left side of his body. Because of the abnormal way his heart pumps blood—a separate condition—the doctors didn’t think that things were going to get better. The latest complication was pneumonia. If I was going to say anything, now was the time.

He was awake when I entered the room. I hadn’t seen him open his eyes since he was transferred back to the hospital with a fever of 101 a few days ago. Now his gaze was locked on something.

I cautiously stepped closer to him. When I spoke, he looked up at me.

I said hello in Mandarin. I held his hand. I wanted to see if he would squeeze it back when I asked him to. His strength had diminished. We went through our usual routine—I asked him to move his fingers, feet and toes—and the pistons began to fire, as the machine that was his nervous system seemed to warm up.

With puffy eyes and a red nose, I began my speech. I apologized, and said I knew we hadn’t gotten along for many years, and that there was a lot we had not said to each other. I started to cry and his face became red, and he shook. He was crying too. I felt bad, and then realized he had understood me, that he was acknowledging our difficult past. That it had hurt him too. I stopped crying and I told him it was okay. It was time to focus on his hands and his movement right now.

I remember the screaming and the crashing of plates from my childhood, all too many nights. I longed for my mother to leave him. I remember his betrayal and his verbal abuse. After the divorce, we erased all physical traces of him from the house. But his daring, his cooking and what I knew of his culture—they lingered in my psyche and in my heart.

Of course I had regrets about the years that followed. I could have spent more time with him, I could have done a better job documenting his journey from Hong Kong and Shanghai to America. I never learned enough of his native Mandarin to converse with him in his language.

Other attempts to confront the past, and all the hurt, had failed. As we shook, after my speech, I wondered if his tears and mine might be some way forward.

It has been a year since then, a year of watching my once commanding and independent father struggle, helpless, in his body’s rebellion. I have learned to see that he is just a man, flawed and broken, in many more ways than before. I see that I have an opportunity to talk to him, to share my life with him. One day, he may talk back. I now speak for him at his therapy appointments. I celebrate his progress, including the day he was able to say hao, or “good,” in Mandarin.

Some people have asked why I would do this. The answer, I now realize, is simple. Because I see that he has not given up. He is certainly not the man he was before, and he may not be able to do the things he did before—including cook or walk. Perhaps it is this transformation into someone else, someone we both are discovering, that will finally allow us both to be free of the past.

 

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“Small Movements” was published in Proto magazine.

 

Baby steps: I walked across the front yard. And in some hot pink running shoes.

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Photo from stuymsa.com

It’s been 169 days since I walked like a normal person. That’s almost six months.

Then came Friday. I did not waddle like a duck or quasi limp. I walked. I tried it at physical therapy that morning. My right foot rolled up off my heel instead of planting itself flatly on the ground. Then the left foot moved in front of the right. And the right foot mimicked the left. I felt like a baby, finally standing upright and starting to find her way around. I certainly giggled like one. 

A little later that day, I was able to walk across my mom’s front yard. And up the steps.

Baby steps. But without them, I would still be completely dependent on my metal legs. 

To celebrate my progress and for a little extra motivation, I decided to scope out some running shoes. 

It was magical. The attraction instant. The desire extraordinary.

It was like they were calling to me. Sparkling under the bright lights. Daring me to walk past their curves and bright colors.

I tried on a pair in hot pink.

My foot was wrapped snugly inside, supported and cushioned while I walked the few steps from the bench to the mirror. If they felt this great when I walked, surely they’d feel even better once i was able to run, right?

I did not give in to the temptation of buying these pink Nike Free Flyknit on the spot. But if you’re feeling generous, I wear a 6.5. 

A poking and a clean up plan

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If you’ve been following along, it won’t surprise you to learn tomorrow will mark the two-week anniversary of my ankle sprain.

Which of course means that I have been on this adventure on crutches for practically two weeks.

While the rest of the world has been (understandably) watching a massive manhunt in and around Boston, an explosion in Texas, and locally, preparing for other marathons, Taco Madness in Downtown L.A.’s Grand Park on Saturday, which also includes alcohol (sounds like a perfect pairing for 4/20), and CicLAvia on Sunday, I’m documenting the progress on my ankle. In my little world, that’s a big deal.

I am happy to report that my right foot looks almost normal after an acupuncture treatment yesterday. I broke the news to my acupuncturist and friend from elementary school that unfortunately, I had cheated on her. She took it like the strong woman she is and chuckled. As long as my condition was improving, that is all that mattered, she said.

Then she wanted details.

Where did this take place?

With whom?

Was it better?

I jest. Sort of. She wanted to know where needles were inserted. I am guessing in not enough places. Although the first treatment helped alleviate the pain, my foot was still quite swollen. It is sometimes hard to sleep because of the pain.

But, no, the other acupuncturist didn’t do it better.

After my treatment at Pure Life Acupuncture (my “regular” spot for poking), the bruising was visibly less (meaning it wasn’t as blue) and my foot looked thinner. Almost the way I remember it pre-tree days. (If you don’t get that reference, shame on you! It means you did not read my first blog about my ankle sprain). My foot still has a yellow and green tint to it, with a touch of blue near my toes.

I’m a little more mobile now. I don’t always have to use the crutches. I can go short distances using my right heel/leg as a kickstand. But I don’t do it too often because even that slight amount of pressure makes my ankle hurt.

I’ll be back at my poker’s Torrance office Monday for round two. I’ll make sure to take some photos. I meant to do that yesterday and then got really excited to see that my foot looked almost normal and I forgot.

I have a plan of what I’d like to get done today, but given that’s it’s almost late afternoon and I’m still in my PJs, I’m not sure how much I will be able to check off my list. I’d also like to eat something.

But here goes.

Three of the four piles of laundry that I separated last week — which took me about 30 minutes — are still patiently waiting to be washed. But I haven’t figured out how to get to the basement for laundering. Doing so involves two sets of stairs, and as you may recall, I’m not graceful on crutches. Adding a basket of laundry makes for a perilous situation.

I guess I could just throw the clothes over the railing of my back porch: they should land at the basement door. Then I could go down the steps, like a little kid, on my backside. There are a lot of steps, though. Plus I’m worried one of you might swing by just to photograph me doing that.

While I am on the couch with my leg propped up, I see the little pieces of lint on the rug; the dust and hair on my usually spotless hardwood floor; and the boxes, mail, clothing and other things in my living room that need to be put away.

Cleaning the hardwood floor and kitchen and bathroom flooring usually involves sweeping, dusting and then wiping the floor down with the wet Swiffer cloths. I’d settle for just dry Swiffer-ing. I’m wondering how the ankle will feel about that. I’m guessing it’s voting “no,” just from the pain I’m starting to feel after doing some hobbling sans crutches earlier.

Any volunteers?

You’d have my undying affection, get to ride in The Tank with me to Whole Foods, and get some cheese and crackers out of it.

My adventures on crutches and driving left footed

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I have been dependent on crutches for a little over a week now.

My exciting Saturday of April 6 consisted of me bumping into my older brother during a volleyball game, losing my balance, and falling awkwardly. On my right ankle.

Fortunately I am only dealing with a sprain. A severe sprain, but there is no fracture and it is not broken. I am unable to walk and hence dealing with the hobbling around that comes with being on crutches.

For the last week, I have tried to become friends with my crutches.

It’s about focus, and finding a rhythm, one person said.

There’s a YouTube video to make sure you have the correct posture and aren’t hunching over, a woman said. Apparently, I may have been guilty of hunching. It may explain why my back was hurting a little.

I find I am often off balance on the crutches. Sometimes I go too fast and almost fall forward. Sometimes, I swing my right leg and the sprained ankle hits the wall or the object I just passed. Sometimes, I forget I need to hold both crutches and let one go while I grab for something else with the same hand. And then a crutch falls on my ankle.

It’s my first time on crutches, can you tell?

I really am trying.

But my body hurts. I am hopping, crawling, bending, and sitting up more than the average person. And having the crutches in that area under my underarms isn’t exactly comfortable.

Showering is an ordeal. Going to the bathroom is an ordeal. Getting dressed is an ordeal. Getting in and out bed is an ordeal. Figuring how and what to make for lunch or dinner is an ordeal. I could write an entire blog post about how I made dinner the other day, but I wouldn’t want you to stop reading my blog.

Look on the bright side, you say.

It’s just a sprain, you say.

You’re building muscle, you say.

And you’re practicing patience, you say.

Oh yeah?

I think I’m developing a callus on my palm, I say.

I think I’m developing a callus on each palm, I say.

It’s likely my left leg will be buffer than my right leg, I say.

And, I get enough practice with patience at my day job, I say.

My amazing neighbor kindly volunteered for taxi duty last week. What a relief. I was still in a good amount of pain and not having to worry about how to get myself to and from the office was a huge relief.

Eventually, I had to drive myself to work.

It was a little daunting just thinking about getting in The Tank — my 1991 Chevy Corsica that doesn’t like to stop — and driving left footed. What if I pressed the wrong pedal? I could picture the headline: “Woman runs over Asian, Mexican and East Indian pedestrians in Koreatown while driving left footed.”

But once I situated myself carefully and propped up the right leg to ensure continued circulation, I was able to get out of the driveway and make it to Downtown L.A. I’m not worried about pressing the wrong pedal. A greater concern is giving the car the right amount of gas and then being able to stop it.

I’m hoping the acupuncture treatments will help me to be less dependent on the crutches — in other words, part ways amicably. But more on that later.

It looks like it is about that time for my new nightly ritual: rubbing the ankle with muscle and joint relief gel and then wrapping it up.

Until next time.