The Hanged Man

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Literary Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic


Sometimes, recovery can take a long time.

Submitted: February 18, 2018

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Submitted: February 18, 2018

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The Hanged Man

Merriam remembered very little about the fall. She was told that she fell, skidded and then had hit a hay bale and windmilled. She remembers waiting at the gate of the Super-G course in Breckenridge. She remembers pushing off and stabilizing into her tuck, but not much after that. The next memory was the hospital room. Wires and an IV, but not a lot of pain at first. The two cracked right ribs were the first thing she noticed. The most painful. It really hurt to take a breath.

In addition, there was a dislocated right knee, a broken right wrist, a broken collar bone and a dislocated right shoulder. The doctors had missed the right hip joint and a lower spine injury.

The collar bone and wrist weren't really a problem. Plastic casts and a sling. And they got better fast. The knee and the shoulder were more complicated. The shoulder giving the feeling of electric shocks down the arm and always feeling a little bit out of joint. She had numb spots on her arm and hand now. A surgery was advised, but she never got it as the shoulder and arm seemed to be getting better on their own. The knee required two surgeries that never quite healed right. But by the next fall the knee was good enough to let thirty-two year old Merriam go back into competition.

Merriam always thought her knee would get better. It just needed more time to heal. She had to put a heat pad on it after ski practice and it would bother her on long hikes in the mountains. But it became a minor part of her life and was forgotten.

Another problem was silently developing. Merriam had spent long hours on the snow fields in the bright sun since she was 10, and she had done so almost every day since about the age of 24. She disliked sun glasses, but got some protection from her goggles, but she didn't wear these all the time. And the constant sun was very hard on her eyes. She was of Nordic heritage and very fair.

The knee came back into her life around the age of 39. She had four days off which she planned to spend working in her shop. Building one off, custom aspen lamps. But she didn't really enjoy the time because her knee inexplicably ached. There had been no hard hiking or other stress, it had just started hurting. And then the minor pain never stopped. Walking made it worse. She began to walk with a limp and limited her walking to short distances.

X-rays and MRI revealed severe cartilage damage that would require some pretty extensive rebuilding. She would be laid up after surgery and often she had no insurance, so the surgery kept getting put back. The easy solution was to just limit her walking.

And Merriam knew her eyes were going. In her mid 20's she began buying reading glasses at the drug store. She invested in bright spotlights for reading. These helped, and she preferred them to the glasses as she felt the cheap glasses were bad for her eyes. But after a couple more years the bright lights stopped working and the reading glasses got progressively stronger. 1.25, 1.75, 2.0, 2.25 and finally 3.25. The page size on the computer went from 100% to 175% to 225%.

Her years on the ski team had landed her a decent job with a sporting goods company. She was based in Vail and oversaw a group of younger women. Women who had just left their ski teams. She knew that she would not be able to continue as a company rep forever. The company wanted younger women, perhaps in their early 30's, who had recent experience with either the Olympics or some professional skiing venue. But her old supervisor had told her that she would soon leave, and that Merriam would move on to an office manager type position and eventually take over the operation.

Her old supervisor did leave. For a lucrative job managing resort properties in Florida. But the transition went sideways. A new manager with his own people came in. And, as Merriam approached the age of 40, she found she could now do nothing right at work. The new people were clear that she wasn't liked. About two weeks after she turned 40 she was terminated.

Merriam was devastated. She had always been told that she was wasting the prime years of her life on the ski team. And Merriam had believed this. But the job changed all of that. She was successful, in a wonderful job, and those years were now not wasted. She could not have obtained her position without them. But now it was all gone and she was forty years old with few marketable skills. Her only expertise in a tiny industry that didn't even exist in exist most places.

She began drinking her first few days at home. Alcohol had been a constant in the ski towns, to the point where Merriam realized that she should just give it up. And she had given it up since leaving the ski team and starting her job. But she needed something now, and the light drinking while burying herself in a novel was a good way to numb herself. And she needed to be numb for a while.

But the drinking progressed, and it got very bad within a few weeks. After two months, strange things began to happen. She had stopped eating. No food sounded good to her and she didn't feel hunger. She began suffering from extremely low blood pressure. Any stress while standing, such as raising her arms to turn off an elevated light switch, would cause her to pass out. She would find herself on the floor wondering how she had got there. She learned to feel the blackouts coming on and would then usually make it to a chair or the bed before going down. Being on her feet for more than a few minutes brought on a horrible feeling that wasn't quite nausea, and wasn't really pain, but a crushing kind of exhaustion. She couldn't stand up long enough to take a shower.

She forced herself to eat thinking that was the problem. At least two glasses of chocolate milk, a carrot, a banana and bowl of cottage cheese every day. She gagged on the food and it didn't work anyway. The problem persisted.

One morning, the hallucinations began. The pots and pans on the shelf seemed to dance and move. Their handles would wave and bend in impossible ways. A a sort of a glowing TV screen appeared on the bedspread where figures moved. A strange, rodent like animal dropped down to the floor from under the kitchen table. The animal would move about as if it were under a strobe light. Instantaneously moving a few feet at at time. Merriam knew she was hallucinating and none of the images were frightening. She could see worms or mice jump up from the folds in the bed spread.

Unbeknownst to her, her special friend Andrea had called her father and told him that there was a serious problem. He came, examined Merriam and immediately drove her to an institution where, prior to retiring, he had been an administrator. Merriam didn't realize until later that her bag had been packed and ready in advance.

At the admissions desk Merriam blacked out. She had been standing for too long and asked the woman if there was a chair. One was indicated to her, but she didn't make it. When she came back to consciousness they were loading her into a wheel chair.

The first days were bad, flat on her back with IV's to cure her lack of electrolytes, hydrate her and stabilize her blood chemistry. Unable to sleep with constant visits from doctors, nurses and therapists. People would ask her what day it was and if she knew where she was at.

But after the first few days, the institution became a good place. A large beautiful room and wonderful food, ordered from a menu and brought in by room service. She began eating again. There was a nice public room although she didn't much mix with the other people. She would go down very early and sit alone before the huge fireplace and read, leaving when the other patients arrived.

She was given a reading list and she found the books inspiring. People like Larry Brilliant who left a hippie ashram to help cure smallpox in India. And others who had made a second start in life. For a while her life consisted of reading, eating, discussing the books and her issues with her therapist and sleeping.

But three months without real food, the and massive amounts of alcohol, had taken their toll.

In the late spring, shortly after leaving the hospital, she realized that she was blind. Testing her eyes after noticing how bad her vision had become, she realized that she could not see out of her left eye at all. Half of her field of view was gone in the right, and what vision there was was blurred and dark. Terrified, she saw an optometrist who diagnosed early onset cataracts. She was told the operations would require a trip to Denver. And this meant hotel rooms and cabs, and money was now tight. So the operations got put off. And besides, there were now other, more pressing problems developing. So she wore sunglasses to preserve what was left of her vision and tried to deal with the other problems first.

She had a small pain in her back which she attributed to using a bad chair when she worked on the computer. But the pain got worse until it was searing agony radiating up her back and down the front of her legs. Walking to the sink for a glass of water was almost impossible. The problem was finally traced to a spinal injury which was causing a disc to degenerate and pinch a bundle of nerves. Physical therapy seemed to help.

But with the back pain under partial control, a torn cartilage in her right hip flared up. Now, any real movement caused horrible pain in her groin and hip joint. It was difficult to even lay in bed and sleep. And the back pain would then come back. Her injured right shoulder then became painful as well. It was not known if this was because of odd sleeping positions due to the other pain or perhaps gout that was affecting her hip as well. She began taking Allopurinol to reduce her uric acid.

Often, the only relief was to get up at 3:00 in the morning and sit in an office chair that supported her back, and allowed her right arm dangle. Medical marijuana proved a godsend. It relieved a great deal of joint pain and let her let her assume a neutral position on her back, with legs elevated, and sleep.

Because of the alternating hip and back pain, Merriam was unable to walk most days. She would take two agonizing steps and then lean on a chair or table. She grocery shopped, her only outing, by leaning on the cart so that it supported her weight. She tried crutches, but they were not that helpful. Employees at the store offered her an electric riding cart, but she refused. She wasn't ready to surrender to that yet.

Merriam had always been athletic and in good shape, but she began to put on weight for the first time in her life. She was now getting no exercise at all. Pants no longer fit and her ankles swelled.

The back and hip pain lasted from mid June until the last week of February, when her body finally began to heal and adapt.

Merriam had found a hospital near her mountain town that did cataract surgery every Friday. She signed up and on February 9th, her completely blind left eye was operated on. Two hours after surgery, in the office of the optometrist, the shield over her eye was removed. She was amazed. For the first time in 20 years she could really see. The doctor was impressed on how well she tested. Returning home, she saw the mountains clearly for the first time in decades. They were so beautiful.

But twenty minutes into the trip home, her eye swelled and her vision became horribly blurred. She called the clinic and was told this was normal. She slept with a shield over her eye that night. In the morning, when she removed the shield, she was again amazed. Her vision was a bit blurry, but she could see better than at any time she could remember. Her vision cleared to almost 20/20 over the next few days.

Her right eye was done two weeks later. In the office after that surgery, she didn't test well. She could barely see out of the eye.

After the post op exam, she stopped to get coffee in a place near the hospital. While sitting in the shop, trying to get her right eye to focus, she heard “Wheel in the Sky” by Journey come on the sound system. She hadn't heard this song in years and it had a special meaning to her. In the past, each time she had randomly heard it like this, some great change had come into her life. She had heard it when she moved to Europe, she had heard it just before coming back to the US and she had heard it as she shucked it all and joined the ski team.

She thought of the Hanged Man, the Tarot card indicating that your present is transforming with or without your participation. And this could be bad or good. All the card showed was that things would be very different soon. And this was enough. Merriam would be happy with that.

The next morning the eye was still blurred, but it cleared over the passing days. But never all the way. She was still very far sighted in the right eye and probably always would be. But this didn't really bother her. She could see again.

The back and hip pain were getting better every day, but her muscles were now very weak. She had been sitting or laying down for almost nine months. It was difficult to take the trash out to the dumpster without being seized by cramps in her back and legs.

One day, around the first of March, Merriam decided that she would get well. She would get strong again and lose the weight. She realized that she was in no shape to deal with even a minor crises in her life. Moving from the cabin where she lived would be an impossible task. As would be digging out the car after a major snow storm. She was too young to be like this.

And so she began. It was a clear, sunny day, although somewhat cold. She began walking up the road in front of her cabin, climbing to the top of a hill about three quarters of a mile away. To a place where the wires crossed the road and there was a telephone poll.

The curved road was lined with reflectors about seventy-five yards apart. She found she could climb the hill if she just walked to the next roadside reflector and then rested for a moment. The hill wasn't that steep, but she would be breathing heavily on each leg of the walk. She was so weak. But she finally made it to the telephone pole at the top of the hill.

She was wearing the amber glasses given to her after the eye operation, so the afternoon sun wasn't blinding. She could see the valley where she lived, and the river, the slow running parts coated with white ice and snow. The mountains to the East and West were snow covered and glowed in the bright afternoon sun. She was amazed that she would resolve the individual trees on the mountains and saw that it wasn't just a smudge of dark green there, but millions and millions of individual trees.

The trip back down was much easier, although she felt cramps beginning in her back and had to stop several times. She found her main problem was now her old injured knee, which had hurt before the hip and back problems. But she could deal with that.

She resolved to climb the hill the next morning at dawn, and to go a little further once the top was reached. And to go a little further each day thereafter.

She had an appointment with the orthopedic surgeon to begin the prep for her knee surgery. She hoped it could be done in the late spring. It would lay her up for an unknown period of time. How long? She didn't know. But she had resolved to get it done.

But tomorrow she would climb the hill again. And with any luck, the hill would soon no longer be a great challenge. And maybe with her new knee she would go hiking again this summer. Or at least in the late summer or early fall. Hiking to her favorite places in the forest that she had given up on ever seeing again, and seeing them again with her new eyes.

 


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