Thursday, May 12, 2011

Another stop along the Bucket List

I think we all have bucket lists.
For those unfamiliar with the term, a bucket list--named after the 2007 movie of the same name--contains all the things we'd like to do before we die--"kick the bucket," so to speak.
Some are pretty wild and fanciful, like skydiving, playing with the New York Philharmonic or doing both at the same time. Others are simpler things that are just waiting to happen if time, opportunity and circumstance allow. Even among my ever-practical cohorts in the Star Courier newsroom, I know there are dreams that include hoped-for happenings like a round of golf at Augusta National, a published and well-received novel, owning a roomful of vintage guitars, a chance to drive a NASCAR racer, taking an award-winning photograph and a life where pancakes are served across the street every single day.
My own dream--or at least one of them--was somewhat simpler.
You see, I've always wanted to drive one of those little electric carts that sit near the front door at Walmart and many other big-box stores.
I got my wish.
It all started with a bike ride on the beach.
We had been wondering if the matched pair of bicycles we bought for cheap at a nearby thrift store would work on sand. They're not the fat-tired beach bikes that have become so popular, but just middleweight road cruisers with enough life left--we hoped--to let us pedal up and down the road that runs between our house and the ocean. But one beautiful low-tide morning, conditions seemed just right for us to give it a try. A storm the night before had left the beach hard-packed between the water line and the high tide mark, the wind had moderated and temperatures were perfect for a little exercise. We trundled the bikes through the soft sand at the edge of the dune and off we went, rolling swiftly across smooth hard sand. We rode for a couple of miles, under the fishing pier that's a mile south of our beachfront and almost to the southern end of the stretch of sand that makes up the northernmost portion of North Topsail Beach. It was after we turned around and headed back towards our own section of beach that I began to feel a little discomfort in my right knee.
Now, this is nothing new, as that's the knee I ruined way back in the days when I played high school football. I had surgery back then and have struggled ever since with a joint that clicks, buckles, locks and swells up when I push it a little too hard. An orthopedic surgeon I've seen a few times in more recent years tells me it's pretty much shot, and I considered knee replacement surgery until my bout with cancer a few years ago made it seem a little too much like putting new tires on a beat-up jalopy with a bad engine. Usually, a little rest and some ice packs and heat treatments are enough to reduce the swelling and soreness until I hurt it again, and life goes on.
But not this time.
The knee swelled to the size of a grapefruit, then a small pumpkin, and refused to bear much weight as I struggled to hobble along. It hurt, too, despite a steady diet of over-the-counter pain meds and repeated icings and hot packs. One night, I decided to try sitting in a hot bath, hoping a long soak would give me some relief. All went well until the water began to cool and I decided it was time to get out. As I levered myself out, the knee buckled and my hand slipped, resulting in a hard fall against the unyielding edge of the tub. The resulting thud sounded mostly like a bag of cement dropped on a dry branch.
"Thump-crack."
Lacking one of those "I've fallen and I can't get up" gadgets, I struggled to catch my breath as an altogether new sensation radiated through my side. My spouse, who had heard the mighty thud all the way downstairs, dashed upstairs, helped me to my feet and into bed, where I wondered what broken ribs felt like.
Sure enough.
I held out for a couple of days, but finally agreed to see a doctor, who x-rayed and examined my painful parts.
"You broke a rib," she said, and gave me a prescription for some pills that would bring renewed meaning to the term "la-la land."
"It's gonna hurt for awhile, but there's nothing you can do but wait for it to heal," she added.
And what about the confounded knee that caused all the problems in the first place?
"Rest it," she said. "No walking."
"What about strolls on the beach and walking the dog and running errands and playing with my grandsons?" I countered.
"No," she said.
I finally did get her permission to hobble to my beach chair and to the car, but that was it.
"Rest," she said. "Be lazy."
Anyone who knows me well knows I'm really good at the whole lazy thing, but it got old pretty darn fast. My spouse, who often doubles as my primary physician, was adamant about the "no walking" dictate, so I was surprised when she let me get out of the car when we had to make a stop at the local Walmart a couple of days later.
Then I understood.
"You've always wanted to drive one of those things," she smiled, pointing to the row of scooter-like vehicles parked by the front entrance. "So drive."
Like many of the things I think I want to do, this one was harder than it looked. I nearly ran her and several other innocent bystanders over while trying to get the hang of the speed control. I clipped a couple of end caps and almost fell out of the thing while trying to reach a gallon of milk. I must look fairly able-bodied, because I felt I was getting quizzical looks from store employees and shoppers who, apparently, wondered if I was just messing around or too lazy to make my own way through the store.
"Really," I wanted to shout. "My doctor told me not to walk."
She was right, too.
My enforced laziness plan has finally seen my knee shrink back to the size of a grapefruit again, with hopes that it will get as normal as it ever does soon. The broken rib will take awhile longer, but thanks to those special pills, I'll manage as long as I can avoid coughing, sneezing, rolling over in my sleep and boxing matches against up-and-coming heavyweight contenders.
And I've crossed another adventure off my list--my bucket list.
I have new-found respect for those who are truly disabled and have to rely on equipment like electric carts, wheelchairs and canes and crutches to do the simplest things that we all take for granted. For a little while longer, I'll be one of them until I can move onto the next thing on my list.
You see, what I really want to do is ride my bike on the beach.

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