My new left hip is only four hours old when the nurse comes into my room. “Wanna take your hip for a spin?” she asks, wheeling the walker up to the bed. I stand up and, feeling like the recipient of a New Testament miracle, take hold of my walker and walk. “You’re doing great! Feel free to walk up and down the halls if you’re up to it,” she says, and returns to her station.
Fiddling with the ties at my back, I adjust the XXL hospital gown to my actual dimensions, and go exploring. At the end of the hall, I stare out the huge window at the rain. Next door there is an empty room with chairs and sofas intended for visitors. As I leave, my walker bumps against the doorjamb. What am I doing with this annoying contraption? I’m not even putting any weight on it. In fact, I can probably get around without it.
I leave the walker in my room and take another stroll. This is much better! It leaves my hands free to keep the XXL gown from flapping open while I fantasize that my recovery is over and I am back to normal, even before the sun sets on my surgery day. Not the least of my joys is the look of amazement on the nurse’s face when she comes to fetch me. “Wow, you’re really killing it!” she says, adjusting the blood pressure cuff.
I blush with pleasure, and imagine her back at her station saying to her fellow nurses, “That woman in 2116 is amazing. I’ve never seen anything like her in my life! Nobody has ever recovered from surgery this fast.”
Now it is the dead of night, and two orthopedics residents appear at the foot of my bed. “Do you think you could try raising you leg a little?” one of them asks. I respond with a high kick worthy of the Rockettes. “How cool is that!” he whispers to his friend. They leave and I sink back into slumber, wreathed in smiles. I’d forgotten how good it feels to impress people.
The night nurse comes by with some pills. “I hear you’ve been walking around without your walker,” she says, handing me a glass of water. “That’s just not safe. I must ask that you use your walker at all times while you’re in the hospital.”
Alongside the show-off, there lives within me a deeply obedient and compliant child. It is now her turn to shine, so I use the walker for the remainder of my stay, even though that makes my excursions less exciting (fewer chances of impressing staff) and clouded by the fear of my gown falling open in the back.
But when the physical therapist comes in the morning to clear me to go home, I am back in show-off mode, demonstrating the flexions and abductions I’ve been practicing for months in preparation for surgery.
I am not without self-awareness, so throughout my time in the hospital I am conscious of this childlike compulsion to impress everyone I come across, from surgeons to orderlies. But why I might be doing this, I have no idea. Could it be that I believe that my performances will get me more attention, and better care? But that seems counterintuitive, as doctors and nurses would surely be more inclined to minister to me if I appeared feeble and needy.
Or it might be that at my stage in life there is little opportunity for performance and the ensuing applause. Gone are the days when studying hard would get me an A, so now I aim for good grades from medical personnel. It may make me look ridiculous, but I can’t help myself.
Or maybe it’s simply in my genes. As my 94-year-old mother was dying of encephalitis, I sat by her bed reading her a Catalan poem about the afterlife that she and my father had always loved. But before I could finish she shook her head, waved the book aside, and said “Look! Look what I can do!” and underneath the bedsheet she raised her left leg, and then her right, a good two feet above the mattress.