Rarely do I go upstairs. I have very little reason to ever go up stairs, and I have no desire to go upstairs unless it is necessary. There is no elevator in the three story building I work at when away on business, and the stairs for some reason seem excessive and steep. I used them several times when necessary, but they do get me winded, unless I stop and take a breather halfway up. And if someone is climbing the steps with me or is in front or behind me, I climb the entire flight without stopping, only to arrive at the top winded, standing there trying to maintain my breath so that it appears that I am not winded, hoping I am not asked a question, only to expose me for the actor that I am, playing to my public, the healthy man that stands before them.
This last weekend required that I climb those steps several times, and I always managed to do it alone, with no one to see my vulnerability when I arrive at the midway point to center my breathing and allow myself to rest. I must have gone up and down those steps at least twenty times in three hours, and I was comfortable with them, felt that they had become my friend, that we had gotten a flow going between us.I knew the rhythm of the climb, each step and exactly where I needed to slow, to stop and breathe and carry on again.
How quickly I thought I mastered them only to have my new-found friend crush my confidence form as quickly as my ego inflated. I approached the step for the umpteenth time, confident in my mastery of the climb, the subtle slowness of the approach to not draw attention to the fact that this beast was capable of drawing all the breath from my body, my confidence, my ego. I raised my right leg to the first step, prepping my body for the climb, drawing in my breath deep into my thoracic cavity, filling my lungs with the air that they seem to need more than ever by the time I reach the eighth step of my climb. I raised my left leg, drawing my body forcefully, confidently up to meet the second step, and with my total concentration on my breath and my angle and pace of ascent, I saw it out of the corner of my left eye. It was always there. It was there for all the times I climbed these steps before, and my brain knew it was there. My propreoceptors always guided my body to avoid it, to pass just within its reach, allowing my arm to bypass it so that I could place my hand on the banister to help draw myself up. This time I could see it out of the corner of my eye as my body drew up to the staircase. As if I were watching a movie in slow motion, I could see in my periphery as my arm drew closer to the sharp-pointed corner of the base of the stair case railing, but unable to stop or pull myself away in time as I drew my self towards it, its shining white-painted surface, glistening, looking almost as if it were grinning an evil sneer as it waited for my approach, to make me its victim, to teach me some sort of lesson in balance, coordination and concentration.
I felt as the pointed corner of the wooden banister pushed deep and hard into my left upper arm, just at the border of my biceps muscle, hard enough to cause my body to recoil from the impact, and then from the instant pain. I muttered and expletive beneath my breath as I grabbed at the arm and glanced a threatening look at the banister’s corner, only to see it look back at me with its shiny grin, as if to tell me “wake up and pay attention idiot, you can never conquer me. I will always be in control of you. No matter how you try to look as if you are able to climb me in one swift movement, you never will without some consequence.You will always need to stop and take a breath or get to the top and need five minutes to recover your breath. Today, I am your teacher, and my lesson is that you need to remember that your body has changed, your health
has changed and your life has changed. You can’t climb me without taking a breath. So why try? Why pretend that you can. Why deprive your body of oxygen for the sake of appearances? You learned how to climb a staircase in your pulmonary rehab classes. Go up on the inhale, and stop on the exhale. Yeah, you’ll take a little longer to get up there, and so what if people are watching? They can make it up the stairs in one movement, you can’t. They will watch you go into your grave because every time you deprive your body of oxygen you kill yourself a little bit more every day.
And thus my lesson learned. And away from that lesson I have a daily reminder for as many days that it will stay with me, the beautiful green and purple bruise that sits like an abstract tattoo on my arm as a testament to my foolishness.