14. I am really quite good in a wheelchair
I am! And this is surprising. I am famous in my family, and all those who know me, for my hopelessly hamfisted clumsiness and tragic ( if often amusing for others ) lack of spatial awareness. It is taken as a given that I should never drive. It was confirmed in ‘intelligence tests’ we took at school when I was 15 or so and ranked in the country’s lowest percentile when it came to problem solving in this category ; ‘if shape A is reversed, which of the following shapes would it be?’ requested the alarming, multiple-choice question ( the page was absolutely full of them), but try as I might, in my head I simply couldn’t turn it around, in the same way that at home, I literally am incapable of working out which room is directly above or below me. An architect I certainly could never have been.
I am not sure precisely how much spatial awareness is required to drive a traditional hand powered wheelchair, but I do know from the moment I got into mine for the first time, it was like a new duck taking to the water – effortless. Where many of the wheelies move slowly, with little, unsure, grasps of the wheel, I knew intuitively how to curve, fit through narrow spaces, and come to a sudden halt. Necessary, because I have often been caught ‘speeding’ ( it’s actually really rather fun- like riding a bicycle as a kid ) and told I might crash into other patients.
In any case, from the moment I was allowed by the doctors to use one, this brilliantly designed vehicle represented energy and some freedom; I was no longer confined to my bed, could get outside and round the entirety of the hospital, and could burn through some built up frustrations.
15. I like solitude even more than I realized
Have I been lonely, seven weeks ( and counting ): the single foreigner patient, the jovial but aloof one, stuck in the only private room on the fourth floor rehabilitation wing of a dreary, out-of-the-way suburban hospital?
Not at all.
There have been moments of claustrophobia, and anguish, of course – particularly at the beginning, which as you know was a horrible kind of purgatory for me, but I always knew that I had D at the end of the line, and in those first, hideous, oppressive and overwhelming post-operative days he was like an angel, comforting, patient, and constantly there by my side.
Later, however, once I had got used to my second room, I also got used to the solitude. I have actually kind of loved it. The truth is, I find being alone infinitely preferable to small talk or fake conversation, the repressed and fixed phrases of the Japanese office, uncomfortable, overdone banter, or vacant-eyed, glib repartee. My visits, I have found quite exhausting. I wanted them, needed them, certainly, and have been extremely grateful to all the people (many ) who have taken the time to come down to this hospital in the middle of nowhere just to see me for an hour or so, but after they have gone ( I find I get overanimated and super energized during the conversations) I sink into a coma of sudden tiredness.