Vague memories of my childhood and teenage years include fierce encounters with the hard surfaces of roller skating and ice skating rinks. Slamming face-first onto the concrete floor of a roller skating rink, while in the midst of an adrenaline-fueled high involving speed and freedom, taught me about the random intersections of joy and gut-wrenching pain. The thrill of a fast turn on a sheet of ice instantly turned to terror when my skates sprayed ice chips on the surface where I would land on my back, spinning, thanks to a sudden fall. Another lesson in how quickly elation can disappear, replaced by torment or misery.
Those memories, buried for decades, surfaced again yesterday. They did not arise randomly. They emerged from the fact that the emotions I felt during those experiences are so similar to the ones flooding my mind during the last few days. Watching the spikes and valleys of the rhythms on a heart monitor, I remembered the sharp differences between the joy and agony from one second to the next while I was immersed in the thrill of skating.
Experience changes so fast. Thrills become terror. Joy becomes agony. Elation becomes misery or anxiety or depression or worse. Skating, though, is a choice.
Resting on a hospital bed, leads from machines attached all over the body, with blood pressure monitors and needles restricting movement, may be a choice, but it is not a welcome choice. It is not a choice like skating. Neither is watching the monitors report low blood pressure or deviations in oxygen saturation. It is a choice akin to obligation; obligation with no alternative. It is a lonely choice, too, especially in these times of pandemic with severe limitations on hospital visits. It is a lonely choice when the watcher can only watch the patient sleep, interrupted only briefly by foggy recognition and, then, more sleep.
I remember feeling terribly fragile after tumbling on the ice skating rink, as if inside me a thin sheet of brittle material sustained a thousand cracks in the fall. I was afraid of moving for fear that the damage might get worse, causing me to shatter. Today, I am afraid of making wrong choices when only the right choices will do.