Two years ago today I was discharged home from rehab, concluding a two-month hospital stay between Marin General, UCSF and Santa Clara Valley Rehab.
It was the first time in my life I went overnight in a hospital and I ended up doing 58 nights.
Tonight, I’m watching the movie The Martian again.
My first field trip from the hospital .. that wasn’t to another hospital … was for a group of us in the Rehab unit to go see a movie. And we went to see The Martian. It’s a big-budget film directed by Ridley Scott and based on the book by Andy Weir.
If you have seen it, you can probably imagine a million parallels between Matt Damon’s character (Mark Watney) trying to survive Mars and our journey learning to live in wheelchairs. And there are a million parallels.
The guy next to me was a big guy with tattoos and a bald head who hurt himself on the job and was a bigger smart ass than me, but also a big teddy bear on the inside – as big bald smart asses tend to be. In our circumstances, the teddy bear tends to be a little more evident too.
Nevertheless, there were moments in the theater when I was kinda shielding my face from him because I was tearing up.
Tearing up moments like the moment Mark Watney in the movie says, ‘I’m not going to die here’ after freaking out for a while when he realizes he’s stranded on Mars. Then he gets busy figuring out how to survive as long as possible.
Then there’s every moment of crisis that comes after he’s had a triumph of engineering and has a great quip about his genius.
Then there’s having to handle shit 💩. Literally. (Fellow SCI and caretakers know what I’m talking about.)
But most especially, at the end, he says to a group of students:
“At some point, everything’s gonna go south on you and you’re going to say, this is it. This is how I end. Now you can either accept that, or you can get to work. That’s all it is.
You just begin. You do the math. You solve one problem and you solve the next one, and then the next. And If you solve enough problems, you get to come home.”
In that moment, in the middle of rehab, learning to sit up on my own, get in and out of my wheelchair by myself, do a wheelie (albeit barely), wheel myself up an incline, building up the strength to do so, learning how to manually pee and poop, basically how to live life in an entirely new way … in that moment, that story and those words were incredibly powerful.
In the movie, he’s alone on Mars for 560 sols total (Sols = Martian Days). So, he has ups and downs and a boatload of time to be idle.
In rehab, we had a required minimum 3 hours/day of workout. Even with meals and other activities, there feels like a boatload of time throughout the day to just be in pain and wonder about things:
Will I ever be able to get out of bed without help?
Will this freaking pain ever go away?
Will I be on all these medications forever, taking a cup full of pills?
Will I ever stand on my own again?
Where am I going to live?
Can I live on my own?
Will I be able to work?
How am I going to pay for all this?
Who’s going to want to be with a guy in a wheelchair?
There couldn’t have been a more serendipitous moment for me to watch this story and hear these words.
“You just begin. You do the math. You solve one problem and you solve the next one, and then the next. And If you solve enough problems, you get to come home.”
That’s been the answer to every question.
Get crafty. Get help. Stay humble. Keep your head up. Keep your head in the game. Keep moving. Keep looking for answers. Find another way.
It’s not only a recipe for learning to live from a wheelchair.
It’s a recipe for living.