Living with lemons
A surprising (to me) number of readers and friends have been asking me when they will get to hear the new piano compositions I wrote during my recent sabbatical.
It had certainly been my intention to record myself playing them and to make the videos available to all on YouTube. It still is, actually.
But reality has intervened in the form of a rather painful bad back. My doctor has diagnosed me with “lumbar radiculopathy,” and I find the term apropos, as it has me feeling “radiculous” in a number of situations.
You see, it mostly affects me pain-wise in the mornings, when it takes anywhere from 30 minutes to two hours before I can take more than a few steps away from my bed upon wakeup. Sharp pains shoot down my leg, and I find myself panting from the aftermath for a few minutes every time I try to take another step.
But the pain gradually fades away, and I find the rest of my day I feel almost completely normal — except that I can’t sit down for more than five minutes at a time without the pain starting to return.
So, I now use a “standing desk,” which suits me fine, and I stand or walk all day long, even while eating. There are only a few things that this generally gets in the way of. One is driving or being driven, and another is practicing the piano.
They apparently haven’t yet invented a “standing baby grand” (it’s not available on Amazon, so it must not exist).
But I’ve come up with the next best thing: I ordered a portable electric piano keyboard that I intend to put on my standing desk. I fully expect to feel like Elton John once I start playing it when it arrives in a few days.
I tell you all this not to ask for your sympathy (not that there’s anything wrong with that). Rather, just to explain why I haven’t gotten to the point of making the promised videos.
But in addition, I want to take a moment here to credit my late father for setting an example I am striving to emulate.
My dad was not a complainer. He had some difficult experiences in his lifetime, both when young and when old, but he wasn’t one to dwell on his pains or problems.
For example, when he developed swallowing issues while hospitalized for pneumonia in his late 80s, he didn’t seem to flinch when the doctors said they would need to insert a feeding tube.
We all thought it was to be a temporary measure, but it ended up being a permanent one that he lived with for another six years or so. He always maintained that preserving life is an all-important value, and you do what you need to do to keep on living.
And since he prized his independence and didn’t want a nurse or other aide handling his various pills and feeding tube apparatus, he quickly learned how to do it all himself.
When I would visit, he would grudgingly allow me to fetch this or that, or to wash out the utensils when he was done, but he always insisted on getting his pills, grinding them finely in a special pill grinder, mixing them with the liquid diet and pouring it all into his feeding tube.
Though he didn’t coin the phrase, what popped into my head as I wrote this column is that dad’s motto could have been: “When life give you lemons, get a juicer.”
While he knew you can’t always turn lemons into lemonade — some things can never be made sweet — you can sometimes find ways to power through the sourness and move on with your life as best you can.
So that’s what I’m trying to do, at the same time as I’m doing the PT exercises, taking the long walks, and doing whatever else my doctor tells me has the best chance of getting me through this rough patch and back to good health.
My “juicer,” I hope, will be my electronic keyboard, and I intend to practice and try to memorize my new pieces so I can video myself (in five-minute increments) playing them on a real piano.
So, who knows? I may well have them ready for next month. And I may even be able to get up in the morning and walk like a normal person again.
I can tell you one thing: when I can perform those once simple tasks again, I sure will appreciate them a lot more than I did a few months ago.