Lectures had to begin that week whether I was ready or not. Sure, all my lecture notes were prepared, handouts printed, files uploaded to our eLearning platform. Lecturing though is much more than giving information, especially in a theological college engaged in training men and women to be carers of souls. I am a trainer of trainers. I teach to equip others to teach and use the Old Testament. To be effective with the job I have been entrusted with, I need to be willing to engage the texts I’m teaching, not just at a cognitive level, but by doing what I will be asking of my students; to live under the biblical text, to soak in it, to let the text shape and form who we are. The minute I stop doing the work myself first is the moment I should stop training others. We have a serious task.
By the Tuesday morning, my first set of lectures for the week, I needed to be in a place both emotionally and mentally to engage with what I was teaching. Getting back into lecturing with my ‘new normal’ isn’t just a test of physical strength, but of emotional and mental strength as well. This was beyond hard. In such an anxious state, I just didn’t feel like I had the capacity. I wasn’t apathetic; I really did want to. I just didn’t feel capable or fit. To add to the pressure, I’m aware that my students take their lead from me. If I, as a lecturer, am anxious about my physical condition, then that in turn could undermine their confidence in me. I set the example for how my students view my ‘new normal’. Being able to set this example demanded more energy than I had at that point. But fronting up to a class full of first years that Tuesday morning of the second lecture week, the time came to dig in. My uncertainty forgotten momentarily, I found that I could focus not just on the content but also on my students, once I got into the flow and the rhythm of the lecture. I could have so easily defaulted to being functional, focusing purely on the task; But when life gets tough, the last thing I want for my students is for them to become functional in how they relate to those entrusted to their care. So the energy I did have that morning was spent engaging with my students, with where they are, and with their lives. Only God knows how I got through those three hours. Thankfully, my anxiety lifted that afternoon, which made all the difference for the remaining lectures that week. I was careful to put into action the longer time sitting and standing, alternating every 30 minutes, and I found that I was able to get through the three hour lecture blocks without ending in an exhausted heap. Already a vast improvement on the first week of lectures. Physically, I was starting to get stronger.
I started rehab on the Thursday afternoon relieved. Relieved that I was able to complete the lecturing week in one piece; relieved that I didn’t need to run, not that I could physically, from one thing to the next for at least the next three days; relieved that I could turn my mind now to rehab and then preparing for my trip to Sydney the next day. But that week had one more surprise for me. This time the surprise was heartening. For the first time, the muscles that support my right hip joint showed the first signs of engaging. To walk long distances again, I need those muscles. And that Thursday afternoon, we saw a tremble of new movement. There are few words to describe the thrill when muscles start to engage again after nerve function has been lost. Every rehab session, I have to imagine what the movement should feel like, so when the muscles actually start to engage again, it’s a shock followed quickly by disbelief. Then when the muscle engages for the second time, a moment of lightheartedness brings a smile before both the mental and physical exhaustion kicks in after trying to repeat the movement again and again.
By the Thursday evening, I was beginning to wonder if going to Sydney the next day was wise. I wasn’t in a great physical condition. The health problem caused by the nerve damage was still persisting by the end of Thursday. The Academic Board meeting, the reason why I was travelling to Sydney, was possibly the most important of the year. Particular issues up for discussion would go to a lengthy debate and, looking at the paperwork, I knew being there would be worthwhile. So putting my health concerns aside, I decided to go. Before all this happened, I would have booked the first flight out of Adelaide the morning of the board meeting. I did show myself some mercy; I booked the second flight out. Leaving home at 5am, getting to the airport, I thought the problems were going to start when I arrived in Sydney. I had no idea. I reached the security gate at Adelaide Airport, expecting the security people to pass my walking stick through first, so that they could then hand it back to me. Instead, they asked me to walk through security without an aid. To do so is a safety risk; I can barely walk unassisted. But I wasn’t given a choice. I somehow made it through the security gate; it was all pretty humiliating. I quickly picked up my bag, put my iPad back into its case, and hurried off, face down, towards the Qantas Club lounge. I made my breakfast and tried to focus enough to begin reading through the paperwork for the meeting in more detail. When my flight was called, I made my way to the gate, but my second challenge was then standing in line. I could walk for a while, but I still hadn’t developed the endurance to stand beyond ten minutes. When I finally got onto the plane, the third challenge was then trying to walk along the aisle with a walking stick and with a bag on my shoulder. The aisles are not wide enough. My preference is for an aisle seat, which I had. But I don’t have the muscle strength to walk sideways into the seat and then to sit down without pulling on the seat in front of me. I said my fair share of ‘sorry’ in the space of five minutes, let alone the whole day long. I had to wait for the crew member to take my walking stick and store it over head. I wouldn’t be able to get up from the seat without it. A big risk for more than one reason and for one reason in particular that I’m not willing to state plainly.
Thankfully, I made it to Sydney without needing to stand up during the flight. The man in the opposite aisle seat kindly retrieved my walking stick for me. Getting up, after sitting for three times longer than I should, was slow; trying the patience of the people in the same row as me. To be moving, walking out the stiffness, was timely. I made my way to the train station and to my surprise, the easiest part of the whole trip was catching the train to Town Hall. It didn’t matter that the school boys in the carriage didn’t free up the disabled seating, there were other seats available. Walking through the Queen Victoria Building, I saw my former research supervisor and his wife; catching up with them briefly before the formality of the Academic Board meeting was a welcome relief after the flight into Sydney. However, the next big hurdle was the meeting itself. I was hoping that I could keep up my sitting and standing routine throughout the board meeting. I failed miserably. I was right about one thing. The discussion points went to quite a heated debate, to stand up suddenly in the middle of the debate would have been to disrupt the flow of conversation. So I kept sitting. During the lunch break, I tried to keep moving as much as I could. But my efforts were too late. The discomfort had started to change to pain. I needed desperately to lie down on my back, the only way to bring relief, but lying down was just not possible. The meeting was soon over after lunch. And with a fellow colleague, we made our way back to the airport via the train. Matters though were made slightly more dire when I became conscious that I had lost my appetite. The beginning of needing to force myself to eat.
I wish I could say that I made it back home in one piece. I didn’t. I walked through the front door and made my way straight to bed. I was beyond exhausted and sore. I didn’t prove to myself that day that I was capable of making interstate day trips; but what I did learn is that I couldn’t have flown internationally, as planned, four weeks after surgery. I finally found some peace in being in Adelaide still. Something I think I had still been fighting unconsciously. That Friday, I had faced my limit and pushed myself too far. Was it wise to go to Sydney that day? In hindsight, no. Was the physical repercussions worth being part of the debates? Yes. I showed to myself that I was still capable. Did pushing myself lead to my re-admission into hospital two days later? No. The physical toll of the trip was not the reason I was readmitted. Would I do the same again? Yes. For the first time in months, I had achieved something that was unrelated to my disability.