For four days my two constant bonds with the world beyond my door were the golden retriever who refused to leave my side and the linden tree outside the bedroom window.
I had gone “back home” to undergo ankle surgery, though I had wanted to have it done in Maine, which for a few months has been my new and much-loved dwelling place.
But I didn’t know many people up north well enough to impose upon them the requests for help during the days that turned into weeks when I was mostly stuck in bed, recovering from a peroneal tendon repair.
So I rented a little cottage on Cape Cod, returning to a modest place in which I had lived for many years as a young reporter, and scheduled what was expected to be a relatively straightforward day surgery.
It went well enough, I guess (the surgeon sharing iPhone photos he snapped during the procedure, thereby underscoring the difference between my familiarity with 20th-century surgery and the realities of going under the knife in the 21st).
And though I’m still awaiting my first follow-up, I anticipate there will be some stern and lengthy physical therapy ahead.
Meanwhile, I move on with crutches and a walker.
I managed to fall twice in the first four days. The dog took advantage of one latenight spill which had involved my tumbling against the microwave and unwittingly knocking down a plastic container of eight pumpkin muffins that could not be found the next morning.
I cried at sunrise each of the first five days, initially because I experienced the almost primitive sense of being wounded, or hurt anyway; then because I couldn’t care for my sentry dog in even the simplest fashion; and finally for no particular reason at all.
A good, true friend stayed with me 24/7 for those first days — hard, tedious labor for her that humbled me and hurried along my thinking about long-term-care insurance.
By the end of the week, though, she was called back to her own life, and she flew off at last, migrating to Florida to visit her daughter and son-in-law and greet her first grandchild — a boy.
In her wake, the larger circle of friends rolled in, stopping by to cart loads of laundry up and down stairs, create an elaborate set-up for bathing that allowed me to maintain dignity and a dry cast, cook, make coffee, feed and walk the dog, change sheets and enact the changing of the guard.
On Day 2, an old friend visited, loaded down with DVDs of PBS and HBO series and mega-action movies. The evening of Day 4, a yoga-teacher friend appeared on the doorstep with Chinese food and chocolate pudding. The neighbors put the dog on a diet-and-exercise regime and brought me bananas and juice boxes for bland nourishment.
But much of the time I was alone with the linden and the thicket of reeds and sedges dipping in the wetlands beyond, where the mud-brined marsh lifted its fragrance to the wind. I watched the full moon come and go and felt the faint suggestion of hurricane season hanging in the air like a threat.
Then, right on time, the refrigerator and the stove broke down, the oven burning everything to a crisp, the refrigerator freezing all the food and beverages.
But I barely moved; I hardly read; I remained insomniac at every turn. I repented each missed appointment at every fitness club I had ever joined in name only, the muscles of my shoulders and upper body an agony of weakness and instability. I dreamed of swimming, promised myself Zumba and yoga.
And looked out the open windows until it got so cold that I lay in bed one midnight, wearing fleece and a hand-knit muffler under a sea of quilts and coverlets that looked like mounds of snow.
I knew it was Maine calling, but 250 miles south of Kittery, I left the windows open and a box fan blowing (to cover the sounds of mice moving into the cellar for the winter and skittering over familiar highways in the wall).
I was as inert as a quahog, my swollen toes protruding like a mollusk’s siphon from my cast.
But all around me were the sounds of the abandoned cranberry bog and the marsh leading to open water.
I could close my eyes and see the osprey keening overhead, the great blue heron standing erect, straight as a piling, at the end of the pier near the hospital where I had been transformed into something like an egret myself.
Now perched on one leg only, I was left to scan the murk for signs of life.
We pray to the gods of our own understanding, and mine have wings.
So, over the week, I kept calling to them in my mind, to the storks, cranes, curlews and godwits — the skilled hunters of the shorelines — asking for grace and agility returned.
My recurrent chant was one of gratitude, much as I was frustrated by being hobbled.
For I was not lying, blown to bits of bone, in a refugee camp in the Third World; nor was I languishing in an oncology unit, watching the drip of someone else’s blood keeping me alive.
Planes that occasionally roared overhead were coming in low to Hyannis, not Halabja, and the hardest thing I had to do all week was suffer the indignities of too much entitlement and a sedentary life.
My discomfort wasn’t even a bump in the road.
I was never without help, which is the only way to keep hope and healing aloft.
Sometimes it takes being broken to remember — amid the great wealth and privilege most of us enjoy — that the essential elements of survival can be counted near at hand: compassionate interdependency, helpful community, a world worth getting back to, a welcome home.
North Cairn can be contacted at 791-6315 or at: