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Mack Williams: Rehab divided into two parts (conclusion)

One night, the congestion of the gentleman with whom I share a room was so much, and so deep, I was suddenly aroused from my sleep in the wee hours by a sound resembling the fear-inspiring, guttural roar of a lion on the Serengeti Plain. My first thought: “bad dream,” my second thought: the television was tuned to the Turner Classic Movies, and an old MGM movie was just beginning. My third, fully conscious realization: this “lion’s roar” was my poor neighbor’s congestive, deep “basso profundo” cough.

Upon learning this physical rehab facility had no private rooms, I had an almost “collegiate” thought: “Oh gosh, I’m going to be sharing a room with some hell-raiser.” But arriving, and seeing the other residents, I soon realized I was most likely the biggest hell-raiser there!

At nighttime, the next-bed-gentleman’s getting up to go to the bathroom is projected by a side light onto the intervening curtain between us. I suddenly thought back to the stage of the fellowship hall of Saint Paul’s Lutheran Church, where, as a youth, I saw “sleight-of-shadow” performed there in the form of a faux operation: a person, lying backlit on a table, with a vertically stretched sheet between him and the audience, the whole, achieving “shadow projection.”

The “shadowy” doctor (literally, not figuratively) removed a series of objects, beginning with a body part (rope for intestines) then extricates swallowed, obstructionary objects in a sort of “ theater of the absurd”: basketball, bicycle wheel, bicycle pump (for the wheel), baseball bat, etc.

Considering the churchly setting, a miracle play might have been more fitting, but the program did produce some miraculous sights (or rather, shadows).

A chart was placed on the wall of my room to mark and track my rehab progress. A progression of human figures (the circled one, corresponding to my progress) ascended a “rehab slope.” The marionette (“Lowly Goatherd”) from the “Sound of Music”(1963) comes to mind. Another is the “Cliffhanger” from The Price is Right. I am not unlike those Tyrolean-hatted figures climbing the slope, though, as I have a Tyrolean hat brought back from Germany by my daughter Rachel. I don’t yodel, but do sing songs for people at the rehab center.

The rehab progress chart’s upper region is marked “community activities,” and there’s the figure of a man in golfing stance. Gosh, I know nothing about golf! I should have hung out more in high school with Randy Bingham, the mainstay of East Rowan’s golf team back then.

The figures of a man and woman are at the uppermost level of “community activities” (although it does seem that some of their activities would have to be marked “private”). My late wife Diane passed away in 2001, and I have not re-married. If my getting out of rehab is dependent upon my life emulating that couple atop the rehab progress chart, I may be in rehab for a while, perhaps forever.

As I write, and looking out my window, all of the recent snow (9 in. in Danville) has melted except a strip in a shadow cast by the rehab building. I thought of O. Henry’s “Last Leaf,” but in this case, the last remaining snow is real, not painted, and fortunately, my improvement and survival aren’t dependent upon its hanging around.

A friend of mine, Larry, is here “rehabing” from the effects of a stroke. He recently retired from teaching in the Virginia Governor’s School. He often brought his students to the Danville Science Center where I work. The natural history building of the Science Center is, as I have mentioned before, housed within the old Danville train station. Larry, a local historian, authored the most recent and most-documented book on the Wreck of the Old 97, among many other historical works. I sang a few verses that famous “train wreck-attached” song for him and his pupils when they visited our railroad exhibit in the old train station. Larry is in the room across from me, so I sang it for him the other evening.

Larry is in a wheelchair and can’t yet express himself well with his speech, but he has his wits about him, as I have my wits about me. The day will arrive when both of us will be able to “move our wits” from place to place and within those circles where they freely moved before.

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