At a hospital in Mexico, after major abdominal surgery, there were two or three tubes draining things out of my body and an IV dripping things in…. Perhaps it was a relatively easy surgery but with stitches all the way up my belly, I was weak and a bit frightened. The nurses encouraged me to get out of bed, to try to walk.
I stood up and held the IV pole firmly, careful not to twist the bag of input-fluid. There was a small bag hanging beside my chin, and I had to support it with my other hand. But I made a sort of sling to hold it up so I could have a free hand. Another bag collected urinary output. It was on the floor at the bottom of the IV pole, dragging along when I moved, big and heavy. My hospital gown flapped open at the back. I was not ready to walk down the hall this way.
The stitches up my belly were bound firmly with a good Mexican swaddle-wrap, the kind they use for babies. That’s reassuring – at least I could be sure I wasn’t really going to burst open, even if that’s how it felt.
Walking was difficult, but it had to be done; this sewn up body had to function again. I remembered the foundations of my Taoist Tai Chi™, remembered the Tor-Yu. This will work, I told myself. And so I stood in the middle of my room, holding the IV pole, and placed my feet carefully. Forty-five degrees for the back one, straight ahead for the front one. I pushed from my back foot, gently-gently now, slowly, and felt the muscles of my wounded belly move diagonally. “Gently,” I told myself, “Be careful.” I leaned onto that front foot, squaring my hips. That wasn’t so bad, I told myself – now go back. And I pushed from the front, pushed my body back, feeling the movement as my torso turned, that gentle pull across the stitches. Felt my legs working, helping to put the blood up and around.
After several days, I was allowed to go home. Not home to Canada – I couldn’t fly until the stitches were removed – but to my Mexican home, where my daughter would take care of me until I could travel. I lay in bed much of the first few days, then sat outside on the patio where there was more space, where there was warm air and sunshine, and shade when I needed it. My body began to heal. To encourage it to function better, I did Tor-Yus every morning, feeling as weak and wobbly as a baby kitten.
One afternoon my daughter went out to the market for more fruit, and while she was away I tried to devise a way to loosen up my insides, to massage that solid pillar of abdominal re-arrangement. An internal massage was what I needed. A belly massage. As I tried out a different tai chi movement, I kept my eyes focused on a small lizard perched in the sunshine on the edge of the fountain. I turned my foot to 45 degrees and stepped forward in a Brushed Knee, to feel the massage running diagonally up and across my abdominal muscles. The lizard kept his eyes firmly focused on me, as I advanced toward him. And so I turned my body, first in one direction, then in the other. Four Brush Knees. Four abdominal massages. The lizard blinked slowly and raised his chest high, lifting up on his front legs, alert to the advancing menace here in his courtyard.
I let the lizard have his territory. I retreated, Warding Off Monkeys, and massaged my wounded belly in a different direction as I headed backward. The lizard sank down into the sunshine, secure in his territory. We did this dance together several times, the lizard and I. I advanced and retreated, warding off lizards in the Mexican sunshine.
My doctor was astonished at how quickly I was recovering, and I told him my secret. “A Bellyful of Tai Chi.”
– Laurie Lewis, Kingston Branch