The doctor can prescribe it, the nurse can wheel you to it, the therapist can welcome you to the room of treadmills and railed walkways and brightly colored half-pound free weights, but if you say “I don’t want to do Physical Therapy today,” and are of sound mind, they will wheel you back to your room.
Only a family member can force you. Only a family member can stand over your wheelchair, alternately wheedle and bully, push and cajole, refuse to stop talking and leave you alone, refuse to take you back to your room or even the men’s room until you have done ten leg lifts and ten ankle circles and maybe even taken five steps, the belt around your waist held tightly by Keo and your daughter dutifully pushing the wheelchair just behind.
Your daughter can drive in from out of state, come daily to wheel you in the PT garden, do her own calf raises and arm stretches while you balk at using your adductor-abductors and insist you want to go inside. She can debate you for twenty minutes (Be it resolved, going to Physical Therapy is not optional), then leave you under a live oak tree, pop the locks on your chair and say, “Fine. Go wherever you want, but the only place I’m taking you is PT.” She will return in an hour to bribe you with half a McDonald’s shake thinned with milk so you can get it through the straw, so it will taste like her mother’s milkshakes, carefully poured together while sitting at the red light, the nurses have told her any calories are good calories now.
You may call her a “fucking bitch” when she tells Keo not to let you sit back down until step number six and it will stab her more sharply than missed dance recitals and spelling bees, forgotten birthdays and the lie about the pony, but she will still use her strong trapeze artist arms to lift you from your bed, she will thank the years of acrobatics with heavy, awkward beginners that she can pivot you to your wheelchair. When you shout, “I’m not going to Physical Therapy! I don’t want to!” and grab a walker from the foot of another patient’s bed, blocking the doorframe with it, she will rhythmically push you to and fro, saying, “That’s it, Dad, keep pushing on the walker, this is good for your upper body. Can you push harder?” You will curse her for laughing, but she is behind you and she is also crying.
She will hope that “Hey, babe” is an endearment and not an inability to remember her name. She will be secretly prideful that you remember her name, and her mother’s, more than your current wife’s. She will feed you Lemon-Flavored Thickened Water from a plastic cup. Questions will arise for her that have never been conceivable before, like, How can I avoid seeing my dad’s penis? and, If he asks me to kill him, can I do it?
And after a few weeks, your daughter will discover that your current wife has no intention of ever bringing you home. She will discover that two weeks and a break for a job and two more weeks of Physical Therapy still only adds up to ten steps. She will learn, on her fourth visit, that the new nursing home has misplaced the Physical Therapy orders and instead moved you to a wheelchair with a higher back so you can sleep more comfortably in the afternoons when you are not allowed to be in bed. She will secretly not-mourn that her tour schedule allows her zero weeks off between May and October. But she will still sometimes appear, sitting quietly until you wake. When you open your eyes, she will be there like a shadow. As if the movement of the sun through vertical blinds has brought her there, as if no more than a morning has passed.
whipchick probably would have lost interest in the pony after a week, anyway.