Wheelchairs + Tennis = Life Narratives # 2 Hope. What is that, exactly?

Chapter Two

Baton Rouge’s “Cajun Classic”

Hope. What is that, exactly? There’s the everyday kind of hope that we use to get through the day. I hope I can still get to work on time despite this horrible traffic. I hope Kip doesn’t show for the meeting because he’s a jerk. I hope they’re not cleaning the bathroom because I have to pee really badly! Except for maybe the last example, this type of hope, we can call it “micro hope,” doesn’t determine whether or not we’ll achieve our life’s goals. If most or all of our micro hopes are dashed, we might be having a bad day, well, maybe a really bad day, but in most cases we shrug it off and hope things will be better tomorrow.

Then there’s the kind of hope, we can call it “macro hope,” that helps us get through life and achieve our goals, the kind of hope that helps us weave the narratives of our lives. There’s lots of literature in the field of psychology that explores the concept of hope. A commonly cited definition is that developed by Charles Snyder and his colleagues: “a positive motivational state that is based on an interactively derived sense of successful (a) agency (goal-directed energy) and (b) pathways (planning to meet goals).”   In my case, if (a) I put my mind to it and stuck with it—agency, (b) I could get into law school, do really well, work for a judge a year or two, or practice in a large law firm for a few years—pathways, and then reach my goal of becoming a law professor who one day would make a difference in the lives of students, and, if I could avoid peeing in my pants every day, become a respected intellectual figure in my field.

My hope, my macro hope, would begin by moving in the summer of 1980 to Washington, D.C. to attend Georgetown University Law Center. But then Guillain-Barré Syndrome came along and began robbing me of a fundamental prerequisite to hope: control over my body. The paralysis started in my hands and feet. On the day I was admitted to the Bloomington Hospital, April 11, 1980, the paralysis continued its steady march up my legs and arms. At that point my only hope was that this evil, heartless, terrifying, creeping thing would relent, if only out of pity. It didn’t. I was having a very bad day.

From the emergency room, they took me to the pediatric unit since that was the only bed left in the general part of the hospital. As my breathing became more labored that day, they rolled my bed into the ICU. The room was small and narrow, not too far from the nurse’s station. It was, fittingly, a drab room, painted an industrial dull yellow, with a worn curtain for a door. There was a window that allowed in natural light but because it was at my feet, it seemingly had no function for me. It wasn’t a room with a view, so to speak. I should’ve complained. I could’ve gotten a free night out of it I suppose. . .

As soon as they had locked the bed in place, a nurse came into the room with a welcoming face that at first put me at ease, as if her smile was telling me that everything would be okay and that I would be strolling around Bloomington in no time.

Then she put the heart monitor on. With every lead pad she stuck on me I began to wonder whether I was reading her smile right. Maybe it was saying “welcome to hell.”

Say goodbye to hope, Enrique.

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