After a double knee replacement I fell and severed 3 quadriceps on both legs, this went unnoticed for 4 years, then 2 x 5hr attempted and failed rebuilds. My right leg became infected and I had another knee replacement with an antibiotic spacer and 3 months of intravenous antibiotics. Two years afterwards, that leg became infected again (I had been fighting the infection for the whole 2 years) leading to 5 more surgeries including removal of the knee, another antibiotic spacer and eventually an arthrodesis (fusing the leg straight with an iron bar through the middle) and another 3 months on intravenous antibiotics. For a prolonged period it was ‘touch and go’ as to whether I would survive and a cocktail of strong painkillers and 5 strong antibiotics often took me to the brink of both pain and madness.
All through this time my Tai Chi never left me. I practiced neigong, qigong and tai chi, laying in and sitting on my hospital bed, wheelchair and perching stool until I could do it standing and stepping (in my own inimitable fashion) doing tai chi ‘like a man with a broken arse’.
At one time I was apparently begging the doctors to amputate my leg, (I don’t remember this) and often didn’t know who was visiting me, I had phantom visitors and was stroking dogs that weren’t there. I suffered severe panic attacks caused by the drugs and could only control them by sitting on the edge of the bed and practicing neigong. The Buddha asked “where do you go for refuge” and luckily after 40 years of meditating I knew where to go in my mind that couldn’t be touched by anything to do with life. I would sit there repeating “this is not me, it’s not reality” again and again, each time I stopped meditating the panic would return and I would meditate again until I won.
Prolonged surgery and bed rest leads to a tortured, twisted body so the seated postural training coupled with correct breathing and mental awareness, focus, sensitivity and intensity meant that I could combine posture, breath and my mind to adjust, soften and relax the muscles around my lungs, leading to deeper more relaxed breathing, my heart, to stop arrhythmia and my spine to loosen and lengthen it.
The Qigong meant that I could open the myofascia and joints and soften, connect, open, close, stretch, compress, twist and release the body core (referred to as the ‘Deep Front Line’ in bodywork) enhancing blood and neurological flow.
The Tai Chi meant that I could put all this together and engage in my favourite skilled exercise, albeit seated, keeping connected to the life I love. At times the pain I had to endure bought those around me to tears wondering if I would ever make it. I think the continuous practice of Tai Chi and the support of family and everyone around me helped, including a large group of my long term Martial Art friends that kept my classes going – and along with my wife and daughter fed the news of what was going on back to me. The Martial Art thread through everything in my life kept me on the road to healing and good health. I even managed to publish my book ‘Warrior’s Mind’ from my hospital bed!
My last surgery was in October last year and I’ve been ‘clear’ of infection since the beginning of this year but am still in deep recovery. Chronic fatigue and coping with a right fused leg, only one quadricep in each leg, a metal knee and seriously displaced kneecap in the left leg mean that my training options are limited, but still a total of a couple of hours of neigong, qigong and tai chi throughout the day keep me healthy and happy.
Never underestimate the power of the softer arts, not only combatively with others but in the fight for your own heath, sanity and life. That 40 years of ‘insurance’ training for when I needed it paid off for me in ‘spades’. I am sure that without it I wouldn’t be here now.