Karate! They’re back and badder than ever… just like me… sort of.

Sweep the leg

The Recovery Chronicles #2

We are, in case you had not heard, living through a pandemic. As of this article’s publication date (October 11, 2020) worldwide, 37.2 million people have contracted Covid-19 and 1.07 million have died from it or complications related to it (World Health Organization).

The numbers, by the way, are rising daily.

Naturally, the hospital where I had my surgery takes this illness seriously. The day I finally went in was the first day patients were allowed visitors since March. Of course, visiting hours were shorter than they used to be and we were only allowed one visitor — not one at a time, mind you, one. I’m not going to leave you wondering. I chose my wife.

But due to those shortened visiting hours, I had a lot of time alone as I was slowly weened from potent painkillers. My sleep pattern was sporadic at best. I spent long slow hours in the middle of the night, in the middle of the afternoon, and the middle of the morning in a subpar, hazy wakefulness. I could barely eat or think. I could definitely not write. I could absolutely not read. And I sure as hell couldn’t answer work emails. More importantly, the nurses were not as present as they had been during my stint in the ICU. This is not an attack on the nursing staff; the nursing staff was amazing.

Rather, this is how recovery works. As you heal, those who were doing everything for you a few days earlier pull away, offering you less and less assistance and more and more freedom. They don’t check your blood sugar or blood pressure as often. They leave you alone to get better whiling away the hours with beeping machines, antiseptic scents, dancing shadows, and your own imagination.

I, as we all know, have a vivid imagination. My mind tends to wander when it isn’t half hepped up on goofballs (scientific name for painkillers). When it is, the wandering can get wild.

I needed a distraction.

Netflix and my iPad brought me Cobra Kai. I was fully prepared for this show to be a non-stop, tongue-in-cheek parody of those classic Karate Kid films from the 80s. I thought it would be something to make me laugh through the pain of healing, something to entertain me, something that I could immediately forget upon my release. Brain candy. Nothing more.

Turns out, Cobra Kai is not merely the slapstick parody I was looking for. It is a lovingly made send up that pays homage to its source material more so than it parodies it. To be fair, there is a bit of parody. But I will offer no review or critique or summary other than to say that if you enjoyed watching Johnny and Daniel’s feud as a child, chances are pretty high you’re going to enjoy it as an adult as well. To me, it’s something else… something more.

It’s a strange thing, the way characters from television shows (or movies or books) can creep into your heart and sweep the leg right out from under you, causing you to fall head over heels for them. It’s even stranger how quickly they can do this when you remember them fondly from your youth, you are, for all intents and purposes, trapped alone most of the time in a frightening and foreign place and, (let’s be honest here) you are in a lot of pain and terrified you’re going to die.

No one told me before I went into this open heart surgery thing that I would come out of the process with stronger, rawer emotions. But I did. As I lay in my hospital bed, when things were funny, to me, they were very funny. When they were sad, they were very sad. When they were tense, they were very tense.

It should not be shocking then that as I did the hard work of healing with all of these elevated emotions, Cobra Kai, with its melodramatic highs and lows, strangely unobtrusive but ever present 80s nostalgia, and twenty solid episodes, helped. In all seriousness, without it, my hospital stay might have been longer.

Yes. Of course the doctors and nurses did more physically to help me. And having my wife there with me, even if I was asleep a huge chunk of the time, was more comforting than any television show. And texting, calling, and Facetiming friends and family was also beneficial. But coming back to Cobra Kai so often while I was stuck in the hospital bed, had a therapeutic effect nothing else could. It grounded me for those five days in a world that was familiar yet different. My world, the real world, was a lot like that now: familiar yet different. After my ordeal, after my realization that my life had fundamentally changed, seeing this concept play out on a screen before me was so, so comforting.

As I was discharged, I realized my initial thought was right. Cobra Kai is brain candy.

But it is brain candy that helped me heal.

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AE Stueve

AE Stueve

AE Stueve teaches and writes in Omaha, NE. Check out all of his available work at aestueve.com