Every morning and every night, when I get dressed and before I go to bed, I cut bandages for my ulcers. I divide them lengthwise to layer over my fingertips, then wrap a whole bandage around each finger to secure the half bandages in place. It’s become a ritual, this hand management, a routine essential to avoiding infection, a pit stop for damage control, a meditation.
For the past two weeks, as I traveled in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and London, this ritual-of-necessity anchored me. No matter where Al and I were staying or who we were with, twice a day I had to stop and take care of my hands.
I cut bandages on my fold-out tray in a British Air Boeing 777 en route to Tel Aviv, on a bed in Al’s cousins’ apartment in Ra’anana before sundown on the Jewish Sabbath, at the kitchen table in our friends’ Tel Aviv pied-à-terre over a 1:00 a.m. heart-to-heart about letting go of your adult children, at an old oak table in our cousins’ London flat after our late night arrival from Israel, wanting only to go to bed and knowing I couldn’t, yet.
I was in the midst of cutting bandages when Mindi came to greet us at our friend’s apartment in Tel Aviv, the morning after we’d first arrived. I hadn’t seen her for nearly six months, since she’d left to make a life for herself in Israel, so I jumped up from the table, fingers half-done, to give her a big hug.
And I was cutting bandages last night, sitting on our own bed once again, relieved to have peeled off the day’s grubby dressings, blackened by twelve hours of travel. Were we really at the Tate Museum in London that morning?
Sometimes, the bandaging ritual during our journey was a damn nuisance, the last thing I felt like doing before leaving the house for the day’s adventures or when all I wanted to do was go to bed.
But at other times, it was peaceful, a time to collect my thoughts when everyone else was either asleep or away, an island of quiet to sort out what I’d seen and done and learned that day. As I’d cut the bandages, I’d listen to the familiar sounds of an unfamiliar setting—a wall clock’s tick, a dog’s bark, the click of heels on the floor above, the subterranean rumble of nearby Tube trains—and feel grounded.
I needed that stillness. Travel is so packed with newness, the unpredictable, the need to process so much information quickly and make snap decisions based on estimates of how your experience of your own world approximates this one, even though the two may be only tangentially related. Much as you’re constantly on the go, to fully appreciate the experience, it’s essential to slow down and just be.
So, I guess I have my bandages to thank for that.
Evelyn Herwitz blogs weekly about living fully with chronic disease, the inside of baseballs, turtles and frogs, J.S. Bach, the meaning of life and whatever else she happens to be thinking about at livingwithscleroderma.com.