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On Becoming a Rocketship

By William Sansom



My ten-year-old-self reads all the speculative science of rocket ships and trips to the moon.

The great problem they said was that we must achieve an "escape velocity" of 25000 miles an hour to break free of earth’s gravitational hold.  In 1956 this was the magic number.


The notion of escape velocities stays with you.  It was a requirement in my father’s exotic job as Captain on a 747, flaps down , four jet engines accelerating to take off speed, the huge jet roaring down runways to gain traction in the air, at about 180mph escape velocity all that metal, fuel, luggage and people become light as a feather.


There is a relativity to breaking free, in my dreams I can once again run, no evidence of emphysema, I crest the top of a difficult hill, arms wide in triumph, for just a moment, I, too, am part of the air.  Light as a feather.

In my dream.


My reality leaves me struggling to not fall, the ground beckons.


Emphysema carries the defeat of effort in the disastrous appeal of lethargy, movement becomes so uncomfortable, lying still so inviting, escape velocity from the couch so distant.


It is everything to will yourself to rise, you must become your own rocket ship, stand erect on steroid weakened legs, imagining

the moon straight ahead, traction in the air in each shaky step.


That is where I am now, progressing by decreasing the prednisone allowing weakened muscles to rebuild, attempting to outwit the couch’s gravitational grasp by a defiant rise.


I am pleased and amused at my dream of running, emphysema-free, like we view ourselves in afterlife, in perfect health at our ideal age.


At 71 and compromised, I try for practicality, how optimistic and mobile can I be?


The answer is exploratory like improving accessibility to my electric scooter.,


Freedom from needing others’ help - yes!


Then I imagine becoming as independent as running in my own dream, or as unshackled by practicality, as a ten-year-old’s belief in his own rocketship.


My emphysema tethers me to a grimmer truth.

Dreams are wishes cloaked by better desires,

my days search for ways to make them real.  The first is always escape velocity, off the couch, stand up straight, try again.


I know I can do this, my pulmonary team agrees, adjusting medication, adding in therapy, iron supplements and well wishes.

Of course I can do this.

Because my escape velocity isn’t about speed.  For me, it is about effort and will. Good as a rocketship.


I can do this.

William Sansom is a 100% disabled veteran who acquired severe emphysema at the age of 70 after solving other health crises.

While it may be impossible to reclaim his former life, writing has allowed him to find perspective.

He often reads his pieces to his doctors, nurses, neighbors, and friends. 

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