Thursday, May 12, 2011

A New Plan

It wasn’t supposed to be like this. Returning. We allotted three weeks from the time we returned from France until I started back to work – refreshed and re-energized. That was the plan. The plan changed.

After one week in the office, with an aching back from a week in heels following a year in flats, I woke to a pain in my right hip and leg that escalated throughout the day until I could hardly walk. Two doctors, one physical therapist, one physician’s assistant and a partridge in a pear tree later, we knew it was a piece of disc between L4 and L5 that broke off and was pressing on the nerve. I’ve been blessed with exceptional health so this level of pain was new and (sorry) unnerving. As someone who prefers a “less is more” approach to drugs, “steroids” and “Percocet” were soon part of my regular vocabulary.

I observed with wonder the change pain brings. I was home for four weeks during glorious, sunny, mild days. During that time, the garden came to life. The apple and pear trees bloomed, ferns unfurled frilly leaves, azaleas dazzled, rhododendron sported pink, pom-pom blooms, and a chorus of birds chirped and chattered. In the back yard, a robin built a nest in our wisteria. She went to and fro with sticks, twigs, and leaves to her hidden alcove. I struggled to see any of it. Pain seems to turn my thoughts inward. Even when my leg didn’t hurt my mind was still attending to it. “Don’t slump.” “Sit up straight.” “Don’t bend over.” “It doesn’t hurt now, but will it later?” “Is it better or the same?” Sitting on the living room sofa I’d think, “How badly do I want that Diet Coke?” Is it worth the pain of walking to the kitchen? No. Not really.

Outside the window on the cool, sunny mornings, runners ran by. They didn’t even register in my mind. Running was too far outside the realm of possibility. The walkers I noticed. Not the ones walking briskly for exercise; the ones walking casually from their car to their front door or ambling over to visit with a neighbor. What a miracle, I thought, bones, muscles, nerves and blood, all working together to allow us to walk without a thought. And how precarious it all is – like a house of cards. One little chip out of place and down it all comes.

And, I marveled at the thousand small household tasks we do in a day. Marveled because I could only sit and watch Mike do every, single one of them by himself. What to feel in those moments? Frustration that I can’t help? Gratitude that he does it all so capably and – astonishingly – so cheerfully? “Astonishing” because I couldn’t do what he does if the situation were reversed. Oh….I could do it physically – but cheerfully? Not so much. We argue the point. He says I would. I say – maybe, but not as peacefully as he. We agree to disagree. (Just between us – I’m right.)

And, so, I sat – for hours, days, weeks. Some days were productive. I did a little work, studied some French, organized hundreds of photos, and developed a presentation about our experience to share with others (I hope). Other days I sat on an ice pack or napped. All days were and are about making lemonade from this unexpected pile of lemons.

Now, I've had a shot in my back to relieve the pain and help with the healing. Supposedly, the offensive chip will shrivel and eventually float away. It's not clear how long that will take, or, due to the location of the chip, if it will cooperated. Worse case is out-patient surgery to remove it. For now, the pain is greatly reduced, enough to allow me to return to work.

In my heart, I believe all things fit together for the best, like a jigsaw puzzle whose pretty picture isn’t discernible from an individual piece. Consequently, like so many others who deal with more serious health issues than me, I wonder, “What’s the point of this?” What is it I’m supposed to learn from this experience, and – really – wasn’t there any other way to learn it? Sure, there’s drama in an overnight, incapacitating illness, but I think I would have picked up on a more subtle message. Wouldn’t I?

In the meantime, I’ll heal. I’ll walk, and, who knows, maybe I’ll even run again. Clearly, there is a new plan for me. I just haven’t been let in on the big picture yet. Maybe, as with the jigsaw puzzle, one day I will see a small corner of the pretty picture. For now, I the pain is a little less and I can walk. My wait for enlightenment may take awhile, so I think I’ll walk to the kitchen for that Diet Coke.


  1. Glad to hear you're getting better... maybe. Speaking as one who has had to redefine "normal" after recovering from repairing a ruptured patellar tendon, it's amazing how we can adjust. The body will heal, this will pass, but you may find yourself using the phrase, "I used to be able to..." a bit more. :) See you soon.

  2. Ouch!... :o(
    And I agree.... "really – wasn’t there any other way to learn it?" lol