I had carefully crafted a plan. Envisioned a movie where I had the starring role: Most perfect patient following a total knee replacement operation. My recovery would astound people. I would spend my time faithfully doing my exercises, meditating, taking long, leisurely walks at the marsh, getting stronger day by day. I would conjure back up the memories of my twenty-five year old mighty, amazing self and resume writing about my adventures in the South Pacific. How perfect. I could imagine it would almost be like a recuperative holiday.
It started out right on cue. Had a brilliant, renowned surgeon in a five star hospital in the wine country of California; was hopelessly spoiled at my cousin’s house during the initial first week of recovery; had a smooth transition home… Check and double check. I was making excellent progress with my rehabilitation at physical therapy. Needless to say, I was becoming, well, almost smug – thoroughly pleased with how well I was doing.
Then… one week later… KABAM! I woke up, tried to get out of bed, but couldn’t stand up straight. My back! What happened to my back? The pain was excruciating. I eventually managed to limp to the bathroom, bent over at forty-five degrees. I had to pee standing up over the toilet because I couldn’t sit down. Pathetic. Oh my God. What had gone wrong? This was not in the script. I found my pain pills and swallowed them like candy. No relief. Tried ice. Made it worse. Tried heat. Wrong. What to do? What to do? I called friends. “I’m in trouble here.” They came running, but I was hopeless. “Touch me. Don’t touch me. I don’t know. Nothing helps. Leave me be, I’ll figure it out.” They wrung their hands, feeling helpless. I wouldn’t let them in.
The pain got worse. Three days later a friend finally confronted me. “Go to the emergency room!” “Are you kidding,” I replied, incredulously. “This is not an emergency!” She countered, hands on hips. “A 10 out of 10 on the pain scale is not an emergency? And your other plan is…?” So I consented because I was desperate but it was not easy. I could barely navigate the car and walk to the ER door.
Now, if you are not familiar with the inner workings of the emergency health care system – let me clue you in about something. A zillion visits every day to any ER are from addicts looking for drugs. They moan and gyrate on the gurney complaining of back pain, just exactly like I was doing. “I’m a hospice nurse. This is real back pain,” I exclaimed, hoping to set things straight from the beginning. He looked me in the eye, sized me up, and then took pity. An hour later I hobbled out the door, clinging to my friend, clutching my prescriptions for stronger pain pills and muscle relaxants.
That was a week ago. We never figured out what happened, but slowly I am healing. I am dependent on everyone for everything. To drive me to appointments; bring me food; wash my clothes. Anyone who is a caregiver can understand: to be in the heat of vulnerability and have to ask for help from others and rely on them is painful and difficult. I know this is crazy thinking, but it is true. Fortunately, because of my restricted activity day after day, I’ve had time to ponder this ridiculous notion. Sometimes a bossy voice inside me speaks out. “Girl, you love responding to others in need. Seriously. What’s your problem? Why would you not give your friends the opportunity to respond to you? Think about it. This is how life works. It’s the paying it forward plan.” Then I give equal time to the Yes But Voice for a while… The monkey mind goes on and on. Unable to drop the story.
So, as I lie quietly on my bed this evening, watching the orange ball of the sun settle behind the redwood trees, I try to gently lay down the churning oars in my mental boat, and just rest in the stillness, right here. Perhaps more clarity and insight will come. I hope so. As always, there are lessons to be learned…