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Entries in back surgery (1)

Tuesday
May262015

Summer Gifts: 2014 and 1980

The summer of 2014 looks rough from a sweeping cinematic view. I rolled into June after having an emergency after-hours root canal in May; performed on the wrong tooth. The tooth became infected and was removed a week later -- an implant system was initiated at the same time. Toothless, but recovering and pain-free in my mouth, jaw, and head (funny how tooth pain migrates and refers everywhere above the neck), I limped into summer nursing an old back injury that had awakened in mid-April.

Back pain begat nerve pain, nerve pain begat nerve damage, and cautionary words like, "We can't promise that you'll run again," made the decision clear. After three months of physical therapy, and less than 24 hours after consulting a neurosurgeon who convinced me that permanent paralysis could be the result of my high stakes gamble to heal myself naturally, I surrendered.

On July 16, I had discectomies on L4-L5 and L5-S1. The surgery was only an hour, everything went great and I was home the next day to begin the three-month recovery.

*****

The summer of 1980 rivals that of 2014, again, from a wide-angle. I began that summer with my 14th birthday and a surprise case of chickenpox. I babysat some infected kids believing I'd had a mild case as a young child and was immune -- so my mother told me. That misfortune begat another. My mother had a shoebox full of drugs that she'd acquired from a close physician friend prior to a move from Indiana to Arizona. Drugs intended to save us time and money when the solution was obvious and simple -- a little antibiotic, a little hydrocortisone, a little something to help a cough, constipation, diarrhea, etc. We were set. Smart and well intended, but not a doctor, Mom put steroid cream on my chickenpox. The blisters grew to nickel- and dime-sized causing excruciating pain, a long healing process, and a long summer. Of course she felt badly. So did I.

*****

My back surgery the summer of 2014 resulted in cancelled plans and trips for my family. I was in pain and struggling to walk before surgery; after, there was healing discomfort, and the need to rest and stabilize my spine.

Post-surgery, it was difficult to read or write because I couldn't sit for long -- just 20 minutes at a time for the first few weeks -- lying flat on my back or side when not sitting or walking (frequent walks were prescribed by my surgeon). As I felt better I wanted to do things around the house, but was limited. I couldn't bend or twist. Countertops -- all waist-high items -- became very clean. My husband, Chris, said, "There's a clean groove around our house," as I shuffled around polishing and wiping anything within my reach. Dusty baseboards and sheepdog art (i.e., dog slobber and snot) on the windows and hardwood floors taunted me.

Chris and our sons rotated shifts, refilling my water, holding my hand on short walks, ensuring John, our sheepdog, didn't inadvertently bump or knock me over. Friends brought us meals, and called regularly to see how we were managing.

I had to ask for and receive help. All kinds of help. I had to be gentle on myself. Eventually, I could go for walks on my own. After a few weeks I walked 30-60 minutes several times a day. I enjoyed walking slowly after years of running, taking in every ant, flower, tree, passing car, cloud formation, and the summery sun. I laid down when I got home, resting on my side, smelling of sunscreen and perspiration. It was too much work to shower some days, so I often remained ripe. We had simple suppers, boring afternoons, long days. I couldn't drive for a few weeks, Chris worked from home, the boys worked it out. We talked, sometimes played a game, or watched television. Sometimes we were just silent in our rooms.

*****

The summer gifts?

2014: It's like the hand of God pushed me into my bed. Enough. Slow down. Stop. Nurture you. Doing so nurtures all around you. How you treat yourself is how you treat others. Look. See. Enjoy. These beautiful boys and loving husband. Your kind, true friends. The love, the good, creativity, and happiness that is, has been, and always will be right here.

We spent the summer together. Refortifying. Living simply. Healing more than one person's physical body. I saw in Technicolor my family's tenderness, kindness, compassion, and love for me. It's always there, but easy to overlook when life is busy. A life where feeling under-valued, unappreciated, and taken for granted erodes joy. And isn't what is true.

I allowed myself to do nothing. Sometimes I listened to pod casts or meditated or thought. But mostly, I let go. And everything and everyone managed just fine.

My legs got hairy because I couldn't bend to shave them. (Yes, my husband offered...No.) It was oddly freeing for a typically vain 48-year-old woman to have bangs on her knees.

1980: There were gifts that summer, too. My younger brother and I strengthened our already tight bond because he spent much time staying beside me, even sleeping on the floor in my room to help with the constant applications of calamine lotion. His compassion for me at such a young age was memorable.

I read, did puzzles, and journaled (which will remain private because I cathartically disparaged the kids who gave me chickenpox).

Unable to shave my legs that summer because of the forever healing blisters, I sported hairy, scabby legs when I returned to school in September. High school. I was afraid I'd scar -- something my dad said would look tough and cool, but my mom cautioned me about. Again, this was oddly freeing for a typically vain 14-year-old girl.

*****

I took last winter off from skiing and my back is feeling much better. I've been hiking and even trotting on trails again -- carefully. I might run a trail race in August. We'll see.

I'm goofily grateful for the summers of 2014 and 1980. Ultimately, I took care of myself and received from others. I simply had no choice. But it's important for all of us to do precisely that always. Take care of ourselves...and each other.

AND, if my sons ever get chickenpox, I know to never put cortisone -- steroid anything -- on their blisters. Ever.