Adversity Teaches Empathy

It is amazing that so many people take for granted being well and feeling well. There is nothing more humbling than having a debilitating illness or injury to bring you back to earth. I have been one of those athletic people who would look at someone struggling in the gym or out just walking slowly, without trying to understand that each person has a story. I have been struggling for many months with debilitating back pain and severe degenerated right knee. My back and knee pain was so bad that I would have to hobble from bed into the bathroom each morning, walking like I was 85. The constant, unrelenting pain and soreness also affected my state of mind, causing depression. It is so hard to look at the bright side of things when you are hurting over and over and life looks so bleak. It was so humbling and embarrassing on my trip to Guatemala. On the plane I would start to get anxious when we were about to land knowing that my back and knee would be so stiff that it would take a while for me to unbend. Getting up and carrying my luggage out of the plane was torture. I always thought of myself as this physically fit specimen and now I felt like a cripple, limping down the aisle. Things that I used to take for granted, like climbing down the steps of the airplane (in Augusta for some reason you have to climb down these stupid steep steps to get off the plane) caused me so much anxiety—being so afraid that I would fall or need assistance. When you are physically well, things like that don’t even occur to you. Now things that were never issues were now major concerns. Once in Guatemala, I was in constant pain, living on Ibuprofen. It prevented me from going on walking tours and, coupled with me being lonely, I was miserable. When I went on a tour to Panajachel I had to constantly climb in and out of the boat that ferried us from village to village on Lake Atitlan and that was pure torture. Once if it had not been for two guys holding me, I would have collapsed, due to my knee totally buckling under me. Back in the States, it did not get any better and I have since had knee surgery (much more extensive than I thought it would be) and have also had epidural steroid injections to my back. I want to travel now, but I was unable to plan for anything due to the constant uncertainty of my physical condition. Whenever there is a life altering event, whether it be a loss of a job, illness, death, divorce, you always look for a reason. The thing is that I feel there are no coincidences in God’s world and it may not be revealed until years later or weeks, you do not know. I am slowly starting to feel better but being so debilitated gave me real empathy for others. When I see people hobbling slowly across the street I know that there is a story behind it. I have a friend who suffers from MS and is on disability. She is estranged from her family who is totally unsupportive, yet she still perseveres. Another woman I went to school with just finished battling stage 4 uterine cancer, having gone through hell with chemotherapy, major surgery, colostomy, and having to rely on others since she lives alone. Then I look at myself and realize that maybe it is not that bad. Of course, when you are feeling better it is easy to look back and say it was not so bad. I am still having problems with numbness in my body, but maybe this is God’s lesson for me; be grateful for each day that you feel well and don’t take it for granted. It has given me a better understanding of other’s problems and pain, physically and mentally. Nobody has a perfect life, although sometimes it seems that some people do on the outside. It has also given me more of an incentive to change my life because I can appreciate that there are no guarantees that you will be around tomorrow or even later in the day. We take for granted that we have an infinite amount of time to achieve that elusive happiness and that is not true. My friend Janet is now in France with her husband, one among many trips they take. They are living now, not putting off what may never happen if they waited. Being so ill has put a time frame to my plans. I know that I absolutely cannot continue to live a life doing what I don’t want to do. I ask myself sometimes, “when are you most happy.” The answer always comes back, “when I am not at work.” It is time for me to move on to the next phase of my life. I am so consumed with making money due to my upbringing (compulsive gambler dad) when money went flying out the window and life was insecure, that now it is my main focus. Yes, money does buy things I like, but continuing doing what I don’t want to do is killing me over and over. One day I will wake up and it will be my last day on earth and I will die never having taken the big risks and living a life of my dreams and how sad is that?

Chronic Pain

Unless you are experiencing chronic pain, you have no idea how absolutely all-consuming and debilitating (both mind and body) it actually is.

I have always prided myself with being very physically active and fit; I was not going to be one of “those” people who walk with canes, limp, and generally have trouble getting around. I would be forever “young” regardless of my age. I think God has a great sense of humor and he/she loves to give us lessons in humility when we are too damn cocky. I have been a runner for about 26 years and regularly accepted the chronic pain in my knees, but it was basically achiness due to some arthritis. I have had numerous knee arthroscopies throughout the years, but apparently it was not enough to take up another sport. I just kept on, ignoring my poor, deteriorating knees due to my obsessive nature. Then about 8 months ago, I bought a new mattress and suddenly it was my back and hips that began to ache. It started out with just some stiffness but after a while, it was constant when I worked out. I noticed that when I ran it was worse. Then my right knee began to give out and when it rains it pours, because then everything went wrong. I went for Supartz injections into my knee with the hope that I could return to running, but there was no improvement. But, it became painfully (no pun intended) obvious that I was dealing with more than just a torn meniscus. Gradually, my right foot and toes, my low back and hips, my thighs and belly have become numb. The pain in my back has been non-stop and I was living on ibuprofen. I saw my primary doctor and he blew me off, in addition to my orthopedic doctor, who was only concerned with my knee. Since the injections in my knee joint did not work, we did an MRI, which showed a torn meniscus, which has now been repaired with arthroscopic surgery (5 weeks ago). But the back issue remained and what most concerned me was the numbness. Finally, due to any lack of caring or just procrastination on the part of the aforementioned doctors, I took the bull by the horn and self-referred to Augusta Back. After telling my tale of woe, the osteopath ordered and MRI, which shows bulging disks, as well as some spinal stenosis. I just went through the first round of epidural steroid injections and will have more for the next level of the spine that is affected. But, I have run the gamut of emotions due to severely limiting my physical activities, although I am still working as a massage therapist. Yesterday I woke up in such bad pain (both knee—which is taking forever to heal—and back) forcing me to literally hobble to the bathroom, that I had a total emotional meltdown. Some days the pain is not that bad, and other days it is more than I can take (probably emotionally more than physically). It does not help that I am still limping on my bum leg, which throws my back and gait off. It also does not help that I am on my feet constantly at work and went back to work only 4 days after surgery. I always thought of myself as “superwoman” when it came to my body and overcoming aches and pains but God has other intentions, apparently. They say that things happen for reasons, and I am still waiting to discover what the reason is. Perhaps it is just to slow down and smell the roses and realize that I am human. Or, perhaps it is a way for me to be more compassionate with other peoples’ suffering from chronic pain or debilitations. I have to say that when I see people walking slowly I can now relate. I would appreciate if anyone going through something similar would please add a comment and let me know your story.