Tag Archives: pain

Changing Your Life

Update-DISCLAIMER: This is a story based on a composite of many people-it is NOT MY STORY. It is based on someone I knew but this is NOT ME!!

All you need to do is change everything. But that is easier said than done and it takes so much hard work and I am not sure I want to put in the effort.

What does changing everything mean anyway? I have been grappling with this damn drug addiction for how many years and I cannot, for the life of me so far get a handle on it because maybe I am weak. The draw to obliterate consciousness—to wipe out all negative emotions and painful thoughts is too tempting. But, I will try—yes I will try yet again. I will try to get clean for my child, my family, but most importantly for me. If I don’t get clean for myself, there is nothing.

Well, what is the first step to take? How about changing people, places and things. OK, people—all the people in my sphere are druggies—but they are my friends. How am I supposed to just eliminate them from my life? Well, I tell myself I must do this if I want to get any amount of clean time. How am I supposed to tell my friends that I can’t see them anymore—I just cannot do that, no way. I love these people and they love me, at least I think, or thought they did. Well, what happened when I OD’d last year—who took me to the hospital and dumped me there to die and just by chance was found before the end. If I think that’s true love I am delusional when I look too closely at it. Addicts are just out for themselves when getting a fix, just to ameliorate the dope sickness. The merry-go-round keeps going over and over until that change is made or you die. Do I want to change? Am I strong enough to recognize that the futility of life without any hope or future is all I have to look forward to if I do not take the necessary steps to change? The question is whether or not I want to get busy living or get busy dying—it is my choice.

How the hell did a nice upper middle class kid ever get mixed up in the seedy underground of the drug culture? How did I go from a good girl, with hopes and ambitions, and good grades to a drugged out shell of a person with absolutely no conscience, doing anything to get what I want. How did I become a person with no moral code who would sell my soul to the devil or leave my child just to get my high? I did not have a terrible family; I didn’t have any horrible tragedy befall me, so what is my excuse? But, just like so many other kids in that nice Atlanta neighborhood, I got bored. I needed something to occupy my mind and having so much privilege I became a follower, just looking for the next high. Nobody thinks when they are young, “I want to be a drug addict when I grow up.” It was so gradual that I almost never even saw it coming, a pill here, a pain pill there—trips to the pill-pushing doctor to say how I was sad and couldn’t sleep or cope. The doctor was all too ready to prescribe the latest pain med. But pain pills are so damn expensive and even buying it from the other kids was becoming a drain on my budget. It was just so much easier to graduate to the big H—so easy to get—the greatest high known to man. There is nothing like it—the euphoria is totally unimaginable and I will do pretty much anything to get it—to chase that high to the ends of the earth, only to come down and start the chase again. Logically I know there is no good ending that will come from the life I have chosen, and I did originally choose it, but I am now a prisoner with no choice.

So, what is the way out of this maze I am in—just existing until the next fix? What do I have to live for—the reason for changing must be for me and not anybody else or it won’t work. I know just detoxing in jail or a detox unit is not a solution because it is more than a physical addiction, it is a deep soul sickness and unless I commit to changing my thought process, I will never be free and will remain a slave to this disease. I hate my life the way it is—I have seen my friend OD, my boyfriend die, done morally reprehensible things, and I wonder why them and not me. I can only surmise that they were collateral damage put into my life to guide me in a divine way—to save me. I must pay attention to these spiritual experiences and learn from them because these are gifts from God. If I don’t I am a fool and will be one of those expenditures used as an example for someone else because I just wasn’t willing to take a chance and change.

My Mystery Diagnosis, Faith and Forgiveness

There was no lightening or thunderbolt or exact period of time or date but it came on very gradually—so gradually that I actually did not even notice the change in my body.

I was still an avid runner living in Augusta in 2011. Hindsight is a wonderful thing and we all have 20/20, but at the time, I couldn’t even fathom that something devastating was brewing. Looking back, I remember running my regular 6-10 mile route when I began to “trip.” At first I attributed this to just being clumsy, which I never was before. It is amazing how the human mind can deny and deny something that is so obviously wrong. Running, previously my most enjoyable past time, began to be fraught with anxiety about whether or not I would trip and fall. Each time I ventured out, I would lecture myself on “lifting my right foot up.” When I did trip, I would chide myself by saying, “What’s wrong with you—PICK UP YOUR FOOT, IDIOT?” But invariably no matter how much I tried, my right foot would not lift far enough off the ground, resulting in tripping. One day, after a very frustrating and anxiety-ridden run, I checked the tread of my sneakers and I saw that the toe of the right sneaker was almost completely worn down, while the left sneaker was fine. Yet I still thought I was merely clumsy. A few days before Thanksgiving, I went to Kroger to buy food for a dish and took a huge fall in the parking lot, spilling my grocery bag. I quickly got up and tried to figure out what had happened. Apparently while getting to my car, my right foot did not clear the curb—more like dragged—and down I went. Fortunately or unfortunately I seemed to be walking normally so this pattern continued until August 2012.

As an obsessive runner I had multiple knee surgeries over the years for a ripped meniscus. In August 2012, I underwent one more surgery on my damaged right knee. I had every confidence that I would recover as I had before, although I was told I should not run anymore. I accepted that and I was just grateful that finally I would be pain free. However, my knee never got better and continued to be so painful where I could walk only with a marked limp. I tried all kinds of shots in my knee but it would not heal properly.

In addition, for a while I had bad lumber pain, especially in the morning. I thought I just needed a new mattress and, no matter how many mattresses I tried (I drove the mattress store employees crazy) my low back pain persisted. But it was not only lumbar pain—my whole body hurt and my toes were numb. I went to my internist, and after doing a cursory exam he concluded that I didn’t have any disc involvement and put me on an anti-inflammatory medication. I asked him if I should at least get an MRI, and he rejected that idea due to the cost. I emphasized to him that MY WHOLE BODY ACHED, but nothing was ordered. I finally decided that I would “self-refer” to a neurosurgeon. I went to the Neuroscience facility on Steven’s Creek Road and saw Dr. B, an osteopath, the first person before referral to a surgeon. He ordered a lumber MRI and it revealed spinal stenosis, pretty common in someone my age. We decided on a course of epidural steroid injections, which proved to be mildly successful for about a week. Then after two courses of this treatment, the pain returned and he finally referred me to one of the neurosurgeons (Dr. S) in that practice. My surgery was scheduled for Election Day 2012 and I had high hopes of becoming pain free again. At that time I was a massage therapist, and it was very difficult to practice my occupation and bend over, trying to relieve others’ pain, when my back was killing me. I went home from the hospital the next day with a plan to do lots of walking and get myself back on track for a quick recovery. However that was not the way it played out. Within a week, I was having balance trouble and within two weeks I was reluctantly using a cane to get around. My right knee was just as painful as ever and I could not walk without a limp and cane. I began to have nerve pain that I almost could not identify because I had never experienced that before. I frantically searched the Internet for some type of explanation and came up with “failed back surgery” as the culprit because I read story after story of patients who never recovered from lumbar surgery.

Now my 4 month long nightmare began in earnest. I went back to the Neuroscience practice and spoke with the surgeon’s very unsympathetic physician’s assistant who said, “give it time” and that the “nerve root needed to heal.” So, I tried to do just that, but instead of seeing improvement, my symptoms became worse and worse. At this point, I had severe burning and tingling nerve pain from my waist to my toes. I had a mysterious pressure on my abdomen and back whenever I stood which was relieved only when I sat or lay down. My right leg was cold to the touch, beginning to atrophy, and I could not lift it properly, much less walk without a cane. What made this so nightmarish was that NOBODY BELIEVED ME. Each time I went in for a check up, I was told over and over, “Well, this is so unusual. We’ve never seen this before”, as if it must be psychosomatic in nature—that was the implication. In the meantime, I was so debilitated at this point that I had to keep crutches and a cane by my bed so I could get into the bathroom at night. I actually drove, but with my heart in my mouth because my right leg, which was partially paralyzed, didn’t function properly. I had so many close calls that I knew God had to be traveling with me each time I ventured out. I had to lift my leg up with my hands to get it in the car and my biggest fear was that I would kill a person or family while driving. When I went shopping I would try to park as close as I could to the store, sometimes abandoning my mission because it was too far to walk. Everything that we take for granted was an effort and it gave me a great appreciation for what disabled people deal with on a regular basis. I asked the physician’s assistant if she could take pity on me and write a note for me to get a disabled car tag, but she refused stating, “Those are only given to people who are totally paralyzed” which is untrue. I ended up getting one from my orthopedist instead.

I went in for another LUMBER MRI because they wanted to see if the surgical site gave them any clues, which it didn’t. I was suffering, both physically and psychologically and I began to lose hope. But I soldered on and each day I would wake up with HOPE that maybe the nerve root was finally healing and maybe, just maybe, I could at least walk a little better. Some days I would fool myself into believing that there was a tiny bit of improvement and my mood would be bolstered. But that positive mood was dashed the next day when, upon waking, it became apparent that I was not any better, and in fact, probably worse. We all know that HOPE is everything, and I had none. So, at this point, I began to consider suicide every morning, even planning the method. I believe that what kept me going was that I employed a 12 step program tool of thinking in terms of “one day at a time.” I would think, “OK, whatever you want to do, you can put this off until tomorrow” and that kept me going in the world for another day. On days that I was so depressed, I would force myself to go to the gym, and although I didn’t go into the regular gym because I was embarrassed by my debilitated state, I went to the disabled pool. It was there that I would find some gratitude because, although here I was, withered polio-like leg, ambling into the pool with the use of my cane, I saw people far worse than me—quadriplegics with happy expressions in the pool. I saw wheelchair-bound people and said, “Thank You God.”

I continued going to the Neuroscience practice for checkups, only to be shuffled back and forth to various departments. All the while, they were baffled by my deteriorated state. One day they decided to perform an EMG and I was so hopeful that finally they would find the reason for my crippling condition. It was New Years Eve of 2012 when, while sitting in my car, I received a call from the nurse stating that, “The EMG showed nothing but an old radiculopathy.” In English—nothing new and nothing that would account for my deterioration. That day was significant in that I just sat there, totally numb and disbelieving, my last hope dashed, and thought that I could not bring myself to go on in the world. A friend of mine happened to see me, and asked if I was OK and suggested we go to Starbucks, which saved me for another day.

The next person to see me at that practice was the pain management doctor who gave me the news in an abrupt manner, that he could not help me. He prescribed Lyrica and Neurontin for nerve pain, but all it did was cause me to fall because it made my muscles weak, so I stopped that immediately. I was so angry at his lack of empathy and bad bedside manner but it turned out to be the best thing that happened because he referred me back to the original doctor, going full circle. Dr. B, the osteopath, sat and actually thought about what might be going on and what my options were. He treated me as a person and his kind, thoughtful manner was appreciated. The new plan was to embark on yet another course of epidural steroid injections, but suddenly a thought occurred to him—what if we order a thoracic MRI? After the MRI I went back to his office with no expectations, but maybe a little hope. As soon as he pulled up the MRI on the screen, his eyes lit up because the MRI revealed a small benign tumor (meningioma) pressing on T3 of the spinal cord. Boom—my world exploded in a good way. He excitedly said, “Here’s your problem. This meningioma is pressing on T3, causing all your symptoms.” It was as if God came down from the heavens and blessed me—I was so ecstatic that words cannot describe it. I am brought to tears when I think of that moment. He quickly referred me back to the original surgeon, Dr. S, who was shocked and humbled. I actually did not want to use the same surgeon, but I realized she knew my case, and I could get this done very soon. Just prior to surgery I discovered an article from a Japanese case study that said, “If a patient is not recovering from lumber surgery, the surgeon should consider the possibility of a thoracic meningioma.” I sure wish I had seen that article months before, but at least it was finally correctly diagnosed. The spinal surgery, scheduled for a week later, was rough but successful. Right out of the recovery room, I clearly remember me lifting my right leg, unaided, and being elated. After a hard 5 days in the hospital, in severe pain, I was released. A home care nurse was ordered for 2 weeks and I dismissed her after a week. My walker went into the garage along with my cane and crutches. I am athletic and I began to recover so quickly due to my previous good shape and I began going to the gym again. I had to be careful that nobody slapped me on my back for a while, which would send me to the moon but other than that, it was fine. My damaged knee began to heal, and my atrophied and cold right leg began to warm and plump out, looking normal again. Here’s the thing, I was bitter at first for all the doctors who I felt failed me starting initially with my internist and I even considered hiring a lawyer to sue. But, I then began to think about gratitude and forgiveness and by the grace of God, a solution to my suffering was found. I began to think that maybe my travails helped me be more empathetic to the disabled, an experience I never would have had otherwise. On March 1st it will be 4 years since I got my life back. But, each time I perform an otherwise unremarkable feat such as walking briskly across the room, or climbing stairs unaided, I am in awe. Sometimes I am merely in Walmart and I marvel at how fast I can walk, or in an airport, briskly passing people on the way to my connection. It is amazing and miraculous and I will never stop being grateful.

Jane – A tribute

Dear Jane,

It is Friday night and I keep thinking I’m going to pick up the phone and give you a call. You are one of the only people who understand about my son’s difficulties because you have been through it too. You are my go-to person for life’s injustices, life’s tragedies, life’s funny moments and I can talk to you about anything on earth and you to me. I’ve been there through all your hospitalizations, through your difficulties with your family, and you have been there for me in kind. Yesterday I pulled out my old wedding album so I could remember you as the maid of honor, happy, young, and vibrant. It is so hard to wrap my mind around the fact that I will not see you again, except in Heaven, God willing.

We were good friends when we were teens up until our thirties but, as life took us in different directions, we somehow lost contact. We reconnected and again lost contact—this time I was sure our friendship had run it’s course. But one day, out of the blue, you called me and as if no time had passed at all, our bond was still strong and became stronger in the years that followed. I have shared so much of my travails about my child, my inexplicable crippling illness and subsequent recovery upon discovery of the cause (a benign spinal tumor), my ups and downs with my son, and everything in between. Sometimes I would call you and we’d have a marathon talking session about everything, including movies, Stuyvesant Town, old shows, friends, medical issues, family, politics—-you name it, we talked about it. You have been one of my greatest support systems and I feel that I filled that role for you too. I honestly don’t know what I am going to do without you.

To say I was shocked to learn of you passing was the understatement of the year. The last time I spoke with you, you said, “Call me anytime.” So, last Friday night I called to get my weekly dose of love, friendship, laughter, and wisdom from you. When you didn’t pick up I left a message. Three days later I called again, and again, and again, for days and days. At first I was annoyed, then I thought that maybe you were in the hospital again, although you had been doing very well lately. Everything seemed under control with your MS, which was in remission, and your diabetes, which didn’t seem to be an issue. I had no reason to believe that a tragedy had occurred. In my heart of hearts I was frightened and would not even entertain the idea that you had passed away. It was unfathomable to me so I dismissed it for days. But, yesterday something told me to call your brother’s number, which you had given me a few years back just in case. When I spoke with your sister in law, and she said, “I’m sorry to have to tell you this, but Jane passed away”, it felt like there was an explosion in my chest, and a punch to my gut—then the tears and disbelief came.

Jane, you had a very hard life, and a lonely existence up in Lockport, with no real support system. But you became a strong advocate for yourself and still managed to accept some of the seemingly unfair blows life dealt you with characteristic grace and dignity. About a year ago you said you were sitting on the couch watching TV when you saw your mom in the dining area. I asked if you were asleep and you said, “No, that was her.” I asked if you were scared at all and you said, “No.” I believe that your mom appeared to let you know you were loved and she was waiting for you to come over soon. I do not know the exact cause of your demise, but I suspect that it was peaceful, in your sleep. Although I am grieving this loss, I am happy for you at the same time, because at long last you are loved in a way you were not in this physical life. You are, as I write this, in God’s loving arms and with your mom. Your body is healed from your MS and you have no more physical or emotional pain—nobody can hurt you now. You are walking, running and laughing freely and finally at peace. I know you are looking down on me now and thinking of all we shared and how we could sometimes find humor in the strangest places. I prayed to God last night that you appear in my dreams to let me know you are indeed OK. But, I somehow know that you are. Sweet dreams in eternity. You will never be forgotten. Godspeed. Call me anytime!

Love Marilyn

Faith

Recently, I started thinking that almost 2 years ago I had a life changing surgery. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that it was actually almost 3 years. I couldn’t believe that time had just slipped by so quickly. So, on March 1st 2016 it will be 3 years since I was released from a living hell of a crippling illness. Everyone knows HOPE is everything, but sometimes no matter how you look at it, HOPE seems to be nowhere. After having lower back surgery, I inexplicably began to have trouble walking. I had a severely dropped foot, constant nerve pain, and a partially paralyzed leg. HOPE began to slip away after exhausting all tests and follow up MRIs, even 2nd opinions, only to be told, “We just don’t understand what is wrong with you. We have never seen something like this before.” Each morning I would awake with hope that a miracle happened and somehow I was getting better. But as soon as the realization came that nothing had changed and I was even worse, an incredible despair and hopelessness would engulf me. There were so many days that I wanted to just give up but I kept saying, “Maybe things will be better tomorrow. If you are thinking of offing yourself, put it off until tomorrow and see.” By employing that tactic, I managed to stay in this world to see a miracle happen. I have no doubt that this miracle was from my persistence and constantly not taking NO for an answer, a doctor who actually sat down to think about my symptoms, and God. I don’t think I would have gotten better if all of these factors were not aligned. By God’s grace my doctor ordered another MRI and found the culprit, a benign spinal tumor compressing a portion of my thoracic spine. Faith is a beautiful thing and when life is going well, it is easy to have it. The true test of faith is when life is life—when you feel that all hope is gone and you cannot see your way out. So many people are waiting for a white light and burning bush to prove the existence of God, when He is there all along. I believe my horrendous experience was necessary to bring me to my knees and start believing. I do not think this was an accident and that there are no coincidences in God’s world. God was working in my life for a long time before I noticed it, even meeting Joyce and Bill, who introduced me to their church. If my son had not had the breakdown, I never would’ve met them. I think God was patiently waiting for me, only I needed the experiences I endured to discover Him. I still pray and pray for my boy, and sometimes, when I am in a bad space, I wonder if God is really listening. Then I remember I must have faith, which equals hope, which equals life. I do not know what the future holds, and I must remember that I am not in charge. It is when I turn things over to Him that I achieve that elusive gift of peace and serenity that I am constantly seeking.

Disabled

Being disabled; that is something that most of us who are lucky enough (and it is luck) to be able-bodied, don’t even consider. I was one of those smug, athletic people who, although having compassion, had absolutely no comprehension of the trials and indignities of the disabled. My symptoms actually came on very gradually, losing balance, dropped foot (although I didn’t recognize it), and constant pain in my entire body. When I look back at this I failed to put these symptoms together and just treated each one as it came. It started out with my knee surgery, which I never seemed to recover from, and it progressed to numbness of my toes, and bad lumbar pain. I was diagnosed with spinal stenosis, had surgery which I expected to solve the pain problem, but as time went on, my life became a nightmare when I actually became worse and only 2 weeks after the surgery, had to use a cane. The worst part was that I began to realize that I had extreme limitations not in just walking, but just in everyday life; things I always took for granted. Driving (if that’s what you’d call it) became a challenge because my right leg was so weak (partial paralysis) that it was an effort to move my foot from the gas to the brake pedal. So then I would compensate and press on the gas pedal extra hard, which would actually deactivate the brake, causing the car to lurch forward and then I’d have to slam on the brake. I had so many close calls–and can only thank God that I didn’t slam into people or cars, killing someone or myself. I would have severe anxiety, even saying a prayer in the car, each time I had to drive. I’d start stopping the car way early so I didn’t run into the car in front of me. I’d drive over to Walmart and when my parking space was too far, I would ask myself, “Do you really need that cheese?” and I would just drive away. When I did go into the store, I’d walk around with a shopping cart (even when I had only one item) because it provided some stability like a walker–which is really what I needed but my pride would not let me use it. In Starbucks, I would just abandon the idea of getting to a specific seat if it meant maneuvering past people. When standing talking to people, I would notice they would have their arms out, always ready to catch me, because my balance was so bad. But the main thing I noticed about being disabled was the shame, humiliation, anger and helplessness I felt in public. I was angry because my body would not do what I wanted it to. Once when my nerve pain was through the roof, I went to the Y, only to discover that the Adapted Aquatics (disabled) pool was closed. I then decided to try using the hot tub, but once I managed to get in, I literally could not lift myself out. The entire time I was in the tub, I wondered how I would achieve that feat, so I could not even enjoy it. I finally managed to grab onto the railing and crawl out, all the while feeling totally embarrassed. When I tried to use the regular pool, I could not climb in and out of the small steps; very humiliating. It is so hard when your body just does not do what your brain says. These were constant indignities that the average person does not experience. But, one thing I noticed was the feeling of being invisible–people don’t want to look at you when you are disabled. Even the doctors abandoned me because I had symptoms that they couldn’t pinpoint. You get looked upon as if your brain is disabled, not just your body. I was lucky enough to finally escape that nightmare and will be forever grateful. But what about people who have a chronic, progressive disease such as MS, where there is no cure, only management. My friend suffers from MS and she has to rely on others to do basic things for her, such as laundry, shopping, driving to doctor’s appointments, etc. She cannot go anywhere unless it is prearranged and often times her “ride” does not show up or is late, necessitating her to postpone or cancel her appointment. She must rely totally on others and her autonomy is non-existent. It is a constant battle with the medical profession, grocery stores, caregivers, family members, and she does not have control of basic everyday things that most of us take for granted. Even her immediate family has abandoned her because in their eyes, she takes too much pain medication, although they have no idea that pain is one of the side-effects of MS. When you are disabled, life is different and one cannot understand it unless you’ve have had a glimpse into that world. I cannot say that I was lucky to have had the experience I did, but it showed me how the world views the disabled. It is amazing how many people don’t understand what it is like as a disabled person, and think that it couldn’t possibly happen to them. But I am here to say that it CAN and it DOES happen, when your life is going well, and you think that you are golden, and nothing can touch you. But just like anything, you cannot truly put yourself into another’s place without experiencing their pain. What it comes down to is that anybody who is “different” becomes invisible, be it not being able to walk, having a deformity, or being a little person. It is human nature to first want to stare, then look away (and pretend that they can’t see it) at the same time; just like a fatal car accident on the expressway, where you just cannot stop staring because you keep thinking, “Thank God that is not me.” But it can be!

Surgery Log – 3/29/13 – Forgiveness

March 29, 2013 – Forgiveness

For some reason I was thinking of all the screw-ups perpetrated by so many doctors and I started to get angry and resentful. It first started with Dr. H, who basically blew me off when I told him numerous times, that my whole body was killing me. Looking back, this was due to the spinal stenosis. He kept ignoring me and ordered a stupid regular x-ray, when he should’ve referred me out. Then when I went to Dr. G, he said he didn’t want to step on the toes of Dr. H, so again I was blown off. I finally referred myself to Augusta Back where the travesty continued. First I saw Dr. B, a D.O. who finally ordered an MRI. It showed spinal stenosis so he did epidural steroid injections, which worked a little but not enough. He then referred me to the surgeon and I then had a lumbar laminectomy, which was successful but didn’t address underlying symptoms too. In fact, I was worse as time went on, only to be told over and over that the spinal nerve just had to heal. Then after 2 months, they finally started to say that there was nothing that could be done and they had no idea why I wasn’t getting any better. At that point, I was hobbling with a cane, with no balance, causing me to fall at the drop of a hat. My foot was dropped and my leg was partially paralyzed so that I literally could not lift it up without using my hands. They dismissed me to a pain management doctor because I was also suffering with unbearable nerve pain in my abdomen, back, both legs and feet. My life turned to a living hell. Luckily the pain doctor told me he could not help me either. At first I was angry but now I am so lucky because I finally got sent back to the original doctor, Dr. B. He actually took time to stop and think about my symptoms and decided that it just might be coming from the thoracic spine. Sure enough, after a thoracic MRI, he discovered a small meningioma, pressing on T3 of my spinal cord. This was what was causing all the symptoms, including a weak right leg and all that nerve pain. I finally decided to go back to the surgeon, who, in my estimation owed me a huge apology for not looking any further for an explanation regarding why the hell I could not walk. She performed the surgery, which was much, much, more painful and complicated than the first, but Dr. B was right; the compressed spinal cord in the thoracic area was the culprit. To this day, I cannot fathom why the surgeon treated me like I was a nutcase and did not bother to investigate further. It would have been so simple to just think about it and order a thoracic MRI. I do not know why that was not even in the realm of possibility for her and why nobody else would actually listen to my symptoms. Here’s the thing, I could spend all my time being angry and resentful or I could be extremely grateful that at least I found the doctor who finally got it right. I wasted so much time being crippled and sad, so I don’t want to waste any more with being resentful. I prayed to God for me to find a doctor who could help me and my prayers were answered—that’s all I know now. I am grateful over and over, each time I do a simple thing like walk across a room, unassisted.

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?