I laid crying, screaming in pain surrounded by people, some who knew me, some who didn’t, but all were concerned. My leg extended out behind me and my ankle and foot were contorted in unnatural and disturbing ways. Before the pain caught up to my brain, I knew something had happened, and my first thought was, “This is really going to slow down my training for the 5K,” but at that point I thought I had just twisted my ankle. Then the pain caught up, and all I could think about was the impossible nature of what might be next.
I was in Virginia at my old seminary to hear one of my favorite theologians speak; my best friend was also there and we were on our way to get dinner. On the grass by the sidewalk upon which I stepped was the deconstructing remnants of those silicone beads that are put in floral arrangements; it was slimy and as slick as ice. The EMTs came and began morphine; when it didn’t work as quickly as it should have, they asked how I had developed such a tolerance to morphine – I didn’t have it in me to go through the two other surgeries I have had in less than a year’s time, one of which was one of the most traumatic things I’ve been through, so I just responded that I’ve had a bit of morphine in my day.
The ER doc tried twice to pull my ankle into place before sedating me to finish it. Once sedated, I began to have crazy hallucinations. The most prominent of which was the pressure that I felt to be a good person as the world was literally falling apart around me and changing into something else; in response to this pressure, I shouted out, “It’s so hard to be a person!” So hard to be a person, indeed.
I was cared for well while in Virginia, but was glad to be released to come home for the inevitable surgery on my broken ankle and fibula. The surgery was last week, and I’m on the long road to healing; it will be six weeks before I’m able to be in a walking boot and six weeks or more before I’m able to wear both shoes again. My surgery went well, and even though the surgeon found a second brake in my fibula and had to put a longer plate in my leg and more screws in my ankle, I’m on the other side. I’m home now with my dog, who is caring for me and is also very excited by all the new people coming by the house; I’m glad to be back home, and I’m glad to have the beginnings of a routine, even if recovery is not what I want to do with my life right now.
This is difficult, of course; it felt like everyone who saw my leg in Virginia knew it was painful and that it had be difficult, but unless people knew my story they didn’t know that for me, this year, it’s not just an ambulance ride, it’s not just a hours spent on an ER gurney, it’s not just orthopedic surgery. It was another ambulance ride, it was more hours on that gurney, it was a third unplanned surgery in less than a year. It wasn’t just painful, it was heartbreaking.
The timing of it all makes it all the more bitter and ironic. Leading up to the year anniversary of Not Cancer, which is later this week, I put several things in place to help celebrate a difficult year of sickness, pain, and recovery; nearly all of them had to be canceled. I was admitted to Vanderbilt last year on October 4 to begin to figure out if I had cancer and my surgery for my leg took place on the same day one year later.
The emotional energy to get through sickness or surgery is surreal; every day has highs and lows, and every day something feels impossible while something that was impossible yesterday becomes possible. Recovery is not linear, and that’s the difficult nature of it; it’s difficult precisely because no one can offer you a roadmap, no one can offer assurance that at the end of this storm there will be a rainbow. Because you might work very hard for a year slowly improving, taking up running, delighting in your job and your life and then something causes you to slip, and it’s upside down again.
Here’s the truth, though: the difficult isn’t forever.
It’s really hard to remember that this isn’t my life from now on. I won’t be in pain forever; I won’t be stuck asking for help with the tiniest of things for the rest of my life. It’s so hard to remember that small progress is progress. It’s hard to remember that hope is a strong powerful force, and that it comes from a variety of places. It’s hard to remember that just because I’ve spent the majority of the past year recovering from one of three surgeries doesn’t mean this my life from now on. It’s hard to remember that the difficult isn’t forever.
But I’m grateful that it’s not hard to remember how loved I am. I’m grateful that it’s not hard to remember that even though I genuinely hate asking for help, I have a whole tribe of people standing at the ready, each with their own unique gifts. I’m grateful that it’s not hard to remember that I’ve overcome a lot, and even though it feels impossible, I know that I’ve been through worse things, and I’ll make it through this, too. And most of all, I’m grateful that it’s not hard to remember how lucky I am to be cared for by so many people near and far; thank you for being one of those people.
This is another day, O Lord. I know not what it will bring forth, but make me ready, Lord, for whatever it may be. If I am to stand up, help me to stand bravely. If I am to sit still, help me to sit quietly. If I am to lie low, help me to do it patiently. And if I am to do nothing, let me do it gallantly. Make these words more than words, and give me the Spirit of Jesus. Amen.
A Prayer for in the Morning, BCP 461