One week from now, I will be on the operating table at St. Luke’s Hospital. The surgeon will be working on my lumbar spine in order to relieve symptoms in my legs that have gotten progressively worse since the car accident I was in on April 4th. I’ve been assured that this surgery will be less invasive than the one I had in April of 2016, where they fused 5 thoracic vertebrae together. For that surgery I was in the hospital for six days and had to wear a turtle shell-type brace for three months. If all goes well next week, I’ll be home on Tuesday. The recovery is supposed to take a couple weeks. There will be no brace. I’m looking forward to not having my legs tingle, go numb, hurt, and sometimes just plain give up on me. I’m not sure what my blogging schedule will look like in the weeks ahead. As interesting things emerge, I’ll share them. My primary invitation is to pray, breathe, and trust in God’s desire for peace and wholeness for all creation, including me.
As I was hanging out with my best friend in Sarasota last week and visiting the beach as often as possible the following invitation came to me: No More Catastrophizing!
Following my car accident, I’ve had numbness in my legs, trouble walking, new medications to take, etc. and I’ve had this growing fear that things will get so bad that I’ll have to … (here it is multiple choice: a) have to use a wheelchair; b) quit my job and be on disability; c) have more back surgeries; d) need to sell the house and move into a tiny condo with no backyard to have coffee in; e) all of thee above.
As I was floating in the water I realized I can either look at whatever is coming my way as an impending catastrophe or I can look at it as a invitation to deeper breathing, deeper learning, deeper living. I’ve decided I like the second option, the ‘deepening’ part better than the ‘catastrophe’ part and so I’ve decided to live by Hebrews 11:1 – “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” – and start ‘hoping’ for the goodness of Christ to emerge in the midst of whatever comes my way.
In Robert Frost’s poem The Road Not Taken, the last stanza reads:
This morning, I woke up early, my back was hurting, and so I tried to hook up the TENS unit by myself. I thought I had gotten the electrodes in place and hooked up only to have the machine repeatedly advise me to “check connections”. No matter how high I turned the machine’s frequency, there was no soothing pulses running through my back, because ‘the connections’ between the electrodes and wires had come undone.
I spent the better part of Friday morning in an MRI machine, taking images of my lumbar and cervical spine. This afternoon, I meet with the surgeon who did my fusion to talk about what’s going on with my back post-auto accident. I realize I am scared of what he might say. In spite of PT and exercise I feel as if the trajectory of my recovery from surgery has been severely altered due to being rear-ended on April 4th.
This morning, having coffee outside in the dark, I realized that I too needed to ‘check (my) connections’ with the Spirit. Being in pain and distracted and scared make it difficult to be open to the gentle whisper of the Spirit. I try to stay open and listen, but sometimes, like today, there is just too much ‘noise’ inside. So I just sit, and breathe, and listen to the birds, hoping for the best.
For years, at my annual physical, I’ve heard variations on the same theme: you just need to lose some weight. I would think to myself, ‘yes, yes I do; and I will — this time I will do it’. And for a few days, maybe a week or two, I’d drink protein shakes in the morning and nothing for lunch and I’d watch the weight melt off quickly. And then the pizza craving or a really bad day at work or ___________________________ (fill in the blank) would happen and ‘losing weight’ would go out the window.
But over the course of the last year, while recovering from spinal fusion surgery, I’ve been meditating on the simple phrase: be well. (Often, in my head, I see it as “b.well” – I don’t know why.) My intention is to be as well as I can be.
In my effort to ‘be well’ I’ve learned to cook healthier meals, cut out carbs, eat breakfast (which I still don’t like), stop drinking so much wine, and go to the gym at least 5 times a week. Thankfully, I belong to a gym where most people look like me. Rather than seeing triathletes or body builders next to me, I see real people doing the same thing I am, trying to be healthy, fit, and well. Another thing I do is weigh every morning and write it down on a clipboard in the laundry room. My weight bounces around like a yo-yo from day to day, but so far the overall trend has been down.
And just as everything is progressing nicely, swimming and exercising, losing weight, feeling good – a car crashes into me and disrupts the rhythms of wellness I had worked so hard to put in place. So there are now new rhythms: PT three times a week, daily sessions with a NMES unit stimulating my back, muscle relaxers to try and ease the cramping, worrying about the way my left leg moves, and wondering what my new rehab doctor will advise when I see her next week. While there are a lot of reasons to abandon my progress toward wellness, I’ve decided I’m not going to give up on my desire to “b.well”.
I cannot change what happens to me, but I can shape my response to it all. And I’ve decided that my response is going to ‘be well’.
This morning, many of my closest friends are gathered in Atlanta for the Annual Meeting of Presbyterian Disaster Assistance. I’m receiving text messages and pictures and, to be honest, it is not easy to be stuck in St. Louis rehabbing after an auto accident. While I’m going to Physical Therapy they are having fun and sharing stories about how best to assist those in need following a disaster. I was really looking forward to celebrating the launch of a book I co-authored, Recovering from Un-natural Disasters, at this year’s meeting. I was looking forward to sharing a glass of wine and a good meal with people who understand what its like to ‘walk through the valley of the shadow of death’. Its not easy being away from my friends––I miss them!
Today is the one year anniversary of my spinal fusion surgery (T7-11). Today is the day I am supposed to have a sense of how I’ll feel going forward as the surgeon told me on more than one occasion – give it a year. Instead of ‘celebrating’ (whatever that would look like) I’m heading to my regular doctor to discuss how much my back hurts following a traffic accident last week. It is so frustrating to have all my plans for recovery and improvement ‘rear-ended’.
The weekend before the accident, my wife Jani and I were working out in the backyard together for the first time in over a year. At one point she stopped, looked at me and said, “David, you’re better. Two months ago you wouldn’t have been out here at all.” It was a beautiful moment of awareness – I am getting better; I’m feeling better.
Now I wake up and am afraid to move. I wonder: have I done more damage? Am I going to need more surgery? Will I have to live feeling like this the rest of my life?
As I held these thoughts and questions this morning I realized that I need to once again change my plans. I need to make yet another accommodation to the pain I feel in my back and the worry that rises in my heart. Rather than fly to Atlanta next week to be with my friends and colleagues with Presbyterian Disaster Assistance, I think I need to stay home and take it easy. I missed last year’s meeting due to my surgery and now I am going to miss this year’s meeting because of how my back feels after a car crash.
A dear friend, Winston Charles, taught me to ‘welcome the day and all that comes’. On a day when I expected to welcome ‘healing and progress’ Yet I find myself today being invited to welcome (again) ‘pain and worry and having to change my plans in order to be okay’.