There are times when you think you have a major complaint…and then reality, and a sense of a “near miss,” can completely undo your pity party.
I came face to face with a reminder of my profound good fortune today while I sat in an impersonal examining room talking with a specialist about severe pain in my hip that had set in a week ago. While we sorted through the twists and turns of my medical history and medications and exercise and stretching routines, we looked at a diagnostic X-ray of my lower back that had been taken just days before. Viewed from behind, things looked pretty good. Aside from a slight, longstanding torque to my spine, the vertebrae all looked appropriately sized and spaced, perky even. Squarish, like marshmallows. What innocent imagery.
And then we looked at the side view. And twenty years of life-changing decisions and growth and new directions came swimming into view.
“Where’s my T-12 vertebra?” I had asked. He counted up from the bottom, and let his finger rest on the screen. “Right there,” he said. And there it sat, not square and perky like the rest of them, but crunched down on one side. As though someone had taken a fluffy marshmallow and pinched it between their fingers from top to bottom. “Oh,” I said. “I am SO damn lucky.”
In August, I will mark the 20th anniversary of the day I took a long, hard fall from a tall horse as we navigated a fence in a riding lesson. It started with a warm summer morning and the smell of saddle leather and green grass, and ended with a diagnosis of “you have a broken back.” A backboard and an ambulance ride from the riding arena where I lay on the sand until the EMTs showed up to cart me off filled out the day’s dance card. Three months of being locked into a fiberglas body cast–rigid, unremovable, horribly uncomfortable–followed, along with years of weakness and setbacks due to muscle spasms that would set in without warning.
That day provided the dividing line in my life. Before the fall, I was a full-time soccer mom with four children, a professional niche as a former journalist and freelance writer, and a stay-home housewife in a marriage that was already unraveling. After, cognizant of how close I had come to dying or living out my life in a wheelchair, I took the road less traveled and went to law school. I became a criminal prosecutor, bought my first pair of spike heels, and started writing again, this time from my heart instead of as a contractor paid to meet a deadline or fill a magazine column. And so I flourished in this second act. Became braver, bolder, less willing to stifle my voice or ignore my instincts.
Every once in a while, if I started to whine that I had too much on my plate–family emergencies, assorted medical problems, difficult pets, general all-purpose crabbiness due to TMS (“too much s–t”)–I would remember that day in the riding arena and try to suck it up.
Somehow, in this past week though, the temporary pain in my hip was so severe that I had forgotten all that. And so I contacted my primary doctor, and went in to see the specialist to try to solve the immediate problem and fix “poor me.” And then we looked at the X-ray together, and my immediate aches and pains took on less importance.
I’m back home again, with a renewed sense of gratitude. Yes, we’re still working on solving the immediate hip problem though some ibuprofen has brought me some relief for the moment. But the bigger “take away” from this morning is that I’m alive. And I’m still walking under my own steam. I can see the sky, and hug my children and my grandson, and smell the flowers in my garden, and listen to the birds from my patio in the evening. Things could have turned out much differently.
And you can be damn sure that the next time I walk into a courtroom, even if I’ve taken the elevator to get there, it will still be in spike heels.