When I was twenty-two I nearly destroyed my knee in a hurdling accident. I like that, hurdling accident; it’s not one of the more common references one might use like car accident or skiing accident. It’s more in line with something like a vaulting accident or maybe curling accident, something not quite so trendy, and I’m sure it will be all the rage in a year or so. A day after the injury, I ended up having my knee reconstructed from my hamstring tendon. My hospital roommate, a pleasant, young woman in her late 20’s, had shattered her pelvis (cringe) in a jockeying accident. It appeared as though the hospital intended to pair the uncommon, up-and-coming sporting accidents together. After hearing her shocking story, I asked the roommate if she would “get back on the horse” and she was quick to answer, “as soon as I can.” She said she needed to face her fears as quickly as possible so that they would not grow beyond her capacity. She also indicated that this was not her first time for reconstructive surgery on her pelvis for a different jockeying disaster. I was flabbergasted and felt certain that there was no way I could face this type of adversity with such grace. She pulled the old, “God won’t give you more than you can handle,” with a warm smile on her face.
Now let’s be clear, my injury was extensive and the pain was nearly overwhelming. I had severed one ligament, halved another and shredded the cartilage nearly irreparably. When I had tried to stand after the incident, my femur and my tibia slid past each other like a slide rule and I was immediately an inch shorter. The recovery after the surgery had been slowed and the pain enhanced by me awakening from a morphine induced slumber and, upon seeing my leg propped atop a pile of pillows, was certain that this set up was the cause of my pain. I threw the pillows and ice packs to the floor and lowered my leg, which resulted in a leg that looked like three-foot shiny purple-brown sausage by the time the nurse came in to check on me. My drugged out antics cost me two extra days in the hospital. It was bad and I kept a vigilant beat on the time released morphine button.
Although I can’t recall her name, I’ve thought of my roommate with the compromised pelvis often and her drawing upon the overused cliché. Certainly, even though it was near the worst physical pain in my life, I knew I was happy to be experiencing mine rather than that of a shattered pelvis. Also, physical pain is a cakewalk compared to other types of pain I’ve experienced. Do we each have a personal limit, some a higher degree of tolerance than others? Like a volume knob, of which I’m sure this young woman’s went to 11? I’m not sure. I know there have been times when I’ve felt it was much more than I could handle, but I suppose I’m still here and I have made it through some tough shit. How is this?
I’ve come to the realization that this journey through life is not a cross-country trip through constant mid-America where on occasion a tornado will ravage the flat prairie lands but more like a back packing trip across the Appalachian Trail. The 2,200 miles long trail is categorized as “easy to strenuous” and undulates over 6,700 feet in elevation. There are times it feels we are coasting, stumbling, climbing and even fighting mountain lions and it appears that the only constant is that things will change. Things will change. On difficult days, like an accident that results in a shattered pelvis (this might align with the analogy of fighting off a mountain lion), it’s helpful to conjure the perspective of the rising and falling hills. Knowing that things WILL get better helps most of the time but I’ve also come to recognize that I have been given wonderful, amazing people and gifts throughout my journey when I’ve needed help the most. Like Haymitch sending Peeta burn gel in his darkest moment, these gifts have been well timed and life saving. It is my job to recognize them so the hardest burdens are shared. God has been good to me.
I have been blessed with brothers who have lightened the load of a difficult upbringing by sharing the brunt, creating structure in disorder and providing endless opportunities to laugh at our dysfunction. I have been blessed with a mother who has grown up and recognizes the healing that comes with writing these stories and welcomes restoration for all of us. I have been blessed with family who stepped up and took me in when my own failed. I have been blessed with friends planted strategically in my life, just when I needed them most. They have been loving, supportive and therapeutic. I have been blessed with people like the hospital roommate who enter my life as a reminder of my strength. I have been blessed with kids who make me laugh every day and give me hope that this story will have a happy ending. And most of all, I have been blessed a partner who, although I do confess I want to strangle at times, has provided me with more stability, structure and love than anyone. It is because of these wonderful gifts that life never gets too difficult and that my pain is temporary. Thank you for these gifts and for the undulating journey. May I always be aware of them.