Recently, I had to figure out how to be me again. When I say “being me,” I don’t mean I’ve changed – at least that much. Though, I did get a little more metal. What I’m trying to say is that in March, I underwent the second (and hopefully final) spinal fusion of my lifetime. Before the surgery, I was in pain and, well, I’m sure you don’t want to hear the long story, but suffice to say that the pain made doing the things I thought defined me nearly impossible. Running? Out. Baking? Ouch! Even going to work felt like torture. Think getting stuck on the L train for an hour is bad? Try doing that while your vertebra rub themselves down to nubs.
I counted the days until my surgery and then mentally prepared myself to be as good as new very shortly after. Well, it turns out your body isn’t really elated about having metal wrapped around parts that are supposed to stay safely tucked inside of your skin.
Fast forward to now: Today marks three months to date that I was wheeled into that operating room, fingers crossed under blankets just warmed by a heater, that this surgery would have a better result than the first one. It has been a hell of a ride and I am just starting to feel like me again. And I think I have a new perspective on what being me really means.
After passing through the denial stage (OMG I can’t believe I can’t leave my apartment) and getting angry (I know I can’t walk or sit for more than five minutes, but I still don’t understand why I can’t go to that party tonight), I turned a corner somewhere and hit acceptance. Now, let’s not get dramatic. I don’t have a fatal illness and I knew all along that this surgery and recovery would just be a setback – nothing permanent – albeit I no longer have feeling in my right leg and that part might be permanent. But laying low was a lot more difficult than I anticipated, and I was so focused on being active that I never truly enjoyed the stillness that was at my disposal. I did my best to catch up with friends, celebrate good news and be social over the phone, via my laptop or from my couch. But that didn’t fit my usually active schedule of work, working out, cooking, baking, reading and filling any other spare time with podcasts and music (oh, and sleep).
Dotted within this stretch of time that I seemed to fill with nothingness (due to pain, illness, lack of concentration due to heavy pain medication, work, etc.) I attempted a lot of activities that I previously thought defined me (that I could barely do in my recovery state). But on an unknown day during this time, I realized what I had been missing while living too quickly.
Among the days when I sat down every three minutes as I struggled to bake mocha cupcakes with espresso icing and sugar cookies with buttercream icing; worked with my step mother to plant a hanging mason jar herb garden as I lay on the couch fighting my pain; and tried to go to dinner with my boyfriend’s parents and nearly fainting because my pain medicine was making me so ill, I learned what mattered more than fitting everything into a day, a week a month and a year.
I read more books than I have in years and started to write poetry again. I spent time with my boyfriend during my darkest and most painful nights that faded into bright mornings, when I would wake up to fresh flowers that we nicknamed blonde daisies, which loomed over the pile of pill bottles on my bedside table and made everything seem OK again. I learned that love is someone staying awake all night when you are in too much pain to sleep even with an alarm clock set for 8 am. I spent more consistent time with family than I have in awhile, and I let myself ask for help. My brightest days involved sitting on our balcony in the sun and no longer needing my walker or cane to walk to the end of the hallway.
Even before someone took a scalpel to my spine, I constantly fretted about wasting my time and wanting to use it wisely. But this recovery period gave me the opportunity to soak up what is truly important and allowed me to redefine myself through a new lens.
Now, when the chaos of life starts up again and I resume my usual activities, I know to stop and smell the blonde daises.