Distraction can be a great tool…I use it often. Between the day-to-day time-consuming tasks of having a spinal cord injury; the-day-to-day tasks of having children; and the day-to-day tasks of being an adult, I don’t have to seek out too much distraction. When I do find myself with a quiet moment and my thoughts start to wander I usually put on music or Netflix to keep my mind on only what I’m prepared to deal with. However sometimes the system fails and distraction doesn’t come easily.
The boys were at school and my daughter was quietly watching a movie. I was putting away laundry. I had left my phone in the other room and so I was, very unusually, sorting pants from pajamas without Ed Sheeran playing in the background. I was hanging up my daughter’s shirts and thinking that, at 2 years old, she clearly has a shopping problem. At that point my mind began to wander and as I was mentally going through the upcoming weeks on our calendar, I eventually landed on my dad’s upcoming heart surgery.
I think a lot about this approaching event, but today it took a different turn. For once it wasn’t about my dad, but about the rest of us. I pictured us all waiting through surgery – just as we did 6 years ago for the same reason. I remembered that the wait was long and anxiety provoking. And as I sat in my daughter’s room trying to decide if the pajama pants I was holding were hers or her older brother’s matching ones, I thought “it’s easier to be the one on the table – same result without the stressful wait”.
And in that moment my mind switched gears. I was no longer thinking about the future but was thrown into the past. I went back to March 11, 2016 – the morning of my surgery. However my thoughts were not of me; my thoughts centered on the hours that I was on the table…briefly and blissfully unaware of everything. I stopped the laundry (I had run out of hangers anyways) and thought about the waiting room that I was not present in – where in a strange turn of life events, everyone was waiting anxiously for me.
A new friend challenged me recently to look at my accident from different perspectives. So when my mind wandered to this event I didn’t back away from it; I didn’t go find my phone or abandon the laundry completely and join my daughter on the couch. I thought about this day, not as a moment in my life, but a moment in the lives of all of the people who were waiting for me.
I have been told bits and pieces of what happened in those hours. I know who was in the waiting room and who was waiting by their phones. I know who was doing everything they could to fly home. I’ve seen the countless messages that came in. I’m in awe of all of the people who stopped living their lives on that day in order to find out what was happening with mine. And when I think of everyone who waited, I am humbled…I’m reminded that this accident did not just happen to me.
This injury is not all about me…some days I forget that. I think, just for now, let’s take me out of it.
I see my sisters and brothers (the in-law variety included) all in a fog of disbelief. I know they were feeling thankful that they hadn’t lost their sister but unsure of the nature of our lives together going forward. All of them were trying to stay hopeful…for themselves and for everyone around them.
I can imagine my in-laws catching random flights to get home from Mexico. They received the phone call that you never want to get while on vacation – ‘there’s been an accident’. They were thousands of miles from home while their daughter-in-law was having surgery and their son was dealing with the hardest thing in his life to date. They felt helpless…and for them that’s a big one.
I think of my parents…they were in shock and very unsure of what this all meant. Their daughter, who they watched take her first steps, had just lost the ability to walk. Their baby girl was face down on an operating table while a surgeon removed pieces of her spine. Their hearts were breaking because their child was in pain and nobody ever wants to see their own children in pain.
I can picture my husband, surrounded by love in that waiting room but still feeling alone because I was not with him. I know how strong he was. – I can hear him telling everyone else that everything was going to be okay while really being terrified that it wasn’t. His best friend, his love, the mother of his children was a trauma patient. His world had flipped upside-down and yet he was left standing while his wife was most certainly not. His life was going to look different forever but in this moment he was uncertain what that meant.
I have read the messages that went back and forth between my husband and our family and friends – words of confusion, encouragement, love and a lot of ‘she is in surgery and we will know more when she is out’. Family and friends who felt far away but wanted us to know that they were with us – that for a few moments their lives stopped too in order to be with us and to wait.
So many of these people, as I would expect, were able to go back to their lives. The physical injury is mine and mine alone to overcome. But there is an aspect to this injury that belongs to all of these people…some more than others. Being able to share the burden of my accident with other people who consider it to be a part of their story as well is something I am thankful for. I am not the only person who has terrible memories of the hours, days, weeks and months following my accident. I am not the only one who carries this…and I need to remind myself of that more often.
Now when I think about my dad’s upcoming surgery I realize even more that while it is his journey and the physical burden is his and his alone to overcome, it is a part of all of our individual stories. He is our dad and our dad is going in for heart surgery…that will never, not be a part of our journey. And we will stop our lives in those moments so that we can wait for him while he is briefly and blissfully unaware.
As I bring my mind back to the present I realize that I did, in fact, abandon the laundry. This is what happens when I don’t have any music to sing along to while I do chores…they don’t get done! But the realization that I’m truly not alone (and neither are you, Dad) is worth ditching the laundry for. I am not alone because there is so much love in my life. And I’ve listened to Ed Sheeran enough to know that sharing the burden of life’s heartaches with those that we love is just the price we pay for really living.
“A life with love is a life that’s been lived”