I was walking to my friend, neighbor and coworker Wendy’s house two Sundays ago, right after Minnesota started looking like Minnesota again (the white stuff that came so late this year). I rounded the corner and encountered a wet spot and BAM! I wiped out — a dramatic, both feet in the air, no time to react kind of fall. I landed directly on my tailbone, without even the time to put an arm down to lessen the impact, and I laid there thinking to myself: “This is it. You’ve broken your back. It’s wheelchair time, it’s back surgery again time, it’s recover in the nursing home because there’s no one to lift you out of your shower chair time.” But then, slowly, painfully, I got up, limped up to their door, and went inside and whined a bit.
I broke my tailbone, and if any of you have ever broken your tailbone, you know — it hurts. A lot. Sitting is painful, walking is painful, and boy oh boy, driving is no good at all. The good news is that it doesn’t require expensive surgery and I have so far avoided my first nursing home stay, so I can’t really complain! Had I landed with the impact of my weight just a few inches higher, I’d likely be writing this column from my bed at the home between sips of prune juice. I’m counting myself as lucky.
I was more than a little terrified of the thought of back surgery again, since there’s really nothing left for them to do except spinal fusion, which includes a much longer recovery time and is the very last thing they can do to help a spinal deformity like mine. And, once they fuse the disks, it damages the surrounding disks over time, so having this surgery done when you’re young usually leads to more problems down the line. I’m hoping to avoid this one for as long as I can.
My fall reminded me of my last recoveries after back surgery, when my late husband cared for me so well. The second and third surgeries were a lot harder on me than the first. After the first one, I felt like a new woman immediately; after the second and third I did not feel so hot, not for many months. Having someone to help me get out of the shower chair, to fetch the jar of mayonnaise that, when you can’t bend over, inevitably springs from the fridge and rolls across the floor, was such a blessing. (Honestly, if you’ve ever been unable to bend over, you know that you will suddenly become the person who drops everything she touches, so much so that the bendable person assisting you begins to think you’re doing it on purpose.)
I was coming down from the attic years ago one night. My attic is the sort that has a foldable ladder that drops from a door in the ceiling. I was coming down the ladder and pulling the ceiling door closed above me when I suddenly slipped. My hand was still holding the door, and I was dangling there, all my weight pulling the door down and crushing my hand trapped inside. My husband was nearby and immediately grabbed my legs, lifting me up enough to get my hand out. I was so fortunate that time — had he not been there, I fear every bone in my hand would have been crushed, rather than just the one. Now, I don’t go in the attic unless there’s someone around, just in case.
My fall got me thinking about all those other falls and injuries, and times when I simply couldn’t get around without the help of my husband. But even though I don’t have someone there, every day and night, to catch me when I fall anymore, I still have an incredible number of friends and family in my life who are there for me when I need them. Maybe I wouldn’t end up in the nursing home, after all. I would probably have a line out the door of people willing to help me, a whole circle of people who love me, huddled around the bottom rung of that ladder. (Although, I will say, there are very few of you who I would allow to assist me out of the shower chair. No offense.)
I think I’ve gotten the hang of this whole looking on the bright side of things. It’s hard to feel lonely and sorry for yourself when you have such wonderful people in your life. Inevitably, when something goes wrong and I start feeling down, I am always reminded of them, and my spirits are lifted (though my bottom may, at times, be on the ground).
Here’s to a wonderful holiday season, to a new year — a year when we can all hopefully put away the donut cushions and cherish the gift of a comfortable seat at the table