We were driving on a December afternoon toward the very end of the year–one of those post Christmas days where everything seems a little cold and uncertain, the way a baby’s bare feet feel on the cool tile kitchen floor as they take their first steps. I realized at a stop light that one of our children that is normally particularly animated was just staring intently out the window to the two lane road where our vehicle idled.
“Look, just look at that bird. It cannot move, it must have a broken wing. I feel bad for it”.
I glanced over, and right on the yellow divide line, was indeed this lovely, small bird with a fluffy red head and sleek gray body, that seemed utterly paralyzed. It could not fly, it could not walk. So instead, it just sat scared on that yellow line, with the strong wind of cars flying past, almost in mocking, “We can move, we can fly! But you? You cannot. If you move back or forward, you are going to get hit”. So there it was, frozen, unable to meet a most certain fate inches before or ahead. The light flicked to that familiar green and I watched as we drove farther and farther away from the bird, and wondered how long it would survive in pause.
It’s been a long time since I have written to you, and needless to say I am full of stories yet unable to digest it all just yet. But one September weekend I woke up with searing pain in my arm, and I did what myself and all the stubborn men before me do–blow it off as “I slept funny” and refused to go to the doctor. But after a night of playing cards with friends (yes, I won) the pain was just unbearable. And this is coming from a gal that almost had her third child in her minivan. I can handle physical pain. It’s the emotional pain that kills me.
After visiting a slew of medical professionals and tossing around co-pays like candy in a parade, I was told the first week of October that not only did I have a tendon tear in my right shoulder, which would require rotator cuff repair surgery, but that I also have lupus, which is an auto immune disease that would explain months of random flu like symptoms, gratuitous amount of hair loss in the shower, weight loss, utter exhaustion, and also the culprit of the tendon tear– my body is literally deteriorating from the inside out. No known injury, healthy female, good physical health, all the medical notes read. But the surgeon took one look at me and said, “You didn’t do anything, lift anything. You have lupus”. And extensive bloodwork later, he was right.
I went in that day, looked him square in the eye and said, “I am not having surgery. The only reason I am here right now is to talk you out of it”. I left with the surgery date of November 15th and a slew of well wishes. Also the distinguished award of being his youngest patient to date. I’ve never had surgery, aside from my wisdom teeth, in my life, and have always been in excellent health. I have always prided myself on how I would one day be on the Today Show as the longest living woman in America, and the secret to my longevity would be fountain Coke and Junior Mints. Now I had to stop running with my son due to the shoulder injury and could barely make it through the day without needing a nap. I lived off of Ibuprofen and the inflammation in my body was out of control. I was failing in every area of my life. I was like a bird, in the middle of the two lane highway, with a broken wing. A once free flying, cheerful creature stuck to the cement in fear.
The surgery came and went, and then the arduous task of wearing the “immobilizer”, which is basically a large black block pillow strapped to your body. It’s like wearing a baby sling without a baby (see also: waking every four hours from the pain. Also like having an infant, without the infant. Good times). The tragedy and comedy that comes from being one-armed, my right arm, nonetheless, I will spare you for another day, but there was a time where my kids were tying my shoes for me, putting in my earrings, and I learned to eat with chopsticks left handed. I still cannot pull my hair into a ponytail, but we will get there in due time.
Right now the forecast looks promising: the surgeon told me last week that I will be able to run again by the spring, and kayak by summer. I will not have full mobility back in my arm until this November, a full year after surgery. Lupus still is holding on tight, and we are working toward getting that mess under control. Until then, both of my hands still type, and my mind is full of tidbits to tell you, as I have went dark for quite some time.
As is the custom for some, I have chosen a word for the new year, as I have in year’s past. While my words from the past have included, “Hope”, “Adventure” and “Courage and Confidence” (I failed miserably at that one), this year I am choosing “Strong’. Last year I was the weakest I have ever been. This year I plan to be strong physically, mentally, spiritually, and emotionally more than I ever have.
And the next time you see a bird with a broken wing, with life passing her by, take the time to move her to safety. Thankfully, I had a lot of fellow swallows carrying me last year and into this year, allowing me to take comfort in their wings. Things are not always what they seem. And those birds will forever be in my nest.