In Just Seconds
It only lasted seconds, but the impact will last months. One minute I was running, embracing a warm-for-February afternoon, exploring a new trail at a local park. The next minute I was sprawled on the ground, leaves sticking in my hair and my running tights, clutching my leg.
A few days later an MRI confirmed the worst case scenario - my right hamstring tendon, which holds the three muscles of the hamstring to my pelvis, was torn and detached. I would need surgery to tack the tendon back into place, followed by several weeks of rest and healing, then several months of rehabilitation and therapy.
I'm now in week 2 of receovery. There were times in this first week where the reality of needing so much help for so many little things brought me to tears. I went into the surgery with a blind sense of optimism, so determined not to give in to the dark cloud looming over me that I failed to grasp the seriousness of the surgery, or the long process of recovering. The first few days back home were an eye opener, learning just how much help I needed for even the smallest of tasks, and how patient I'd have to be with myself in order to heal. I've started writing down things I'm learning from this experience. Many are lessons I needed to learn, so in a sense this experience has been good for me. I'm choosing to share those thoughts here because I hope that those who may read this will understand and embrace these lessons, without having to learn them the hard way.
Ask for help, and accept help. It seems like such a simple thing, but over the last 10 years I've grown to be a very independent person. It was hard the first few days to accept the help I knew I needed. It made me feel, well, helpless. But what I didn't realize was that asking for help, and accepting help, is an act of love. Every person who helped me out of bed, who brought me lunches, who helped me put socks on - they all love me. Instead of fretting about being helpless, I've learned to feel loved.
Ask a lot of questions. No, really, a lot. All of them. Everything you can think of, even if it seems dumb.. Ask it. Because there's a good chance the surgeon, the doctor, the therapist hasn't clearly told you everything you need to know. Ask. Get clear answers. Be your own advocate for information. The more information you have, the more powerful you'll feel about controlling your situation.
Not being totally independent doesn't make you less you. This kind of ties to the first one, but is worth mentioning on it's own. I am not my independence. It is a part of me, it is a strength I possess, but it isn't the sum of who I am. I am many things, things that will not be changed or tainted or muted by this experience. Needing help doesn't make me less independent, it just makes me human.
Laugh. A lot. I laugh at myself, at the situation, at the ridiculous effort it takes just to get out of bed, at the irony of how hard I was trying to become a runner only to have running literally knock me on my ass. It's funny! I mean, come on, it is. Life if funny. Sure, life is sad and it's hard and it can feel really, really, unfair. But I have a choice in how I respond to life. I can choose to lament all the strength and endurance and fitness I'm losing each day I lie still in bed, waiting to heal. Or I can embrace the challenge ahead, look forward to the effort of getting strong again, set goals to strive for, no matter how small they may seem. I'd rather spend the next 6 months laughing. Because doesn't that just seem way more fun then the alternative?
Obsessing about why something happened doesn't change that it did happen. This one is tough. It's so easy to go over and over those few seconds that led me to this. What if I hadn't gone for a run that day? What if I had run on a paved trail instead? What if I had fallen differently? What if, what if, what if? None of that is useful. This happened. I can't change that. I can only move forward. So forward I shall go.
Accepting the new reality, however difficult, empowers you to deal with it and to see past it. To put it another way, embrace the suck (my new motto, heard in a movie). This is my life for a while: crutches and knee brace and a 5" incision in my gluteal fold (which, by the way, is a really fun phrase - gluteal fold). It's not permanent, I will recover. And by accepting the situation I can embrace every accomplishment, no matter how small.
I am really, really lucky. This injury, this experience, has shown me how truly lucky I am. There are many, many things to be grateful for. Friends and family who leap up to offer help, coworkers and a boss who support my needing time to heal, a cat who seems to have taken on the job of comfort animal, and access to really great medical care. It's so easy to take things for granted when all is going well. It only takes seconds for our lives to change. Don't wait until it does to realize how lucky you are.
Life will always be filled with challenges, big and small. How we face them makes us who we are. We have choices in how we respond to life. We can be embarrassed, prideful, stubborn, and gloomy. Or, we can lean into the challenge. These lessons, the gifts of love, strength, joy, and humor that I've come to recognize in my new reality, are treasures. I offer them to you and hope you'll take them in and keep them close.