taking the plunge...sort of

As I mentioned in my last update, I am currently down in North Palm Beach for a week. It has been so relaxing and refreshing to get away from my house, and enjoy the sun and beach down here. I love my home, but after 3 months of being there non-stop, I was thrilled to get a change of scenery!

My cousin and I enjoying our Grandmother's pool circa 1988
While I'm here, I'm taking advantage of the pool every day. I haven't been cleared for bending or twisting yet, so I am only walking in the water, and doing leg, arm, and torso strengthening exercises. It is very hard to resist the temptation to swim. Ever since I learned to swim as a small child, I have loved being in the water, and actually feel withdrawal when I'm kept away from it too long. But I am standing strong for now, as doing damage to my fusion is something I do NOT want to risk.

I am hoping that at the 6 month mark my surgeon will clear me for regular swimming. From what I've heard from other post-op scoliosis patients, it varies from surgeon to surgeon. Some were swimming at 9 weeks post-op and some weren't cleared for a year. I think it will feel pretty strange to swim without bending my spine, although for swimming laps that will not be a problem. But for quick turn arounds and diving, well, I'll probably have to learn new ways to do them. I'm not sure if surfing is entirely off the table forever, but I am not sure how I'd be able to get up on the board without bending. I might have to settle for paddling out and floating for the fun of it.

pool side in NPB
I have enjoyed the relief that just floating in the water gives my spine. I can feel the pressure from my long fusion on my lower back dissipate immediately when I relax in the deep end of the pool. There aren't very many ways to get that kind of relief, and I'm hoping I can find a pool back home to use frequently for this purpose.

Overall though, I am excited about how well my recovery is going, and am thankful for this week in the sun. I am amazed at how much I can do, and how much I can do that I couldn't do pre-op. Has it been strange adjusting my life to my new back? Absolutely. But has it been worth it? Absolutely.

Hope you're able to get out in the sun this week too!

on the road again...

my fancy ride
I have some exciting news! Well, it may not be that exciting to you, but it is VERY exciting to me. I drove the 2 and a half hour drive from Orlando to North Palm Beach. Yep. That means my pain didn't keep me from sitting straight up for a whole drive! I am so amazed, as I haven't been able to drive that long since before I got married almost 4 years ago.

Usually my husband has to drive on long trips, and I don't mind that at all. And for this trip I was only going to drive for the first 30 minutes to allow him to get some work done on the way. But about 30 minutes in I was feeling so good, I wanted to see how long it would last before I had to stop. We did stop once at about the half way mark, and I got out and stretched my legs for about 5 minutes. But that was it, and I didn't have the excruciating pain I usually have after about 30-45 minutes of sitting. And, not only was my pain very minimal, I did not have to lay down for hours in pain after driving that long. Usually after car rides I have to lay down and am unable to do much for the rest of the day. This time, I laid down for about 20 or 30 minutes, and then we got up and went out to dinner! I feel almost normal! I forgot what it was like to just drive somewhere, and then go do things when you get there. It's been such a process over the last few years, where I had to carefully plan how long I would be able to ride in the car, and then lay down afterwards. Sometimes I would be out of commission for several days after a trip. It does help that my fancy new car has very comfortable seats with adjustable lumbar supports, and a back up camera. But even with those things, there is NO WAY I could have driven that far pre-op.

I really hope this means that my nerve is finally on its way to healing. I couldn't have driven that far pre-op, and had gotten so used to the fact that I hadn't even considered that this surgery could enable me to do things like driving long distances again. Anyway, just wanted to share my excitement with you all. Thank you for the continued prayers, especially for healing for my nerve. It seems like God may be working that out for me, and I incredibly thankful and excited!

suffering and blessing....

Last year at this time, I thought my days of surgery and recovery were behind me forever. Well, here I am a year later, with another surgery under my belt, and at least 8 more months of recovery to go. The strange thing is, even though I do get frustrated and impatient sometimes, I also have a peace and a joy that have sustained me through. I really do feel like I've been refined, and refined again through these 4 surgeries, and I know I am a stronger, more mature, more wise woman because of them.

I can't say that I would have choosen this road for myself. I often think how it could have been, and how we would probably be parents by now if not for all my pain. But, having lived through it, I would not change it, or wish away all the surgeries, pain, and frustration. I can see many good things already that have come from this suffering, and that makes me believe that years from now, I will see even greater rewards. And even if I don't see them, or they remain unclear until the day I die, I trust that my Father would not allow this pain if there was no redemption in it. For "Now we see things imperfectly, like puzzling reflections in a mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity. All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely, just as God now knows me completely." (1 Corinthians 13:12)

I am reposting an essay I wrote a year ago, because it is even more relevant to my life today than it was last Easter...
Suffering and Blessing

I have been thinking a lot lately about Jesus’ suffering on the cross. Doing a close reading of the book of John reveals over and over how Jesus saw His upcoming death. He saw it not only as obedience to God’s will, but as a blessing and a gift to those that would believe in His Name. This idea, that Jesus could view His imminent torture and suffering as a blessing, has got me thinking about how I view blessing and suffering in my own life. Or rather, how I need to change my understanding of their definitions!

I’ve got to get this idea out of my head that God’s blessing comes in the form of what I want. What I want is not necessarily what God has for me, and what God has for me is not always what I want, especially at first. Take for example, Mary. In Luke 1:28, the angel of the Lord tells Mary she is highly favored. And just in case we miss it the first time he repeats it again in verse 1:30, saying “you have found favor with God.” Can’t be more clear than that, right? And what does her being highly favored by God get her? Well, God blesses her by causing her to become pregnant before she is married. I doubt Mary could see all that would come from this blessing. I'm sure she was very upset at how her reputation would be ruined and worried about how Joseph would see her. If Mary had refused this unconventional blessing because of the suffering it would initially cause, imagine what she would have lost out on! She would have missed out on being the Mother of Jesus! But putting myself in her shoes, I’m not so sure I wouldn’t have done just that. I can hear myself saying, “Well, thanks for coming all this way, I appreciate the compliments, and wow, I feel pretty special, but I’m happy with the way my life is going and I’d rather not muck it up with an unplanned pregnancy. Can’t God bless me in some other way?”

When we encounter difficulties do we immediately ask God to take them away because they are painful or inconvenient? Or do we consider that this difficult thing is a blessing God has given to us to bring us closer to Him and give Him glory? In John 9, Jesus encounters a man who has been blind since birth. When Jesus is asked why this man is blind, Jesus says clearly that he is blind so that God’s work would be done in his life!

I don’t know about you, but if someone asked me if I want God’s work done in my life, I’d say yes without even thinking. I’d probably even go on about how wonderful it is, and how I strive to bring Him glory. But when God’s work in my life takes the form of suffering, trial, and hardship, I know I am slow to see it as a blessing. I catch myself wondering if God knows what's going on in my life, asking why He would let me struggle with this, or feel that pain. My knee jerk reaction to suffering is to ask for God to get me out of this situation or heal me of my pain, instead of stopping to see how he is working for my good and His glory. Sometimes it's easier to see why something difficult would be for my good. But, more often, I really can't see that far down the road. And since I can't see any good in my suffering, I immediately think God needs to get me out of this, and quickly!

How different is Christ’s attitude when it comes to suffering! Even when His heart is troubled over the impending pain and separation He faced, He recognizes that His suffering was “the very reason I came.” And further, that His death and suffering would bring glory to His Father in heaven! (John 12:27-28). Had Jesus chosen to flee His suffering, instead of walking right into it, there would be no Resurrection. We would all be hopeless. Jesus did many things in His time on earth, all for God’s glory. But His ultimate act of obedience was to endure a suffering we can not fully comprehend. Jesus knew that His suffering was actually a blessing because it would bring God glory, and bring us to Him. The actual definition for blessing is this: to bestow upon or be infused with holiness, and divine will. And Jesus’ suffering on the Cross fits that definition perfectly.

So, as I celebrate Jesus coming out of the tomb and saving me from my sin, I also celebrate His suffering and blessing. Because they are one and the same. And I’m asking Him to help me see blessing the way He does. Not as some magical wish fulfillment, but the glory of God being revealed in my life no matter what or how difficult the circumstances.

dark valleys and dusky hills...

What are you walking through right now? I've written before about how important walking is to recovering from surgery, and to having a healthy life in general. I've been pretty good about keeping up with my daily walks, even though they have gotten fairly monotonous. I stopped walking outside for my exercise walk, as my neighborhood is actually pretty hilly as far as Florida neighborhoods go. It was irritating my nerve too much, and so I decided walking in circles inside my house was a better way to go. While walking around in my house doesn't give me much to look at, the nice, flat tile is easier on my spine and enables me to walk further and faster.
My "backyard"
Here in the Sunshine State, summer is already making its debut, with 90 degree weather and steamy humidity. So when the last few days have been a beautiful 75 degrees with no humidity, I just couldn't resist the dusky evening glow calling to me through the living room windows. I happen to live on a golf course, and in the evenings people walk their dogs, (or just themselves) around the course without fear of the stray ball. This evening I joined them with my best friend, and my best dog, and enjoyed my exercise walk again for the first time in a while. While we were walking, I was reminded of a verse that most people know, whether they've ever picked up a Bible or not.

"The Lord is my Shepherd, I lack nothing.
He makes me lie down in green pastures, 
He leads me beside quite waters,
He refreshes my soul.
He guides me along the right paths for His Name's sake.
Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil,
For You are with me; Your rod and Your staff they comfort me."

Even though the path I was walking along this evening wasn't dark, I have definitely walked through some dark days during this recovery. I was struck by the contrast between the glowing trees and shimmering grass I was surrounded by, and the sometimes troubled darkness of my circumstance. But when I thought of Psalm 23, that contrast didn't seem so out of place. I think it is often overlooked that while the first verse is a reassuring reminder that the Lord is our Shepherd and we lack for nothing, it goes on to say "He makes us lay down in green pastures." Why would He ever need to "make" us lie down in green pastures? Wouldn't we just want to do that?  Well it turns out, real, live, fluffy sheep often will not rest on their own, but will keep walking or eating until they are literally exhausted. Shepherds 'make' their sheep lay down, to ensure they get the rest they need to be healthy. (Hmm...maybe I'm more like a sheep than I thought...)

I've often wondered if He is "making" me lie down in a green pasture right now, or if I'm walking through a dark valley. Maybe it's a little of both. I am walking slowly and often painfully. But when it's dark and discouraging, I can cling to the promise that "You are with me." And while He is certainly "guiding me along the right paths" that doesn't mean those paths won't sometimes be dark.  Later in that same chapter, the Psalmist goes on to say, "You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies." Another clash of darkness and light. I would have to trust someone with my whole being if I was going to sit down to a feast, while the ones who wanted most to hurt me were all around. And I guess that is the point. Rarely are we not surrounded by hardship and trouble, by people or circumstance that seek to destroy. And if we don't have someone to rely on to protect us, we may never be able to relax enough to sit down to enjoy our lives.

So, whatever you're walking through, whether it be beautiful, dusky hills, or dark, aching valleys, I hope that you find that One who can protect you and guide you along your way...

go go gadget arm...

What really frustrates you? I mean, what makes you feel like you're wrapped in sandpaper, or so irritated you feel like a cactus? For me, currently, I am frustrated when I drop something. I don't know if I've always been this clumsy, or if it is getting worse as some sort of joke my body is playing on me, trying to get back at me for putting it through this surgery. Either way, it's frustrating!

A few weeks of not being able to pick up things you drop on the floor isn't too bad. And even a month isn't horrible. But once you pass the 3 month mark, well, I'm at the "so irritated I could actually be defined as a rash" stage. And it's not just the dropping things at home that is driving me crazy, it's the dropping car keys in the parking-lot of the grocery store, or dropping my mail outside my mailbox, watching it blow away down the neighborhood hill. It is a combination of not being able to do things for myself, and the total lack of control that is bothering me the most I think. Asking strangers to pick up your credit card you just dropped while pumping gas is weird. Try it sometime. I dare you. But, to get the whole effect, wait until there is only one somewhat creepy guy with a busted old truck to ask. Then you'll get the real experience.

I do have a grabber, and I use it a lot more than I ever did after my other surgeries. But as wonderful as that little contraption is, it doesn't really work well for things like a single piece of paper, or a bobby-pin. And I don't carry it around with me out of the house. So when I'm walking down the sidewalk and drop my cellphone, well, there's not much I can do besides ask a random person (and they never seem to be around when I drop things) or just cry. Most of the time I ask for help. (And for those of you reading this who grew up around the 80's, I have had dreams recently where I had a go-go-gadget arm. But I always awake to find it isn't so, much to my disappointment.)

Go-Go Gadget Laundry Arm!
On the brighter side, I have figured out how to do the laundry completely by myself (almost). This has been a challenging part of my recovery, in that doing laundry presents several different challenges within the process. First, the laundry basket is very heavy when full, and I can't carry it up and down our stairs. (This part I still can't do, so that's the "almost" by myself part, as Drew still has to carry the laundry up and down the stairs for me.)
Second, Getting things in and out of the washer and dryer requires quite a bit of bending that you may never have thought about. I use my grabber to take the clothes out of the basket and put them into the washing machine. After the wash is done, I use my grabber again to get the clothes out of the washer and place them into the dryer. I was trying to describe this activity to my friend the other day, as it feels something like those arcade games you play with the claw, trying to get the toy. I usually am out of breath by the time this is over, as the wet clothes are heavy.* It's also a challenge to see if I can actually get all of the clothes out of the washer, because I can't bend to look down in there and make sure I get those renegade socks that like to cling to the back of the agitator.
My floor level hand, ie. my foot.
Third, after the drying is done I use the trusty grabber one more time to remove the clothes out of the dryer. Again, this is another carnival challenge, and I feel like I should win a stuffed animal by the time I'm done.
Fourth, because I can't pick up the laundry basket, I push it with my feet across our floor into the living-room where I use my grabber to get the clothes out and fold them.

I am glad I can at least do 90ish percent of the job now. I remember feeling in the first 2 months that simply folding the clothes was too hard. But it does become wearing to never be able to do a task the whole way through. I often feel as though I'm not really helping because I need help to get a task done. I have to keep in mind most of these tasks I will eventually be able to do again on my own. And even though I feel like it's not really helping, that's not accurate. Any part, even if it's only half, of a task that I can do, means Drew doesn't have to do that part, and he appreciates that half, or 90ish percent that I can do.

I realize that many people have much greater physical setbacks than I do. And like I said, most of mine won't be permanent. But I'd be lying if I didn't say that I get frustrated with them from time to time. It's a process to learn how to deal with that frustration, and not let it keep me from finding ways to do what needs to be done. Yes, if you looked in through my windows, you probably will see me at certain times of the day getting a little red faced as I try to pick up a shred of plastic wrapping that fell out of my hands as I was trying to put it in the recycling. And, you might be that stranger I ask to get my credit card off the ground at the gas station. Either way, I hope I'll get better at this adaptation process, and that my attitude reflects my thankfulness for what I am able to do, verses what I'm not.

*By heavy I mean not heavy at all unless you've had all your back muscles severed and then sewn back together.

Heigh ho...

I feel like it's been forever since I've posted on here, but that's probably because I've been so busy since last week. It's a great feeling to be busy again! I am back working full time from home, so my days are pretty full. I am really happy that I work from home, a lot of people are unable to go back to work after this surgery for 5 or 6 months. Since I work from home, I'm able to set my own hours, and lay on the couch as much as I need to. That's a real blessing, as I know I would be incapable of physically going to work and sitting in a chair for 8 hours. Having something to keep my mind busy while my body is busy healing is also wonderful. The beginning of this recovery was so consuming, all I could think about was how much pain I was in or how uncomfortable I felt. Having work to think about is such a refreshing change! Thinking about yourself 24 hours a day actually gets pretty boring.

Along with work, I've started what I like to call "baby-steps" physical therapy. And by "baby-steps" I mean a baby could do them. Since I'm still not allowed to lift anything heavier than 5 pounds, bend, or twist, I am using mostly resistance bands, and body weight exercises. It's amazing how tired I get after simple arm exercises or lifting my legs! I guess that's why they have you start with baby-steps. I am already feeling some of my upper-body strength returning, and that is not a moment too soon. Having a hard time opening the refrigerator door is sign your shoulders are just a tad on the weak side.
Me, out of the house at the dog park! Yay!

I've been able to get out a lot more over the last few weeks, and I am feeling more like a regular person rather than a scoliosis patient in recovery. Just being able to go to the grocery store, or to meet a friend for coffee, really lifts my spirits. I don't think I'll ever take for granted the freedom a healthy body provides. When I was not able to leave the house, it was very difficult to keep a positive attitude all the time. And I really believe your attitude when going through a recovery of this magnitude is vital to getting healthy and being productive. Now that I'm able to leave, even if it's just to go to the post office, when I come home and have to lay down for a few hours, I don't feel like a prisoner in my own body or home.

I keep reminding myself I have a lot of time left on the recovery clock, but like I said, if I don't feel like I'm in prison it's a lot easier to handle that long recovery. Next on my to do list, get a tan! =)