What Being (Temporarily) Disabled Has Taught Me
I’ve been through a rough patch lately. Things seem to happen in bunches and this past fall the bunch hit me big time. Everything was fixable – and for that I’m grateful – but it was way more than I’m used to. It started with cataracts that went from a minor annoyance to sight-threatening very quickly. Between COVID, staffing shortages and a glut of fellow Baby Boomers needing the same surgery I had to wait several months to get them taken care of. During which time I went from having difficulty driving at night to not being able to see well enough to drive at all. In the weeks leading up to the surgery even reading became difficult.
Then I fell and broke my wrist. Thankfully it was a simple fracture, a cast was all I needed, but it was still painful.
One day I was healthy, able-bodied, and independent then suddenly I was someone who couldn’t even dress herself. I couldn’t type, hold a pen, cook, or drive. I had to wear a bib as I awkwardly shoveled food into my mouth with my non-dominant hand.
Several months later the wrist is nearly healed and two cataracts have been removed. Now that I’m on the other side of the ordeal, here’s what I’ve learned from it.
Asking for help is bloody hard. Teachers in most spiritual traditions talk about humility. Is it any wonder? We humans hate it. To top it off we live in a “can do” culture. How many times have I heard, “The word can’t isn’t in my vocabulary” spouted as a virtue? There are lots of reasons we can’t do something. Maybe it’s something morally repugnant, or it could just be downright distasteful. We chose not to do things all the time because we simply can’t bring ourselves to do them.
And then there are things those pesky laws of physics won’t let us do. Pain serves a function. It’s nature’s way of forcing us to rest when it’s necessary. A broken bone needs rest to heal. Early on every little bump and tug is downright painful to insure that rest happens. Now, I’m not exactly a type A personality, but I hated being waited on. It was the first time since infancy that I couldn’t do much of anything for myself. Forcing myself to endure pain to do things for myself would have only prolonged the recovery.
Surrendering to what is in any moment is the main point of the mindfulness I’ve been practicing for the past 30 years, but I’d never quite been hit with a present moment like this one. My right hand was useless, my left started to ache from overuse and I couldn’t see. And I didn’t want any of it, but there was no choice. The experience forced me to stay present and accept the moment, even though it was painful, scary, and generally miserable.
I have a lot to be thankful for. It was all fixable and I had all the resources I needed, from x-rays and physical therapy to surgery and antibiotics. I’m painfully aware that somewhere in the world there are people like me, healthy with lots of life left, but functionally blind at 65 because of no access to – or money for – cataract surgery.
To top it off I had the best caregiver anybody could ask for. My husband never complained. He stepped up and did what needed to be done. Drove me to medical appointments, did all the housework I usually do plus his own. When I was helpless I got the help I needed. And for that I am truly grateful.
Looking at What’s Important
When the chips are down and you can’t do much of anything, it forces you to ask yourself what’s important. After getting take-out twice in less than a week, we both decided that our healthy diet and lifestyle was the most important thing to maintain. We compromised around the edges. We ate a little more fat and quite a bit more salt than normal because we opened more cans and packaged foods. But we did it judiciously. We continued eating our 9-12 servings of fruits and veggies every day.
I won’t lie. Comfort food called to me. There were times when that little saboteur – the one I call The Addict – tried to convince me I deserved it. I had to remind myself over and over again that any comfort that hot fudge sundae would bring would be temporary and in the end damaging. Yes I compromised, I ate a few more figs than I normally would, and I splurged on a few bags of salt-free pretzels.
Ram Dass was fond of saying “Everything in your life is there as a vehicle for transformation, use it.” If this experience did anything it gave me an opportunity to pay attention to what was happening and to accept it with humility and gratitude.