Running has been such an important part of my life for more than 30 years that it was a shock to suddenly have it removed from my routine. It was a shock both physically and mentally, and one that was not easily remedied. My nurse practioner immediately suggested that I begin taking an antidepressant because my serotonin level had dropped drastically, yet another shock to my system. Unfortunately, with two sacral stress fractures, not only did my doctors outlaw running, I was barely able to walk. That meant relying on a walker, which was another shock not just to me but to everyone who knew me. In an attempt to ease the embarrassment they knew I felt, my family made jokes such as Fred’s suggestion that he get me a horn. My initial insistence that there would be NO bag hanging from the front transformed into…well…okay, a bag, but ONLY in the house.
Of course, the whole situation worsened when I woke up unable to lift my right arm and had excruciating pain. That led to multiple MRIs, a nerve study, blood tests of my entire system, and a bone density test. That test revealed osteoporosis, and blood tests showed anemia, extremely low levels of vitamin D, extremely high SED rate (rate of inflammation) and high platelets. Then began a round of testing for frightening diseases such as multiple myeloma. Fortunately, those proved negative. Still, the shoulder pain persisted and it froze, despite physical therapy.
Three months and one major erroneous diagnosis later, a second doc discovered rotator cuff arthropathy — arthritis with a major rotator cuff tear. That meant the usual surgery to repair a rotator tear was not an option. The best option was a reverse total shoulder replacement, in which they reverse the ball and socket, replacing each with a man-made part.
Ironically, that doc informed me in that flat tone of some orthopedic surgeons, at 52, I was too young for the surgery. Thus began a quest for learning to live with chronic pain. Being housebound and giving up my usual activity was not an option, as far as I was concerned. After a few weeks of being overwhelmed by fear and hopelessness, I decided it was time to get on with life and figure out what I could do and what I’d have to set aside for the time being.
Initially, my plan involved walking as soon as possible, but that meant waiting until the stress fractures had healed. After nearly three months, the pain in both right and left sacrum had disappeared and I knew I was ready for some slow, easy walking — a somewhat new concept or at least a long-forgotten idea. After all, this whole situation began with a 15K in Mason, Ohio, where I’d placed first in my age group. Talking about dropping from the top to the bottom….
Stay tuned for the next piece of this puzzle…
When I grow up, I want to be my mother. Not any other mother…just mine. (If my mother is reading this, she’s probably laughing in disbelief.) After all our years of mother/daughter angst, I’m going to have to admit that I hope I’m just like her on my 87th birthday. Wellll…maybe not JUST like her. After all, that would mean that I’d have to learn to like blueberries, oatmeal, bananas, and strawberry pap. Oh yeah, and I would not be spending my birthday watching an opera.
But if I can get to 87 and still do even half of what she does, I’ll be a happy woman. I want to volunteer at an old bookstore, so I can borrow the best books when they come in. I want to decide early one morning to get in my car and trot off to Findlay with my friend, Mary, do some shopping and eat lunch, and share sad and funny stories about our children. I want to work in my garden as the sun rises, read my book club choice as I eat breakfast at a leisurely pace, go back to bed to read some more if I feel like it, and do a couple of laps around my condo complex. I want to make beautiful quilts in colors and patterns that are always perfect (except for that one requisite flaw), I want to play my grand piano when the spirit moves me (but NOT teach three little boys to play piano — sorry, Mother), and I want to try new recipes on my hugely supportive small group. Most of all, I want to visit my kids but only for a few weeks at the most, because I want to sleep in my own bed and eat my own food on my own schedule. Oh, and I want to have three friends who share check-in duties with each other every morning because I want to be sure that I get to enjoy every day of my life!
Small town life
After more than 50 years of living in the same small town of about 4,000, reality has finally hit. Life in a small town is not so bad after all. Sure, it has its disadvantages – everyone knows your business – but the advantages far outweigh the bad. For example, everyone knows your business. Okay, that’s a contradiction, but considering the support we’ve received during what might be seen as the worst four months of our lives – small town living is the best.
During the early days of my illness in February, I didn’t really want to see anyone besides Fred, Lindsay, Anne, my mom, and my friend, Mary. I even turned down the offer of a visit by our pastoral team. But after a few weeks of this self-imposed exile, I realized I needed some outside interaction. About that time, word began to filter through the community and each day the mail carrier’s bag held several cards of well-wishes.
One of the biggest surprises was the day I went to physical therapy and found a gift bag waiting for me. Inside was a hand-made comforter with a note of explanation from the woman who was my babysitter almost 50 years ago. I’d seen her there the day before as she picked up her husband from his PT session. She’d probably be surprised to know that I sleep with that now because it’s the perfect weight for cool summer nights when my husband is still using the heavy feather duvet.
Then the food started to make its way to our house. First mashed potatoes from my mom, who somehow sensed my need for something completely different from my usual fare, then homemade bread from Mary, complete meals from my aunt and uncle and another friend. Having lived in a large city where I barely knew the neighbors, I’m pretty sure the offers of food, rides to the doctor, and visits would not have been nearly so prolific had we lived in a larger town.
Even now that I’m back in circulation, getting back to walking and biking, people still ask how I’m doing and the hugs at church are gentle, but full of caring. How would I have reacted to such a response when I was in my 20s? Would I have valued the friendliness of people I barely knew, but who obviously cared about me?
Now, four months have passed since the beginning of that traumatic stretch, and we’ve been shocked into reality by another set of circumstances. Just when we thought life was returning to semi-order, Fred’s employer decided that his responsibilities as CEO of the local chamber were a conflict of interest with his editorial job. With just three hours notice, he was “asked” to resign one or the other. Ironically, a year ago when he began to consider the part-time chamber work, his employers gave him the thumbs up – apparently they then saw it as a benefit for them , but changed their minds along the way. He chose not to resign from either, and was subsequently fired.
Whatever their real reasons for their actions, it has proven to be a good thing for us. He’s much less stressed and is now able to focus on his freelance work – building up his clientele, and learning much along the way. He’s smiling a lot more, laughing a lot more, and feeling bolstered by the outpouring of support from the community. Friends on Facebook make regular snide comments about the deteriorating appearance of the newspaper. Would such support have happened in a large city? Probably not – he’d have been just one of a large number of unemployed persons, and very few would have cared.
All this just goes to prove that life in a small town ain’t so bad after all.
Some time in my past (probably 20 years ago), my brother, sister-in-law and I were driving to a 5K race in St. Louis at some godawful hour. James and I were whining about the usual maladies of the day…interruptions of our bodily functions, achiness, etc. Karen suggested we not run that day. James and I looked at her, stunned. In tandem, we said, “Pannabeckers never quit.” We like to blame this attitude on genetics — not only from Dad and Grandpa P., but also from Mother, a Pannabecker by marriage. It has some good and bad pieces to it.
Naturally we ran the race and finished it in one piece. But what this leads up to is that a few weeks ago, my 86-year-old mother (sorry, Mother) overdid the physical activity and ended up in the hospital. Her doc and I chided her for not pacing herself. She responded with her usual “I didn’t think I was overdoing it.” (Sorry again, Mother, for using you as my example.)
Anyway, last weekend, those words came back to haunt my husband and me. We spent much of Saturday working outside and rarely took a break. In his case, he got too much sun; in my case, I taxed the arthropathy in my right shoulder and as a result, we’re both still paying dearly in terms of pain. So we agreed that we needed a code word or phrase to use when we realize that the other needs to take it easier. I finally landed on the famous saying “Remember the Alamo…except our variation is ‘Remember the Wanda'”. Sorry again Mother, but you’re a good example for us in both good and bad ways, I guess.
Why do we do this to ourselves? Who knows? Our poor daughters — they get this from all angles – the Pannabeckers AND the Steiners…not to mention the genetic tendencies from the extended predecessors.
In all the years we’ve lived in this house, no one has been able to solve the problem wall in our upstairs bathroom. We’ve consulted with various people, trying one suggestion after another — most of which worked for awhile before the wall began its typical descent into yuckiness. This is when I wish my sister-in-law, Karen, was around. She usually has the best ideas.
Here’s the problem: when they built the tub area, they extended the wall at the shower head end of the tub. It sticks out beyond the tub about five inches. Somehow water gets behind the tub surround and into the wall extension and then it begins to crumble and crack and chunks of wall stuff ooze out. The last fixit job worked best but we’re now back to square one. So each day I sit on the toilet and contemplate the best move. One contractor suggested we purchase a new tub surround, and then he’d come in and completely redo the wall and install the new surround. The problem is that I really don’t want to spend the money on a new one since the one we have is fine. It must be my mom’ and dad’s influence — there has to be a less expensive, more creative way to fix this. So… while walking one night, we ran into a neighbor — a junior high school teacher who does construction work during the summers — and asked him to take a look at it. He agreed to do so. At first, he looked at it, sort of stroked his chin, then poked at it a bit (reminded me of a doctor), and then admitted he had a similar problem. He suggested several options, then said he had one other idea — if we didn’t mind him getting a little creative. I KNEW there was a reason I liked this guy. He doesn’t suggest spending a lot of money when there is a cheaper option. We’re all about creative design in our family. So sometime this month (before the wedding, thank heavens, he’s going to spend a few days cutting off this and that, repairing the whatchamacallit, and then replacing everything. All we’ll have to do is some sanding and painting once he is done.
And yes, Karen, I will take a photo of before, during and after…just for you!
What a relief…now maybe we can get him to help us fix the back steps before someone (me) falls through them.