Personal update…how surgery changed my outlook on life

I’ll tell you a secret.  I’m getting old. That’s not much of a secret, but at 46 if you say you’re getting old you will be met with a chorus of “No you’re not!” or “Old? Wait until you’re in your 60s like me, then you’ll know what old feels like!” or “Please, the best years are still ahead of you!”

It may be that my best years are still ahead of me – heck, I certainly hope so. It may be that as I will only be getting older, I don’t fully know what being old feels like.  Be that as it may, I now know what it is to begin being old, to have aches and pains that were never there before, to only be able to burn the candle at one end instead of two, and to contemplate my own mortality and the modest collection of years we are given in this worldly life – knowing that most probably over half of mine are gone.

Of course, one thinks of these things more poignantly from the vantage point of a hospital bed,

hospital pic 2

which is where I happened to be last week having major surgery on my back. However, these feelings have been brewing for a while now, many months before my surgery took place.  You see, I have been training for this surgery for over seven months.  Surgery has been my summer Olympics, and I think I might be up for a medal, but I won’t know for sure until the healing process is further along.

Back in December 2015, when I first learned I was going to need surgery, it hit me that I wasn’t ready.

Although the reason for my surgery was random and probably would have been necessary even had I been in peak physical condition, I had let myself go in every way imaginable, and resultantly, had a myriad of health problems that could complicate my ability to even have the surgery, as well as complicate the possibility of a smooth and complete recovery afterwards.

Yes, I went to the gym halfheartedly going through the motions on various hamster wheel cardio machines, telling myself I was exercising.  Yes, I kind of watched my diet, although I had long started looking the other way when I ate processed foods, salty foods, and sugary snacks.  My food log app hadn’t been updated in months, because I was now doing my own version of “intuitive eating,”  which meant discounting macronutrients and eyeballing portion sizes with funhouse goggles, convincing myself that I really hadn’t eaten twice the amount my body needed. My scale collected dust, as I mentally marked my last known self-recorded weight, and it became frozen for infinity, even if my waistband said otherwise.  As long as I didn’t take a new reading, my weight hadn’t changed.

Surgery necessitates getting your bodily house in order so that you can withstand the grueling toll the procedure will take on your system.  Therefore, many visits to other doctors aside from my surgeon, scans, tests, lab work, and other fun stuff have been a regular part of my schedule throughout 2016.  I met my insurance deductible by February, and let’s just say that if frequent flyer miles were given for every medical bill I have incurred in 2016, I would be preparing to embark on a world tour by the end of the summer. There was a lot of renovation that had to be done before I could go under the knife.

It took an emotional toll, especially as I had fooled myself for the last few years by sticking my head in the sand and believing that I was in shape and healthy. Now I was starting to see myself as a sick person, as a patient, as someone with chronic physical limitations. Every visit to a doctor’s office or hospital confirmed my new invalid identity. To be told through scientific medical evidence, that indeed, I was not healthy, much of the damage incurred through my own neglect, was both humiliating and humbling.  It put me in the driver’s seat of responsibility, and apparently I had crashed the car and caused a major traffic jam.

The good news was that if I chose to go back to driving school and pay my fines (the needles, the awkward and sometimes painful tests and exams, the disbelieving looks from healthcare professionals when I told them that I actually exercised and didn’t live off pizza and cold cuts despite my appearance and lab results, the final surgery itself), I would be given the opportunity to retake the wheel and drive my health to a new and more positive destination. It was within my power to change the course of my destiny.

So I did.

Lest you think this is a story about giving myself a big pat on the back for having lost 30lbs since the beginning of the year, it’s not.  Lest you think this is a story about how I revamped my workouts so that I enjoyed them again and worked my way up to running a complete 10K app three times a week, it’s not.  Lest you think this is a story about how I lowered my blood pressure and overhauled all of my blood labs for the better wowing my doctors, it’s not.  Lest you think this is a story about how I track my calories and weight and blood pressure on a regular basis, it’s not.  Lest you think that this is a story about how I’ve been able to reduce the number of medicines I take and the dosages of those I still take, it’s not. Lest you think that this is a story about how all of these things led to having a smooth surgery with no complications and being released 2 days earlier than expected because of my surprising mobility, it’s not.

I did all those things, and maybe more that I’m not thinking of, but this is a story about perseverance. This is a story about a 46 year old woman setting a goal for herself and sticking to it, despite obstacles and despite self-doubt.  This is a story about how my health scare made me realize the fleeting fragility of life, and how I can’t waste the short time I have left (and yes, even if that’s another 46 years, it’s a short time!) slowly steeping in a toxic brew of negativity and resentment. I love myself too much to resign myself to such a fate.  This is a story about how I realized that I can take back the wheel and drive myself to whatever destination I choose.  The road might be bumpy, I might get lost sometimes, there may be gaper’s delay slowing me down – but as long as I have a vision of where I want to end up, and a constantly updated map of how to get there when obstacles get in the way of my original route, I’ll make it.

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8 thoughts on “Personal update…how surgery changed my outlook on life

  1. Wow. When I was approaching 70 I decided to lose weight when my doctor told me that if I didn’t he would put me on high blood pressure medication, That did it. I take no medications and wasn’t about to start.
    Despite all the conventional advice I decided I only really needed one meal a day and restricted myself to dinner. My pesceterian son came to live with me – mostly fish and veggies – no processed foods (but yes occasional pizzas and ice cream and treats). And daily red wine, dark chocolate and nuts.
    In less than a year I lost 50 lbs and was back to College weight.
    I have kept it off for 3 years.
    So here is my unconventional advice – weigh yourself every morning – how are you going to know if you are putting on weight if you don’t know where you are every day?
    And if you have put on a pound – stop eating. That’s it – just don’t have breakfast or lunch. You aren’t going to starve.
    When you eat never take seconds. When you eat out in a restaurant split one meal with your husband (better for him too).
    I’m old enough to be your mom and I say good for you. You caught it before I did. Go girl!

  2. I don’t know if you know about Maurice Templeton the third man in Jackie Kennedy’s life.
    He had known her for more than 30 years and had been her constant companion for more than a decade, sharing everything: the daily victories, big and small, the adventures and frustrations of her complex life, and then her final months of suffering. He walked with her in the park in her last days, steadying the frail body with his hand, and he was at the bedside on the Thursday night when she died.
    He was a Belgian Orthodox Jew who was long separated from his wife .

    The family knew how much he loved Jackie and asked him to read Jackie’s favorite poem at her funeral.

    When you set sail for Ithaca,
    wish for the road to be long,
    full of adventures, full of knowledge
    Wish for the road to be long.
    Many the summer mornings to be when
    with what pleasure, what joy
    you will enter ports seen for the first time.
    To many Egyptian cities you must go,
    to learn and learn from the cultivated.
    Always keep Ithaca in your mind.
    To arrive there is your final destination.
    But do not hurry the voyage at all.
    It is better for it to last many years,
    and when old to rest in the island,
    rich with all you have gained on the way,
    not expecting Ithaca to offer you wealth.
    Ithaca has given you the beautiful journey.
    Without her you would not have set out on the road.
    Nothing more does she have to give you.
    And if you find her poor, Ithaca has not deceived you.
    Wise as you have become, with so much experience,
    you must already have understood what Ithaca means.

    Enjoy your journey, Sharon. The journey itself is the meaning.

  3. At 46 you can set goals and achieve them, at 68 all you can do is set them, you won’t always be able to reach them.

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