I never dreamed of a year like this one when I was planning for retirement. I left Yale Law Library in October 2015 and within a week, left for Texas. Not long after I got here, I found myself redesigning the community church website and then working there for five years. Last August I left that job when I realized I needed all my time to concentrate on learning to walk and live independently. I was right that it would be a full time job, but it’s certainly not what I expected to be doing when I wasn’t getting a paycheck.
I had spine surgery a year ago today that arrested the severe spinal stenosis, but it didn’t reverse the damage that had been done. I was very scared of what the future would look like when I was in rehab and not able to even stand up or go to the bathroom without two people helping me. I didn’t think I would be able to go back to my brand new apartment or take care of my beautiful floofy kitties that I loved so much. I didn’t see any light in the tunnel at all much less a way to get out of the tunnel to something beyond that.
I learned that I need to do what I can for myself but also recognize when I need help and ask for it – and then accept the help that is offered. I’m stubborn and independent and am used to living on my own, without anyone to depend on to help with things around the house. I’m still alone but there are people right out my door who will come if I ask, who will notice if I don’t show up for things. There are sweet friends who took care of my kitties when I was gone for so very long. That I can hire people to help me with personal care but also therapists who can teach me how to do some of those things for myself. The day I was able to do a shower on my own was a great day indeed even if it took me an hour.
And I learned that I wasn’t limited to hoping I could stand up. I can walk again, thanks to my wonderful physical therapists Veronica and Grace. Oh, I’m still using a regular walker with its cheetah print tennis balls but have a bright red rollator ready when I have the balance and strength to work on using it. It should be an enormous help since I’ll have a place to carry things from place to place (which is hard to do in a wheelchair) as well as sit when I need a rest. I can walk about 3/4 of my hallway and back again without stopping, and am working up to doing the entire hallway soon.
But the reality is that I probably will not be able to ditch the wheelchair or walker. There is a lot of nerve damage from the stenosis that won’t reverse. I’m not as worried about it as other people seem to be, probably because I’ve been in the chair for a year now and know what I can do. Caring for the cats – food, water, litter, cleaning up vomit – is best done while seated, and while I might be able to do that with a rollator, I know I can do it from the chair. I love them dearly and need to be sure they’re not shortchanged by my limits.
I’m so grateful for my friends here at Meadow Lake and for its accessibility and spaciousness. I couldn’t have dreamed up a better place to be with my physical limits. And I’m especially thankful for the friends I visit with online and by phone if not in person, who keep me connected, interested, and engaged. You are my tribe and I love you.