I’ve transformed into a whiner recently. In a wash of self pity, I rubbed the side of my head, hard-hit as I had reached for my cane which had fallen beneath the kitchen table. I was obediently performing my hated left knee strengthening exercises that the evil physical therapist, nicknamed Daemon, and his co-conspirator Maleficent, (who possesses the same level of sympathy as that famed wicked fairy from Grimm’s tales) had together devised for my “speedy” recovery.
I’d grouched at the only person within hearing range earlier as I plopped down on the chair to elevate the nasty appendage. These same legs that carry me hither and yon, with never much gratitude from me, have disappointed me considerably this past month. I’m reminded of the time I unintentionally stapled my thumb; followed with a period of perpetual awkwardness as I tried getting things done with my right hand without the use of said thumb. Who knew how difficult it is to do practically anything without a usable opposing digit? Moments like this bring me to a heightened awareness of how much I expect things to work, how accustomed I am to good health and busy days, (mostly taking it all for granted), and what a whiner I become when my norm is interrupted!
I visited Charlotte this week. She has a bum right knee, but unlike my left knee, her’s is not going to respond to therapy, nor is it going to get stronger or less painful. She has not only a serious, inoperable injury but also severe osteoarthritis, in addition to a terminal illness with significant pain which in spite of numerous trials of medications has become her constant companion. Charlotte has been a very active woman all her life; she now spends her waking hours in a recliner and requires help to do nearly everything in her day. I set her TV tray up for lunch, and we chatted a while. Although her life is waning, and her long days of forced inactivity loom ahead with only weeks left for her, I have never heard her whine. I’m recollecting all our visits, even when pain overshadowed the opportunity to converse much; Charlotte is at times subdued, but never a whiner. I have a brief thought- what the heck would I be like long-term if my partial immobility and intermittent pain became my norm?
Nurses talk about what happens when symptoms become constant, and personality traits develop and become heightened accompanying chronic illness. We have labels for certain disease processes, and are aware of some commonality among patients. But this week, I was reminded how individual we all are, and how our experiences, though similar, carry our own unique responses. The same day I sat with Charlotte, I also visited Paul. He, like her, is living with chronic disability and pain, now in the late stages of his disease with likely a few weeks left at most.
They are racing to the same finish line, neck in neck.
He complains bitterly about the things he can no longer do for himself, and how cruel life is to hand him this blow. (Dying.) He has lived with a chronic illness over 40 years, but is much younger than Charlotte, and feels cheated in life. The old adage, a glass half full, applies to Paul. Both have chronic pain, have daily losses to deal with, an awareness that life is ebbing and a need to come to terms with that reality.
The similarity stops there.
The difference in their one-room worlds is like Alice going through the looking-glass; nothing is at all what it seems.
What a puzzle it is to me, to see how different people respond to their life and the daily choices made, that we all make- our own response to life.
Sitting here with my leg elevated at the end of my day, having done my RICE routine (rest, ice, compression and elevation), I contemplate my earlier visits. There is a baby- blue sky outside with hummingbirds fiercely fighting over the feeder on my porch and providing me instant entertainment.
I shake myself a little, and say aloud to myself, “Stop your whining!” I want to spend my days, not complaining, but eagerly anticipating what the day holds, and thrilled to be experiencing life, with its inconsistencies and burdens and little joys and ecstasies and small problems and sometimes huge trials.
And every day I want to remind myself of Mary Oliver’s
“Instructions for living a life.
Tell about it.”