Thursday, July 26, 2018

I Want to Go to Maui Instead of Physical Therapy

This is something I wrote back in February, mostly because I just needed to "write it out." That's what writers do often times when things are hard. I submitted it to the NYT for the "Modern Love" column, but it was recently rejected. I knew it was a long shot since they get many, MANY submissions.

So, with that out of the way, and with my husband's permission, I've decided to post it here on my personal web site. In a few weeks, I'll post an update as to how things are going with him. Thanks for reading!

I Want to Go to Maui Instead of Physical Therapy
by Lisa Schroeder

I woke up this morning and thought about running away. Actually, I woke up this morning, checked my phone, and thought about running away. A text sent from my husband, Scott, after I’d gone to bed read, “Healing waters at 10:30 and physical therapy at 3:00. Too much?” 
I knew he was asking if it was too much for him, not for me. But I thought yes, it’s too much and I don’t want to do this anymore. I think I’m going to run away. To Maui, maybe. I saw a sale on fares the other day. Couldn’t I get away, just for a few days?
I found myself dreaming of long walks on the beach, dipping my toes in the surf, and drinking a PiƱa Colada as I watched the sun set, the sky a hundred shades of gold.
My mind drifted back to our trip a year ago, to celebrate our twenty-seventh wedding anniversary. Scott and I went whale watching for the first time. What a thrill to watch a mother and her calf swim near our boat. And the crystal clear photo of a whale tail high out of the water that I captured still makes me smile. On that trip, we also snorkeled and hiked, seeking out the beauty of nature as if it was on its way to extinction. I couldn’t get enough.
Now, life is filled with work and deadlines, chores and errands, and appointments. Doctor appointments, physical therapy appointments, swimming appointments. Almost two months ago, Scott twisted through a doorway while carrying a ladder at work and in doing so, herniated a disc in his spine. Due to the pain in his right leg caused by fluid hitting the sciatic nerve, he cannot sit down. He can’t drive. He can stand and walk slowly, with a cane, or he can lie on a camping cot that has now become a permanent fixture in our family room. The man who has been my rock for almost thirty years can’t even put on his own socks.
Every day, he looks out at our lush backyard and frets about spring and what the growing season will bring.
“Who will do it if I can’t?” he asked me once.
“We’ll hire someone,” I told him, wanting to ease his mind. “It’s not a big deal.”
Tears filled his eyes as he said, “But it’s my yard. I want to do it.”
With this kind of injury, there is no certain fix. There are only paths to try on the road to healing. Right now, we are on the conservative path. Physical therapy. Pain medications. Rest. Time. Time that could be spent doing the things we love – going to concerts, movies and plays, or traveling to beautiful places that give us a break from the demands of everyday life.
Friends and family members have shared their surgical success stories. A chiropractor wouldn’t even touch Scott. “I can’t do anything for you,” she said. “You need surgery.
The decision to travel the conservative path is not one we are making, but one that is being made for us. Because here in America, the land of the free and the home of the brave, healthcare is anything but free and worker’s compensation is a nightmare for even the most heroic.
I’ve read accounts on the Internet from people who’ve had the same injury, but I don’t tell my husband what I find. That sometimes, with or without surgery, it takes years to recover. That sometimes, people never return to normal.
Instead, I am his cheerleader. I put Post-it notes with affirmations on the bathroom mirror for him to read every day.
“I will be 100% again.”
“Good people are helping me heal.”
“I am loved.”

I know that with an injury like this, along with the medical care he is getting, he also needs emotional care and support. It doesn’t go unnoticed. Again and again he’s told me, “I couldn’t do this without you.” Last week, while I was at work, he asked a friend to drive him to the store so he could buy me a bouquet of flowers.
But today, as I thought about my long to-do list, about the errands that need to be done and the therapy Scott wants to do, I wondered, what about me? Where do caregivers get their emotional care and support? How do people do this, day in and day out, along with making sure all of the other things in life get done? Things like grocery shopping, meal preparation, house cleaning, car maintenance, bills and paperwork, taxes, etc. My mantra has become, “One day at a time.” I can’t look too far ahead or I get overwhelmed and worried. One partner is ordered to go to various appointments, do daily exercises, manage the pain as best they can, and rest. The other partner must somehow figure out how to do the work of two people, indefinitely.
I know I shouldn’t complain. I sound like a selfish jerk. Yes, I go to bed exhausted. But my husband goes to bed in pain.
Last summer, our beloved dog, Stormy, a fourteen-year-old Lhasa Poo, had an eye rupture. She’d had an age-related ulcer that we had decided to treat with daily drops rather than expensive surgery. The vet said there was a small chance it might rupture someday, and told me what to look for. When it happened, I could see Stormy was in excruciating pain, and I screamed for my husband. He came running and while I was a blubbery mess, Scott was the picture of calm. He told me it would be okay as he picked up our dog and instructed me to get my purse and keys. Tears fell while I drove. What did this mean for our beloved pet? Scott somehow managed to whisper reassurances to me while also calling the vet’s office to alert them we were on our way. A little while later, we made the difficult decision to have the eye removed. After the surgery, because our vet’s office was closing for the night, we had to take her to a 24-hour vet hospital for monitoring. With her puffy, swollen head and lots of stitches, I was almost afraid to touch her. But Scott tenderly cuddled our sleepy dog on his chest, wrapped in a blanket like a baby, while we waited for her to be admitted.

This man is one of the kindest and most generous people I’ve ever met. I’ve lost count of how many times he’s helped random strangers over the years. There was the time he gave twenty bucks to the struggling mother outside a grocery store. Or the time he acted as a tour guide on and off for an entire week to two Italian men he met and who clearly needed some navigational assistance. (They sent us Italian wine to show their appreciation). I think my favorite, though, is the time he brought two hitchhiking monks home and made them peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.
At work, he is the guy people call when they don’t know who else to ask or don’t trust anyone else to get it right. For twenty-five years, he has worked in facilities at a large company and while his title has changed over the years, his can-do attitude has remained the same. “Other duties as assigned” has never had such a broad application as it does when it comes to Scott’s work.
After the physical therapist read the MRI results, she said to him, “What this tells me is you have worked very hard your entire life.”
It’s so true. But it’s more than a strong work ethic. Making other people happy is what this guy is all about. He is a jack-of-all-trades but he is also a person who cares deeply about helping others.
Helping a man who has helped so many others isn’t the difficult part. Not really. It’s everything else. It’s life, I suppose.
It’s been over six months since Stormy’s surgery, and Scott and I find ourselves in the middle of a new, much more serious, crisis. Although our old, deaf dog only has one eye, she is back to her happy, healthy self. She is a cute and constant reminder that injury and pain can be overcome.
In many ways, today was kind of like the day Stormy’s eye ruptured. I panicked – this situation is too hard, too stressful, I don’t want to do this, help me. Meanwhile? My husband is the calm and level headed one, committed to doing the things that might help his body to get better.
Turns out he is still my rock, even if I do have to help him put on his socks.
Right now, it’s difficult to say what Scott’s future holds. My hope is that soon his claim will be approved, and then we will fight for microdiscectomy surgery.
Hope. Every day, I must find a thread of it and hold onto it with everything I have. Some days I find it and pass it to him. Some days he finds it and gives it to me. Every day, we hold on together. I’m not sure how we do that, exactly, just that we do. Maybe it’s some kind of magic sprinkled on a couple when they’ve managed to stay married for almost thirty years. Or maybe, it’s knowing deep in your heart that this is what you signed up for – in sickness and in health – and the only way through is together.
And while I don’t know how this story ends, I do know that I didn’t run away today. Instead, I got up, repeated my mantra “One day at a time,” gave my husband a hug and said, “Let’s focus on PT today. You can go to the pool on Saturday. Okay?”
“Okay,” he said.
And just like that, I could breathe a little easier.
As for Maui, I figure it will still be there in a year or two or three. I think it’s time to make a new Post-it note for the bathroom mirror. One that says, “Maui is waiting for us.” We can both read it and dream of seeing that magical sunset again. Side by side, the way it should be.

Lisa Schroeder is the author of over twenty books for kids and teens. Her latest novel is SEE YOU ON A STARRY NIGHT (Scholastic, June 2018). She is a native Oregonian and lives with her family outside of Portland.