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I was quite delighted when our new stationary bike arrived recently. Our gym closed over a year ago, and though it opened for a short time over the summer, we didn’t feel comfortable returning. Like many others, we eventually opted to purchase an exercise bike to use indoors when the weather was too cold and icy to walk or bike outside. In Canada, that’s more than six months of the year! So, my exercise over the winter months was restricted to walks when conditions permitted and some yoga stretches, but no cardio.

Needless to say, I was quick to jump on the new toy for a spin. I thought I was careful…7 minutes should have been OK…right? Nope, by the next morning, I could barely move and spent the next several days either prone or moving about very slowly and painfully. I really felt like the old woman that I am inevitably, but reluctantly, becoming. 

I have been no stranger to injuries, having broken both legs skiing at age 15. Blinded by snow being sprayed across narrow slopes in early winter, my skis went under unprotected snowmaking pipes. I broke both my legs four inches above the ankle. Because of the extent of my injuries, I was in full leg casts for 3 months and had to attend school in a wheelchair. My dear mother (bless her), who was a former nurse, looked after my every need and drove me to school every day. I used to wave at people (in queenly style) from the back of our station-wagon. The school janitor would meet us to put a sheet of plywood over the school steps and wheel me up. No wheelchair ramps in those days! I am so grateful for all her loving care.

“At the end of the day, we can endure much more than we think we can.” – Frida Kahlo

I was quite a sensation (at first), with friends volunteering to push me around school. The novelty soon wore off though and I was left to wheel myself around, which I didn’t mind. In fact, I don’t remember being particularly worried about my situation at all. I expected that I would heal and life would go back to normal (which it did). It wasn’t until a few years later that I realized that my right leg (more severely injured) was about an inch and a half shorter that the left. At first it was just an annoyance when one of my pant legs dragged on the ground. Eventually I started wearing a lift to partially correct the leg length difference, having been told that I would have issues in later life if I didn’t. That has turned out to be a true prediction, even with the lift.

If you work through the tough times, the respect and love that you feel deepens.” – Barack Obama

My recent experience of acute pain was different mentally and emotionally from my life’s earlier episodes. I found that I rapidly became depressed and fearful that the pain might not end. I dread the possibility of being rendered powerless. Having watched my parents’ decline and deaths, I am anxious about becoming dependent on others for my care, before “my time”. It’s one thing to accept your mother’s loving attention in your teens or even early adulthood but I definitely don’t want to burden loved ones with that responsibility, especially prior to “advanced old age”. I even feel guilty about feeling sorry for myself when so many people live with permanent disabilities far worse than what I experience. 

“The only real battle in life is between hanging on and letting go.” – Shannon L. Alder

It’s very scary when your body seems to decide “enough is enough” and refuses to cooperate in accomplishing even the simplest tasks. The frustration is palpable and you feel like a shadow of your former self. Even as the pain dissipated into something more tolerable, I was left wondering how long I had until the next time. I question how I will manage if longer-term pain and disability cut short my productive retirement years. I was reminded of how dispiriting pain can be and the prospect that potentially one’s only remaining freedom might be how we respond to it.

“A hero is an ordinary individual who finds the strength to persevere and endure in spite of overwhelming obstacles. – Christopher Reeve

Susan Sontag wrote in her article, “Illness as Metaphor”, that “everyone who is born holds dual citizenship, in the kingdom of the well and in the kingdom of the sick.” We will all have to travel to the kingdom of the sick at some point in our lives. We will all have to accept care from others. We need to trust that our loved ones will find appropriate compassionate care for us. Accepting that care with graciousness and appreciation will be essential.  Until that time, we can be filled with gratitude for every day of health and independence. We can focus on what is important to us and find productive ways to leave the world a little bit better than we found it. We can do our best to reach out to lift up others, physically or emotionally. We can also be kind to ourselves and realize that we are not alone in this challenging journey.

“Leave footprints of love and kindness wherever you go.” – Anonymous

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