“There are moments which mark your life. Moments when you realize nothing will ever be the same and time is divided into two parts - before this, and after this.”
Welcome to my blog. This is my way to work through a tremendously difficult healing process resulting from Scoliosis Spinal Fusion surgery on August 31, 2023. I am an artist, actor and storyteller, but my favorite job is wife to Kevin and mom of three adult kids, Carson, Griffin and Eiley. The quote above was spoken by the character of John Hobbes, portrayed by Denzel Washington in the 1998 film “Fallen.” More impressive than this remarkable quote is the fact that 2 years earlier our pastor, Ben Hubert, said the exact same thing at our wedding as Kevin and I stood before him at the alter. I recently googled to see what brilliant philosopher first spoke these words. But unless I've missed it deep into google territory, Denzel always gets the credit. But here’s the thing, I have VHS proof from September 14, 1996 that Ben said it before Denzel.
No matter who gets the credit, those words have been swirling around in my head for the past 4 months. You know... after my surgery. Before the surgery I was working. Before the surgery I was feeling good. Before the surgery I was active. Before the surgery I daydreamed of opportunities in film. I looked forward to being a part of the art community here in Austin. I even looked forward to taking up pickle ball. Before surgery I was a tummy sleeper.
Before… I took my physical health for granted. After… Everything has changed.
It's not a surprise to me, as I knew this would be physically life altering. My spine is fused from T3 to L2. I have 24 screws embedded deep into my spine ever-so-close to thousands of nerves and muscles. I cannot bend my back except at the waist. And the question that follows when I say that is usually, "Yes. but you will be able to bend when your fully healed, right?” Actually no. I will never bend my back or stretch my spine the same way I did before the surgery. Before and After. I knew all of this, and yet, I grossly underestimated the healing process other than a few physical limitations for a while. But here I am completely changed physically and even more deeply affected mentally and spiritually. It’s simple anatomy really. The spine is the center of the body. The brain is connected to the body via the spinal cord. The rib cage protects the lungs and is held in place by the spine. The heart is protected by the chest wall, braced by the ribs and spine. There is no stretching in the morning with a fused spine... yawns look and feel much different after spine surgery.
Before I can fully embrace mental healing alongside physical healing, I have to forgive myself for my utter lack of preparedness. Allow grace for being over-confident and even arrogant. I was scared as hell to have this surgery, but for all the wrong reasons. I can't figure out how I went into surgery so unprepared. Over and over I read articles, watched videos and heard my medical team say, "This is at least a one year recovery.”
“Everyone heals different" was the standard answer anytime I asked a medical professional about healing. To be fair, my surgeon did mention I'd hate his guts the first three months, so there's that. But I was not prepared for the amount of pain, and certainly not that it would last well past the first 3 months of me hating my surgeons guts.
Pain takes a toll on the mind. It plays tricks and says mean things at the most vulnerable moments. I often feel trapped, as if I am being buried alive. I have little meltdowns where I just cry and cry wondering if this was a mistake. I want to break free of the new spine, and embrace the imperfect, wonky spine that led me to this in the first place.
Can I go back to the "before surgery" days and forget this ever happened?
I had no choice. My future health depended on it. So here I am after surgery, working with muscles in new places and nerves waking up like broken glass against my skin. It hurts to take a deep breath. The very thing that is supposed to cleanse and relax the body causes me pain. All of this while tying to give myself grace.
August 31, 2023 will forever be a defining “before and after” moment. In the meantime, I am learning the meaning of patience and as I figure out how to gracefully move from one to the other.
In all my life this prayer has never meant as much to me as it means now.
Giving myself time and grace is the single most important lesson I have learned in the past 16 weeks. There is no healing, mind or body, without first having the ability to forgive myself and embrace moments of time as gifts of healing. Time does heal wounds, the ones before, and the ones after.
[Special note: I do believe there is a better way to prepare patients for traumatic ‘planned’ surgeries… but that’s for another blog for another day.]