This is a story I have wanted to tell for some time and I now feel inspired to do so, as I feel I have overcome terrible odds and want to celebrate that. More, I believe I have learned something from this experience and want to articulate what I believe that to be.
The lesson I learned from this terrible process is that our strength comes from our hardship, comes from the scars that we accumulate in life. Such difficulty has a way of shaping our consciousness, of changing us.
I love to garden. Every male in my family on both sides has found a love for gardening and I am no different. My wife and I had just moved to Norway, one year prior, and I was making the most of the long nights of summer that northern Europe affords. I had been gardening for hours and was just about to wrap up and go home. But first, I wanted to hang a bird house made from a naturally hollowed out log that I had found in our garden. It was perfect–as though someone had carved it, except created by nature. I even had the perfect antique wooden roof of shingles to atop it. I wanted to give further magic to our garden, as many children played in it. My last task was to hang this birdhouse up in a large birch tree we had.
However, being as tired as I was, I was not thinking very clearly. I set the ladder up against the tree, resting on asphalt with no support at the base. I grabbed the birdhouse in one hand, a pocket full of screws and the electric drill in my other hand. I climbed about nine or ten feet up upon the ladder and then it happened all at once. Free fall.
I had felt a similar feeling on carnival rides when you sit in a cage and ascend several stories only to feel the terror of falling. I remember thinking, “Let go of the house and drill” and then, Crash!
The ladder’s footing had slipped on the asphalt. There I was, in a heap. Immediately, I knew something was terribly wrong. My right foot began to swell. Now, as a boy, when hurt, I was always encouraged to see if I could stand or walk. So, I did so. I stood up and put my full body weight on my foot and as I did, an expression of sound poured out of my body that I could only describe as primal. I roared like a beast, my pain was so great, and found myself on the ground again, weeping in agony, moaning and roaring. I roared so loudly, that neighbors came running from streets considerably down the way. I suppose they intuitively recognized the sound of human agony and rushed to aide, beautiful people that they were.
Long story short, I had shattered my heal bone in nine places. That does not sound all that bad, as bones break all the time and people are out..what? About six weeks healing in a cast, right? That fall that day began a six year process that involved four surgeries, hundreds of hours of therapy of every variety (some ludicrous), and an aggressive and regular narcotic pain treatment that I feared would cause me to die an early age of liver failure.
The surgeries were medieval and involved drilling multiple screws into my bones (9 screws and a plate in the first surgery) and then later cutting off pieces (or ends) of multiple bones, permanently cutting out cartilage and drilling large screws into the raw bone that had been cut. The goal was to hold them all together so they could grow into a single piece of bone, removing the arthritic joints altogether (fourth surgery). Fusion.
These surgeries were necessary. Over very brief time, I developed severe arthritis in multiple joints of my foot. Because the foot is a weight bearing body part, this arthritis was debilitating. The average person walks close to 1,000,000 steps a year. Of that number, I, annually, experienced probably about 500,000 sharp jolts of pain from walking on that right foot, each year. Over six years, that is 3,000,000 shocks to the nervous system. I briefly considered amputation and had that conversation with my wife.
For years, I could barely walk. The last surgery (subtalar fusion/double arthrodesis), was my great hope and was supposed to heal my foot to a more normal state within a year. However, highly disappointed, a year later, I was still in agony, still requiring constant treatment and drugs.
However, in my second year of post-operation, this past year, I healed. I suppose it took that long for my bones to grow together, for all fissures and fractures to close. My pain is no more today than minor and brief morning discomfort and occasional swelling from overuse. If I bend it too far, the screws and lack of joints can be felt, but I can live with that. No more jolts to the nervous system.
Prior to healing, many doctors told me that this is my new life, this is my new condition, that I must come to terms with the understanding–that I would be disabled the rest of my life and that it would only get worse, as other joints will eventually break down.
I am happy to say that I climbed a mountain this year, thank you very much, and no longer require pain relief of any sort. After six years of daily agony, wrestling with depression, pain and hardship, it appears that I have finally healed. More importantly, I overcame doctors voices that were telling me to accept my fate. For some, when many authorities tell them something is so, they will believe it and consequently, play the role. I could not accept these voices. They would tell me that my non-acceptance would lead only to more suffering. However, here I am today, healed.
I have even begun to run a bit, something I believed (and was told) I would never again be able to do. I dance as often as I can.
Looking back on this process, I can see that it changed me. It grounded me, quite literally. It forced me to sit far more than I like. It required of me to teach differently, as I could no longer demonstrate what I meant, but had to use my words, to better formulate my thoughts, to use my mind in a more focused and deeper way. It also helped me understand the value of caregivers and service, like my wife who likely suffered and sacrificed as much as I did–having to wait on me for so long and assume more baby-caring responsibilities for our young daughter, as I could not walk and hold something at the same time (piece of paper, glass of water or even our then newborn), as I was on crutches for long periods of time and could not put weight down.
Though I would never wish a similar experience on anyone, I can say that it has made me stronger and, I hope, a little wiser.
I learned that I have the will and ability to persevere, if I choose to do so, almost always.
All of this said, I realize that the suffering I have experienced is trivial compared to what others experience.
Often, if we can persevere and not lose hope, joy and perspective and come out of the suffering, feeling as though our spirit has not been crushed, we are going to be different people than before the time of suffering. We will be more able. We will likely have a perspective.
In this way, sometimes suffering leads us to greater strength.