Here & there: If patience were an elephant, I’d be a flamingo

Stock image, St. George News

FEATURE — If patience were an elephant, I’d be a flamingo. 

Which is to say I’m not. Patient, that is. I’m also not a flamingo. Or an elephant for that matter. 

Perhaps I should further clarify; I am not patient with myself. 

Waiting for an elderly man to talk with the bearded T-Mobile manager for thirty minutes about mostly non-cellular issues? No problem. I get it, he’s probably lonely.

Waiting for the next season of Poldark to come out on BBC America? I can do that, too. I mean, Aidan Turner’s abs are definitely worth the wait. 

I can even wait for my children as they ritualistically hunt for their shoes every single day (why are they not in the mudroom where they belong?), my husband to remember to close the garage door when he leaves (it’s that little black button on the right of your rearview mirror, babe) and for pomegranate season.

But I cannot seem to wait patiently for my own body to heal. 

In May, a skilled surgeon repaired my heartily torn labrum, the pseudo-cartilage that holds the shoulder joint in place, and shrunk the collagen capsule that encases the shoulder joint with a surgical pleat.

The arthroscopic procedure was supposed to restore stability to my damaged right shoulder, greatly reduce the pain therein and give me back mobility. 

A shoulder isn’t very convenient when it aches with pain all night. 

And it’s not very useful when you can’t reach higher than your chest, wash your own armpit or even carry anything heavier than a Coke can – although that’s at least marginally helpful because one does need a lot of caffeine as a result of the night aches. 

The surgery went perfectly. The recovery, however, has not.

I slept upright in a Lazy Boy for four weeks. I wore a restrictive sling all day and night for six weeks. I let my husband shower me and wash my hair for several weeks. He wasn’t complaining, but that’s not the point.

I’ve also done all of my physical therapy. Even when it hurt. And I’ve avoided all the activities I’m supposed to: Biking, swimming, dancing, pickleball, water slides, exercise on anything other than a treadmill, and cartwheeling. 

All of which basically means I haven’t done anything fun all summer.  

And now, four months later, my shoulder still can’t do all the shoulderly things it should be doing. Plus, there’s the near-constant pain. Still. 

So, what gives? 

Surgical outcomes, like life, are a bit unpredictable. And there are always outliers to the “normal” experience. Which is exactly where I fall.  

I get it mentally. But emotionally, I don’t like it. Not one little bit. 

If I’m really honest with myself, I’ve only previously accepted being an outlier if that meant I was at the top of the bell curve.  

My birthday was last week. I turned 42. As a present, my dear friend, a trained physical therapist but who really is most aptly classified as a straight-up healer, gifted me a session in her small, basement studio. Because this is 40. 

The takeaway from our session: I need to be okay with not being okay. I am operating at 30% these days. Forty at best. And I need to stop fighting that fact. Stop making plans for when I’m back to 100%. For when I don’t need a nap at 2 p.m. like a toddler. 

To do otherwise is getting in the way of my healing process. It dishonors the space I am in now. A space of healing. A space of imperfection. Where I am today.

Paul Kalanithi, a young neurosurgeon who documented his diagnosis and dying of metastatic lung cancer in the beautiful When Breath Becomes Air, knew something about pain and suffering. His experience far exceeds my own. But his lessons are for everyone. 

He articulates it this way: “life [isn’t] about avoiding suffering.” And then he continues later, borrowing from an old Christian hymn, “I will share your joy and sorrow till we’ve seen this journey through.”

Glennon Doyle, author and wife of U.S. Women’s Soccer phenom Abby Wambach, said something powerful that touches on this same topic.

“We think our job as humans is to avoid pain, our job as parents is to protect our children from pain, and our job as friends is to fix each other’s pain. Maybe that’s why we all feel like failures so often,” she said.

She concludes, “what we need are patient, loving witnesses. . . who sit quietly and hold space for us.” 

And we do. For both ourselves and for others. 

Just like the T-Mobile manager who sat so long and so well with the old man with two knee braces, a cane and a story to tell. 

Kat Dayton is a columnist for St. George News, any opinions given are her own and not representative of St. George News.

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Twitter: @STGnews

Copyright St. George News, LLC, 2019, all rights reserved.

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