I learned a long time ago that minor surgery is when they do the operation on someone else, not you. ~ Bill Walton
I met with my surgeon and my physical therapy team for the last time yesterday. After nearly 7 long months, 2 hand surgeries, 48 physical therapy visits, and a fair mountain of medical bills (and a grateful heart for the insurance which covered them), I have been released back into the wild world of my life. Kicked from the nest of medical care, sent out to fly on my own with my mended wing.
If you’ve been visiting the blog a while, then you’ve followed some of my adventures during this time — the original incident while baking for Easter, my progression of casts, the up-and-down swings of news and progress, the second surgery, and now, finally, a finale.
I am free. Of appointments with doctors and surgeons. Of physical therapy sessions of 1-1/2 to 2 hours each, ranging from 2 to 5 times per week. Of casts and bandages, sleeves and splints, stitches and needles, ultrasounds and electric currents. They have done their jobs, these things. They have healed me, given me back my finger, my hand. And all the things that I can once again do. I am grateful beyond words for that reality.
But in that moment, in all the joy that comes with that freedom, there’s also a moment of wistfulness, of reflection, thinking about the lessons I have learned. Not only about myself, but of medical care and insurance in general, of life and health, love and friendship. So I thought I’d share some of my reflections, my lessons learned about this experience…..
- Medicine and the medical community is amazing. That I lucked into having a nationally-recognized hand surgeon on-call at the emergency room the night of my injury is pretty darn close to a miracle for me. His office runs a “Hand Center of Excellence,” which allowed me phenomenal care and access not only to his medical team and surgical facility but to a physical therapy team that included two specialists in hand tendon injuries. The bills are high, their work expensive. But I have use of my finger and hand because of their excellent care. And I already miss them, especially my two primary therapists. We’ve had 7 months of sharing and caring, of time becoming friends. Each member of the crew I worked with was nice, but those two became good friends who shared endless hours of time and support and stories.
- How can people possibly be expected to survive without insurance? I supported universal health care before, but I will champion it forever after this. Yes, the healthcare system needs reform. Immense reform. But without access to insurance, we would never have survived financially from what is –in reality– a minor event. No car wreck, no major traumatic injuries. No months of hospital stays. And still major bills. How do people who oppose access to insurance expect people to pay for access to quality medical care? It would be impossible.
- Friends and family help the healing faster than any drug on the market. We could not have come through the past seven months without our wonderful family and friends. Those who jumped in and drove me to appointments, took my husband to work. Those who arrived with an evening’s dinner or meals for the freezer. Those who sent cards, flowers, and fruit, sent email, asked questions, and sent prayers. Being on the receiving end of such kindness makes me think a lot harder about how I can be a better friend in the future. Katrina Kittle did a wonderful blog post about “Friends who teach you to be better friends,” and her points are so true — there are some who ask, and some that do. I hope to be a better friend because of my experience.
- Attitude is important. In myself and in others. There were hard days. Very hard days. Sometimes made harder by side effects of medication or days where I was just tired of being sick and tired. But somewhere there was always a speck of light, a rainbow of ideas, a pair of huggable arms. Something or someone that cheered me up, even if sometimes I had to do it myself. Sometimes that came from unexpected places and people. Sometimes I didn’t think it would come again. But it always did. Amazingly, awe-inspiringly so.
- Accept help when it’s offered. I don’t get sick often, knock on wood. And I’m not necessarily known for accepting or asking for help easily anyway. But many times during this experience I didn’t have a choice. And you know what? Help made things better. An extra set of hands, legs, ears, and eyes now and then proved quite welcome, offering assistance on multiple levels and in ways I never expected, predicted or even thought possible. For all of that help and so much more, I am indebted and grateful to many.
- Not everything has to get done. With missing nearly 17 weeks of work and not being able to knock things off my to-do list at work or home, my inner perfectionist was on a forced time-out. There were things that simply were not going to get done. Some I panicked about, some I worried incessantly about not completing. All were thought about. But the things that needed doing were accomplished, by me or by someone else. Things that should be done sometimes were, sometimes weren’t. And some things just didn’t get finished. I learned to be (mostly) okay with that, and hopefully I can continue that habit.
There are more lessons twirling about my head as I become accustomed to my now-naked right hand. It feels weird having a breeze on my fingers, feeling sensations on my finger and palm. Of typing for as long as I want, rather than in 20 minute spurts.
Mixed in among these and so many other lessons I have learned is something simple and easy: be very, very careful with glass bakeware in the kitchen! My kitchen is slowly becoming one of metal and silicone bakeware, of no more glass coffee carafe, or baking dishes. The pan I purchased to replace my beloved 9×13 Pyrex casserole dish is metal. Not my preference taste-wise, but now it is for safety. I even handle my wine glasses with exceptional care these days.
So as the holidays approach, please be careful in the kitchen. I’m free to bake and cook like a madwoman again, but fair warning — I’m not sure I’ll tackle all my traditional holiday baking this year.
I’ll see how it goes.