I found out who I wanted to be at 11 years old. I’d had 9 surgeries by the time I was 10. Traction, body casts and bone grafting, I had been through the mill. It is all a blur, and I never felt connected to it until number ten.
My mother always scheduled these things for the summer. She hated for me to miss school, and there was no good time for her to take vacation, so summer it was. The dread set in after Christmas, as we started going to pre-appointments and making arrangements. “Why me”, I thought, “Why can’t I be normal?” I tortured myself with comparing my life to those of my friends. I started focusing on what I couldn’t do. Giving up ballet lessons because I couldn’t progress to toe shoes and failing gymnastics because I didn’t have the strength and coordination. I was blind to all of the things I could do.
My mother gave me a choice, I’m sure it wasn’t really a choice, but I don’t think I knew that at the time. She said “if you want to be better and to be strong, you should do this, but if you don’t want to, I won’t make you.” Whether I wanted to or not, I knew I had to do it, but it didn’t change that I still felt very sorry for myself. The self-pity continued all spring and right up to the hospital. I thought of little else. Once we checked in and I got to my room, everything changed.
We were 5 to a room, and each checked in and had surgeries on separate days. First went Sarah who only stayed 3-4 days after her surgery and then she was released to go home. She complained and moaned most of her stay, making life difficult for everyone around her. Next arrived Elizabeth and Anne, both had the same condition as me, but in only one hip. They had both had some bad experiences with past surgeries and were struggling to cope. Like me, they seemed upset to be there.
The last was Missy. She was the first in the room, and the last to have her surgery. Missy was unable to walk, had had a multitude of surgeries over the years. She was there to have a bone inserted in her neck to reinforce its strengths, and was in traction for weeks prior to the surgery. She was laying in the bad with a halo on her head and a string and pulley system keeping her neck extended. Having been in traction, I can say it is uncomfortable to say the least.
Of us all, Missy had suffered the most, not that we were ever inclined to those types of comparison. And she would continue to have the greatest struggle. But you would never know it. I have rarely met someone so positive, warm & funny. She was full of wonderful stories, and plans for the future, once she got out of the hospital. Everyone she knew sent her mail, letters and cards with recollections and stories and plans.
She loved the world and the feeling was mutual.
I liked her right away; and was even a little jealous. I wanted to be more like her. And that wasn’t possible with my present attitude. How could I feel sorry for myself? I had struggled, and still would, but I had friends and family; I had plans for the future. This was a bump on the road, not the road itself. I realized in that moment who I wanted to be and how I wanted to approach the world. I was going to focus on the positive and find a way to work with what I had.
After a few weeks I went home in a wheelchair, with the summer to get back on my feet. Through the pain, the healing and the therapy I remembered Missy. Her laughter and her attitude stayed with me. Whenever it got hard, I thought of her. Soon, I was walking with crutches, then one crutch. I have some great memories of the fun I had that summer, with and without the wheelchair.
Two months later we were all back for our check-ups. Anne and Elizabeth were both still using crutches and I was walking unassisted. There are always variables, but I think attitude contributed. I saw Missy, we had lunch, and she shared her summer with me. She was still wearing the halo, but now it was attached to her shoulders, immobilizing her neck. Despite it all she had had an amazing summer, she and her family had been RV camping, she’d won contests, and now she was admiring the boy at the next table. It just confirmed everything I knew, that I wanted to be just like her.
Since then I have always tried to always keep a positive attitude; it’s not always easy and I fail frequently, but I believe it’s the effort that matters. My journey truly started that summer; within the year I had won a fitness award, a first for me, but that’s another story.
And to Missy, my inspiration for the last 30 years, I thank you. I hope you are still laughing, and telling wonderful stories and inspiring the world that loves you. I will be forever in your debt.