I sit on the edge of my bed, spacing out as I look out the window at my neighbors’ back yards. Weeds, an old shed, a dead refrigerator in Yard 1. A wooden climbing structure and children’s basketball hoop in Yard 2. A trampoline and a pro-size basketball hoop in Yard 3.

photo of series of backyards

 

It’s a cold day; as I realize that the yards are devoid of children, my back goes THUNK. The impact—for that’s what it is, though nothing has struck me—is audible as it reverberates through my whole torso. At first, I’m stunned, unable to move. The thunk is bad, but I don’t hurt, so I allow myself to override my what the hell?? with denial. After all, the rods inside me are titanium, and I have Abs of Mush, so how could I possibly break one? Wouldn’t I have to be stronger than titanium?

Gradually, over the next few days, my back muscles grip into spasm, as if a vise is clamping down on me painfully, making me stiff and tight. Finally, with searing trepidation, I allow that maybe I don’t understand something, and I crack my denial enough to send Edie, my physical therapist and best friend, an email.

I write a subject line that I often use: “Read this when you feel like putting your brain into work-mode.”

She writes back immediately, telling me to get an urgent appointment with Dr. Gorek.

I write to him on Friday, January 8th, after 3 pm. He writes back first thing Monday morning: “Ordered Xrays. Let me know when they’re done. We’ll go from there.”

Once I go for X-rays, I know in my gut that I’m bound for the O.R.

It’s different this time, though. The usual pre-op angst doesn’t materialize, though having surgery in the midst of an infectious pandemic surging through the region’s hospitals is pretty damn fraught.

After I get the Xrays done, Gorek immediately writes to me:

“Consistent with your reporting, the X-Rays demonstrate one sided rod fracture at T10T11. Alignment preserved.

Let’s get a CT scan to assess further. Give me the go ahead and I will order.

Decrease activity.

Wear your brace.”

x-ray image showing broken spinal fusion hardware

In a subsequent email a few minutes later, he writes:

“Will be calling you this morning.


I’d like to offer you a possible surgery date this Friday as we have an opening (by chance). O.R. time is hard to come by these days.


Looking forward to discussing.


JG”

Within an hour, I get a call from Edwin, the surgery coordinator. He schedules me for a COVID test and a CT scan the same day, and a video appointment with the doctor who makes sure you’re medically ready for surgery, and with Rob, my favorite of Gorek’s Physician Assistants, who goes over my pain management for after surgery.

Chinabear, another close friend whose wife works as a care manager for the ALS Association, has a network of care provider agencies, takes on finding a caregiver for me to hire. This person will help me with the “activities of daily living:” showering, dressing, cooking, doing dishes, doing laundry, going grocery shopping. With Chinabear’s help, I hire Ida Mae for Monday-Thursday and Martha for Saturday and Sunday, four hours each day. My synagogue’s Chesed (Loving-kindness) Committee will coordinate the community’s providing of meals a few times a week, rides, errands, and so forth; I revise an old “WeJoinIn” webpage and write a blurb for an email blast to get this going.

Since my wife is out of town until the end of February, my son, now twenty-two and living nearby, will stay with me so I’m not alone overnight.

Having all of this fall into place so easily lets me feel calm, and grateful. Often I’m anxious before surgery because my wife wants to help but has a hard time in practice, so I don’t feel as solidly supported as I do now. I’m learning to see this weakness in her as one thing, not the thing. I don’t feel disappointed or resentful; I’m sad, but calm. Her absence this time allows my son to step forward. All of my other relationships create a support net for me, and I feel safe and held.

My son drives me to my Xray, COVID test, and CT scan appointments, and moves in on Thursday night to drive me to the hospital early Friday morning. He’s been gentle and kind, and very present. Thursday, I say to him, “Honey, it would be normal and natural for you to have feelings come up while you’re helping me, because of having your mom have surgery every other minute when you were a kid. As long as we recognize that, and make room for it, we’ll be okay.”

His face softens as he replies quietly, “Yeah, but Mom, I’m choosing to be here. I want to do this.” He’s growing into such a mensch.