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15 Lessons Learned from Severing My Hand

alien eggFor the past ten and a half weeks, I have been “growing new skin” on my arm.  It is a rather painful procedure…one I wouldn’t necessarily recommend…well…unless you are in need of new skin!  On February 15, a tissue expander was inserted into my forearm, and twice a week since then, it has been injected with saline to increase its size.  This process forces my body to create new tissue which can then be used to replace areas on my hand and arm that are covered with scars.  It is a pretty fascinating procedure.  The bump on my arm has gotten rather large during the past two and a half months.  Everywhere I go, people try not to stare.  It makes me wonder exactly what they think I am growing.  At some point, my son-in-law dubbed it “the alien egg” and the name kind of stuck. It really does look like something from another world is growing on my arm, particularly when the light hits it just right and it starts to glow.

Yesterday, I was scheduled for surgery number 14 in this process of reattaching and repairing my hand.  I checked into the hospital at 6:30am and was immediately called back to be prepped for the procedure.  Let me just assure you that I was ready for this egg to hatch!  Unfortunately, after three hours of lying in a hospital bed, awaiting the arrival of my surgeon, I was informed that he wasn’t going to make it.  He had an emergency case come in and it was taking much longer than expected.  Well, I’ve been the “emergency case” before. I’m pretty sure in those first few days after my accident there were a lot of people waiting around for Dr. Schaub while he was working on me, so I didn’t complain.  I simply got dressed and left the hospital, hoping the surgery could be rescheduled sooner rather than later.  But I have to admit, I was rather disappointed.  This thing I’ve been growing on my arm is rather uncomfortable and I’ve been counting down the days until I was going to have it removed.  You know it’s bad when being cut open is a better option than the one you’ve been living with!

wallowingAfter I got home from the hospital, I spent the day hibernating in my house, wallowing in pity.  I really try to be positive and not complain too much about the things I am dealing with, but yesterday it felt like too much. I couldn’t take it anymore.  So, instead of finishing up the house cleaning, or working on the school assignments that desperately need my attention,  I watched 6 hours of “Fringe,” interrupted only by a quick run to the grocery store to procure some supplies for my emotional eating binge.  (Can you say “junk food”?)

As I sat in my chair, munching on Bugles and bean dip, between bites of chocolate whoopie pie, I had a moment of reflection suddenly interrupt my pity party.  (For some reason, this seems to happen every time I start to feel sorry for myself.)  As I thought about all of the trials I have endured through the past few years, I was also reminded of the blessings that have come–many in the form of life lessons.  I don’t always consider life  lessons to be blessings, but yesterday, I couldn’t dismiss them from my mind.  So…I am sharing them with you now.  These are a few of the things I’ve learned that have helped me endure the past few years…

  1. THINGS DO NOT ALWAYS GO ACCORDING TO PLAN.  As a matter of fact, my experience has taught me that they rarely do. Life can change in an instant, sometimes for the better, sometimes for the worse.  I have learned to keep my hopes high but my expectations low, because…
  2. LIFE WAS NOT MEANT TO BE EASY.  Sometimes, it seems as if I am the only one dealing with hard things.  But all I have to do is look around the waiting room at my doctor’s office and I am reminded of all the difficult situations that exist in this world.  Perhaps life was meant to be hard so that we could learn to develop patience.
  3. PATIENCE IS A VIRTUE, particularly in this world where almost everything is available on demand.  It can be a hard thing to master, but it is extremely important in nearly every aspect of life.  When Dr. Schaub told me that repairing my hand was going to be “a process”, I couldn’t have imagined that two years later, we would still be at it.  But the process has helped me learn to be patient and to see that good things are worth waiting for–and fighting for.
  4. PAIN AND SUFFERING CAN BE POSITIVE MOTIVATORS. In my physical therapy office, there is a poster that hangs on the wall with the following quote by Muhammad Ali.  It says, “I hated every minute of training, but I said, ‘Don’t quit.  Suffer now and live the rest of your life as a champion.'” I remember the first time I read that.  I decided in that moment that I would do whatever it took to recover the full use of my hand.  It has been hard, and I’ve given up a lot to pursue that goal.  I’m not there yet, but I don’t intend to quit trying. As the title of this blog might suggest, I’m a “when life gives you lemons, make lemonade” kind of gal!
  5. THE TRIALS OF ONE PERSON DO NOT NEGATE THOSE OF ANOTHER.  Sometimes, I feel as if I’m being forced to compete for a “championship title in the trials division.”  I hear phrases like, ” My life isn’t as bad as your’s, but…” or “I can’t compete with your problems!”  To me, these statements seem to minimize what other people are going through.  Not everyone is going to cut off their right hand, but a challenge is a challenge! Our trials don’t have to be equal to be significant.  It is OK to acknowledge that you are having a hard time without qualifying the statement beforehand.
  6. BE KIND…always…because…
  7. YOU NEVER KNOW WHAT OTHER PEOPLE ARE GOING THROUGH.  If there is anything I have learned  through this experience, it is that everyone is suffering in one way or another. Sometimes, those wearing the biggest smiles are the ones who are suffering the most.  It may seem as if your friends and neighbors are living perfect lives, but you never know what goes on behind closed doors. Rather than passing judgement, I try to give people the benefit of the doubt and reach out when it seems as if someone is having a bad day…or a bad life…
  8. SERVICE BLESSES THE GIVER AND THE RECEIVER. I’ve been a “giver” of service for most of my life.  It started young, with my family mowing lawns for some single ladies in the neighborhood.  I’ve always loved the feeling I get when I can help lift the burdens of other people or bring a smile to their face.  But being a “receiver” of service is a new thing for me…and it is a lot harder than being the “giver”!  I can’t even begin to count the number of people who have given service on my behalf through this ordeal.  It is always hard for me to allow others to do things that I used to do by myself, but I’m learning.  Strangely, the thing that makes it easier for me to receive help is seeing the smile it brings to faces of those who are giving it!  And the act of serving another person seems to create a special bond between those involved (I think that’s called charity!).
  9. TRIALS CAN BRING YOU CLOSER TO THOSE YOU LOVE THE MOST.  Although the past five years have had moments that were excruciatingly painful, physically and emotionally, I wouldn’t trade them for anything. It has been the most difficult moments have drawn my family closer.  The relationships we have developed have been worth every moment of pain!  I wouldn’t trade our new-found closeness for anything in the world!
  10. SHOWING LOVE IS MORE IMPORTANT THAN BEING RIGHT.  I don’t talk about this much, but the morning before my accident, my husband and I got into a huge argument.  I was angry…and I was right!  I hadn’t spoken to him all day, except when it was absolutely necessary to communicate.  I shudder to think that if things had turned out differently, his last memories of me would have been in anger.  Since then, being right doesn’t seem nearly as important as making sure he knows I love him (although I’m still right most of the time! 🙂
  11. IT IS OK TO CRY…or drown your frustrations in chocolate.  (Side note: Chocolate is actually healthy.  It is a legume, so it’s OK to eat a lot of it!)  Sometimes, you just need time to mourn the losses that happen through the normal course of life.  In fact, pent up emotions often lead to outbursts of anger that are directed toward those we love, rather than the actual problem at hand.  Releasing pent up emotion doesn’t mean you are weak, it means you are strong enough to acknowledge the difficulties and to face them head on.
  12. NEVER GIVE UP.  I have a sign that hangs in my kitchen that says: “Faith doesn’t make things easy, it makes them possible.”  So far, there haven’t been many things in my life that have been easy, but the possibilities are endless!  Sitting on the desert floor, holding my right hand in my left, I never thought I would play the violin again.  As a matter of fact, if I had given it any thought at all, I probably could have come up with a pretty long list of things I would never do again.  But none of it would have been true!  “As a man thinketh, so is he.”  Believing and then going to work for what you want makes all the difference!
  13. IT’S HARD TO STUMBLE WHEN YOU’RE ON YOUR KNEES.  Right next to the “faith” sign is one with this phrase.  The challenges I’ve faced over the past few years have taught me a few things about prayer.  I no longer see it as a tool to convince God to give me the things I need, but rather, it has become a way to gather peace and strength to help me deal with the trials that invariably lay in my path.  Prayer doesn’t change my life or make it easier to deal with.  Prayer changes me.  I wish I had understood that lesson a long time ago!
  14. LIVE WITH GRATITUDE…for everything.  Once you start to look for things you can be grateful for, it becomes a way of life.  And an attitude of gratitude makes everyday worth living.
  15. SEEK FOR THE SILVER LININGS.  They are there.  Sometimes I have to look harder than others, but with time and persistence, I’ve found some light in just about every dark cloud. … Like this blog post, for instance.  If my surgery had taken place yesterday as planned, I never would have written this list.  And I don’t know if it has blessed your life, but I know it has blessed mine!

By the way, my surgery was rescheduled for today.  I’ll be heading back in again soon.  The “alien egg” will hatch today, and then I’ll move on to a new phase in this process.  I’m sure there are plenty more lessons to learn.

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