Day 91: Progress (or Lack Thereof)

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Today was supposed to be my day. Circled on my calendar back in March, today was my three-month CT scan and appointment with my surgeon. Although full recovery from a surgery of this magnitude takes right around a year, three months is considered enough time for sufficient healing to take place that allows for a return to normal activities. My expectation was that I would come home from the appointment and go right out for a run, my first in nine months.

As it turns out, I will not be running anytime soon. The surgeon used bone grafts to build two columns in my lower back. The CT scan showed that the column on the right is healing as expected, while the column on the left is far behind schedule. The chunks of bone that he implanted on the left are still sitting there independently with only minimal growth around them.

The surgeon said this is highly unusual. Typically, people either heal well bilaterally, or they heal poorly bilaterally, but two different progressions simultaneously is rare. He has no explanation as to what happened. He tells me that on paper I am the ideal candidate to heal well: young, active, non-smoker, healthy eating habits, etc. “On paper,” therefore, seems to be the key term.

Instead of today being my last appointment with him, now I have plans to see him again in mid-August, at which time I will undergo more tests to check how the bone is healing. Perhaps the fusions will progress between now and then, or perhaps they will not.

In the meantime, I am feeling very discouraged and disappointed. There will be no bike rides this summer. My planned return to competitive running on the one-year anniversary of my last race is out the window. So much for playing ping pong with my nephews when they visit over Independence Day weekend. I will not be able to help pack, unpack, and set up our first house when Joanne and I move later this summer. When I pan across the horizon of my life, tennis is nowhere to be seen.

Instead, I have two months ahead of more of the same. Three months ago, I thought June 18th would never come. In reality, the time passed just as slowly as I anticipated it would. To think I was done and then find out I have to do it almost all over again, but with more uncertainty and less optimism this time, is quite disheartening.

The other day, a new patient came to me frustrated that his efforts to lose weight have gone nowhere. When I suggested that we try a different approach by focusing on making healthy choices, learning to love and accept himself regardless of his size, and letting his weight settle wherever it naturally belongs, well, he did not want to hear that one bit.

He looked down at my lean frame and explained to me that I do not know what it is like to be judged on appearance, that I do not know what it is like to feel uncomfortable in my own body, that I do not know how frustrating it is for my body to not respond the way I would like despite my best efforts, and that I do understand the apparent unfairness of seeing somebody with an attribute or an ability that I covet, but cannot attain, for myself. Yeah, clearly I cannot relate to any of those themes at all.

Everybody is dealing with something, and while the particulars are unique to each person, common ground exists underneath. No matter what our goals are, if we do the best we can to achieve them and we still fall short, then by definition there is nothing more for us to do except adapt and find a new way to thrive. When I wrote, “In this kind of defeat, you learn that there are incidents in life that are not up to us. We are only somewhat in control of our own destiny, and we have to roll with events and outcomes that do not go our way,” I feared that perhaps I was foreshadowing my own outcome.

Maybe that will prove to indeed be the case. However, I am not going to use that as an excuse to keep from doing everything I can, while still maintaining perspective, to meet my goals. Today sucked, but my bitching is over. It’s time to get back to work.

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