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Monday, July 09, 2012

The Before and After

Photo: AudreyJM529
July 3 was the five-year anniversary of my mom’s stroke.

I always dread that date. What do you say to someone on such an awful anniversary date?

“Happy recovery day, Mom,” seemed to work best, even though the recovery took much longer than one day. It just feels more redemptive to talk about the recovery than it does the stroke – it’s a way of taking the date back.

As I thought about how I would acknowledge the date to my mom, it made me realize something. Most of us, myself included, can point to a date (or an event) in our lives in which the natural course of events changed so much that we refer to a before and after. Sometimes it is health-related, sometimes it’s not.

Before I ruptured my right Achilles tendon in 1997, I had never experienced physical rehab, or heard of a Pulmonary embolism, or been totally dependent on other people. I never had to worry about blood clots forming in my leg when I rode in an airplane or drove long distances in a car. And I never dreamed that I would spend portions of every afternoon since then sneaking away from whatever I’m doing to elevate my leg to keep it from swelling.

After I ruptured my right Achilles tendon in 1997, I longed to play tennis the way I used to, but my side-to-side mobility was limited. My internal anticipation on the court was the same, but my body would not cooperate. In hindsight, I should have kept playing anyway, but it was frustrating to be a shell of the player I was before the accident. In more ways than one, I was struggling to process the after of my injury, and in some ways, I still am.

Many people face health challenges that are far more severe than mine. I recently followed Olympic swimmer Kaitlin Sandeno as she visited ill children at Children’s Hospital & Medical Center here in Omaha (here’s a link to the story I wrote for the US Olympic Committee website about the events of the day -- Kaitlin Sandeno: Joy by the Jar). Seeing what those kids are facing put my after into perspective.

But this isn’t a competition. It’s reality, and we all have realities to face.

I cannot speak for anyone else, but personally, I like it when people ask me about my before and after. Not because I need or want anyone to feel sorry for me, but because it tells me they care enough to ask and then genuinely want to hear my answer. Somehow, having someone else acknowledge my before and after makes it feel like they are sharing my burden, and that makes it lighter.

This makes me want to ask other people about their before and after. I feel like I need permission to do this though. The before might be too painful to think about and the after might be too depressing. But I think I’ll gently broach the subject with people in the future because if it helps me to tell my story, it might help them too.


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