Let’s begin with what is most important first:
I changed the subtitle of my blog, “Musing with Margaret: Approaching seventy with hair…and soul…on fire.”
I am no longer “approaching” seventy.
I am seventy! Wow!
Now approaching eighty! Quite amazing to me.
As difficult as that number was to absorb, own and embrace….what trumped that realization is how I arrived at the milestone….not exactly with “hair and soul on fire”….it was more a limping, hopping, humbling experience.
I celebrated my birthday from a wheelchair, unable to walk on my own due to surgery on an ankle, fractured in two places, the result of a fainting experience connected to a preliminary diagnosis that is longer than my first/middle/last/and maiden name combined: Chronic Autoimmune Urticaria and Angioedema Syndrome.
The good news is the dozens of specialist appointments, tests, procedures, etc., researching the cause, resulted in a clean bill of health for the vital parts: my brain, lungs, liver, kidneys, stomach, etc., all in excellent condition. The cardiologist exclaimed my two-week stint on a monitor revealed my heart was “boringly healthy”.
The not so pleasant result is this is a rare condition, connected to overproduction of mast cells (don’t feel bad, I didn’t know what a mast cell was either before this happened), incurable, but generally treatable with large doses of antihistamines and a low-histamine “food-deprived diet” (no chocolate, cheese, most fruits, tomatoes, avocadoes, alcohol…yes, goodbye cosmos…shellfish, and other various delicious things that I love).
Add to the mix…a radiology callback (I know all my women friends can relate to the concern that comes with ‘that’ phone call) because something was “seen” on a routine mammogram….plus an infected cyst on my back that required three-rounds of antibiotic….and surgery.
If nothing else, my 70th birthday will be one of the more memorable.
On the positive side of this life-changing, frighteningly horrible diagnosis (the episodes associated with this disorder affect all bodily functions, come on suddenly, drop my blood pressure to the floor, are painful and overwhelming and have a component of anaphylaxis shock….I now have an EpiPen snuggling up to my lipstick in my bag)…have been the gifts: the insights, the acknowledgments, the awareness, the gratefulness, the quite humbling life-learnings.
So…what have I learned?
….That navigating life with a disability is not for the faint-hearted. Luckily we live in a condo that does not require stairs for access. We utilize an elevator to our fourth-floor space, with a one-floor design. But….whenever I traveled outside my safe space, our home, there was a constant concern when needing to enter a new building in a wheelchair: Will it be ‘handicapped-accessible’? Will there be an accessible restroom?
There was a consistent worry when approaching a sidewalk or a building lacking a ramp about how I would maneuver over that short, four or five-inch barrier, unable to put any weight on my right foot for eight weeks!
And, from that chair, when in public, I was often ignored or became the focus of curiosity with an odd look from strangers. I experienced in social situations an alienation…relegated to where there was room for a chair, often at a distance or at a lower height than everyone else. It was often a lonely, isolating experience.
Through my own experience and learning process, I have developed the utmost empathy and appreciation for those who lack the option to recover from a temporary disability… those who must experience life continually from a wheelchair or crutches.
I have learned:
….That family and friends who offer their help and assistance are truly angels on earth. This is no exaggeration. Whether coming to visit individually, in pairs, at times in groups with as many as five or six….cooking, cleaning, running errands, fluffing my pillow, bringing medical equipment and supplies/dinners/flowers/books/gifts, visiting for hours/days/weeks, some taking flights to be by my side, driving me to medical appointments, carting my wheelchair or crutches or walker, massaging my ankle, changing bandages, assisting me in the shower; calling, texting or sending cards.
Angels. All friggin’ angels.
…..That I take my health for granted; that I take my ability to easily navigate the world also for granted; that life requires a constant adaptation to change, transition, loss; that you don’t have to manage and carry your anxiety and fears alone; that letting go of control brings calm and relief; that holding gratitude for what you have, counting your blessings and remaining positive will increase your chances for the best outcome; that having a life partner and sons and daughter-in-law that love and cherish you will get you through anything; that life, even when facing a challenge, is amazingly PRECIOUS…
….and the persons you share life with…those that show up, demonstrate support, provide care for you and express their love for you….are the most cherished gifts you will ever receive.