It’s five months today since I went in for surgery. I was so happy to go, so happy to finally have a chance for relief from the constant pain of the past two years, that I was practically giddy going into the OR. I had important postop contact numbers programmed into my husband’s cell phone, my bag was carefully packed for my overnight hospital stay, my freezer was stocked with meals for the eight weeks I would be off work, and I had left myself a dated to-do list on my desk at work: “June first” with a half-dozen important things I wanted to make sure I didn’t forget on my first day back at work. Ninety minutes later everything changed.
My surgeon, whom my family hadn’t expected to see for at least three hours, walked back into the waiting room with a furrowed brow. There were unexpected complications. “Unexpected” has pretty much been my theme ever since, from that interrupted surgery to a month of IV antibiotics, a completely incompetent home health care nurse, another surgery a month later with – you guessed it – unexpected complications, a very difficult recovery, no relief from the pain whatsoever, and losing my job of nineteen years once my FMLA leave ran out. But I’ve learned a lot.
1.) Buy the best disability insurance you can. If doesn’t cost that much, and it might make the difference between an immediate financial crisis and one just looming on the horizon.
2.) Your family and friends are more important than your employers – treat them that way. If everything falls apart it’s your family and friends who will be there for you, no matter how dedicated and hard-working an employee you may have been.
3.) Have a financial cushion. We had the Dave Ramsey recommended thousand dollar cushion in our checking account, and if we hadn’t we’d have been in big trouble very quickly.
4.) Don’t judge people just because you can’t see their disability at first glance. As a nurse, I admit I did my share of eye-rolling when a young, healthy-looking patient would tell me they were disabled (especially if I was seeing them because they’d had chest pain after hauling a ten-point buck three miles out of the woods) but only those who know me well can tell when my pain is at its worst. Most people assume I am just distracted, tired, or grumpy.
5.) Therapy is of nearly immeasurable value. There’s not a person out there who couldn’t benefit from a few sessions with a good therapist. I was lucky enough to see someone who really understood me and my situation a handful of times, and I’ll be high-tailing it back just as soon as I can afford it.
6.) Not working is hard. I always thought I’d love the opportunity to be off work for a while, at least for longer than the six weeks maternity leave I took with each of my children. But it’s hard. I was surprised to find out how much my self-esteem was tied into my career.
7.) Your spouse and your kids are probably stronger and more resourceful then you give them credit for. Mine have taken over a majority of the household duties, cheerfully embraced a more frugal lifestyle, and been supportive of me 24/7 – even at my grumpiest.
8.) The world doesn’t end when you say, “No”. I’ve said “No” to people asking for donations, to people asking for volunteers, to events I knew I couldn’t physically tolerate. Most of these I really wanted to say “Yes” to, but in the grand scheme of things saying “No” right now doesn’t make me a bad person.
9.) No one is irreplaceable in today’s marketplace. Be proud of the work you do out in the world, but don’t be so prideful as to think that more than a handful of people will miss you if you leave . . . or even notice that you’re gone.
10.) Living through difficult times makes the good times so much sweeter. Eating breakfast together Saturday morning, watching a movie curled up on the sofa with the dogs, even running errands together is something fun to share. Unless, of course, it’s that stupid Inception movie that the kids keep trying to explain to me and I just can’t grasp, or if it’s senior citizen discount day at Kroger. Then all bets are off.