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The Choice

I’ve struggled with this concept for a long time.  It’s really hard to talk about without sounding all hippy-dippy filled with woo.  So, I’ve decided to just tell the tale of three of these events and let you decide for yourself.

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I had bad legs as a kid.  I was always big for my age ( I was born a toddler at 11lbs and 2 feet long).  My ankles and knees took the brunt of it.  One summer I broke, sprained or just damaged my ankles a dozen times. In Jr High, I discovered that I had inherited another knee weakness or two.  While truckin through the halls between classes, some kid tripped me and I landed hands and knees.

This hurt way more than it should have.  What the kid had done was to trigger my Osgood Schlatter’s disease.  It’s a genetic trait that weakens the connective tissues on the leg bones.  In most cases, the biggest stress connection comes loose: the point where the quadriceps connect over the kneecap to the shin bone. Both knees went at once, the right knee was worse.  I was crippled.

The doctor’s visit was a nice little tale, one that I’m sure I’ll continue to lament in old age.  In short, he gave me the choice (no not THE choice …yet), I could either get an operation where they stapled my leg back together and there was a good chance it wouldn’t work, or I could stay off it for a couple of years, put up with the pain and be better than ever…eventually.  I took the pain.  My parents were broke from 7 kids, I already knew I was paying for college, an operation would have creamed us.  He said I might also suffer from “arthritis” as well.  Modern definition seems to be fibromyalgia.  He proscribed Motrin.

Two years off my feet killed my budding football chances.  And the ‘arthritis’ kicked in as soon as I got home.  By the time I had recovered from the Osgood Schlatter’s, I was still walking with a cane, particularly during bad weather.  And since I was in Michigan, that was about 200 days a year.  It was fibromyalgia, and it was getting worse.  Soon, I might not be able to walk at all.  This time, I was proscribed a wheel chair.

I fell in with a despicable group of SF fans called the Stilyagi Air corps. :) I regularly traveled an hour to their weekly meetings and social events. One time, I was in a separate room leaning on a large table talking to a friend.  I knocked something off the table.  I steadied myself with one hand for the arduous journey down, and hoped i didn’t black out. When I reached a squat position, I reached for the object and my knees gave a tremendous crack.  It may have been the same thing as cracking your knuckles, it sure happened frequently enough.

My friend had that look of pity wash over their face that only handicapped people see.  They asked “doesn’t that hurt?”  And then it happened. Time stopped and I could sense /see /imagine two roads through the future.  If I say yes, then I absorb all that pity and the pity of dozens or hundreds of more people.  This feeds the crippling beast until I become handicapped by it.  And I give in to the wheel chair.  My quality of life dies a slow death and I become a burden on the state.

The other road, the one less travelled by, and certainly the rockier, harder, uphill road, was where I look inside, deeply, and responded honestly.  For good or bad, anything but a simple answer would mean that I could begin the road of recovery.  One day, I would break that cane.  One day, I would dance.  I might even fly.

“No,” I said, “actually it feels kinda cool.” and I was set upon the path.  I started doing anything very low impact that I could.  I walked, I dusted off my bike, I carried my cane instead of using it whenever I could.  I changed my diet, found what my body craved and gave it.

I danced.

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A couple years later, I would tell this story to a friend.  She had Lupus.  All of the cartilage in her body was gone and she was waiting for the disease to pick the next tissue to attack.  At that moment, it was very inconvenient, but a good parlor trick.  She could easily pop any joint out of socket, and could even unhinge her jaw.  A little creepy, but cool.  She listened very intently to my tale, and asked a lot of follow up questions before I went on my way.

We weren’t the kinds of friends who saw each other often.  We just didn’t travel in the same circles. But she was one of the special people who came to me after my divorce to hear my side of things.  Most stayed my friends.  She was one of them. So it was months later that we bumped into each other.  She didn’t have her walker, she had smaller wrist supports, and was getting around with just a cane.

She told me her moment of choice came shortly after we talked.  Fight and she gets to recover.  Give in, and the disease moves to another tissue type, and another, and another.  She still had no cartilage, but the disease was in recession and she was getting strong enough that her muscles were starting to hold her together.  Months later, when we saw each other the last time, her doctor had approved her for pregnancy… she was just showing.

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I met Susan while driving at Yellow Cab.  That company had contracts with the city to offer low cost fares to the handicapped and elderly to augment the bus system. Susan was one of our handicapped people.  10-20 minutes at a time, we got to know each other’s stories as she buzzed around town.

Susan had exactly the same physical problems I did.  She had her moment of choice and was weak.  She chose the chair.

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I’m not sure how often we get these precious little moments.  I really doubt we get only one.  It could be that they become these stop-time spectacles when you’re read to turn the corner and stop giving in.  Maybe not.  I don’t know if they’re “given” to us by some greater entity or if they’e a natural pert of life.  What I do know is they’re serious, they can deeply affect your life and profoundly affect your future.  If they come to you, you must be brave.  Face the future head on.

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