Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Now Comes the Hard Part

Six weeks before my family went to Europe, my husband hurt his back at work by moving a 600-pound hoist. Six weeks after our vacation, he had back surgery. Even though he could barely stand for twelve days after the original injury, even though he limped through Rome, Germany, and England, and even though he was in pain for two solid weeks after surgery, now that he is out of pain and now that he is back to his normal activities, now comes the hard part of his recovery.

Not that pain is easy. But the harder part is changing habits and personality to prevent future injury. If Michael wants to avoid another back surgery, he must moderate his activity level and he must stop lifting very heavy things.

Ever since he was a teenager, when every summer he bucked 65-pound bales of hay high onto the back of his Dad's F-250, Michael has identified himself as strong. About a month before he hurt his back at work, he hoisted two full tanks of welding gases (140 pounds) onto the back of our truck. We had purposefully planned the transfer for when our sons were available to help, but he was impatient and did it himself.

Well, no more. The fact is that his muscles are much stronger than his intervertebral discs, and another disc could easily rupture if pressed past its tolerance.

We are only as strong as our weakest link. It is human nature to identify with our strengths rather than acknowledge perceived weakness, but when we ignore our limitations we often get hurt.

I've seen clients become injured by being too helpful. "But I knew my sister needed help painting her house, and I didn't want her to have to paint the ceiling." Others get injured by having to do it all. It's not that she did the laundry and weeded the garden and made a big dinner and spent an hour on the elliptical machine; it's that she did it all in the same day. And, of course, there are those of us who need to be busy all the time with no time for rest. Others get injured, because they can't commit to regular exercise so their weak and inflexible bodies succumb to slight insults.

We might think the behavior needs to change, but the underlying attitude must shift first. If I can accept my inherent worth without always doing something, then I can take time to rest. If Michael can scale back his personal definition of strength to 70 pounds, then he very well may keep the rest of his discs and avoid spinal fusion surgery.

The ego has little regard for the body. It is more concerned with its self-image than anything else. The hard part of recovery is keeping the ego in check, balancing strength with weakness, and accepting the frailties of being human.