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How do you eat an elephant?

Published March 15. 2014 09:00AM

For seven weeks, I counted the days until March 3.

Every night before I fell asleep, I counted how many days I had left until I could get out of prison.

"Prison," in my case, was using a wheelchair and walker and not being able to bend past my waist. That meant if anything fell on the floor, and it often did, I couldn't even pick it up. Nor could I put on my own socks or bedroom slippers.

This fiercely independent person was reduced to someone who needed a lot of help.

The precautions were necessary to safeguard the tenuous repairs to my torn gluteus medius tendon.

When March 3 finally came, my surgeon said he was sending me to physical therapy to learn to walk again.

I didn't contradict him, but in my head I thought I didn't need anyone to teach me how to walk again. Say the word, I thought, and I will fly.

As soon as we left the office, my husband pulled over to Barnes and Noble and said, "OK, let's walk in." I took one step and was stunned at how much it hurt. All I could manage were a few more steps until the pain forced me to rely again on my walker for support.

"You know what Nike says: 'Just do it,'" encouraged my husband, who seemed to think the right amount of determination could have me walking without assistance.

I needed the walker for another two days as little by little I learned to walk without it.

When I went for my first physical therapy session, I thought the therapist was excellent, but I hated to hear what she had to say. Getting back to "normal," she said, will be slow going - at least five more weeks, if I'm lucky. The surgeon said the same thing.

OK, I admit it. I spent a full day feeling despondent until I remembered the old elephant analogy.

How do you eat an elephant?

One bite at a time.

I will gain back my physical ability one small bite at a time.

Were you ever faced with a tough situation that demanded an attitude adjustment on your part? So many times I find myself needing one. When you can't change a situation, what you can change is your attitude toward it. And that makes all the difference.

I finally made one crucial attitude adjustment by resolving one important thing: I will focus on what I can do, not what I can't do. While I get depressed if I dwell on what I can't do, I feel empowered when I focus on the gains I'm making.

I have a long list of things I can do again. And yes, I can walk short distances unaided by pushing past the discomfort.

After a three-month hiatus, I am finally back to doing newspaper interviews. In other words, I'm impersonating a normal person, and it feels great.

My kayak club will be going on outings without me for a while, and my dance buddies won't see me for a few weeks. I've been warned if I push too hard to do those things I might retear the tendon. Then all these difficult weeks will have been wasted. So, I'm listening, I'm behaving, and most of all, I'm staying positive.

Every day brings another small victory.

Being able to drive again was a biggie. Today, I drove to the supermarket and walked around the store filling my cart. When was the last time you celebrated because you could shop unassisted in a grocery store?

When I loaded my groceries in my car, I felt like Mario Andretti after he won a race.

Tomorrow, there will be other small victories.

Each day and night I try to remember to thank God for each of those victories. I'm reading a book for Lent that suggests we end each day by recalling the blessings that came our way that day. Last night I thanked God that I can now shower and wash my hair standing up instead of sitting on a tub chair. I try not to let those little victories go by without saying thank you.

I thank my faithful readers, too, for all their encouraging letters and emails.

I'm especially appreciative for those of you who shared your own physical trials and triumphs with me. Your message seemed to be, "All things will come with time." I know that is true.

Thanks for reminding me the trick is to appreciate, not resent, the road to recovery.

When my daughter called today to see how I was doing, she was surprised when I said I was wonderful.

Sure, I said. I'm staying positive while I'm learning how to eat an elephant, one bite at a time.

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