Uncertainties and Impermanence

My wonderful wife, Mary Esther, and I just returned from a visit with the surgeon who will be operating on her back. It’s much more involved than we thought it would be, and we are meditating every day just to help us cope. We’re trying to keep it in the day, but we can’t help spiraling into the future, the day of March 24, when the operation is scheduled.

We’ve known each other since 1994 when we met in Harvard Square. Over time we became close friends and then we started to date in 1999 while I was living in a recovery center, first in Salem, then I switched to a more comprehensive recovery center in Gloucester called Moore’s Way. It was a wonderful place, and Mary Esther and I would sit on the balcony there and watch the seagulls flying over the ocean and the nearby rooftops.

Over the years our relationship has grown very close, and now it is as if we are joined at the hip. Prior to our formal engagement, Mary Esther had an attack of sepsis that nearly killed her. Thanks to the wonderful care at Mt. Auburn Hospital, she made it through. It was so close that on April 7, 2001, she was given last rites.

At that point, we decided to get engaged and we were married in a friend’s giant backyard by a nun who was Mary Esther’s spiritual advisor at that time. It was a totally alcohol and drug free wedding. Even the caterers stayed late after it was over, and they said it was the most enjoyable affair that they had ever worked.

It was good for us too. Life can be very exciting, and in the beginning Mary Esther and I went dancing quite often. I can tell you that both of us rocked the joint, but we didn’t smoke any. Our support groups hold many sober dances and we went to most of them.

One day, as we were going to the supermarket, Mary Esther said, “Grocery shopping here we come,” as we got out of the car and suddenly, she threw her hip out and that was the beginning of the physical change. She limped from that day on and we began seeing physicians to help her.

We came to find out that Mary Esther had arthritis everywhere and needed both knees and a hip replaced. X-Rays also showed that she had herniated discs in her spine, and it was twisted from scoliosis and stenosis. After four painful operations, three to replace her knees (one needed a revision) and one to replace her hip, we were hoping to be finished with surgeries.

Unfortunately, her back was a continuous source of pain and, even though she stayed active at a gym, and had the help of a physical therapist, we searched for help with her back pain for a long time. One of the best decisions we made was to have two Medtronic’s neurostimulators put in her back to reduce the pain that she lived with every day.

We visited at least four back surgeons who all said her condition was inoperable because of the severe deterioration that was taking place.  Over the last few years her pain has been increasing to the point where it is intolerable. There are many nights she goes to bed crying, and because of severe sciatica, she has trouble standing up.

Finally, we had a heart to heart with her physician at the pain clinic she attends and had another set of X-Rays taken. The deterioration of her spine was hard to look at, and once we saw it, we wished that we could unsee it. Her pain doctor recommended a surgeon who specializes in difficult cases. He was the doctor of last resort.

The basic idea behind this operation is not to make the back like new, but to fuse nine vertebrae and contain the stenosis so it stops pinching on the nerves in her spine. It will slow the pace of the damage from her arthritis. We were told that it would be a major five hour operation, and her recovery period would last about six months.

The surgeon spent a long time talking to us and was very gentle and positive, yet not arrogant at all, and we were very glad to be referred to him. Does this mean we are moving ahead without fear?  Not quite. This is the most serious operation she has ever scheduled, and we work very hard to keep our thoughts in the day.

Before the operation we are going to go on a little retreat in Northern Vermont at a wonderful bed and breakfast. It’s a small place just 19 miles south of St. Johnsbury in a little town named Barnet. It’s very easy to get to; a pleasant drive down nice roads without traffic.

In the meantime, we are doing the best we can, supporting each other and loving each other through these difficult days before the surgery. The times we have spent together are the best days of our lives and we always say, “For us, God saved the best for last.”

I want to thank all of my faithful readers of Spare Change News and ask you to pray for us to whatever God you believe in. I believe in them all. We know that nothing lasts forever, and the one constant in life is change. We’ve been through a few changes and I imagine there will be a few more, wouldn’t you agree?



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