Everyone will visit at some point in your lives. Struggle City. Some of us are frequent flyers and a few are lucky to rarely pass through town. Maybe you are visiting or living there right now. If so, you know the vacancy sign is continuously lit. We all know someone who is struggling – health challenges, work or lack of it, financial woes, addiction, depression and worse. Yes, we struggle because we are human.
I’ve recently taken up temporary residence on the outskirts of Struggle City in my Airstream pulled by Steve’s dreamy, fully loaded pickup. This visit is prompted by my back surgery and includes an all-inclusive six-week recovery. Before my departure, I was a student at Rush-Copley Hospital’s Spine School. Staff navigators gave me needed information to pack the Airstream and walk me through my hospital stay, plus a nose swab for good measure. Yes, seeing all the equipment I had to acquire for my upcoming trip was both sobering and motivating. My first reaction was, “I won’t need that” to the grabber, squatty potty and other suggestions that looked like they belonged in a nursing home. Well, I was wrong.
The realization that I should plan for and journal while on the road trip inspired me to take action. I hadn’t visited Struggle City in a while, but packed extremely well for this trip thanks to my medical team at Rush Copley and friends with equipment stowed for such occasions. Good thing I didn’t fly… I needed the trailer to pull all the items for a safe recovery: walker, tray tables, shower chair, bed rail and yes, even the grabber. I did pass on the squatty potty and made due with my grandmother’s needlepoint stool. Nobody ever said constipation is fun, but why not go with designer when you can?
My stay started nearly three weeks ago. I barely left the trailer the first week – it was a chore just to get around and take care of the basics. Not to mention picking up the many items too heavy or slippery for the grabber. Solid pre-trip planning lined up a cast of family and friends to stay or visit me to make sure my basic needs were met. My first adventure outside the Airstream was navigating the walker 50 yards to the stop sign, then down the block 200 yards and then around the block. Yes, it is fall in Struggle City with yard work not to be done and rules to follow: don’t bend, don’t squat, don’t twist and don’t lift more than 10 lbs until October 30. Slow and steady is thy name.
I practiced my impending disability before surgery, but nothing is more real than actually parking the trailer in Struggle City for a non-negotiable, non-refundable six-week stay. Block walking has since made way to miles and the walker has been replaced by hiking poles as my medical team gave me the green light to briefly leave the neighborhood with a 1-2 hour pass. Progress is being made and the disabling L4 back pain I had prior to surgery is all but gone. For this I am so thankful.
I’m halfway through my stay in Struggle City, with the worst weeks behind me. The leaves are starting to change and I’m actually noticing their display each day instead of groaning when they need to be raked up. What is my secret to the best stay you ask? First, I asked for help from family and friends before surgery. People are happy to help when you give them plenty of lead-time and are specific about the help you need. Creating a calendar of care is critical; especially to make sure they can all fit in the Airstream. All this groundwork has led me to realize that the upside of being down is spending time with people whom you want to be around. Thank you to my friends and family for making my stay the best it could be.
Is there a second secret to making my stay in Struggle City easier? Why yes there is! Preparation. I got really, really organized with everything from food preparation to house cleaning and from countertop organization to pajama shopping. If you can take the bypass around Struggle City, why wouldn’t you? So yes, in my downtime I’ve written up a 10-page manual, “Back Surgery Prep and Recovery.” Highlights include equipment reviews, preparation checklists and tips to make your recovery easier for you (and those around you). Very “Britta,” I know. Seriously, I can’t help myself. Optimization is encoded in my DNA. I’m compelled to share, so if you or someone you know wants a copy, message me and I’ll get you a copy of my work in progress or add you to my Slack group.
A note specifically for those of you making a planned or unplanned trip to Struggle City… use your voice to advocate for yourself and invite allies when you need us. Asking for help is not a sign of weakness, but rather an invitation to be present. If you don’t ask for help, how can people know you need it? Here’s wishing you only brief stays in Struggle City with good friends to share the journey and help carry the load.
As for me, I’ll be back home soon, rested up and ready for my next adventure. That is as long as I don’t drop my grabber, cell phone and car keys.
P.S. Is there someone in your life who has taken up residence in Struggle City? You can help shorten their stay or brighten up their day by taking initiative instead of waiting to be asked to help. The residents appreciate a supportive text, note of encouragement, ride to the doctor, healthy meal delivered, or short visit to just listen. If you are currently dwelling in Struggle City, look me up and be encouraged to reach out to your family and friends and local resources for help.