Happy new year! I hope that 2019 brings you good health and contentment. And in the absence of good health, contentment will do just fine.
Some newspaper and magazine journalist like to make predictions at the start of a new year. I could never have predicted at the start of 2018 that I would lose my right arm before the year was over. But maybe there were some omens that I should have heeded more closely.
In January Tom and I visited ancient Mayans rooms in Tikal, Guatemala. After two full days of visiting these amazing ruins, we stopped at an open air market. We have been to Guatemala many times and deeply appreciate the artistry and craftsmanship of indigenous goods. The market was an eye-popping display of colorful textiles, leather goods, and jewelry.
But what caught my eye this time was a modest necklace, a figure of an iguana. The iguana chose to be my spirit animal many years ago. (How I came to know this is fodder for a different post.) “I’ll take that,” I said to the vendor, a teenage boy.
When I had it in my hand and looked at it closely, I saw that it was missing a limb. Through gestures I pointed this out to the boy and asked if he had a different necklace. He looked all through his display case and then turned and rummaged through all of the shirts, tablecloths, and baby bibs in his area. Not finding an iguana necklace with all its limbs intact, he went door to door to the neighboring vendors. Finally after a half an hour he returned empty-handed and with a sorry look on his face.
“I guess I won’t take it,” I said to Tom with disappointment. “Wait a minute,“ he said. “Think about it. You’re missing a part of your body” (referring to my mastectomy). “Not everyone is perfect. We all have flaws. I think you should go ahead and take the necklace.”
Tears welled up in my eyes. “Thank you, Tom, that’s a very good point.“ Tom’s eyes welled up with tears too as he took my hand and then we hugged. I wiped the tears from my eyes and then turn back to the boy handing him a $20 bill for a $5 purchase. He was clearly stupefied by the exchange that he just witnessed. I’m sure he couldn’t imagine why two gringos were crying over a cheap little necklace.
The next omen took place in Lincoln Nebraska on a Saturday in March. I had just finished a long day of continuing education classes to renew my audiology license. Heading toward my car, I stepped off the curb with the pedestrian walk signal. Three-fourths of the way across the intersection I was knocked flat by a car. Fortunately the car stopped before it ran me over. I lay in the street deeply stunned and so disoriented that I didn’t know what to do next. Shortly I realized that I was in a dangerous place. I got up slowly and hobbled across the street. I sat on the curb and tried to collect my thoughts. By this time the driver of the car and a good Samaritan stopped and rushed over to me.
“Are you OK, are you OK?” they asked over and over. “I don’t know,” I said. “Shall we call the rescue squad?“ they asked. “I don’t know, “I said. “I just don’t know”. I was so dazed that I could not make a decision.
Just at that moment Tom called. “Hi, how are you doing? he asked, very upbeat. “Are you heading home soon?“
When I explained to him what happened he said, “Give the phone to somebody. They need to call an ambulance for you.“
Tom directed the good Samaritan to call the ambulance. Within minutes it screamed into the scene. The EMTs rushed over to me. They checked my blood pressure and looked into my mouth, eyes, and ears. They had me walk up and down the sidewalk. During that time they asked three times “Do you want to be transported to the hospital?
By this time Tom and I had talked again and I was feeling a bit more oriented. I did not relish the idea of a trip to the emergency room. Since I was walking and talking coherently I felt that I was not hurt. I refused transport to the hospital three times. The EMTs wished me well, got back in their fire trucks and drove away.
My good Samaritan never left my side all this time. He asked if he could do anything else so I asked if he would drive me to my car. The plan was that I would take some time to recover. If I did not feel I was able to drive, Tom would come to Lincoln to get me.
I got a cup of hot tea and a snack and sat at a table at Starbucks taking deep breaths and thinking about the accident. Slowly I regained my composure. When I was myself again a feeling welled up inside of me. My whole being was filled with the message “Pay Attention.“
I didn’t know what I was supposed to pay attention to. But my resolution to be aware was strong.
On the following Monday I returned to my long-standing physical therapy regimen. I pointed out to my physical therapist that I felt like my right arm was getting weaker instead of stronger. She did a quick assessment and determined that my deltoid muscle had atrophied. She recommended that I return to my orthopedic surgeon.
That appointment started a string of medical evaluations that led to the diagnosis of radiation induced sarcoma of the right brachial plexus.
My right arm and shoulder was amputated before the end of the year.
I did not renew my audiology license.
I wear the missing limb iguana nearly every time I leave the house.