There’s a lot to be said for “normal.”
Sure, “normal” may be dull, static, un-newsworthy, status quo, not worth mulling over. But in my case it’s also reassuring to be a “normal” person, particularly as opposed to “abnormal” — which I definitely was about a year ago.
At about this time in 2017, I stupidly self-diagnosed an unrelenting assault of debilitating back pains as strained muscles, probably caused by rehearsing for a Merc Playhouse production in which I played a character in a wheelchair. Even as I steadily deteriorated, I didn’t want to believe that I was suffering a recurrence of a nearly fatal staph infection that attacked and ravaged my spinal cord seven years earlier. That required complicated neurosurgery to rebuild my backbone. The surgery itself offered no guarantees. But the other options, my doctor told me, were “dead” or “quadriplegic.” The operation went well, and I recovered — forever, I thought.
So it just couldn’t be the same thing, I stubbornly thought last year. Not again.
Wrong. By the time that became fully, excruciatingly evident, I was on my way to a hospital in Wenatchee. The staph was back, working away at my spine and, this time, other parts of my body as well. Two operations and four weeks of in-hospital recovery later — plus an extended regimen of powerful antibiotics — I was on a painfully familiar road to recovery. After that, I went through weeks of physical therapy at Winthrop Physical Therapy and Fitness, and now I work out there several times a week, slowly rebuilding strength, endurance and stability.
A couple of weeks ago, I visited an immunologist in an attempt to discover what is causing these staph attacks, and what I could do (or stop doing) to head them off. The test results came back shortly: there’s nothing wrong with my immune system. My antibodies are in top-top shape. Normal. Which of course was a relief, but left the major medical question unanswered.
Then, last week, I began experiencing all-too-familiar pains in my back again. Same place, same symptoms as the previous two episodes. Thus the moral in all of this: Don’t be dumb like Don.
This time I got an immediate appointment with my primary physician, who examined me, asked questions and ordered blood tests. On Monday, I got the results: utterly, absolutely, unequivocally normal. So maybe just a back strain this time, but I’m monitoring it.
It still feels self-serving and immodest to be talking about my recent medical history so publicly. People used to think of this stuff as “private,” not to be shared in polite company. But as I learned last summer, it became something of a matter of community interest — which is a little embarrassing, in that lots of other valley residents are dealing with serious medical challenges, and none of them owns a newspaper. Nevertheless, I’ve already chronicled the events of last year in some detail (largely to explain why I wasn’t around), so I feel some obligation to continue the serialized version of “The Walking Not-Dead.” People continue to ask me how I’m doing, for which I am grateful.
It’s a cliché (one based in reality) that people of a certain age often spend a lot of time talking to each other about what’s wrong with them. That said, one side effect of the past year’s experiences is that I’m much more attentive to other peoples’ health challenges, in an empathetic way. I don’t know anyone who’s looking for gratuitous sympathy when they talk about personal medical issues, but rather a human connection based on our shared journey towards mortality. We get sick, we get injured, we do calamitous damage to ourselves through addictions and self-neglect. We can be helpful to each other if we are attentive and caring. We must all be our strongest self-advocates, but we also need all the support we can get. I thank you for yours.
Meanwhile, I’ll remind myself that “normal” is as good as it gets.