Optimism, Part I

Some folks prefer to stay in a depressed mode, mumbling all along they are being realistic. My definition of being realistic is knowing how well something could go and being prepared to accept if things don’t go well. That is a big difference. As beautiful as this world is, I cannot believe God created us to be down as a matter of our nature. There are ways to cope with real depressions, and you must admit out loud you have it. I believe all of us have some level of it. It is in getting help and learning to find positivity in life, people, events, that we all can have optimism. Life is so much better.

I’m writing about optimism because of Michael J Fox. I am consciously optimistic to this very day because of people like Michael J Fox, and the late Christopher Reeve. They were both in the news during a very significant time in my life, one that I may need to write about one day. Fox has released a book titled, “No Time Like the Future: An Optimist Considers Mortality.” His previous books, “Lucky Man,” and “Always Looking Up,” have both inspired me on my journey from a dire outcome to the life I have today.

I really need to write to Fox and tell him how important he has been on my journey. I would not have been able to even think about overcoming some physical challenges if he hadn’t written the book. Well, maybe. But he announced his Parkinsons in 1991, he was only 29. They hid the news for a long time, sadly; we were not a sophisticated enough society to realize these things happen to good people. Hollywood, perhaps being as superficial as it’s always been, would not hire him if they knew. I would like to think that changed thirty years later.

Christopher Reeve, the actor who was “Superman” as I live and breathe, injured and paralyzed in an accident while in an equestrian competition, was about four months younger than me. It injured him in 1995, he remained paralyzed from the rest of his life. He was 42 years old. I mourned such a fate for such a vital, healthy, young man. Meanwhile, I kept reading about Fox as well. Both men, one younger and one my age, were inspirations.

What do these tragedies have to do with me? Nothing directly. But in November 1995, I had an unheard of live-changing-medical-challenge of my own. Also at 42. I’d always had back issues. First time in grade school, I threw something out and ended up in bed on muscle relaxers for a week. My friend, Karen Wingerson Smolinski, could come inside and visit with me. Mom never let other kids in the house, especially upstairs, during the day. She was worried.

I’d been doing office work for several years and was programming at Mutual of Omaha when I really started having low back pain. I devoted 90 minutes to working out every day in the Mutual gym after work. I didn’t miss, ever. I was in pretty good shape, too. Strong, single, and only had my daughter at home. The back just got worse and worse. After a diskography which gave me a disk infection, I was in increasing pain for about two weeks. Finally, diagnosed with an arachnoid cyst and in great neurological distress, my new neurosurgeon and his mentor scheduled surgery.

I too knew I may wake up to the possibility of being paralyzed. I too had little idea what my future held. My son Frankie, the oldest, counseled his twenty-year-old brother and his sixteen-year-old sister, that they didn’t know how this would turn out. He, (at twenty-three) would become their guardian, and they would live in our house. He was my beneficiary on everything. I named him in my will as the one to take care of the others should something happen. I had not yet met the Babe.

My kids & me. Frank, me, Becky, and Nick. Best job I ever had. Thanksgiving, 2009.

What a bunch of heavy stuff for these kids! They were so wonderful to me during that time. I’ll be grateful to them forever. The surgery was a very complicated and took over eight hours. They did laminectomies on several vertebrae and couldn’t remove the cyst. It was entwined in all the nerves up and down the spine. Since it was a cyst filled with spinal fluid, they perforated it so it would never fill up again. It’s still there, poked full of holes, and here we are. A veritable miracle. The spine couldn’t be stabilized with rods because the infection would spread there, so I was bedridden for probably six weeks, and was on IV antibiotics for a full six weeks at home. December 1995 through January 1996, was the worst month of my life. It was depressing, and I worried about money. Even though I had a very generous sick leave package, you still worried about having a job when you returned.

Thank you so much for reading today. I’ll continue Part II tomorrow. Be positive in your thoughts. It makes all the difference in the world. See you tomorrow!