I was just a smidge late. I pulled into the hospital parking lot when I should have been checking in at the desk and scoured section after section for a spot. Finally I pulled into a space splashed with the words, "Park further, walk more, be healthier!" or something like that. It was possibly a quarter mile away from the doors I needed to go through. As I locked my doors, dropped my keys in my purse and turned, book in hand to face the maze ahead, it dawned on me. I was grateful. So grateful to not have to crutch there, or be dropped off at a waiting wheelchair. The morning sun backlit the stunning mountains as a smile spread across my face and I broke into a slightly lopsided trot. Why? Because I could. There were many curious glances and quite a few jealous glares at the almost-middle-aged woman running through the parking lot in moccasins, with a slightly mad grin on her face. I just grinned harder, and the elderly couple at the doors laughed, bidding me good morning.
Small talk with the strangers in the elevator, a greeting to the secretary at the desk who didn't recognize me anymore, and then I settled into a chair with my novel to wait. Midway through chapter one a couple struggled slowly through the waiting room. They were young. Her face, etched with pain, didn't match her feeble body or the walker that supported it. He was solicitous and so careful at her side. She lowered herself slowly, painfully into the seat next to me and I smiled as I caught her eye for a brief moment. She wasn't in the mood to chat. That much was apparent. Her despair, her suffering, her struggle were palpable in the air around us. I said nothing, just closed my eyes and willed whatever feelings of peace and comfort I had in her direction. It's going to be okay.
My eyes crept to my own scars, healed and faded enough to belie the severity of the trauma which caused them not so long ago.
An even younger man, barely still a teenager crutched toward us and took a seat a few chairs down. His body language said he was sick of this and so ready to be done with those crutches. Oh, how I knew that feeling! I wanted to stand up and preach aloud how awesome this room full of fighters was! "You've got this!" I'd say. "Don't give up! You are amazing!" Instead a wan half smile drifted across my lips and I went back to reading.
Two chapters and some Facebook browsing later they called my name. I walked easily through the doors I had slowly crutched through months before, had my x-rays taken and settled into an exam room. As I waited I had time to reflect on how far I had come. That little smile kept playing at my lips until I gave in and just let it live there. Doc Chardack made his appearance and his usual pseudo-amazed joke about examining the wrong foot. Then he looked at the right one, and the 'pseudo' dropped right off. A smile split his face.
"How does it feel?"
"Pretty good, actually!"
"It looks fantastic. The mobility is really great! Any nerve problems?"
"Just a little nerve weirdness here and there."
"That's to be expected when we cut right along the main nerve branch."
He sarcastically asked if I could run on it.
"I did a 5k on Thanksgiving."
His jaw dropped. "Are you serious?"
"Physical Therapy has been amazing."
He pulled up my x-rays. Even my bones looked stronger! All joint integrity is maintained. No spaces or dead spots or broken screws. The glaring network of internal hardware, and the few jagged edges where shards of bone went missing made it look like a patchwork craft project. It's not pretty, and it never will be, but it works, and it's mine. It'll do.
"If you can run a 5k, and the pieces haven't so much as wiggled, I feel confident declaring you healed. You're a miracle."
It seemed a weird thing to declare. Healed seems like it would mean that I'm back to what I was before all of this. But I've come to realize that isn't what it means at all. I will never be her again. I have fought too hard to be better, stronger, more compassionate, more adaptable, more trusting, and above all, more grateful.
I will probably have swelling for years to come, and weather prediction powers, and nerve twinges, early arthritis, and pain in the cold, but it seems a small price to pay to live fully.
The Doc stuck out his hand and I took it in both of mine. "Thank you. Thank you for putting me back together. I am so, so grateful."
He smiled and asked if I would go rub elbows with all of his patients and let my good juju wear off on them.
"Seriously, it's all about the attitude. Now get outta here!"
Just for one last giggle, I told him about the 25k I signed up for last night. I chuckled and walked away as his jaw dropped yet again and he laughed aloud.
No return appointment. I thanked the nurses and secretaries as I strolled out, cheeks aching from smiling so much. Then I used the drive home to daydream about sunshine, dirt, and mountain tops.