A Life Lesson in Humility
A Life Lesson in Humility
Almost 7 years ago, I had surgery to remove my C5 vertebrae and the discs above and below it. I now have a scar on my neck and this weird “E” shaped bracket holding my C4 and C6 vertebrae together as well as the now empty space in between them.
Being injured is incredibly humbling. You can’t use your body the way you used to and you probably took it for granted before you were injured. You also can’t solve the issue with money alone. You can pay medical professionals to help you recover, but normally time is a bigger factor in healing and recovery and you unfortunately can’t buy time.
I can’t remember how long I had to wear a neck brace (I think I intentionally blocked these memories from my mind) but it was somewhere between 12 and 16 weeks and it felt like an eternity. I hated that brace so much but I hated how scared and weak I felt without it even more.
I was only allowed to remove the brace once per day when I showered and those were the quickest showers that I’ve ever taken in my life. I felt like I was going to slip, fall, or somehow injure myself all over again and be back on the operating table.
When I was released from the hospital, my discharge instructions outlined how I basically couldn’t do anything for the next 3-4 months except go for a walk unless it was icy. I had surgery the last week of November in Michigan, it was icy every damn day. I couldn’t drive, climb stairs, workout, do laundry, empty the dishwasher, vacuum or work on my computer.
Against medical advice, I did work on my computer. Partially because I was the first employee for a start-up company 6 months prior to my spine falling apart, and I thought I was going to get super depressed without some sort of daily distraction.
I definitely didn’t mind not participating in the household responsibilities besides for having guilt that my husband was doing everything. Luckily, he was in his off season and home more than he usually is. I’m still so grateful he had time to take care of me and the house as well as keep me company. I’m also very grateful I had my sister. She was going through the same thing and it was nice to have the company and someone to commiserate with that actually got it.
Those months of recovery were really hard for me. I was really frustrated with my limitations. My 28 year old self had never had any medical issues before so whenever I showed up to the neurologist’s office and sat in a waiting room full of 80+ year olds, I felt broken. Especially when several of them would say “you’re way too young to have that type of surgery.” Gee, thanks.
When I was in it, I hated the whole experience and I wished my recovery expectations were managed better. Now that I’m out of it, I am grateful for this lesson in humility. I think it’s made me a better teacher and human being. I’m better at listening to my body and giving it rest when it needs it. I have more empathy and understanding toward myself and others, especially those that are handicapped or stand out for any physical reason. People stared and pointed at me so much when I had to wear the neck brace. Most people were kind and compassionate but some were really rude.
I was very humbled by how much my husband showed up for me. After surgery, I had to stay overnight in the hospital. I was feeling nauseous from the anesthesia, and I had a nurse that was pulled from another unit so she was very unfamiliar with my case type as well as the unit I was on. I actually worked in the hospital for 3 years as a nurse’s assistant so I was being very clear about what I needed but it unfortunately didn’t help. I ended up vomiting only a few hours after I had surgery. When you’re wearing a neck brace that is intended to immobilize your head and neck, it doesn’t matter how close you hold a bucket to your face, most of the puke is going to end up all over the front of you. I didn’t have the space to feel mortified or embarrassed. I was freaking out about how the hell someone was going to help me get cleaned up when I wasn’t supposed to move my neck or take off my brace that was now covered in vomit.
Three things stand out from that memory. I remember telling the nurse to go find the nurse that had worked on the unit the longest. The second nurse was incredible. She helped me get cleaned up and put clean sheets on my bed but more importantly she managed my anxiety and comforted me.
Lastly, I remember looking up when the chaos was still going on and seeing my husband (who normally gets sick at the mention or site of puke) in the bathroom cleaning my neck brace. I don’t have any idea how he ended up with it but I get tears in my eyes every time I think of that moment. I was really stressed out the month leading up to surgery because I was worried about who was going to take care of him, and then the universe gave me a huge reminder that he’s perfectly capable of taking care of me. He’s also really good at it.
Overall, the hardest part was not only asking for help but needing it. I have always loved helping others, and I used to pride myself on always having everything together. (I actually didn’t but I thought I did.) I used to have so much guilt asking for help but thankfully I no longer feel that way.
I’ll be forever grateful for the life lesson that the people in your life (and life in general) are capable of taking care of themselves and you.
My name is Anna VanAgtmael, and I am a certified yoga instructor with a passion for yoga, travel, and connecting with others.
I believe in trying everything once. My values lie in collecting memories over things. Though we desire adventure and authentic experiences, naturally our fear holds us back.
My ambition is to inspire and encourage you to unmask your fears and jump into the unknown.
Anna VanAgtmael | Yoga Enthusiast | Travel Designer