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LIFE IS FULL OF SURPRISES, SOME BETTER THAN OTHERS

I have approached my 50s with a confidence bordering on smugness. I've scoffed at some women's dread of the change of life -- bring it on, I say.

Since our children have left high school, my husband and I have moved three times, gotten a new dog, gotten new jobs and kayaked for the first time in our lives. After singing in choirs all my life, I have taken voice lessons, and my husband finally got the motorcycle he's always wanted. And best of all, we're about to become grandparents. Life is good.

Smugness has a way of sneaking up on you, however, and giving you a swift kick in your complacency. One early morning in January, as I walked that new dog before heading to that new job, my feet slipped on a patch of ice, and I fell hard.

I've done this plenty of times before, and done nothing more than bruised my bottom. But this time was different. My arm hurt, and the dog and I quickly returned home. Once I had my coat off, I knew -- arms aren't supposed to look that crooked. So my husband and I headed off to the emergency room, where I got to record another first event -- a broken bone.

After a day of X-rays, bone setting, cast applications and painkillers, I realized that I wouldn't be able to perform my job for a while. Short-term disability began, and I realized how impatient I can be.

Four weeks off from work. Great, I would have thought. I can finish up the knitting and quilting projects for my future grandchild. But that wasn't going to happen -- not when my left arm was immobile from elbow to knuckles.

I actually could not even open the child-proof pill bottle my pain medication came in. I had trouble holding a book, sleeping and cooking. My usual bring-on-change vigor was extremely challenged.

I also began to feel whiney, and reached HGTV overload. It was not a pretty picture, and I started reminding myself that this was only short term.

I paid more attention to news stories about real hardship. I figured out things I could do with one hand. I wrote longhand letters to people, bypassing the frustration of typing e-mails with one hand.

I got our taxes together and mailed them. I finally contacted our lawyer about updating our wills. I went through our "to be filed" pile of papers, and threw out most of them. I added elastic-waist pants to my wardrobe, replacing jeans I couldn't zip or snap.

I figured out how to bathe myself without getting my cast wet. I caught up on the chick-flick DVDs available at the library that my husband hadn't wanted to sit through.

OK, I admit it. I was beginning to regain some smugness as I made the best of the situation. I was beginning to say, "I can do it myself," much like a recalcitrant 3-year-old, and feeling quite proud of myself.

I was delighted when I got a new half-cast. I could finally move my elbow and fingers, and actually use a keyboard again, though slowly and with lots of corrections afterward.

Smugness? Oh, it returned, but not for long. One day, after having my arm X-rayed, I slipped on a tiny patch of ice and landed hard on my left knee. I received 16 stitches, which were removed just in time to head back to work.

Once I get there, smugness won't stand a chance -- I'll be too busy trying to remember how to do my job.

VICKI LUKHAUP lives in Williamsville.