The final day of April dumped 12 inches of snow leading up to
graduation from physical therapy school.
The end of July found us scurrying for cover against golf ball-sized
Carl and I were not sad to leave behind the rigors of graduate school
or extreme weather seasons, but we dreaded saying goodbye
to two of my classmates who had met and married during our 2 years
Brennan and Ellen, had become “our” couple and it seemed
implausible that we would ever find this type of connection again.
Carl gently pressed the accelerator and I found it impossible to
end my backward gaze and face the road before us.
Shards of my heart would always inhabit the land of 10,000 Lakes.
We inked a star on our paper map and headed to Portland, Oregon
as neither of us could find work in our original destination of Seattle.
I began work at a center for medically fragile children and Carl searched
for a job in medical technology.
Pediatrics comprised the first 5 years of my practice
and was my sweet spot.
Over the next 15 years, two daughters were born and hundreds
of patients were treated.
As varied as the settings and schedule I worked, my caseload
was just as diverse.
I worked in orthopedics, oncology, burn units, spinal cord
and brain injury rehabilitation.
I felt the fragility and intensity of life working Level 1 trauma
and the pulsing joy of cardiac patients with patched up tickers.
Sometime around year 10, I began to struggle getting patients out of bed,
not physically but emotionally.
I couldn’t bear being the one who would make them hurt to hasten their healing.
I wanted to lean in close and chat with the bed ridden.
I wanted to comfort the families and perhaps drop off a casserole.
I never possessed the hard-core personality of most physical therapists
and I couldn’t fake it any longer.
Even though I wanted to hand in my gait belt,
I knew there was a reason I became a physical therapist.
God had given me the necessary aptitude, it wasn’t a fluke.
During bouts of discouragement, I would reflect on the
days prior to graduate school.
I witnessed unimaginable mercy and favor
by the hands of the Mayo board.
I had failed the second term of college physics
(a graduate school requirement), hoped to
never let Mayo be the wiser by
attempting to “fix-it” during the
summer but I belly-flopped again.
I thought about how often God whispered the same sentiment
as the generous people at Mayo said,
“We know who we picked.
We picked you and we still want you.”
Weighty words of grace reached into the depths of my failure
and chose me.
2003 opened with the revelation of adding another child to our family.
Oh he was a feisty one and it was a challenging pregnancy.
Barely through the first trimester, I developed painful sciatica and could not
lift more than ten pounds.
The sciatic nerve originates in the lower back and runs the
full extent of the leg.
When it is irritated or compressed, it becomes angry.
The nerve fires back by signalling pain, numbness and even
disruption of movement.
Sciatica is the painful loss of control.
My manager was polar opposite to those before her or my Mayo
angels, she informed me over the phone that I “was of no use to her
if I couldn’t lift patients.”
The response stung in the moment but faded to relief.
I allowed my wee boy full range of my body until he arrived
with great joy in late September.
The next 5-6 years were a compressed period of losses and heartache.
This would be the second stripping away period in my life related less to my
identity but exposed the faulty substance of my faith.
I had sciatica of the heart.
I felt mismatched in my career and had no tangible
control over the unending and crushing
circumstances of my life.
I frequently tidy our home when I am stressed.
If I can’t order my world, I can at least bring peace
to my surroundings.
On such a day, I uncovered old work files and casually
shuffled through a decade worth of performance evaluations.
Without exception whether comments from colleagues or bosses,
the highest marks were not in my abilities as a clinician but
as a writer.
I could no longer ignore the words.
It was time to pay attention.
I had dropped my bookmark and perhaps it had landed
safe and securely anchored in a life boat of words.
To be continued…
This is the third post in a series titled A Work of Heart History.