The Long Year

On Saturday June 6th 2009, while turning to get something during our evening worship, I ruptured my Achilles tendon. It happened so quickly: Five steps and a pop. One E/R visit and one splint later, plus a phone call to a church member who’s also an orthopedic surgeon, and I was scheduled for surgery on the 9th.

So with one surgery, one ‘outpatient overnight’ and one ginormous cast, I was home for two weeks. No weight-bearing AT ALL, no driving (I injured my right leg), and so on. I did lots of reading, catching up on news, keeping up with email, and frankly, sleeping (especially as I weaned myself from pain meds. Sleep is a great avoidance tactic.). Then I went in for a second casting (working the foot toward normal/flat) on Wednesday the 24th.

The next day, still drowsy, I stayed in bed reading and snoozing. By noon I ventured up, brushed the teeth and washed the face. I had a moment of being lightheaded, and a little buzzing in my ears. The temps were warmer that week, so I clicked the ceiling fan on and tried to cool off.

Late afternoon, around 4:00, I still felt groggy, but hadn’t eaten or had much water, so I moved into the rolling desk chair that I was preferring to the still-unsteady crutches and headed for the kitchen. Still really warm, I stopped to nudge the thermostat down,at which point the light-headedness came back full force, I broke out in goosebumps AND sweat, and my vision narrowed and darkened. I closed my eyes and held onto the seat of the chair, to let the sensation pass.

Then I woke up on the floor.

One boss on the phone, two colleagues at the house, one ambulance ride, three friends in the E/R, and one CT scan later, we found out what was wrong: pulmonary embolism. A huge one, in fact. A year later, I learned it was one of the largest clots my pulmonologist had seen. (I’m an overachiever!) Blood clots are, evidently, a relatively common side effect of lower body surgeries – though before me my orthopedic surgeon never had an Achilles patient throw a clot.

By midnight, I was admitted to ICU for two hours of TPA (a heavy duty clot-buster drug), 36 hours of heparin, some self-administered (!) abdominal injections, and the first few days of what would be a year’s worth of Coumadin pills. I came home on Monday June 29th, and my mother spent her vacation week MORE than at my beck and call. (She could be her own essay.)

I can’t tell you the number of people who have heard the story and said ‘do you know how lucky you are?’. Yes. I do.

The happy ending, now a year and change after “The Incident,” is that I’m FINE. After two more casts and a walking boot … after weekly, biweekly and then monthly blood tests … after 10 weeks of PT work … after four orthopedic follow ups … and after final blood panels to determine that no, I do not have any genetic predisposition to clotting and have no reason to anticipate any such problem in the future, I’ve been released by my surgeon, my pulmonologist, the blood clinic, and my physical therapists. I’m not yet 40 and I’ve had an entire medical team work on me. A whole team of people! (It takes a village to heal an associate minister.)

It seems like a lot as I sit here and type it. But the appointments and tests and schedule – healing the gashed face and the solid blacked eyes (if you pass out, aim AWAY from the doorjamb), the ache from sitting or standing (or anything-ing), the moments wondering if feeling this tired is because I worked hard at therapy or if my blood is doing something weird again – that hasn’t been the overwhelming part. What has absolutely, positively blown me away EVERY SINGLE DAY since the night this whole thing happened is just how very much I am loved. In the course of any day or month or lifetime, it is a fortunate thing to have a clear and undisputed moment of realizing, “Life is good”. But to have months upon months of daily living sacrifice, bringing the Love of God into vivid relief? That’s another thing entirely.

I have always said that I wasn’t called to ministry because I’m better – or better at it – than anyone else, but because I’m endlessly fascinated by and amazed by people and their capacity to learn and grow. It is a privilege to be a companion on the journey toward whatever God has in mind for someone, and for us together. Having someone else – many someones – step in to be MY companion, in the most menial and debasing ways (one of my elders was on her knees cleaning my bathroom!), or in the most exquisite and extravagant (the letters, and the FOOD, I’m telling you!):

  • daily-for-MONTHS Personal Taxi service, to work, therapy, clinic, ortho, home, and the ‘just call me if you need to go somewhere’ brigade that went everywhere in between.
  • full meal deliveries, impromptu drops of groceries, random yummy gifts.
  • covered weddings, worship, meetings that I just wasn’t going to make.
  • phone calls, texts, email, Facebook messages, IM, pray-er after pray-er.
  • making the sure the ice in the pack on my foot (and in the tea on my desk) was always cold. wheelchair (race!) drivers and crutch carriers and loaners of shoes (to level out the ‘Boot Walk’).

Well, what do you say to all that?

In the midst of it all, I discovered an overwhelming, nearly palpable need to offer prayers for others as fervently as they were being offered for me, in the hopes that they would be as deeply felt and as completely heard: prayers for babies born, others never to be; a marriage celebrated, another disintegrating; cancer ravaging, but somewhere abating; self-discoveries made, others desperately needed.

It is a year and more later, and still EVERY weekend, someone stops me at worship to ask how I’m doing (a couple of the boys want to see the 6” scar – I hold out hope that their adult counterparts will find it equally alluring!), how I’m healing, if I have to do anything else. And the answer is no – nothing else now but to live my life in high heels and gratitude. For the many profound ways that life moves – and breathes – and changes us, and for the countless simple ways we move and breathe and can change the world… I am exceedingly grateful.

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6 replies
  1. Dawn
    Dawn says:

    Humor and hope, truth and thoughtful words. Yep, that’s our Courtney. And I’m so very glad we get to keep ya. Thanks for reminding us we are humans who need help, not just ministers who give it.

  2. Katie
    Katie says:

    Wow. Great article Courtney! Thanks for sharing your ordeal and what it felt like to soak up so much grace and love.
    And if you ever want to publish that essay about your mom, I’m the one you want to talk to (because I’m the editor of The Ones We Love)!
    [shameless fishing for writers now complete]

  3. Teresa Driskell
    Teresa Driskell says:

    The thing is that every single person who loves you feels lucky to do so. I don’t ever want to need to bring you shoes or treats or pray that hard again, but I would do it as many times over if you wanted it, ever. Instead, can we just go shoe shopping and call it a good day?


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