How I learned to stop worrying and love the laundry

The author is shown with her daughter Nicole at the New York Mini 10K in June. (Image courtesy of Leslie Handler)

The author is shown with her daughter Nicole at the New York Mini 10K in June. (Image courtesy of Leslie Handler)

Six months ago I ran a 10K with my daughter in Central Park in New York City. She surprised me by calling several family members to cheer us on at the finish line. It was a wonderful day of clean air, healthy living, and shared time with family.

A few days later, I had some hip pain. After doctor appointments, physical therapy, a couple of epidurals, and an MRI, we found I had a herniated disc in my lumbar spine. Apparently, even though the pain was in my hip and not my back, the disc was putting pressure on my hip and causing the pain. Surgery followed.

Unfortunately, I am no stranger to the operating room. I’ve had many surgeries, averaging one a year for the last 20 years as I’ve been surviving oral cancer. The pain was much worse with the cancer surgeries, but I could always take care of myself and my needs with little assistance.

This time, however, it was different: I’d never had back surgery before.

When we arrived home from the hospital, I truly had the shock of my life. I was incapable of doing the most basic of things for myself. I could use the bathroom alone, thank goodness, but other than that, I had very little strength in my arms and legs. I was not allowed to (nor could I) lift, twist, or bend. If I dropped something, it would just have to remain in its place until someone else could pick it up for me. When I lay down, whatever position I landed in was the one I’d have to stay in, because I did not have the core strength to adjust myself.

I am no stranger to severe pain. This experience came with little if any pain. It was the incapacitation that floored me. I truly felt like a prisoner in my own body. My mind was working, but my body wouldn’t follow. It was amazing to me that I had run a 10K just six months prior.

To make things worse, I have a healthy case of OCD. So when my kind husband assisted me in taking my first shower and dropped the towel on the floor, to my irritation, I would have to accept its fate there for a while. When he took the time to fix me a nice meal and left the dishes in the sink, they’d just have to stay there for days until he was ready to clean them. He was doing so many things for me already, that I didn’t have the heart to complain about the house not being neat and tidy. I had to learn that my priorities were in getting my basic needs met. Was it really so important if a Band-Aid rapper remained on the counter instead of the trash can,? Or if a dish remained dirty in the sink? What terrible fate would I have if they were left there untouched?

I’m now a couple of weeks out from my surgery date. I haven’t been able to leave the confines of my home. I’m not allowed to drive, but I am gaining strength every day. I can adjust myself now when I lie down. I can sit up. I can walk around the house. I can grab something out of the fridge by myself — as long as it’s at eye level, and I don’t have to bend. I can even sit at my desk now and type on my computer.

Today my husband helped me do some laundry. He carried it, helped me sort it, and put in the washer and the dryer. When it was all done, he carried the basket full of clean clothes up to our bedroom. That’s when a little miracle happened. I was able to pick up one item at a time and hang it in my closet. I could pick up a pair of socks and fold them and put them away. I could fold a t-shirt on my chest and place it in the higher drawers of my dresser. Today I’m trying very hard to remember that every little thing doesn’t have to be put in its place the minute we are finished with it, and today, I learned to love doing laundry.

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

It will take 126,000 members this year for great news and programs to thrive. Help us get to 100% of the goal.