One of my favorite characters from the movies is of Ruby Thewes (kudos to Renee Zellweger for her Oscar-winning performance) in “Cold Mountain”. There are a thousand likable qualities to her, but one that I admire most is her down-to-earth nature and her manner of making lists that comes from it. One of the earliest moments on screen finds her counting off the things that need to be done around Ada’s neglected farm:
Number one, lay out a winter garden for cool-season crops. Turnips right here, onions, cabbage, collards. Number two, patch the shingles on the barn roof. Have we got a maul and froe? Number three, clear and turn this field. No harm done lettin’ it go. Now we’ll do well…
She goes on until 15, 16, 17… It’s a pattern that plays out throughout the film, a telling symbol of the nature of the character. She is about getting things done, the antithesis of Scarlett “tomorrow is another day” O’Hara. She strikes me of several women in the maternal side of my family, women from western South Carolina, women who were self-sufficient because they had to be. I imagine my mother made lists. My aunt. My grandmother. My great aunts and great grandmothers. Women who got things done.
I make lists, too. I make lists at work – reports to get done, classes to put together, all the different steps in different project to manage, emails to return. Sometimes I make the lists day-to-day. Other times it’s more “stuff to get done this week”. Forget the Outlook task manager or flagging emails (I do, actually, do the latter). If I need to remember to do something tomorrow, I need a hand-written note in front of my face. There are simply too many distractions, otherwise.
I also make lists for things outside of work. I make lists of songs I want to learn to play, books I want to read, thoughts I want to write about, movies I want to watch or lectures to go hear, trips to take. I make lists of bigger goals, too:
- ScooterLatte Bookmobile
- Lose 30 pounds
- Run that darned, elusive Chicago Marathon next year
- Write the next great American novel (okay, I’ve never had that as a dream. ever.)
The past few months, though, there’s been this one thing on every list – kind of hovering – that I’m grudgingly learning is an item not so easily checked off. It involves health. While training for that elusive marathon this summer, I had a series of strange health events that culminated in a pretty scary one that landed me in an ambulance, being driven to the ER. Several docs and tests later, I learned that I had a certain ligament and a certain artery that were not quite in the right place and thus were not playing nice together. I would need some surgery to fix it up.
Knowing that I needed to have surgery, that I was going to be laid up for a bit, affected practically every other item on every other list I had. Worse, I had to wait about 6 weeks before I finally got a surgery date; the unknowing making it all the more difficult. And then, even with the date, there were a bunch of unknowns that just hung there, like clouds above any and all planning for anything I was trying to accomplish.
Almost all of the uncertainty is in large part the result of a very good thing, i.e. I have been healthy my entire life. Never been sick worse than the flu, never broken any bones, never spent the night in a hospital… you get the picture. As I’m coming up on my 49th year on the planet, I’d say this is pretty good. I’ve been really fortunate. However, being a fortunate daughter leaves me unaware of how things are for those healing. How they go.
Now, one week post-surgery, I can tell you clearly how they DO NOT go. Like a checklist.
Get Well is the item I want to cross off the list. It’s the one I want to put behind me, but it’s not happening as I’d hoped. Yes, I am healing very well. I’m thankful. I have someone to take care of me, friends who check in, supervisors and coworkers and a workplace that are understanding, and sick leave to cover my time away. Still, I’m lacking that experience to hang onto, the thing that lets you know what’s normal and what’s next. I can’t break my “get well” task down to smaller, manageable tasks, because I’m not quite sure what they are. I’m finding it very frustrating.
Last night, when I asked my spouse if she thought I was ready to go back to work today, she reminded me of two things, ultimately two things I can put on a list, knowing I’ll be better when I do them:
- You have yet to walk more than around the house and the yard.
- You haven’t driven a car in 10 days.
Okay! These are good! These are concrete goals. These are things I can handle better than “relax” or “rest”. I understand and appreciate those sentiments, but don’t know what to do with them. They don’t work easily in my Get Well Checklist. Walking, driving, sitting up, and going to the surgeon for follow-up and a “you’re okay to go back to work” note – these I’m writing down. And checking off. Soon enough.