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If You're Thinking About Your Health and Asking, 'How Did This Happen?'

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I don’t like to talk about the soul-crusher that was my 2016. But it’s important to the arc of this story, so I’ll fill in the gaps for you just this once.

It all began in mid-December of 2015 when my (former) boss looked at me on a random Michigan Tuesday and said, “You don’t look well, Kat. Feel free to go home, OK?” The next thing I knew, an ER visit turned into an emergency surgery. This turned into a crash course of a recovery – with a surprise educational element of how fractured the healthcare industry is in regards to pain management for patients with chronic pain.

Newsflash: Not every patient is like the rest. But that’s another diatribe for another day.

Five weeks later, I finally forced myself to go back to work. Perhaps that was my downfall, but at the time, I was managing a small but mighty learning center with the most incredible staff and students, and scaling down felt counterintuitive to my being. Returning to “life” would make me whole again, right? Wrong. Fast forward to August of 2016 and my limits had been reached. My health never really took off from the haphazard launchpad and I was surviving on whatever invisible threads were holding me together. But those threads frayed. Soon, I found out that the hole I had been developing in my left eardrum had torn to 60 percent of the organ’s surface. My hearing was fading, and I was too. So I made the decision to leave my job in order to fully recovery from surgery number 12, which came shortly after my departure, in early September.

I’ll save you the gory bits, but I’ll leave you with this – that surgery kicked off a chain reaction of events, such as delayed onset Bell’s palsy (which left the left side of my face paralyzed for a few months), shooting nerve pain, and debilitating nausea which caused me to throw up, on average, 15 times a week.

So, I made it my 2017 goal to go the entire calendar year without an operation. Seems simple enough and doable enough, right? Wrong again.

The problem with making New Year’s resolutions is that if you don’t achieve them, you shoulder the weight of feeling like you failed. But I have not failed here. My body has not failed here. But I am having surgery number 13 before the year is up. So I began to ask the question, how did this happen? Let’s start with the basics.

In July, after months of the aforementioned nerve pain on the left side of my head, I decided to follow through with a brain MRI to see if I had a cluster of blood vessels loitering on my facial nerve. Turns out I don’t, but they did find a small mass on the right side of my head, most likely growing from the bottom of my ear drum and filling out my ear canal.

So I asked the universe again, but how did this happen?

It’s hard for me to understand because I spent the entire past year trying to reclaim my life. And not in like a “work hard, play hard” kind of way – I mean, in a consistently get-out-of bed-every-day way. The result? Over 100 classes of Bikram Yoga, weight loss, one very tricky esophageal ulcer diagnosed, three writing workshops, one hopeful picture book manuscript, and a new, very flexible job that allows me to work from the comfort of my snowman onesie. Oh, and I adopted a dog too.

But guess what? All of that change and pain and grit does not change the fact that in a mere number of days, I’ll be back to square one. On an operating table. In a worn down hospital gown. Most likely with a migraine the size of Montana because I haven’t been allowed to take my medicine in weeks. So again I ask, this time willing to barter with my most prized possessions, how did we get here?

And this is what I have learned: Life is as unfair as it is challenging. It doesn’t really care what you’ve been through. It will give you more than you think it can handle and then some. You will feel heavy. You may feel like you failed. Like it’s your fault. Like this is some kind of karma for a wrong you don’t even remember committing. But you will find a way, some way, in the depths of your bones, to get through it. Because there is no other way out than forward. The clock will fall forward but it will also start again. The days will get shorter, but will also stretch out again. The sun will come up. And then the moon will put it safely to sleep. And then your chest will rise and fall in those small slices of peace and quiet.

So to answer my own question…This didn’t happen to me or because of me. It just simply happened. And while I may not be fulfilling that one, singular New Year’s wish, I sure as hell hope that I fought enough to make this next climb, my 13th climb to be exact, just a little bit shorter.

May your next climb, with whatever you’re shouldering, be a little less steep – because at the end of the day, it didn’t happen to you or because of you, it just simply happened.

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Gettyimage by: heckmannoleg

Originally published: December 20, 2017
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