Quarry Park, Monterey, California

 

By neglect or overwork, whatever the cause, I rediscovered the childhood fracture in my back called a pars defect. A few doctor visits and another round of physical therapy reminded me of the whole ordeal. At the age of fifteen, I was hospitalized for tests and X-rays while they tried to get me back on my feet. I’d overheard two surgeons discussing a possible operation while they pointed at my X-ray. The spectacle left me crushed with despair. As it turned out, our old-school family doctor wouldn’t let them cut on me, but at the time, I thought the operation was a certainty.  

I shared a room with another teenager in the pediatric ward. There I was, lying in bed, feeling sorry for myself—yes, deep, unabashed self-pity. The next afternoon, a grandmother strolled in the door, pulling her three-year-old granddaughter in a red wagon. The child had a thick bandage wrapped around her head, and she sat as still as a doll. In a cheerful voice, the grandmother introduced the girl and explained that she recently had a brain tumor removed. Her parents couldn’t be there so she was keeping the child company. The doctors did the best they could, but the sweet-faced little girl wouldn’t live much longer. The grandmother came around every day with the red wagon, carrying that beautiful child, staring into space. 

I was wracked with guilt for being so self-absorbed. The thought that went through my head was something like, “I’ve already lived a full life compared to that little one. I have nothing to complain about.” You know, I think I’m actually glad my back decided to act up again. I needed the reminder.