A Rabbit, a Sock, and the Chair of Empathy

As I mentioned in last week’s post, all is not well in Bradland. However, if you look hard enough, you can find a positive message in most any story. My story begins with something you have all probably experienced…

Part I: The Rabbit

It was getting late in the day in the Scottish Highlands and we had more stop before we could rest for the night. I pulled the car to onto a small dirt road, a mile or two past the village of Ardeonaig, along the shore of Loch Tay. I grabbed my phone, kissed Chrissie and began my quest.

You may ask, what was my quest? I sough the Cave of Caerbannog, the home of the Black Beast of Arrrrgh! – more commonly known as the Killer Rabbit with nasty, big, pointy teeth. I hiked uphill for twenty minutes, losing my way more than once. After running into an electric fence, I altered my route, knowing that my time was running out. I was about to give up, when it I saw it. The cave of comedic legend.

About that same time, I received a text message from my ever-patient wife, who by now had been sitting alone in a car on a Scottish byway for almost half an hour. “Where are you?”

I texted back, “On my way down.”

I quickened my pace and let gravity do most of the work. However, my right knee was not as prepared for gravity and the kinetic energy of my too-heavy body. By the time I reached the car, my right knee was in so much pain that I could barely walk. By the time we reached our hotel in Pitlochry, I was barely able to stand.

The staff at the hotel carried our bags and gave me ice, and directions on where to find a knee brace. The next morning I awoke with tears, telling my sweet wife that we would probably need to cut our trip in half and head home early. She was understanding and accepting, and excelled at hiding her disappointment.

But after a few hours and some more ice and Advil, I changed my mind and decided to soldier on. (Perhaps not one of my brighter ideas…) We spent the latter half of our trip with me hobbling over the cobblestone streets and the stone floors of ancient castles. We couldn’t do everything we had planned, but we did a lot.

We hadn’t counted on things like commandeering a wheelchair to navigate through Heathrow airport, but somehow, we made it home.

I went to my doctor and a specialist who ordered some x-rays and told me that I had arthritis. The novel treatment protocol was anti-inflammatories, elevation, ice and compression. With time, and some physical therapy. things got a bit better, and I resumed most of my life, albeit with bouts of pain.

Part II: The Sock

Fast forward to January 17, this year. My legs and knees were in tremendous pain from a bad drug reaction, as I explained last week. I could barely walk, but was still going about my day.

I sat on the edge of my bed and did a very radical thing: I lifted my left leg to put on a sock. I was met by two loud popping sounds and a searing, tearing pain. I fell back on the bed as Chrissie tried to find some way to help me. I was in pain, but still fully aware that the Killer Rabbit story would be a much better tale than the story of me putting on a sock.

The next few hours were spent trying to get a referral to go see the orthopedist. Amazingly, I was successful in that endeavor, and a few hours later, my son helped me hobble into the Ortho urgent care.

After a brief, but painful, examination and x-ray session, the doctor told me that I needed an MRI. I was able to get the MRI just a few days later. When reviewing them with the doctor, he suggested we get an MRI on my right “Scottish” knee. That MRI happened a little more than a week ago.

The results are in, which takes us to…

Part III: The Chair of Empathy

I have torn the menisci in both knees, most likely inoperable, and have some ligament issues. Oh, handsome arthritis, too. The thing that screams loudest is that my left knee has a nasty bone edema that is going to take some time to heal. The treatment protocol? No weight-bearing for 6 to 8 weeks. Yes, until sometime in April I can’t walk. My left knee is the worst of the two, so the right gets a little more work, and is paying the price for it.

I have been relegated to living in the Chair of Empathy. Last Wednesday I passed my two-week mark in a wheelchair, and I can already tell that March is going to be a very long month. The pain is starting to improve a bit and I am learning how to not be such a dunce with my crutches and transfers.

I also have a lot of free time on my hands.

The amazing thing about these misadventures are the lessons being learned. Those who know my family, or who have read my book, “There’s a Message Out There Somewhere,” know that my wife had a serious mishap some years back: (Super-short version) A rogue wave slammed into her and caused her femur to crush the tibial plateau in her knee and fracture her tibia. After a five-hour reconstructive surgery; a week in a California hospital; three months of wearing a halo fixation device in a hospital bed at our house; and about nine months of physical therapy, she was able to walk again. Sorta.

During that time I took care of her, pushed her wheelchair, cooked meals, did dishes, did laundry. With four kids in the house at the time, and a business to run, being Dad and Mom was about all I could handle.

Now the tables are turned. Chrissie pushed me through the Heathrow airport in September, and now she pushes my wheelchair again – to church, to see our grandson’s basketball games, to the countless medical appointments. (Hopefully to Dune II next week.)

Through it all, she has been patient, kind – and basically wearing herself out in the process.

It’s easy to pass it off as ‘What goes around, comes around,” but it is so much deeper than that. I am currently trying to learn how to be served. How to let go of my pride and let her do the things for me that have always been “my job.” My fragile make ego struggles with this. My role has always been to take care of her, not the other way around. It has challenged my place in life, and in our marriage.

I am getting but a small taste of what she went through when she was the one in pain and frustration, trying to hide it and “act tough.” My sympathy towards her is now becoming empathy, and it is so much more profound.

On the other side, Chrissie is taking on many responsibilities that are normally mine. She is appreciating how many errands I run, how often I cook, how many times I get up to grab something we need, or hop in the car to run errands.(I’m proud to admit that I am usually the one that runs to QT to buy sodas.)

Sometimes she helps me get dressed, she picks up after me, she brings me food on a tray. She doctors me, she babies me, she polices me when I try and do too much. I watch as her eyes fill with tears when I am in pain or struggling – because she knows. And the beautiful thing is that she does it with such kindness and love. And, she almost never gives me grief about “hiking up that hill to see that stupid cave.”

She already has the empathy for my pain and frustration. Now she is finding a new empathy for the things I do in our home and family – many of which were not always noticed.

I already have empathy for the things she does in our home, but now I am gaining empathy for the suffering she has experienced many times in her life. The Chair of Empathy is a powerful learning tool. (On a side note, when I am not feeling sorry for myself, I am filled with gratitude that this is a temporary thing – so many have it so much worse.)

We went on our first date 38 years ago this week, and it is easy for me to attest that we love each other more, and understand each other better, than we ever have before.

PS: Yes, I know that there aren’t any scriptures or quotes in this post – that’s for next week.

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  1. Knee issues are tough. I’ve had 3 surgeries (18, 35,and 48 years old) and the next will a replacement (60 years old). Like you, I am so grateful for a wonderful EC who takes care of me. This has been a great reminder that I need to the one to have that love and give that service to her and others. Thank you for kind reminder. Also, have you thought of a total knee replacement?

    1. Sound like you could be an Ortho by now! A replacement is out there as an option, but we want to see how things develop before we take that leap.

  2. Your thoughts and stories always give me something to think about. I appreciate your outlook and comments on life. I didn’t know you wrote a book! I tried to buy the combo pack off your website and it wouldn’t connect with PayPal, is there another way to pay it somewhere else I can go buy them? Thank you!

  3. A heartwarming reminder of the value we have in our loyal partners… but how bad is it that my mind was screaming through this whole article: “THE CAVE EXISTS!!! WE MUST GO SEE THE CAVE!!!!” Best wishes for an uneventful recovery.

  4. Oh yikes. I feel for both of you deeply in this situation. I sustained a tibial plateau fracture 22 years ago, so I really empathize with Chrissy. We had three small children at the time, including a six-month old. It was a humbling, instructive experience! I has a total knee replacement nearly four years ago, but it still causes me difficulty and pain. My husband has suffered through his share (more than, really) of debilitating conditions also. My prayers are with you for continued progress…whatever that looks like. For us, it looks like lessons in meekness and acceptance of grace.

  5. Oh, Bradley!!! I’m so sorry you’re going through this. I’ve been the main caregiver for my husband for several years and it’s extremely hard and so humbling for a man to be on the receiving end of such care – a broad stroke and an opinion some may not like but there, I said it. I’m so grateful you have what I call The Orange Cones in the Road, meaning you can see the end. Hang in there! Shall I make you a tear away chain for March? 🙂 You can do hard things!

  6. Brad! Thank you for sharing these past two posts. Wow. It’s been really instructive to read your experiences. I love how the spirit can place thoughts into our minds about how to help our bodies. They’re so connected (mind, body, spirit) so of course it makes sense that the Holy Ghost can inspire us with ideas to help. So glad you’re not feeling that heightened level of excruciating pain anymore.

  7. I clicked the like button for the messages you shared, but I do not like that you and your EC are going through this challenge. You are in my prayers – for quick and complete healing and many healthy years to come. Thank you for sharing the light and love of our Savior to all of us.

  8. Life’s humbling experiences! We can learn so much…though it usually is a bit painful in many ways. Glad they feel like they can get you back up on your feet! Hope all continues to go as well as possible!

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