When I think about “luck,” a few things come to mind. I think of the lottery, and bingo – both of which I never won as a kid. I think of chance. I think of the odds magically working in your favor, and hitting the jackpot when you least expected it. Luck makes me think of unpredictability – anything could happen – either the worst of circumstances or the best surprise you could ever ask for. I think of unfairness – how if bad luck happens to you, it’s just not fair. “Of all the people in the world, I had to get this rotten luck?” However, if something wonderful miraculously happens in your life out of the blue, landing in your lap with bells and whistles, that’s great luck – unfair or not. Life only feels unfair when you’ve been jolted with bad luck time after time, seemingly with no release. Just when things can’t seem to get any worse – they do.
You could say that I’ve had a lot of bad luck over the past ten years. Nearly thirty surgeries, a decade in and out of hospitals, medical traumas galore, and the “burden” of mapping out a new path for myself after life clearly had different plans from what I had expected growing up as a teen. You could say I’m so lucky that surgeons were able to create a makeshift digestive system for me so I would finally be able to eat and drink again after years of living off of IV nutrition. And I am lucky – I take time every day to count my blessings and remember what it felt like to not even be able to wet my lips with an ice cube in the dry heat of summer.
Then I think about what I’ve lost. I think of what I might have been able to accomplish in the years I spent bouncing from surgeon to surgeon. I think about my grandparents who died while I was still in a coma. I think about the wonderful oblivion of only going to doctors for yearly physicals. I think about and being petrified of a finger-prick, and being frightened by monsters under the bed, not a wound being unable to heal.
I think about my old body and long for the feeling of running my fingers down smooth, baby-soft skin free of scarring and wounds. I lament about the permanent physical changes that so many life-saving interventions have caused.
Before I go too far down that “Why Me?” path, I stop myself. It is a daily practice, and an ever-evolving one, but slowly I am learning to love the life I have. Often, when people hear my entire medical saga, their first instinctive reaction is to reach out with their condolences, “I am so sorry you had to go through all of that’ and “these years must have been terrible for you.” Immediately, I get defensive and want to fire back, “Don’t be sorry; I’m happy this happened to me!” I’ve never been comfortable pitying myself, and have tried to stay determined to find the blessings in what has happened to me.
One day last week, I was thinking to myself, is “happy” the right word? Do I think to myself, “I am so happy all of these surgeries happened to me and I wouldn’t have it any other way!”? Then I realized – “happy” isn’t the right word…
I got out a pen and started to map out the past ten years on a newspaper lying out on the table. It started with a dot – my first emergency surgery, April 25th 2005. The dot turned into a shaky line following a tumultuous path as I recalled doctors fighting to save my life. The wobbly line gradually branched into different directions as I recalled people I met, experiences I had that had happened as a result of my life’s detour. My line grew thicker and bolder as I pressed my pen harder onto the newspaper, realizing the strength I acquired, the wisdom I gained, and the maturity I grew into because of my experiences.
Suddenly, this line turned into a splatter all across the newspaper, as I saw one “unlucky” event unfold into millions of tiny little branches – more people I had met, places I had been, things I had done, lessons I had learned, feelings I had experienced, all because of one initial breaking point that separated the life I had “planned” from the life that followed.
I stepped away and looked back at the newspaper – now a mess with frantic scribbles, lines and arrows. In the pas ten years, one event had snowballed into a whole series of experiences that have made me who I am today. And then it all became clear to me…
Looking back on the “unlucky” events in my life, I still wouldn’t have it any other way. And it’s not because I’m “happy” with everything that has taken place. But, those events have created the person I am today. If I hadn’t gone through A, B and C, maybe I wouldn’t have all of these scars, but would I still have met the amazing people who have come into my life? Would I still have accomplished so much, learned what I have, and be where I am today?
“Bad luck” has put the color into my life, the crazy new directions, the splattering lines on the newspaper of my life, branching out into newfound directions. And quite luckily, it’s made me the woman I am today.