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How to Deal When Bad Sh** Happens

Not too long ago, I had an accident.

It was stupid, really. My husband had just got called back to work after the coronavirus lockdown. I went outside to wave goodbye as he prepared to drive away.

As I was walking up the front steps, I lost my balance and fell. We're still not sure exactly how I fell. All I knew was that the bricks on the side of the house started to rush toward my face (thank goodness I stopped before I hit them), I felt my knee get scraped, and my right arm felt like it had been whipped backwards.

As he pulled up in front of the house, I weakly waved my left hand in an attempt to get him to come back. I couldn't get up. All he knew was that one minute I was walking toward the steps, the next I was lying on the front stoop.

He came running up the front steps to see if I was OK. I wasn't. Not only had I dislocated my shoulder, but I had basically shredded the top of my arm bone. Of course, we didn't know that at the time.

I tried to get up and go back in the house, but the pain became intense. After a few minutes, we got in the car and headed off to the emergency room.

I won't go into the gory details, but suffice it to say that my shoulder had to be reassembled - they took care of the dislocation at the ER, and I had surgery two weeks later to repair the fractures. It was a serious, nasty accident. I'm still in physical therapy. It was one of those moments in life that changes everything in a split second.

Now, you might think that I'm angry about it. You might feel sorry for me, thinking that it must have been very painful. You might also be horrified at the thought of someone having to go to the ER while a pandemic is going on.

You know how I feel? Grateful.

No, I'm not mentally ill. I have a relatively high IQ. What in the world would I be grateful about?!?

I'll give you a list. It will give you a really good idea of how I got through the whole ordeal and lived to tell the tale as an example of peace and happiness, and not gruesome fear. Keep reading for tips on how to manage the disasters in your life.

  • My husband saw me lying on the stoop. He could have missed me and driven away. Who knows how long I would have lain there before being able to get in the house and call an ambulance?

  • While I was in the ER, I heard remarkable vignettes going on all around me. I don't want to divulge details, but there were at least two movie scripts in there. Real life really IS stranger than fiction.

  • I learned a lot about how complex our shoulders are. I'll never take hips, knees, ankles, and wrists for granted again! The designs are miraculous. What a wonder the human body is! So complex, so fragile.

  • I learned throughout the experience just how much my husband really loves me. He was so concerned he ran a red light on the way home from the hospital. While I was unable to move my arm at all, he took over all the household chores - doing some before he left for work and the rest when he got home - and made me a sandwich for lunch before he left. What an awesome, amazing guy!

  • I met a bunch of healthcare workers, both at doctors offices and hospitals. They were just coming out from under the worst of the pandemic. I have a tremendous, newfound respect for what those people accomplished and the risks they faced to take care of their patients.

  • I get to celebrate all the little victories that happen during my recovery. Today I was able to put my hand on the top of the steering wheel. Yesterday I was able to reach my left arm with a washcloth instead of using a brush with a handle. Every day I get to do something I wasn't able to do before.

  • I discovered how tough I really am. Walked around for two weeks with a fractured humerus. Still managed to work, one-handed. My sister called me a "bad-ass." What a great compliment!

  • I discovered how fragile I really am. The days of bounding, unthinking, up the front steps are over. I have to think twice before climbing up on the sofa to sweep down cobwebs. No more household acrobatics. By having this accident, I may have saved myself from something much worse - I won't assume I'm superhuman and immune from injury any more.

Notice that there's more implied in this list than just gratitude. There's also mindfulness. I'm not thinking about whether or not I'll have lasting damage or long term impacts on my life. I'm focused on the progress I'm making right now. While I was in the ER, and in the hospital for my surgery, I focused on the environment around me, the people I came into contact with, and what I was learning in the moment.

So what does that mean for you when you're having bad stuff go down in your life? Here's a checklist:

  • Stay in the moment. The past is gone; what has happened has already happened. The future isn't here yet. All you have is right now. Make the most of it. Observe and experience your situation as it's unfolding.

  • Monitor your self-talk. Say things to yourself like, "This is what it's like to experience X." "I'm a tough cookie, I can handle this. I've been through bad stuff before."

  • Find something positive in the situation. There is always something, even if it's just that you're strong enough to survive it.

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