Incremental Improvements Equal Lengthy Inconveniences


I entitled my last article “A Good Place,” generally referring to times in our lives that we might label as good, better, or best. Obviously, those adjectives cover a wide range of options that could relate to age, health, financial stability, localities, social issues, political, or even spiritual conditions.

That title specifically referred to an upcoming spinal surgery I had on May 13—juxtaposed with the general state of my life juxtaposed with the state of our nation juxtaposed with the state of the international community. 

Going back to the original thought about my being in a good place when I wrote that article, I thankfully report that my surgeon successfully inserted metal rods and screws into my spine to separate vertebrae that pinched nerves. That means I should resume most of my former lifestyle within six months.

As a much younger person, I would have plummeted into depression with that prognosis. Back then, I considered resumption of my lifestyle to mean a week or two. One of the benefits of this later time in my life is that I have a more realistic view of what “former” means. Age helps us consider time more realistically than we did in our youth. 

Another element of the “good place” related to this surgery came when I gratefully accepted my forty-seven-year-old son’s offer to come and help his dad and me. Before this surgery, I had adamantly refused his help when his dad or I had had major medical issues.

My husband says I have a problem accepting help from others. I think this stubborn streak originated when my parents planted in mind the idea that I differed from other children. They often told me how much they needed me and depended on me, knowledge that created my fear of failing them. 

That manifested itself in my phobia of inconveniencing anyone. I have lived my life observing those around me in order to anticipate their needs before they even knew they had them. My behavior resembles that of a good waiter—you don’t have to ask for anything because the waiter has anticipated your needs before you did. 

Well, that describes me in most of my relationships. At least I hope most people consider me johnny-on-the-spot when a need arises. As a daughter, I grew accustomed to waiting on my dad when he came home in the evenings. He worked outside in all kinds of weather and came home dirty and tired at the end of every work day.

I knew that after I brought him his cold Dr. Pepper and Milky Way bar, I would help Mom finish cooking supper and getting the table ready. My sister and I then shared the job of cleaning up the kitchen after supper.

I learned early to work around my mother’s emotional breakdowns. She suffered from depression her entire life, so her moods were variable and unpredictable. “Reading” her became one of the skills I developed to stay out of her path when a storm broke through. The less I inconvenienced her, the fewer storms came through.

I have mentioned some of these early experiences to illustrate how a pattern of life develops. For me, the ability to read my environment helped me to navigate life with fewer emotional upheavals, arguments, outbursts, or other bumps in the emotional highways.  

During my current experience in dealing with my spinal problems, I have recognized that my own needs sometimes create inconveniences for others.  Though I understand that my definition of inconvenience does not necessarily match the meaning others have, I confess that I hate the thought of putting anyone else out on my behalf.

My inconveniencing of others began almost two months ago when my spinal nerves pinched so badly that I could no longer walk without a walker. Even with the aid of the walker, I bent over at a 90-degree angle at the waist with great pain. I had to step aside as leader of the senior adult fitness classes at First Baptist Church for an indefinite amount of time.

One of the members graciously volunteered to fill in for me until I can return. So far, that has been a couple of months and will continue until my doctor allows me to resume. Never in my life have I had to accept this kind of help from another person. 

Am I inconveniencing Rose Williams, the kind lady who fills in for me? You bet I am. Membership in a group does not require the same level of commitment as leadership. 

Not only does Rose lead the classes each week, but she also texts me weekly to check on my status. She even inspired the title for this article when she asked me if I were experiencing any incremental improvement. I liked that term because I have built most of my life on my attempt to go from zero to one hundred overnight. Increments have never appealed to me.

During my recovery, I have received multiple get-well and prayer cards in my daily mail. I read several texts and Facebook posts daily. Mike’s Sunday school class has provided several meals, and my neighbors have also brought various meals and other thoughtful items. 

Now I come to answer Rose’s question about incremental improvements—yes, I am improving incrementally. For me, that means slowly, painfully, and aggravatingly I see physical, emotional, and spiritual improvements in my life.

I inconvenienced my son by accepting his offer to come help us while I was in the hospital. I am gratefully reading all the beautiful and thoughtful cards from individuals who care about me. I have eaten many meals others have prepared for me. I cannot list the inconveniences my husband gladly endures for me, and I now inconvenience myself as I yield to age, humanity, infirmity, and mortality and all that goes with those conditions. 

Nancy Patrick is a retired teacher who lives in Abilene and enjoys writing

One comment

  • Sandy Parish-Tompkins

    I love this article Nancy! I too am like you in many ways. I do NOT like asking for help and I do NOT ask for help if there is any way I can do it myself. I guess we inherited that trait from our mothers. I am praying that the remainder of your recovery will be successful and try not to think of others helping as an inconvenience but them showing their love for you. I love you and wish we lived closer so I could see you more. I’ll be waiting on the next article…..


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