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Three weeks ago, everything went sideways

Three weeks ago, on Tuesday around 10 am, my mobile phone rang. It was Kathryn. She was crying. She could barely talk.

Kathryn had been suffering with lower back pain for some time. Recently, the usual quick fixes — chiropractics, steroid injections, etc. — weren’t bringing her much relief. She’d already been out of work a couple days, and I knew she had an appointment scheduled with a neurologist that morning. My mom, who’s retired, had volunteered to bring her there.

Although Kathryn and I send each other messages throughout the day, we almost never call each other. When we do, it’s almost always a Signal call. We only ever make normal phone calls to each other when it’s urgent enough to want some extra assurance the call will go through.

This was one of those times.

When she calmed herself enough to get the words out, she let me know what was happening. Mom was going to drive her to the emergency room at one of the major medical centers here in Phoenix. After reviewing an MRI, the neurologist concluded she needed surgery immediately.

Kathryn wasn’t in tears because of the pain or the prospect of having her back cut open. She was in tears because, 24 hours later, we were supposed to be starting a road trip to the second ZeroHedge Symposium in Marfa, Texas. It was a trip we’d been planning for five months. I knew there was no possible way she could make the journey. She knew there was no possible way I’d make a 600-mile drive with her in the hospital.

I was having a brutal day at work, but a colleague took over for me right away. I made a quick call to El Cosmico in Marfa to let them know I was canceling my reservation. I then immediately sent an e-mail to the organizer of the symposium. Accommodations were hard to come by last year, and I thought he was more likely than anyone to know someone who still needed a place to stay. Then I was off to the hospital.

The neurologist who sent Kathryn to the emergency room didn’t just pick one at random. He picked one where he knew there were excellent neurosurgeons available. It turns out one of the most talented of them was catching the emergency room referrals that day. I suspect the neurologist knew that too. A lucky break for Kathryn, as patients who want this particular surgeon often wait for months.

Over the next 48 hours, Kathryn went from the emergency room to a hospital room, to surgery and back to the hospital room, and was then released. From the time she was rolled from her room to pre-op to the time the surgeon spoke to me in the waiting area after the surgery was about three hours. To me, it seemed like an eternity. Thankfully, my mom and dad showed up to wait with me.

I wouldn’t say her recovery has been as difficult as learning to walk again, but numbness in her leg has made it difficult to plant her foot properly. She started out with a walker, transitioned quickly to a cane, and now often walks around without the cane. She doesn’t lift anything heavy, although she’s been taking out our recycling with the help of a cart. She’s expected to go back to work in about ten days.

The good news is that none of this has dampened Kathryn’s desire to travel with me. Before any of this happened, we had a week-long trip planned for next month. It’s still on the books, and we’re both looking forward to it.

I’ve been humbled by the outpouring of colleagues, friends, and family who let me know they were praying for Kathryn and me, especially when she was in the hospital. I’m grateful beyond words.

In the grand scheme of things, a wife having back surgery and a canceled road trip doesn’t seem like much of a big deal. It’s not like Kathryn and I woke up this morning and had to walk five miles for clean drinking water and then another ten for food. I get it. I count my blessings, and I thank God for them. Sometimes it just takes a small step back to be able to see all the things that are good.