Dear Dr. Matejczyk,
I rode a camel last week. Because of you. Her name was Sheila.
It was five years ago when I first met you. I didn’t like you from the moment I saw you. But then, I didn’t like any of the doctors I was meeting. I knew that what was ahead of me would be hard. And I was fighting it with every ounce of my being. So when you came into the medical examination room that morning, so confident and likeable, I made up my mind that I just didn’t want to believe anything you said. I had met with a handful of doctors before you, all of them rubbing me the wrong way. But you took the time to talk with me, explain to me that I had to do this operation so I could improve my quality of life. All I could picture were scars and blood and lots and lots of pain. You saw a future of happiness for me. Our outlooks were so very different.
On my drive home that afternoon, my mom by my side, I became angry that I had to make this decision. I didn’t want to spend my summer, at the age of 26, lying in bed healing. None of my peers had to do this. Why should I? But I knew that none of that mattered. Life wasn’t fair and being upset about it wasn’t going to change it. A few days later I called and scheduled the surgery.
On the day of my surgery, I laid on the bed in the pre-op room, watching as the nurses poked and prodded at me. I reminded myself that what happened after the syringe of white sleeping medication was inserted into my IV was out of my control. It was the first, and only, time in my life where I put complete and utter control of my body into someone else’s hands. It was an odd feeling, really, knowing that I was relinquishing all control and letting you do whatever you wanted to my body. But for some reason, making that decision to let go of this situation, and stop controlling it, was a huge turning point for me in the whole process. I let go of the images of a scalpel slicing deep into my leg. And the thoughts of things going wrong and losing my entire leg. I let go of the idea that this might be the end of my life. That things after this could be worse for me. I had made the decision to just “let it be” and deal with the outcome when I woke up. It’s probably the only time where I put complete trust into another human being. And with someone I had only chatted with for an hour or two.
The next few months were filled with restless nights, lack of appetite, painkillers, and sleeping. For some reason, I had stopped thinking about my current state. I just went through each day glad I was healing and not worrying about the outcome. You told me it could take up to a year until I was completely healed, and I hung onto those words knowing it would only get better.
From the moment I met you, through the hospital stays, and for several months after the operation, I didn’t shed a single tear. It was as though I was emotionless, just going through every movement like a bank transaction. But about three months after the surgery, in my bedroom, all alone, something drastic happened and I knew I was healing. Things were better for me and there was no more pain. There wasn’t pain from the surgery. And there wasn’t pain that I had been feeling for so many years before. Tears of happiness fell from my eyes. I knew at that moment that you were right. My life was going to get even better.
So last week, as I waited in the Arabian Desert to ride a camel, my thoughts were all over the place. I was so lucky to be in the Middle East. And I was so fortunate to have the opportunity to ride a camel. I couldn’t help but think that I might not be able to do this. That it might be too painful or I might hurt myself. The thoughts that had engrained themselves into my brain for so many years, protecting me from the physical limitations I used to have, were at the surface of my emotions. I reminded myself of what I went through five years prior, and that I knew I could do this now, without pain and limitations. My brother helped me crawl onto the camel who was seated in the sand, and as the guide instructed her to get up on all fours – “Sheila, slowly Sheila…” – I couldn’t help but think of you and how you changed my life.