Scary Surprises!

Usually, I love surprises, I do, but that is because, all of my life, they have for the most part been really good ones. But you know, life being the way it is, tosses us lemons sometimes, or, hand grenades.

If you get into a car with a friend, and ask them where we are going, they might say, "It's a SURPRISE!". My first inclination is NOT to dive out the window and roll away across the lawn then crouch into that cool SWAT pose, my hands clasped together, pointing in all directions like I am holding a deadly hand cannon.

Dude! No Way!!

I actually don't even own a hand cannon, but you get the idea. Surprises for me tended to be fun, interesting, unusual, unique but rarely scary.

I adore this photo. That's me there, the little sheriff. This would have been my birthday (I'm the only one with a cool hat). My younger brother Michael is to my left, and, behind me, with her head cut off, is my older sister Jamie.

I am the middle child in this family. One of 5 and, once we all started to grow up, the most extraordinary thing began to happen. My sibs were all so much taller than me. My parents assumed I would grow sooner or later, but no, I stayed short compared to the rest of them. Even when my baby sister, 7 years my junior, hit her teens, and suddenly was looking down on me, that was it. I knew I was going to be the shorty short one forever.

Any time we would do a family photo, like for a Christmas or Easter card, my father would get a couple of phone books for me to stand on so you could at least see me in the picture. Otherwise, I would just be a set of eyes, peering up from the bottom border of the photo like some sort of weird little creature peeking up out of the sewer.

Time flew by as it is want to do. All through grade school, then, high school, try as I might, I was just never good at athletics. My mother was constantly telling me to sit up straight, sit up straight, sit up straight, sit up straight, sit up straight, sit up straight...sigh. I always thought I was, but, apparently not.

During volleyball matches, or softball, or hopscotch, whatever the physical activity, it was not unusual for me to end up falling down hard at some point. I did my best to compete with the others, but, was just barely capable of doing even the most rudimentary aspects of the physical activity.

There were times all through my life, when I would experience terrible pain in my back and legs, but, no one seemed to know what caused it. My father finally took me aside one day and told me to stop pretending I was in pain, because, it was getting really old.

While I was still living in Los Angeles, in the late 1990's, I discovered K9 Search & Rescue. I devoted my entire life to this! Most canine SAR searches are conducted by volunteers.

It just consumed my life. My doggie Thor actually found two missing persons, and, while ground pounding myself, I uncovered pieces and belongings of a victim we happened to be looking for in Georgia. All I could think of when I remember those searches was how great it was just to do our job. I was grateful that my dogs and I could help so much.

But it was one of the hardest physical things I had ever done in my life.

The first team I was on was CARDA, the California Rescue Dog Association. For years, I trained every Wednesday night with my dog, and, on weekends, at least twice a month, I would travel all over the state to continue training.

This group had a lot of skills that needed to be learned and demonstrated to pass through to actually working on a live search with our dog. One of these skills was the fitness test: we had to hike 8 miles, carrying at least 24 pounds in a backpack, and, negotiate a 500 foot elevation change, in 3 hours or less.

The first time I attempted it, I failed miserably. I spent the next few months, wearing a 24 pound back pack almost every day; hiking up and down the stairs in the parking garage where I worked, when I went shopping at the grocery store or walking block after block in my neighborhood. This is the true testament of my personality, a stubborness that was legendary. As soon as I was dressed in the morning, ready to start my day, I would put on that backpack for months.

Did I pass the hike requirements, the next chance I had? Indeed I did...but it was still very, very hard.

I would come home from trainings and searches I went on in California, Florida, Georgia, Alabama and North and South Carolina., aching and hurting all night, but, I figured that was just the way it was supposed to me.

I did K9 SAR for the next 10 years, experiencing more and more pain in my right knee, and finally had to have it replaced with a titanium joint in 2015. I was so excited and happy not to have that knee pain from arthritis anymore, however, I was never able to walk without difficulty, exacerbated greatly by growing pain with my left hip.

I went back to the surgical practice in early December, 2018, to see if they could help. Their first thought, as was mine, that I would need to have my left hip replaced next. Good news, bad news though - no, I did not need to have that hip replaced. I guess that was the good news.

OK, so what was the bad news?

It was one of those moments, where you know you will relive this memory more than once. The surgeon had called up the x rays of my pelvic area in the exam room, ready to discuss the problems with my left hip that had been hurting me so, and, was startled to see such a surprised look on my face.

I didn't hear what he said at first and just stared at him, dumbfounded. He asked me again, this time a bit louder - "Were you not aware that you had scoliosis?"

I actually blurted out that he must have the wrong x-rays. Those could not be mine. Some horrible mistake seemed to have transpired. But no, these were mine and, there it was, literally in black and white. To say I was stunned is clearly an understatement.

How could this be?

After an MRI to see things more clearly, it was obvious, how twisted my spine is. This did indeed answer a whole lot of questions though. If I had been born with a straight spine, instead of this distorted thing, I'd be at least 2-4 inches taller than what I am. So, that answersed that weirdness with regard to my siblings towering over me.

All of the falling down, and poor performance in athletics, were due to the nerves being pinched continuosly for decades. So now, at that grand age of 62, I finally learn about a serious congential weakness.

After I got over the initial shock though, I had to laugh about it. Honestly, I have had an amazing life, even though I need to walk with a cane all of the time now. Had I known about my twisted spine when I was a kid, most likely I would not have done half of the things with my life that I, no regrets.

Right now, I have two choices 1) fuse my spine or 2) lose my ability to walk. My spine is actually 40 degrees out of alignment, and, will fracture and collapse another 15 degrees over the next 10 years compromising so many nerves.

This was all very ugly and painiful to take in but I needed to choose the best course of action. My decision though was easy to make. I will do surgery, and, thankfully, do not need to do it right away. Possibly in a few years actually. I'll know more after the next surgical consult.

Being as goal oriented as I am, this will become a priority for me, and, I will do whatever I need to do, to keep moving, and enjoying my life. I am a very fortunate person and have lived a unique and fun life so far. I have nothing to be sorry for or to lament over having missed - except of course, being an Olympic quality figure skater. Always wanted that, I just could never get those spins right!

But, now I know why.

So, on with the show, and, I figure now that I use a cane all of the time now, it will be useful to beat the crap out of any more ugly surprises coming my way.

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The greatness of a nation and it's moral progress can be judged by the way it's animals are treated - Mahatma Ghandi

©  Briar Lee Mitchell, 2014