No Spartan, but thankful … aches, pains, and all

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NASHVILLE (BP) —  The back brace I wore much of this summer is now collecting dust in the garage. That chair I had to sit on for weeks in the shower is somewhere in a garbage dump. And my running routine has for the most part returned —  though I’m more sore on some mornings than others.

Baptist Press editor Shawn Hendricks shares how breaking his back has left him thankful — and glad not everything is “back” to normal. This picture was taken a few days after the accident. Photo provided by SHAWN HENDRICKS/Baptist Press

It’s been four months since I crushed the T-12 vertebra in my back. To look at me now, you wouldn’t know anything happened and that my life appears to be “back” to normal. But in some ways it’s not —  and I remain thankful to the Lord for that.

On July 13, (yes, Friday the 13th) I was preparing for the Spartan, a 3- to 5-mile run with more than 20 obstacles, when my life took a sudden detour. Before getting ready for work that day, I thought I could get in some quick training. But while climbing on some outdoor equipment, I lost my grip and fell about 10 feet onto my back.

Though I was able to get to my feet and grimace my way about a mile to the house, I knew the injury was worse than I wanted to admit. Later that day — after a bumpy ride to the emergency room and another bumpy ambulance ride to a different hospital, doctors looked over my X-rays and told me that I came dangerously close to damaging my spinal cord and being paralyzed from the waist down. They thought surgery might be necessary to keep the bone stabilized.

Before my accident, T-12 sounded more like a vitamin than a bone. But it quickly became the difference between life as my family and I knew it and something far different.

But while that broken bone rubbed up a little closer to my spinal cord than I would have liked, doctors later decided it was “probably” stable enough to avoid surgery. They told me I’d have to wear a back brace —  an uncomfortable, medieval looking contraption that looked like a cross between a corset and a bullet-proof jacket — every day for the next three months and avoid lifting anything over 10 pounds. After that, everything should go back to normal.

And with numerous doctor visits, physical therapy and many uncomfortable days of wearing that brace, the doctors were right – actually, the bone healed faster than they initially expected.

Still, I think about my fall nearly every day and still cope with occasional soreness in my back and neck. I often think about how if I would have hit the ground a little harder or maybe in a slightly different way, I could be writing this from a wheelchair. Sure, the bone healed, I’m working a regular schedule these days, teaching Sunday School as usual, kicking the soccer ball around with my daughter, and have even returned to a lighter running schedule. With that said, the experience definitely left me changed — and thankful.

A Spartan beside me

I’m more thankful for my wife Stephanie than I’ve ever been. Wives are a gift from the Lord. And I can truly say that about mine.

Without her I probably wouldn’t have healed as quickly and would have had to stay in some facility to help me get in and out of the brace during my recovery. Amid those days and weeks when I could barely stand, roll over or move without a lot of discomfort and pain, she cared for me and loved me. She helped me get up, get dressed, showered, went with me to the doctor and stood behind me when she worried I might fall. Basically if there was an opportunity for me to trip, stumble or wobble, she was usually right there.

And I’m truly thankful for her.

Awkward conversations

I’m also thankful for all the phone calls, notes, visits and texts from friends, family and coworkers who were checking on me. And while I struggled with friends mowing my lawn or staying with me while my wife was out running errands, it was a huge help.

I didn’t always know what to say or how to express my appreciation. And sometimes I worried that I might say something dumb while on pain medication during those first few days after the accident. But all of it meant a lot — especially when all I seemed to be able to do was watch Shark Week on TV. Friendships are critical during life’s challenges. This experience definitely led me to appreciate those friendships.

Being humbled

It was a humbling experience to have to depend on others. And while I know there are others who have to deal with far worse, I hated wearing that back brace and the looks that sometimes came with it. Occasionally I joked about how it looked like some type of special forces gear. Once people realized I wasn’t wearing a bullet-proof jacket or packing a gun, they seemed to go from “Oh no” to “Oh that poor guy.” I hated that but learned to “embrace” it and realize how thankful I was for not needing to have surgery.

For the record, I have no plans to run an obstacle course race anytime soon — or as my wife says “ever” — but there is that half-marathon I’m signed up for in the spring. Just normal running is definitely fine with me — well, maybe a wooded trail with a boulder or two thrown in might be nice on occasion. Regardless of my circumstances, 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 seems to apply well to all of life’s challenges: Rejoice always, pray constantly, give thanks in everything; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.

Shawn Hendricks is editor of Baptist Press.

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