Something to Celebrate on Labor Day

September 4, 2012

Labor Day just ended and I’m especially wistful because I couldn't host our annual Labor Day event. It’s a traditional picnic with games and a cookout. We always add a few special activities that connect to the purpose of the holiday. Last year, every guest brought a prop that represented the best job they’d ever had. The rest of us had to guess what it was. I worried the adults might think this was dorky and the kids would be self conscious but everyone jumped right in and our riotous Labor Day charades provided wondrous insights into past and current selves. Unfortunately this year I didn’t have the energy for it. I’ve been recuperating since June from a knee replacement surgery with complications. I still have months of therapy ahead of me. One of my long term goals is to be well enough to host our Memorial Day event.

But every set-back is an opportunity. So here’s my Labor Day celebration:remembering that this holiday's beginnings in the fledgling labor movement struggle to bring fairness, safety and justice to the American workplace can also remind us of the blessings that special workers bestow upon our lives.

I wouldn’t be where I am right now— starting to walk steadily without crutches—without the hard work of a number of people who go to work every day in and around Baltimore. These aren’t the doctors and top tier administrators who usually get all the glory. Nor are they the friends and family members who have given me love and support beyond expression. These are the people who’ve worked with me when I’ve really been down and out for the count. They’ve seen me day in and day out. But it’s the quality of their presence that counts. They are men and women dedicated to their work, aspiring to excellence, always learning, listening—paying attention to their clients and the world around them. When you’re in a bind like I've been, you need them—depending on how bad off you are, you need a whole team of them—to get better. My Labor Day celebration is to thank them because I am the lucky and deeply grateful recipient of their effort.

Thank you to Jim Groschan and his entire team at Groschan and Associates who model compassion, clarity, curiosity and care in every aspect of their operation from phone calls to therapy to advocacy to billing. From our first session together, Jim drew upon his experience and keen observation to see what others dismissed. Sometimes brutally honest but always optimistic (“This will have a good outcome”), Jim helped me to confront complexity with courage.

Thank you to Leyan Darlington whose massage therapy has been a source of healing, deep insight and rejuvenating comfort. Short and compact, Leyan lugs a massage bed nearly her size up and down stairs without complaint, battles traffic jams with a dismissive smile and juggles a complicated schedule to accommodate these inconvenient home visits. Her love of her work comes through her fingertips, the smile lines around her eyes and the resonant bell sound of her laughter. Although Leyan deals for hours on end with people who are suffering, she emanates joy and lightness.

Thank you to Sharon and Dave in the rehab department at the Rubin Institute for Advanced Orthopedics at Sinai Hospital for caring enough to see my pain. The PT course for knee replacement surgery is always painful,and worse when complications arise. Either of them,busy with other tasks, could have averted their eyes, walked past my station, not seen me wincing or shaking in pain, wiping tears from my eyes. But both chose to do something: “This looks too hot, it’s not the same for everyone, honey, you know?” “Can I get you some cold water? I think that might help.” Sometimes you don’t even know what to ask for. Sometimes you are just too broken down to ask. The gratitude you feel for those who are paying attention and care enough to ask does not truly have a name.

Thank you to Karen Levin at Fleet Feet who never lost patience as we tried to find the Cinderella shoe to fit the impossible specs and misshapen foot I offered her. I wasn’t coming in to run, just to learn how to walk again (in some ways I am like a toddler, in others like a stroke victim) and Karen listened with respect and deep attentiveness before she selected options from her extensive inventory. “This low heel will push your foot forward, and the weight won’t be too much to lift. The support should be just right for your foot and this design will help with your toe flex. We'll just have to see which one works best for you.” It took two visits but I am wearing a pair of shoes that help me to stand and walk correctly.

Thank you to Erin Baker, also in the rehab department at the Rubin Institute, who has to hurt me every time I see her. That can't be much fun for her yet she still manages to smile and genuinely connect with every one of her clients. She zips open her bag of ASTYM tools and with firm hands and the confident touch of a competent, informed professional follows the required strokes and motions of the method, but always lets me know what’s coming next, and helps me to moderate my breathing so that the discomfort (which ranges from unpleasant to “Did Tourquanado invent this?”) is more tolerable. Erin was almost as excited as I the first time that I truly walked on my own. She listens thoughtfully to my feedback as we analyze my stride in the amazing anti-gravity machine and understands how challenged my feet and ankles are. As Leyan has been teaching me, all walking begins with the feet. If my ankle won’t bend neither will my knee.

And finally to my teacher, Amy Van Mui who has given me Pilates lessons for over 7 years. I wasn’t ready to return to Amy until a week ago when I finally had the strength and ability to get on and off of her equipment. There is no substitute for the quality of trust that develops in a relationship of this length. The moment that she laid hands on me I began to breathe easier. I knew that no matter what Amy asked me to do (and I knew she would ask me to do things no one else had), she would not harm me, push my body in ways it could not/would not go or cause me pain. Within minutes, we easily reverted to shorthand communication filled with metaphors. The next morning I woke up, got out of bed and walked normally into the bathroom. Next I called Rich so that he could see. Then we both cried.

It was the first time in over ten weeks that I had walked without my peg leg limp. We both knew it wouldn’t last. My knee would stiffen. My muscles would seize or my ankle would puff up. But it showed us a normal gait was possible. We both knew it could never have happened without the help of this exceptional group of workers who have helped me and others every day to find their way to health and recovery. At a time when all too often we encounter indifference, mediocrity or downright antipathy in the workplace, it's heartening to know that there are people out there who still love their work and work hard at being great at what they do. On this Labor Day, it's a great thing to celebrate. 

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