August 21 marks 40 years since I had major surgery to correct a 40° curve in my spine due to scoliosis. I had just turned 18 and graduated from high school. The five hour surgery involved inserting 4 screws in my spine, then attaching a car-jack like device that was lengthened to correct the curve. Bone was then harvested from my left hip and fused onto my spine, adding the strength to hold the corrected curve in place. I was in a morphine induced coma for 5 days, then slowly weaned off the morphine for the next month.
Eight days after surgery, a plaster cast was applied from my sternum to my hips. I had to fast for 18 hours before the casting process in order for it to be tightly wound around my body. Before it was dry, a piece was cut out in the abdominal area to allow expansion for breathing and eating. Ironically enough, it was heart-shaped, a foreshadowing of what would transpire in my losing my heart. This plaster shell was scheduled to be removed 9 months later. Here are the before and after x-rays and the casting process.
We lived in Corpus Christi, Texas. The surgery was in Houston. My parents drove me home over the Labor Day weekend in the back of our station wagon as I could not sit up for the first month.
Before the surgery, I had a vivacious, outgoing, extrovert personality. As the cast was being wrapped around my body, it was as if my heart was being “casted” also into a posture of withdrawal and shutting down. I was in so much pain physically that even with coughing or laughing was excruciating. The physical recovery was challenging to say the least, as after a month I could only sit for 1 hour 3 times a day. After six months, this was increasing to a grand total of 1 hour 5 times a day. My only other approved activity was walking and boy, did I walk! I walked hours and hours by myself within a 5 mile radius of our home. So there I was, a people loving extrovert thrown into an isolated, lonely world.
The emotional pain impacted my heart as much or more than the physical pain. As all of my friends were starting new adventures of college or marriage, I was bed-bound, needing help with the most intimate, basic hygiene needs. During this time, I risked letting my heart out a bit to two former boyfriends who came to rescue the proverbial damsel in distress. They both abruptly left with little to no explanation. This only further drew my heart into a shell of protection and the feeling that I was not lovely or wanted. The vivacious, outgoing, extrovert Kathy quietly withdrew into her shell, dying a quiet death.
I was officially released to normal activities after two years. I left Corpus Christi , to attend the University of Texas in Austin. Finally, MY “new life” could begin. I became involved in Young Life, made lots of new friends and met the man I would marry. I slowly let the vivacious, outgoing extrovert Kathy out of her “cast.” I was having the time of my life.
As I have sojourned these last 40 years, I have had the opportunity to go into deeper, more intimate relationships with family and friends. I have risked and been richly blessed, bringing deep satisfaction and joy. I have risked and been deeply disappointed and hurt. My heart has at times been freed to be my truest self. Other times, I have allowed relational and circumstantial pain to put a cast around my heart, dying to my truest self.
With the 40 year surgery date approaching, my life is not what I had expected it to be. Nearly all of my earthly belongings have been packed and boxed up in a storage unit for the last year. We have lived in two different homes as we wait for God to open the door for a home of our own. In the past two years some friendships have died a slow death while others have blossomed and grown deeper. As I face the “not yet” from God in a number of areas, I struggle to keep my heart open and not withdraw into a shell for protection. Some of my days are dark and lonely. Some days are bright and hopeful. When I lean into both of these kinds of days, I am challenged to keep my heart alive to all God has for me, choosing not to answer the “casting call” anymore. Grace is needed and grace abounds as I am thankful for the 40 year old reminder of what choice I want to make.
Kathy Ford now lives in, of all places, Comfort, Texas along with her husband and their dog. She wants to be known first of all as a follower of Jesus as she clings to Him as the anchor of her soul. Her desire is that her legacy will be that she never stopped hoping. Kathy enjoys traveling, sewing, biking, walking, but most of all, luscious, lingering conversations over delicious meals at a café with iced tea. Her greatest loves are her husband, son, daughter-in-law, grandson, daughter and her fiancé. You will often find her scheming and dreaming of her next adventure.