By Shirley Robinson Sprinkles, Ph.D / March 21, 2011
Try though I may, there are times when I can’t stop complaining:
“Gas is too high.”
“Food prices have gone up.”
“Why is this phone bill so high?”
“It’s too hot to go walking.”
“It’s too cold to go walking.”
“There’s nothing good to watch on T.V. anymore.”
“The service is awful in this restaurant.”
“My feet, head or back hurt.”
Oh, there is so much to complain about– some days more than others. There are lots of people like me; you probably know a few, or you may be one yourself. The habit of complaining doesn’t just belong to a minority—it is infectious, and lots of people have the “disease.” Complaining is the easiest way to address a problem; either perceived or real. It beats the heck out of doing something to change it, right? Wrong! In fact, emphatically, WRONG!
I learned this from an unusual acquaintance a few years back when I found myself in the hospital recovering from total hip replacement surgery. I went there faced with the only solution to relieving excruciating pain caused by degenerative arthritis. Most of my left hip’s cartilage was depleted. I was practically at the bone-to-bone stage in regards to joint function. Moving about was not fun anymore. This surgery was my only hope.
While in rehab, I chanced to share a room with a most unusual woman who had gone through the same operation on the same day. The contrast between her response and mine was stark enough to inspire a written account of it. Here is the story I wrote about that episode of my life. I hope it will inspire other “complainers” who read this.
ODE TO JOSIE
I knew from the very first glimpse of the new rehab facility that it would qualify to be my home –away-from-home for a few precious days or weeks after my surgery. It was bright, spacious and cheerful. Nothing else would do following total hip replacement. I wanted maximum peace, coupled with uncompromising professionalism in regards to service. I didn’t mind struggling to recover– pain and discomfort—they were part of the deal, but I sure wanted as much help as I could get!
Even my roommate, Josie, turned out to be a value-added part of my stay there. She was talkative (to say the least). She frequently talked back to the characters on TV soap operas; scolding and commenting as if they were really in her space. But, Josie knew how to do a lot of things. I was amazed, looking on, at how many skills she activated while recuperating from the same surgery as mine. She could knit, do crossword puzzles and jigsaw puzzles, and she could whistle along with every tune that came over the radio. These were all things I couldn’t do, but always wanted to learn. Josie was very near to my age; even a few months older, but I literally felt dwarfed by her energy, ambition, industriousness and determination to get well. She was a source of both shame and inspiration to me as I languished in bed dreading every turn, and ringing incessantly for the Nurse Assistant to help me get up or turn or over. What was wrong with this picture?
By comparison to Josie, I was so much better off in a couple of ways: (1) she had both rheumatoid and osteoarthritis– I only had osteoarthritis. And, don’t forget, (2) she was older. But, she was not faint-of-heart. Josie cheerfully took on all assigned tasks related to her rehabilitation—usually not waiting for technicians, counselors or rehab assistants. By the time they arrived, she was already bathed and dressed, studying the day’s agenda. She showered by herself the second day, walked without a walker, and climbed 15 stairs with great agility. I felt so jealous! This slim, 127 pound frame was running circles around my flabby, 181 pound slow one!
All kidding aside, most of it was just plain “spirit.” Josie expected a lot out of herself; she probably always had. She cherished her independence and was naturally resourceful. She’d figure out ways to do things I thought I needed help with. In her simple way, Josie exemplified what can be accomplished by embracing that great human attribute we sometimes call “ebullience.” Instead of suffering “under the circumstances”, she positioned herself to be “on top” of the circumstances and triumphed over them. When she walked out of rehab on the third day of her confinement barely leaning on her cane, she left behind a new, truly rehabilitated roommate whose best training had come not from the nurses and technicians, but from Josie! I will always think of her spirit when I remember those days of recovery.