For more than twenty years, I made my way through the world as a television journalist. It was a good run, as they say; I received several awards for my work, eventually earned a good income, became well known in the communities I served, and most importantly, felt gifted beyond belief to be working in a profession I had so much respect for. I worked my way up from being an unpaid intern carrying equipment to being an Emmy award-winning reporter and anchor. I loved both sides of the lens in what I believed was one of the most rewarding professions in the world. Although I never admitted this, and especially during contract negotiations, I would have done it for free.
It was a tough and demanding life and required a lot of moving around. But I still thought it was worth it, because that moving stretched the horizons of the world I had been born into and took me places I would never had seen otherwise. As I met people from all over the world, I began to believe that geography can indeed be our destiny; who we are can be shaped in so many ways by the flag that flies over our land, the name of our state and the cities we are born into.
In my twenty-second year of following my path, the one I had so carefully laid out for myself, I abruptly underwent two back surgeries in less than a year. They knocked me off my feet and off the air, forcing me to bed. Each time, I defied my doctor’s orders and went back to work too soon. I was afraid, like many on-air people are, that I would be replaced, but I hid that fear under a veneer of bravado, striding back into the newsroom in my high heels, wisecracking with the crew, the bright red zipper of my newest scar invisible under my power suit and pumps.
Six months after my second surgery, my back blew out a third time. It sent me back to the emergency room, back to the MRI machine and this time when the pictures came out, I didn’t need the doctor to tell me how bad it was; the spinal disc they had tried to repair twice before had ruptured again. I lay in the hospital attached to a morphine pump as the doctor told me one more surgery might make it right this time, although this one would involve rods and plates and screws.
The pump kept me out of pain, but also out of everything else. I was far away and there at the same time, deep at the bottom of a well. In and out on a tide of consciousness I swept, trying to pretend with everyone that I wasn’t panicked. When one of my relatives called, he told me I needed to get right with God, because otherwise why would this have happened? A few floors away was the pediatric oncology ward. I asked him did he think I should go down there and ask those kids what they did to get their cancers? My boss called and asked me when I would be over “this latest health stunt” because the November ratings were coming and he wanted his team in place. I hated him at that moment. It didn’t occur to me until years later that maybe he was just trying, in his own ham-handed way, to make me feel like I mattered. Of course, he might very well have just been an asshole, but I’ve learned it is important, for me most of all, to maintain a sense of giving people the benefit of the doubt.
I tried to cheer myself up with stern internal lectures, telling myself to be grateful I had a mechanical problem, and not a life-threatening disease, but I also knew a choice was coming that would change my life. I could once again try to get a surgical fix to my problem, push myself like I had before, even though there would be no guarantee this surgery would be the last. In fact, this one would be more invasive and require more recovery time. Or I could go home and see if there was another way. I’d like to say I was brave about it, but I cried. A lot. I knew that if I chose to go home instead of having the third surgery, I might never be able to go back to the newsroom I loved so much and it could mean the end to a career I had devoted my life to. But I knew in my heart I had to reach for my health this time, even if it cost me everything.