Well I felt pretty good about my 2013 New Year’s Resolutions:
- SKI Mount Washington in February;
- RUN another half marathon in May; and
- HIKE the next section of the Colorado Rockies in July.
The only little problem was this nagging shoulder pain that came out of nowhere and seemed to be getting worse, not better, finally waking me up at nights. “You’ve got idiopathic frozen shoulder” the sports medicine doctor said cheerfully. “The bad news is that you will be in pain for about a year and you can’t do a darned thing about it.” I protested, saying that I had things to do, places to go, people to meet! She just smiled, assured me that 95% of people do recover, and sent me off with a prescription for anti-inflammatories and painkillers.
So much for my New Year’s Resolutions.
Well at least I had lots of time to stew about it. The news was delivered on the first day of a long-planned five day “unhooking” from the world: no computer, no IPhone, no television, no friends, no family, no clients, no office. Just a big empty house with a locked door and lots of food, books, and papers. My first experiment with such a thing, and surprisingly difficult to set up. The timing seemed rather good.
So I had the luxury of time to think, and to write. Fortunately the weather in Winnipeg cooperated delivering first a blizzard with snow and high winds and then temperatures in the minus thirties. The trail on the frozen river in front of my place was nicely groomed, but it was very quiet, just like my home.
I laughed about the frozen part of the frozen shoulder because it certainly seemed to have immobilized me. I puzzled about the word idiopathic which I understood to be a fancy word for “we have no idea why you have this”. Clearly it came from the root “idiot” but I wasn’t sure if this referred to the diagnosing doctor or the suffering patient. I could only conclude that when something comes to you for no apparent reason, then you would be an idiot not to search hard for a reason. It was no answer to say that frozen shoulder largely afflicts women between the ages of 40 and 60. (That would be me.) Was it possible that I needed to develop a different relationship with my physical self?
Here’s the thing that we lawyers are pretty good at: pushing ourselves. To the top. To the edge. To exhaustion. We work hard and often play hard and when our bodies rebel we ignore the call to rest. Perhaps we medicate with drugs, alcohol, caffeine, sugar, or any combination of these. We press on and on until our bodies finally stop us cold with a physical health problem. Or for some, a mental health problem.
I thought about my holiday in Havana this November, just before my shoulder started to talk back to me. I had the delicious experience of dancing salsa in the local clubs and getting around in beautiful old American cars, many of which seemed to function as unofficial taxis. The locals had an expression in Spanish which I can’t quite remember which had to do with the gentleness with which they shut the door of such an old car. They recognize that something born in the 1950’s, that you want to have last for a very long time, deserves a little TLC.
Sometimes it takes a hammer to swat a fly: perhaps this old body was at least as valuable as the chassis of those old cars. Perhaps I needed to stop treating my body like a machine, and more like a dear old friend: with compassion, honor and respect.
Perhaps the world will go on around without us even if we take a little time to just rest.
Jennifer A. Cooper, Q.C.
Jennifer is a Partner at Deeley Fabbri Sellen in Winnipeg. She is a Board member with the Canadian Bar Insurance Association and is the CBIA representative to the Legal Profession Assistance Conference. You will find her in Winnipeg working, resting, and paying just a little more attention to the balance between the two.