I’ve gotten a lot of good advice in my life. But the best piece of advice which I ever received came from the woman whose birth we honor today. My mother, Lucille Johanna Lyons Corley, would have celebrated her 91st birthday today had she lived. Instead, she never saw 59, succumbing to cancer on 21 August 1985.
I owe this woman everything.
My life, my attitude, my ability to persevere, and my relationship with my son. I strove to parent my child with the same authenticity that my mother brought to the experience. Admittedly, she made choices that I did not make. She lived with an abusive husband who drank to the point of violent intoxication. I had the choice to stay married to a man “with a drinking problem”, and as much as it pained me, I walked away to protect what remained of my son’s childhood. My mother converted to Catholicism; that, too, I sloughed from my existence as unhealthy and destructive.
My burdens stem from my mother in large degree. She kept us in a terrible situation, and the damage that I suffered as a consequence was, I suppose, her “fault”.
But in other respects, I admire my mother. Even as I make my choices regarding when I would not or did not follow her lead, I concede that she had other variables at work. She lived in a different time. She had fewer options.
She loved us, though, and she wanted us to know that she admired and cherished each one of us. To me, in particular, she gave astoundingly unfailing encouragement. One particular area concerned “my walking problem”, which we did not understand and could not skillfully manage. Because the doctors could not explain why I “walked funny”, experienced severe pain, and tired easily, my mother could only tell me how to handle the state of affairs with which I found myself confronted.
Her advice stays with me, day in and day out. Here is what she told me:
If you walk every day of your life, you will walk every day of your life. So keep walking.
I knew what she meant. Don’t let them put you in a wheelchair. Don’t limit yourself by their predictions. Do as Nana always told you: Put your best foot forward. Keep walking.
I’ve done that too. Past all predicted dates of death or complete incapacity. I’ve rejected doctors’ dire predictions and scoffed at therapists who wanted me to limit myself to part-time work or hobble myself with walkers and canes. I understand that I put myself at some risk. I’ve broken several bones. But I can slow myself, get my bearings, and keep going. I can do it.
Today I answered a Stanford survey in advance of next week’s quarterly check-up. The questions seem absurd to me. How often are you too tired to keep going? How many naps do you take each day? That was multiple choice. Ten, twenty, forty?
Who has time to nap?
I imagine the average patient clocks themselves at 5 or 6 on a scale of 1 to 10 pain-wise, and admits to spending several hours each day resting. I draw this conclusion because of side comments made by different doctors and their staff over the years. Most famous among them was the nurse who insisted on calling me at home instead of my office during the work day. I finally asked her why she did that, even though her efforts were wasted since I am at the office 9 to 5. Her reply amused me. Most of our patients who are as bad off as you are, get disability. They don’t work. I just keep forgetting about you.
Me. The stubborn one. As her boss once said, I’m too stubborn to die. One tough cookie.
After I finished the survey for Stanford, I logged into the Patient Portal and sent a message to my doctor. I copy it here in full, for your amusement or edification:
Hector Bonilla, MD