79: Everything Makes Sense in Reverse

79: Everything Makes Sense in Reverse

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Count Your Blessings

Everything Makes Sense in Reverse

Hindsight is always twenty-twenty.
~Billy Wilder

Sometimes life makes more sense when you look at it in reverse. That’s certainly been true for me this year. Last Christmas, at the age of thirty-nine, I came down with an autoimmune disease which viciously attacked my knees and eyes. At its worst I could barely walk or see. For months I’d have to crawl across the floor of our apartment to use the bathroom or get a drink of water when my husband wasn’t home to help me walk. For a while I could only see shapes and colors so I couldn’t drive.

My parents kept begging me to let them come out to stay with me in Los Angeles but our apartment is small (and L.A. hotels are expensive) and I knew that there was nothing they could really do to help me—because of the excellent health insurance my husband had through his job at the Getty Museum I was receiving the best medical care possible.

My only problem was that I couldn’t drive to my doctors’ appointments because of my poor vision and I didn’t want my husband to keep missing work to drive me. Three days after I explained this dilemma to my parents, a check showed up from them with a note saying that this was “taxi money” to get me to my doctors’ appointments. Several months later another check showed up from my brother to help supplement our income since I was not able to work. It probably goes without saying that I was extremely grateful for the excellent medical coverage I had through my husband’s work and I was also extremely grateful to have family members who could and would support me both emotionally and financially during this challenging time.

In terms of my day-to-day existence, I live in a village within Los Angeles called Brentwood so I was able to walk to the local post office, market, bank, and library. Because I was already familiar with the area, I could still walk to these places but then, once there, I had to rely on the kindness of strangers to help me address packages, shop for food, make bank deposits, and pick up “books on tape,” which were a lifesaver. Again, I knew I was blessed. Los Angeles is a big city, but I lived in a village with a wonderful community of people who were kind and patient and helped me as I struggled to maintain some semblance of a normal life.

Despite my gratitude, I was often frustrated, frightened, and sad. I didn’t know if or when my vision would return and I kept wondering why this was happening to me? My doctors had run dozens of tests and none of them could find the root problem that caused this illness. The doctors theorized that maybe it was my poor diet or the stress I was under at work that had triggered my body to attack itself—but they didn’t know for sure and said that we would simply have to categorize this as a “strange episode.”

As with most difficult situations, several blessings began to emerge. The first was that I radically improved my diet and began walking several times a week. Though I had lost forty pounds through Weight Watchers several years earlier, I was still averse to water, fruits and vegetables, and daily exercise until this illness emerged. I noticed that as I began exercising, drinking more water, and eating foods such as fruits, vegetables, nuts, and skim milk my body began to heal. I developed such an interest in this phenomenon that I decided I was going to leave the entertainment industry once and for all and instead try to work in a health-oriented environment.

With all of the downtime that this illness gave me I also began to contemplate my life and what was important to me. I decided that I wanted to do some volunteer work to thank God and the universe for providing me with such a loving family, a wonderful husband, and a compassionate community. I wasn’t sure what kind of volunteer work I wanted to do so I just kept my eyes open hoping an opportunity would present itself.

Each week as I went to my rheumatologist I noticed several senior citizens walking around in front of what looked like a very nice hotel. They would always say “hi” to me and when my illness was at its worst and I was having trouble walking, several of them stopped to ask if I was okay as they zoomed past me with their walkers. I learned that the “nice hotel” they lived in was actually an assisted living community called Sunrise. I looked it up on the Internet and saw that there was a Sunrise community very close to my apartment so I vowed that when I was well I would ask if I could volunteer there.

Despite my assurance that I was healing, my parents eventually put their foot down and insisted on coming out to L.A. to see me. I had a wonderful time with them. We went to see the beautiful flowers at one of my dad’s favorite places, Huntington Garden, and we spent endless hours chatting as we walked around my neighborhood and watched my husband, Tom, play tennis. I loved getting to see my mom and dad!

Slowly my vision began to return and the swelling in my knees went down. Four months after my illness I could see well enough to drive and I could walk with ease! Though I was still on medication, I was excited to feel well again so I began applying for jobs and I called Sunrise to inquire about volunteer opportunities. Within a month I had a fantastic part-time job at Curves and I was accepted as a volunteer at Sunrise!

Life was good again and I thought I had a clear understanding of the blessings this illness had provided—it had given me the downtime I needed to revamp my diet, assess my priorities, and contemplate a career change. And then something happened that simultaneously broke my heart and gave me blinding clarity as to the main reason why this illness had to happen.

My dad died unexpectedly. He passed away in his sleep. There was no pain. There was no struggle and there was no fear. I know my dad’s peaceful passing was exactly as he would have wanted it but I am left in shock and with a gaping hole in my heart. My only solace, and it is a great one, is that because I got so sick, my mom and dad came out to visit me in L.A. The silver lining in this grey thunderstorm of despair is that I got to spend one last fantastic weekend with my dad, and for that I am eternally grateful.

~Rebecca Hill

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