September 14

The Gift of Slamming Doors

I began having shoulder pains out of the blue in March. I went to a nationally ranked orthopedics group in Chicago for medical advice. I failed physical therapy and was sent to a surgeon who is a team surgeon for several of Chicago’s professional athletic teams. The surgeon administered cortisone injections and said I needed surgery. I also tried acupuncture and cupping used in Chinese medicine. Bill has had to fill in for me teaching as a result of this injury and not all event organizers have been very understanding about my injury.

Being booked so far in advance, I hoped to wait until after International Quilt Market and Festival in Houston in late October for the surgery. However, in the middle of the night in Madison, Wisconsin a week ago, I woke with excruciating pain in my shoulder and asked Bill to drive me to the ER. I was given opioid pain killers (which create massive stomach problems for me) until I could get home. Bill graciously handled my lectures and I sat in the hotel room with our dog Kip going back and forth between sleeping off the drugs and crying from the pain. Hours after we returned to Chicago and despite having taken the pain medication, the pain returned with even more intensity. At that point I had lost all control of my right arm and was admitted to the hospital for 3 days. I won’t bore you with the details but the whole situation came to a head when during a doctor’s visit the doctor snapped and started yelling at Bill and me for wanting to be seen by another doctor.  I was in the hospital for 3 days and the surgeon refused to consult with the hospital staff about my care (for reasons no one understood) so I felt that I needed to find a new doctor.

At one moment I was actually concerned that the new doctor would physically harm Bill or me. I moved toward the door to leave and the doctor screamed at us to sit down. Bill and I ignored the screaming doctor and calmly left the building. In my mind that was when the door slammed. I don’t mean the physical door to the room, but rather a metaphor that has guided my life for the past 25 yrs or so.

You see, when I pray, I don’t ask God to fill my wish list. I pray for guidance. More specifically I ask that God make it indisputably clear the direction that I’m supposed to go in life. This to me is the slammed door. Subtlety will not work. If I’m pursuing something and it’s not going well, I second-guess myself as to whether I’m being unreasonable or my expectations are too high. Sometimes I tell myself, as was the case in the hospital, that I’m too tired or overwhelmed to change course. But invariably the door slams when something outrageous or highly unlikely or definitive happens that forces me to take a new path. Without fail, over the past 25+ years that I’ve been living with the door slamming theory, the new path has always been the better one.

A perfect example was in graduate school. I was admitted to University of Virginia and Harvard for graduate school. Both schools were considered as the top programs in my field. However, there was a well-established semester in Italy program run by the University of Virginia that lured me to UVa. The only semester in which I was eligible for it, however, became the first time in 27 years that they temporarily suspended the program. I had begun taking Italian and had organized my entire graduate school experience around that program. I was beside myself with disappointment. The door slammed. It wasn’t meant to be. Instead I pursued an independent thesis that resulted in my winning a prestigious design prize and later meeting my husband.

Over the years, I have learned to spot the slamming doors and to give thanks for them. Whether it’s being unable to have a pregnancy or realizing that a business partner is highly dysfunctional and we need to walk away, I appreciate the clear direction that I’m not on the right path.

So when the doctor began yelling at us in the most unprofessional and inappropriate behavior I had ever witnessed in a medical setting, I became very calm. I knew it was time to leave this practice. I went home and did some research right away. I found an orthopedic surgeon at University of Chicago who specialized in my problem but I expected to have to wait several weeks to see him.  Amazingly he was able to see me the following day, yesterday. And ever more amazingly he was able to squeeze me into his booked schedule today for a procedure. He gave me a different type of injection using digital x-rays to pinpoint the exact spot of the injury, which I had several hours ago, that enabled me to type this post. He doesn’t think I need surgery at this point and said that he has lots of options before that topic needs to come up again. I won’t know for several months if the injection will be a long-term solution but am excited to be pain-free for the first time since March and drug-free for the first time in a week. We will work on getting mobility back to my arm but I know in my bones that he’s the one who will help me. In fact, I was pain-free before I left the office. I was also thankful that he asked me to email him to let him know how it was going. This door is wide open and it’s clear this is where I’m supposed to be.

As the nurse was cutting off the hospital bracelets this afternoon after my procedure, she asked about my work. I told her what we do and mentioned casually that three of our quilts were hanging in the University of Chicago Breast Center, assuming that the center was located far away from the operating room where this conversation took place. “What? Why the Breast Center is in the suite next door!” the nurse told me. On my way out, I went into the Breast Center where women were waiting for their mammogram results or surgery consults, not all of which would yield good news. And there were our quilts directly across from the receptionists. I explained who I was and asked if I could photograph them so Bill could see them in place. The receptionists came over to ask questions about the quilts and said, “We love them. We get so many positive comments about them.” Yep. This was meant to be. That’s what a wide-open door looks like.