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When a Mix Up Becomes an Unexpected Opportunity

Two weeks ago, on a Tuesday morning, I woke up, popped out of bed, and eagerly began preparing to leave at 9am for a long-awaited physical therapy appointment. I drank my first cup of tea, caught up on email, and planned out my freelance work and writing for the afternoon. Then I packed my bag, pulled on my sneakers, put on my KN95 mask, and headed out.

Odd as it may sound, I was super excited to go to physical therapy. Despite having new insurance, I would still get to work with the wonderful and skilled physical therapist who'd been by my side throughout my difficult recovery from hip surgery.

I was also eager to start treatment for a new problem in my neck. Over the last two months, I've been having daily numbness and tingling in my right hand and arm, which is a bit weird and scary. Thankfully, I've had no pain and only a few instances of mild weakness in the arm. My new primary care physician suspects a pinched nerve.

Thus, I had a spring in my step as I left the house. Which is lucky, since the trek from my apartment down to this particular physical therapy location is about 35 blocks or two miles each way. Budgeting at least 45 minutes for the walk, I left an hour before my 10am appointment.

I Am Grateful For My Right Hip, Even When It Hurts

I adore taking long walks in NYC—or anywhere, really. At several points over the last two years, I didn't know if I'd ever be able to walk without pain again. Today, my right hip and leg still hurt, but it's intermittent and generally mild. Maybe most importantly, it's expected.

Earlier this year, my surgeon explained that I'd "be in a relationship with my hip" for the rest of my life.

I've taken my surgeon's words to heart. On the days when my hip works well, I'm filled with gratitude. On the days it doesn't work so well, I give it care and support.

This particular Tuesday, I was having a pretty good hip day. I strolled down the streets of Brooklyn as morning sun baked the pavement. The humidity was high and I was quickly drenched in sweat, but I felt peppy nonetheless. I was listening to a great new podcast about chronic illness, called I Am Not My Pain. Plus, I was on my way to physical therapy!

What Day Is It?

The first inkling something was amiss came when I entered the building lobby. My name wasn't on the security guard's patient list for the day. Luckily, the guard shrugged and sent me up. In the elevator, wondering why I wasn't on the list, I glanced at the last appointment reminder I'd received via text.

There it was, 10am on August 31. Which was...NOT TODAY. My calendar app concurred: it was August 30.

By the time I stepped into the waiting room, I knew I had arrived a full day early.

How I Would Have Reacted Before

At this point, it was clear my morning was a bust. It was 10am. I wouldn't be home till after 11am, since I also needed to pick up prescriptions. At which point I'd surely be starving and need to make lunch.

A few months ago, before having spent the summer in Sicily—where I learned to embrace a slower pace of life—I would have been unbelievably annoyed at this mix up. I would've been frustrated at losing not just one morning to treating my various physical ailments, but two mornings. I would've thought of all the work that would inevitably pile up.

Instead, post-Sicily, I went to the front desk manager and said, "Hey, I'm a day early for my appointment, right?"

The front desk manager confirmed I had indeed arrived a day early. Since I was there, I figured I might as well make sure all the insurance paperwork for my appointment was in order. New insurance can be complicated, after all. I pulled up the referral from my primary care physician. At which point, I learned the referral I had in hand was incomplete.

"We can't treat you without a corrected referral," the front desk manager said.

"Okay. Let me work on it," I said, anxiety already rising.

Yet Another Moment for Reflection

Here I was, drenched in sweat, facing a long walk home in the blazing sun and an urgent need to get a new referral so my appointment the next day wouldn't also be a bust.

My first instinct was to call my primary care physician's office while walking and, with much frustration, insist they figure out how produce the correct referral immediately. That way, I could use the walk to multi-task and save time.

But I stopped myself.

Why did I need to call that exact moment while I was in the middle of something physically taxing? What would happen if I waited to call until I got home in an hour? That way, I could call my doctor's office while I was fed, hydrated, and enjoying a bit of air conditioning.

Once I asked those questions, the answer seemed obvious.

I chose to respond in a new way. I chose to give myself—and others—a bit of grace.

This was how I'd learned to deal with things that didn't go as planned in Sicily—how to live on Sicily's schedule, not my own.

So on the way home, I listened to two more episodes of the great podcast. I even found humor in my ridiculous scheduling error.

As expected, I arrived home sweaty, thirsty, and starving. But I wasn't angry or frustrated. Which was good, because getting the correct and complete referral became a whole other drama. But you know what? Ultimately, I was able to get what I needed.

And the next day I got to go to physical therapy—for real!

Small Things that Mean Big Things

A few weeks ago, I published a blog post about having uncovered a new and better version of myself during my first long-term stay in Sicily. In it, I described my fear of losing that person in the day-to-day grind of being back in Brooklyn. I wrote that:

I want to be comfortable with stillness and patience, because that's when I can hear the voice of my favorite self.

My physical therapy appointment mix up wasn't just a ridiculous, time-wasting scheduling error. It was an opportunity to live up to a goal I had set for myself.

Those tiny unexpected moments, where everything goes wrong and we could easily behave as the worst versions of ourselves—that's where we get the chance to decide who we are.


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