This week five years ago, I stepped in a hole and it quite literally changed my life. Not in a dramatic “I have a new outlook on life” or surviving a horrible disease or accident kind of life changing, but life changing all the same.

Stepping in a hole and having it change your life sounds dumb, right? Like, how can stepping a small hole in your backyard when you’re coming in from playing with your dog possibly change your life? Well, it can, and it did.

If you guys have been reading this blog for any length of time, you’ve probably read or seen the previous post about my knee. The four surgeries, orthopedic nightmare of a right knee that I have.

I’ve been dealing with chronic pain in my right knee for the last FIVE YEARS. With each surgery my surgeons and I thought it would get better, and with each surgery it did. Until it didn’t. I’m not going to go into the sob story, you’ve read it already or can find it on the blog if you look for it. But I am going to tell you a little about how it changed my life.

Five years ago I was a pre-physical therapy student. Then I spent a summer in and out of physical therapy and doctor’s offices and couldn’t do it anymore. Being a physical therapy patient and studying physical therapy was too much. I was no longer able to separate my personal and professional/school life.

After a year, with encouragement from my parents, I enrolled in culinary school. A complete departure from anything medically related. Eggs, sugar, butter, flour. My time at culinary school was great, I loved it and I had the opportunity to learn from some truly incredible chefs. But even during my almost two years there I had one surgery and basically sat on a stool while my incredible class partner ran around the kitchen getting ingredients so we could bake whatever we were doing that day. We called ourselves team 1 1/2 and I’m not kidding when I say we were the BEST pair in the class. Like, hands down. Our instructor loved us.

I graduated from culinary school and a little over a month later I got a job at a local restaurant. I enjoyed the work and loved the people, but once again my knee had other plans for me. February of last year I went in for my most recent surgery. I thought it would be something super simple and I’d be back at work in a couple of weeks. I never returned. Not because I didn’t want to, I did. But because I wasn’t even out of an immobilizing brace for 5 weeks, and even after that I wasn’t even cleared to stand for more than 30-60 minutes at a time for a while. Honestly, standing for that long is still asking a lot of my knee, even though it doesn’t seem like much time.

All of that brings me to my next life change, which weirdly kind of brings me back full circle. Last November I started a job at a local health care company, I’m a patient relations representative (PRR). I basically check patients in, answer the phone, and make phone calls. Over the last couple of weeks I’ve taken over the responsibilities of our referral/financial coordinator for our clinic too. It’s a lot of work, but I honestly love it. I work with the best people. Like, we greet each other every morning with a hug. We’re constantly laughing with each other. We tell each other about our personal lives – food and boys are the most common topics. Because let’s be real, men are a giant pain in the ass. I work with incredible doctors – both long-time, been practicing forever MDs and interns/residents. Reading their bios makes me feel slightly inferior (these are very accomplished people), so I’m hoping some of their magic will rub off on me 😉

I’m also just finishing up my first term back at school. I’m enrolled in an online program to get my bachelor’s in healthcare administration. I’m super passionate about healthcare and this is a pretty fascinating time to be starting my course. It’ll be interesting to see what happens and how far I can take myself in the healthcare field.

People are often fooled into thinking I’m not in pain, or that I’m this endlessly happy, easy-going person. A lot of times I get comments like “every time I see you, you’re smiling” or “you have such a positive outlook on everything, you never emphasize the negative”. These statements might be true – I do smile a lot and I try to look on the positive side of things (although I never ignore the negative) – but really, sometimes smiling is easier than frowning or crying.

It’s not that I’m trying to hide my pain or what I’m going through. I have giant brace on my knee and tape that wraps around my leg along with a limp. My knee problem is hard to miss. But what’s the point in living my whole life negatively and having crappy interactions with everyone I meet just because I’m in pain? I can smile, I like to smile, overall I have lots to smile about, so why not share that part of my life with people instead of the constant pain?

Speaking of constant pain, I’m actually seeing a new specialist today for my knee. He’s a physiatrist – a doctor of physical medicine and rehabilitation. I’m not getting my hopes up too high because obviously 5 years of pain and different treatment options hasn’t really got me anywhere, but I’m cautiously optimistic and looking forward to seeing what different things he might be able to do for me.

In the meantime, I’ll just keep smiling.

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