Sitting in the ophthalmologist’s dimmed waiting room, Jake and I waited while his eyes dilated. We whispered back and forth about our respective days so far. We occasionally giggled, or sarcastically gasped as we waited for the time to pass. Anyone that has ever waited in a doctor’s office for their turn to be called knows that it can be frustrating, and sometimes exhausting. After about 30 minutes or so of waiting, a woman who was also waiting, struck up a conversation. We chortled about the crazy weather lately and exchanged comments on the temperature in the waiting room.
She said her name was Vicki and we introduced ourselves as well. She laughed and repeated “Jake and Julie, isn’t that perfect.” We’ve gotten that smiled comment before, noting the alliteration in our names. After a few minutes, there was a lull in the conversation and she sat up and leaned toward us. Her face turned a little more serious and she said, “hey can I ask you a question?”
Jake looked back at her sincerely and answered: “of course”.
“It’s about your leg… is that ok? I’ve been staring at it for awhile now, I know it’s probably really personal. So I’m sorry if it is,” Vicki said. Jake nodded and she went on, “so I am just curious, I have a curious mind… is there a foot in that shoe?”
It was an easy answer, and Jake put his fingertips together as he does when he is explaining something. “Actually, yes. It looks like a mannequin foot,” he said. We went back and forth a bit more, and she had some other questions. “Do you have to buy a special size shoe for that foot?” “Does that feel weird?” “Does it ever get loose?”
Then came the obvious one, “what happened?” Jake is getting better and better at explaining in layman’s terms how he lost his leg. After a few quick reminders of the terminology, he knows to exclude the complicated ones (osteomyelitis, trans-tibial) and goes with “I got a staph infection, and to stop it from spreading, they had to amputate.”
“Wow!” is the typical response he gets, but Vicki added a “Damn!” to that. She was surprised to learn that Jake had only been up on his prosthesis for a few weeks. Then came the question/answer I did not see coming.
“So have you always been such an optimist?”
I shook my head, “no” and Jake answered, “you know what, actually–not at all.” Vicki then asked, “so this struggle turned you into one?”. Jake answered “Yes!”.
There have been lots of challenges and struggles these last few months, and I honestly don’t know what I would have done if Jake had not been there to pick me up when I was feeling less than optimistic. Somehow, we are better for it. We still have struggles every day, but we have each other and we know we have a great life we want to live together!
Vicki shared with us that she is also a survivor, she has a rare genetic condition that should have taken her life years ago. She told Jake that he was an inspiration and that he was inspiring her to want to do better in her own life, take better care of herself.
Jake is learning how to take this as a compliment and not a burden. I am sure this is common, but I think at times, when he hears this, it makes him feel like a “fraud”. I am sure most of us know this feeling. He is learning to lean into it and uses it as fuel to live up to the idea of being inspirational. I know he inspires me every day.
So, thank you, Vicki, whoever you are. You made my day.