How do you deal with limitations? Yeah … me too. Liuan Huska’s story helps us yield as needed.
Fix Me Now
By Liuan Huska
One winter I had exactly two working limbs—a left hand and a right foot. I had started graduate classes at the University of Chicago, which meant getting from our apartment in Oak Park, the closest suburb west of Chicago, to the campus in Hyde Park on the city’s south side. The commute was a one-and-a-half-hour ride along the entire length of the Green Line, a short bus stint across Washington Park, and lots of walking and standing in between, not to mention crossing campus multiple times for classes. Now a couple years into chronic ankle pain, I could barely limp down the block. So, my husband Matt and I found an ingenious solution—transport by scooter.
It was a Xootr— made especially for adults with a birchwood deck wide as a skateboard and 180-millimeter polyurethane wheels with aluminum hubs. The ride was smooth—and really fun. Riding the short stretch from the train to our apartment on an empty, tree-lined street, I was able to pick up enough speed for the wind to make my clothes flap, and I relished again the feeling of using my body to get places. I had missed that feeling.
Once winter hit, though, some unknown combination of factors made my pain flare up, to the point that even standing on the scooter was uncomfortable. Reluctantly, I pulled out a pair of garage-sale crutches that I had used the summer before.
It turned out that all that crutching was more than my wrists could handle. The next day, my usually bony right wrist swelled thick and balloon-like. Moving my fingers caused hot pain. Now, I couldn’t crutch or walk. In our tiny, rented space above a garage, I squinted from worry and tears, trying to read for one of my classes while soaking my wrist in a warm Epsom salt bath.
Not long after, Matt and I met a friend for dinner in Chinatown after I finished some research. Over Mapo tofu and stir-fried Chinese broccoli, my ankle started to throb more than usual. Uh-oh, I thought, not this again. I kept the alarming thoughts at bay until we got on the train to go home. Each ding-dong of a train stop marked a tightening in the viselike grip of anxiety. Soon, everything crystallized into one driving need—I must go to the emergency room now.
Matt always gets the brunt of my unfiltered, unchecked anxiety (isn’t that what spouses are for?). Barreling along the rickety tracks, I declared to him my plans.
“You’re being irrational,” he whispered. “We don’t need to go to the hospital at midnight for your ankle. It’s already been hurting for two years. You’ve seen so many doctors and done so many treatments. What makes you think that going to the ER now is going to be any different? It can wait till morning.”
“You’re ignoring my pain,” I whispered back fiercely, nearly in tears. “You don’t know what this feels like!” We went back and forth like this until the Oak Park exit, when he grabbed the bag of leftovers and huffed off the train without waiting for me. I followed him mournfully, down the platform stairs and across the street, watching the distance between us increase.
When I turned the corner to catch sight of him again, I saw him snap. He threw the bag of leftovers onto the sidewalk, as if slamming a basketball to make it bounce high, and tofu and broccoli bits exploded out. Then he kicked the bag for good measure.
Inside our apartment, I found him with his head in his hands. “I’m so sorry,” he mumbled. Obviously, I didn’t go to the ER that night. Somehow, I managed my pain.
We laugh ruefully about “the Chinese food incident” now. When I brought it up recently, Matt shared his take: “I was really tired. I didn’t want to start another ordeal at the hospital and be there for hours and have to work the next morning. I was trying to balance my needs with yours—I guess that’s all of marriage— and I’m probably not as selfless as some people.” I appreciated his honest grappling with the balance. Partners and friends of people with chronic conditions can’t be expected to put their needs second all the time. They have limits too.
Looking back, it’s tragically comical—how angry my husband got and how desperate I was to be fixed. Yet the core desire I felt was quite serious. I wanted a quick fix. I wanted to overcome my body’s failures and limits. I thought I could find a solution through medicine and technology.
Yet, what could be more normal than having limits? If having a body is an undeniable part of being human, and if bodies are, by nature, limited, then being human means having limits. These limits are not inherently bad or good. They just are.
God, in the incarnation of Jesus, knew limits. He became human, because he knew that to make his love accessible to us earth-bound creatures, he would have to show it to us in very concrete ways—eating fish by the lake, washing feet, rubbing blind eyes with saliva and dirt, pouring out water and blood on a cross. He became a body and voluntarily assumed all the limits and vulnerabilities that come with it. He became just like us.
As we all feel ongoing pandemic fatigue, facing limits we never could have imagined, how could accepting limits as part of our humanity transform our experience? How could it draw us closer to the God who embraced our human limits?
Liuan Huska is a freelance writer who has written for publications such as Church Health Reader, In Touch Magazine, CT Women, Sojourners, and Hyphen Magazine. She lives in West Chicago, Illinois, with her husband, Matthew, and their children.