Grateful for Every Day

“I shouldn’t be here” – how many times has that thought crossed your mind? We’ve all had those moments when we either ended up someplace we hadn’t planned (either because of bad GPS or metaphorically due to misjudgment) or when we faced a situation that we felt ill-equipped to conquer.

Well, I really shouldn’t be here, like in a literal sense…Let me explain…

I was a very sick child which was discovered when I was just a toddler and given a taste of the eggs my big sister was eating. I had an immediate and life-threatening allergic reaction that led to doctors diagnosing me with a long list of other things that I was severely allergic to. This list encompassed every aspect of daily life – animals (the worst being to cats), birds (including feather pillows), environmental, indoor, outdoor (basically all of nature), and just about every food in the average American diet (all dairy, wheat/oats/corn, and most dangerously: eggs). I basically grew up eating rice, meats, veggies & fruit; but the pickings were slim because such food allergies as mine were very uncommon in the 1970s and 80’s and substitutes like almond milk, were not available, so we always had to be on the lookout for anything that might contain those foods I couldn’t eat as even a small ingredient.

It quickly became evident that I was not going to have a “normal” childhood because all around me there were things that I could innocently touch, breathe, or eat, that could cause a severe allergic reaction that could hospitalize or even kill me. I am not being overly dramatic to say that…I had been a very sick baby, unable to breastfeed and it had been difficult for my parents to find a way to nourish me, but they didn’t know why. My entire childhood, I struggled to understand why I wasn’t allowed to do or eat the same things other kids did, my own siblings included. From the time that the discovery of my allergies was made until I was a pre-teen, I had to take allergy medicine 3 times a day and see the allergist for shots 3 times a week. Epi-pens and asthma treatments were not available for kids like me back then, so everything in my life had to be carefully controlled for my own safety. One of the many nicknames I was called by my mother growing up was “bubble child” because she had to basically keep a virtual bubble of protection around me. There were many incidents when I did come into some kind of contact with something that made me sick, sometimes quite seriously, but it really is a wonder that I never had to be hospitalized for anaphylactic shock again.

As an adult, my husband, children and I have enjoyed sharing our home with a variety of pets(including cats); I can mostly be outside without having too severe of a reaction (except when grass is mowed); and I can eat a much wider variety of foods with only the occasional mild reaction. I continue to be on alert for changes to my body that may indicate that my allergies may be returning and I was also diagnosed with a genetic liver disorder called Gilbert’s Syndrome/Disease that causes me to continue to mostly stay away from dairy, large amounts of red meat, and too much processed/fried foods lest I suffer a flare of severe fatigue and digestive issues. But in general, I live a very “normal” life and thankfully, my pregnancy fear that my kids would inherit my allergy condition did not come true – neither are allergic to anything, although one has inherited Gilbert’s.

But, I really, really shouldn’t be here

Perhaps because my childhood was so controlled, or maybe I was just born clumsy, or maybe the problem was that I was basically a malnourished child and fragile; at any rate, I had a lot of accidents. I experienced numerous broken bones, sprains, had bloody noses frequently (I’m talking on like a weekly-monthly basis), and cuts, bruises, skinned knees, etc from falling all the time. But the worst accident I had…the one that I shouldn’t have survived…happened when I was 4 years old.

Most psychologists believe that the average person’s earliest memories are from around 3 or 4 year old. This is what I believe is my first conscious memory and the one that dominates that time from my childhood.

It was July 4th and my family attended a big party on the farm of one of my dad’s friends. During the long summer day, a tractor was set up with a hay wagon attached to give all the kids a ride around the farm while the adults socialized. I am actually surprised that my parents let me do this since hay was also one of the things I was very allergic to, but maybe they didn’t know I was joining my big sister for a ride; they’ve never really said how I ended up on that wagon. Anyway, I remember after a little bit the tractor stopped and I thought the ride was over, so I jumped off. It is very possible that the hay was causing a rash and I was eager to get off and away from it, but regardless, the stop was in the middle of a field and the purpose was a driver change. As soon as I realized that it began moving and I was going to be left behind, I began to move my little 4-year-old legs with it and grabbed onto the side to pull myself back up. I remember my sister trying to help me, and then I remember someone else peeling my fingers off and down I went. I have only flashes of memories of what happened next, but the story has been repeated so many times in the circle of family and friends that were there that I know my flashes are true.

As a child born in the 70’s I wore a terrycloth shorts jumper (I remember having one in green and one in yellow. I think I was wearing the green one that day) and I had long hair pulled into 2 pigtails on the sides of my head. When I went down, the tractor tire rolled over me and somehow grabbed my hair. It ran over me a 2nd time and dragged me for several minutes before the driver was able to understand that the screams coming from the hay wagon were signs that something was terribly wrong and he needed to stop. My mother heard the scream of my sister and ran towards the hay wagon. I remember waking up in a van and hearing my father screaming for more tissue. Apparently, not only did I have a tire mark across my face and my abdomen, but when the hay wagon dragged me, the stiff, hard stems of whatever had been cut down in the field had torn open a wide wound on my face, and being so far in the country, it was faster for someone to transport me to the hospital in their van rather than wait for an ambulance to arrive.

I was taken to St. Joe’s Ann Arbor and cared for by the most amazing plastic surgeon available (I regret that I cannot remember his name). I spent the remainder of the summer recuperating and healing from the 500+ stitches that the surgeon had to use to fix my face, reconnecting the tissue on the inside of my mouth, the outside of my mouth, and then connecting it all together. My parents were very concerned that I was going to be forever scarred by this accident, but he was a remarkable surgeon who really took care of me as if I were his own child. Subsequent appointments to check my healing were in his office, which I only vaguely remember; but I do remember him promising my mother that by the time I was 18, the scar would be hardly visible – he was right.

Most people have difficulty believing such a “fantastical” story until I tell them to look very closely to the left side of my mouth where a very faint reminder, a barely visible arrow-shaped line with a small bump on my upper lip shows them that I did indeed have a very significant injury from an accident that by all accounts should have ended my existence at merely 4 years old.

My adult life has been slightly less dramatic than my childhood, although I did suffer the traumatic loss of my loving big sister, Lisa, to domestic violence homicide on September 27, 2018 at 10:36pm four days after being put on life support. She had been my protector ever since I was a baby; and although I am forever changed by what happened and miss her immensely every day, I can now think of her and smile, and feel so extremely grateful that I was blessed to have her in my life to guide me and cheer me on for 44 years. 💜

These are only the biggest and most obvious trauma markers I’ve endured in my life. Throughout my life, I’ve had times when I felt like I had put the things that happened in my childhood behind me and moved past them. When my sister was taken – stolen, really – from me, a hurricane of emotion and episodes of memories playing like filmstrips repeatedly invaded both my days and my nights. During this pandemic, I have immersed myself in researching trauma, its effects, and how to heal. The capability of people to endure any variety of indescribably traumatic events has fascinated me and brought me great relief and inspiration. Writing them here has been part of one of the most amazing things I have experienced recently: Post-traumatic Growth. It has made me more appreciative of the simple things I find myself doing every day that are reminders that I am alive, so gratefully alive. Having the unconditional love the 3 Buehler men in my life who continue to hold me up on the days when I feel weak and it is hard to face life beyond my bedroom door along with some truly special friends is a gift beyond measure.

Overall, my good days outnumber my bad days and I can once again appreciate the sun shining, the silliness of life, and the love that surrounds me.

I wish the same for all of you 🥰