by Dr. Cynthia Paulis
Two years ago I lost my balance.
My ability to stand and walk rapidly deteriorated, and I began my journey, no longer as a doctor, but as a patient. I went through the endless maze of doctor visits, specialists, blood tests, MRIs , CTs , x-rays, and trips to the ER in search of answers as to what was happening to me. Having always been an active person and never ill, it was a real eye opener. I experienced the frustration of trying to get appointments with good specialists, only to be denied because they didn’t accept my insurance. If by lucky coincidence they did, appointments were booked months in advance. Even the Veterans Administration was of no help. I proudly served my country for four years, and yet I was told there was a nine month wait to see a specialist. It was definitely a dark time in my world, and my positive outlook on life was rapidly evaporating as my body continued to fail me. Not only had I lost my physical balance, but I was losing my spiritual balance. Frustration and depression had come a-knocking as hope and optimism went into hiding.
Then I found a physical therapy facility with a heated pool designed for mobility impaired patients. I swam every day they were opened, sometimes for three hours at a time. I struggled down the three steps, clinging to the rails, and slipped into the warm water that embraced my body like a soft kiss, caressing my muscles and releasing all of my pain. I was free. I could swim laps, twirl underwater, and even stand in the water without losing balance. I experienced no pain. I was joyful again and smiled as the dolphins painted on the walls high-fived their flippers in approval. Seagulls flying by, their white wings flapping against a canvas of cerulean blue sky, lifted my spirits. The sunlight from the palladium windows danced on the water, creating golden ripples across the pool. The healing magic of the water, however, vanished the moment I tried to climb out of the pool. I climbed Mt. Fuji in Japan (12,960 feet above sea level), and yet those three steps out of the pool proved to be more challenging. I wanted to stay in that water forever, in sync with the movement, balanced, and free of pain.
Over the next two years, I had stem cell transplants, acupuncture, cryotherapy, and eventually three major surgeries to replace my rapidly deteriorating joints. I was no longer allowed to swim or fly. I was grounded. The one thing I could do was drive. So I drove to a local park situated on the bay.
I visualized myself one day walking normally again and riding a bike by the shore. The snows came and the winds howled, but I went to the water each day, breathing in the sea air. I struggled each day trying to walk a few feet more on the newly plowed pathway, holding tight to the walker. A flagpole raised high above a circular path became my goal. Could I go a few feet more each day, could I someday make it around the entire circle?
As the months passed and the snow melted and hints of spring burst forward from the ground, I started making progress – going from a walker to a rollator to double canes and then one cane. Then the day came when I made a complete circle around the flagpole. I was elated. I had taken my first victory lap. I learned to appreciate something as simple as walking, and became appreciative of this new gift.
Later, I walked the boardwalk and met Rudy the Rock Man, as I affectionately called him. A sturdy young man in his 30s, with a golden bridge across his upper lip and multiple tattoos on his skin, he at first glance appeared frightening, yet had a gentle soul and a deep spiritual belief in higher powers. Rudy was balancing rocks along the shoreline. He took what appeared to be impossible and made it a reality. Heavy rocks with pointed edges seem to float in the air on other rocks. “How do you do that?” I asked. “Rock glue,” he chuckled.
Each day I watched him balance the rocks, and we would talk. Rudy was a very spiritual soul. He would mediate, and then lift each rock in place, where it would remain until the sea swallowed it up the next day. As each rock balanced successfully, Rudy would place his two hands in a prayerful sign and bow to the rocks. Watching the rocks rise above the sea lifted my spirits. I grew happier and stronger each day. I came there daily and practiced leg exercises, holding on to the railing on the dock as Rudy created balancing acts with the rocks. I had a favorite that I called skunk rock: a black rock with a white stripe down the middle that Rudy always made sure was up first.
I told Rudy that, one day, I would ride by here on a bike ringing a bell. After all, if the rocks could keep balance, why couldn’t I? Watching the rocks rise seem to give me a sense of strength and a feeling that anything was possible. I was not alone; crowds began to grow to watch Rudy the Rock Man create. They stood in reverent silence and awe, taking pictures and smiling.
I asked Rudy why he did this. He responded, “Because I am very spiritual, and I want to bring a smile to people’s faces and joy to their soul. These rocks represent positive energy and a stress reliever for everyone else. If you are having a bad day and you come here and you look at my stones, you forget what you were stressing about. That negativity in your soul goes away. I feel peacefulness with the stones, love. When I am not in balance and not centered, I can’t balance the stones. I meditate before I balance. I have to be centered. I have to be connected with the ocean, Mother Nature, and the universe. Balance is not something you find – it’s something you create.” I took those words to heart and each day meditated – became an appreciator of all I have been given in life and grateful for each day and all the people who I met along the way who helped me grow, learn, and heal.
Then, in July, the day finally came. I rode my new bike on the boardwalk by the sea, ringing the bell and fist bumping the air past Rudy and his rocks. Skunk rock stood high in the air, defying gravity. Rudy turned and smiled broadly as he saw me fly by and wave.
I had found my balance.