All my life, I’ve been fascinated with space. The vastness, the mystery, the complexity. If I could attend space camp as an adult, I would sign up tomorrow. I keep track of launches. I do space themed marathons just for the bling. I can nerd out about planets with my little friends — the only ones who typically appreciate the majesty of both dinosaurs and rockets like me.
I’ve continued to be a big fan space: both outer and personal. But in this season of life, both feel elusive. I’ve been thinking about how much my recovery is like astronaut training and there are quite a few areas of overlap:
I am confined in my capsule (house) for long stretches of time. I have soreness and difficulty stretching. I refer to my bed as my docking station.
I have to learn about new equipment. I refer to my scooter as my “Rover”.
Much research, study, and mathematics was required to make the decision to have surgery and align myself with the right team.
I have undergone extensive medical testing and intervention to prepare me for this journey.
My walking movements have been altered. I wear moon boots now.
Furthermore, I have experienced the effects of gravity-elimination; my muscle atrophy is fierce!
I monitor my progress in the smallest of increments. And one misstep could lead to dire consequences.
ExtraVehicular Activity (EVA) takes an immense amount of coordination with a large team back home!
But even more importantly, this “astronaut training” has shifted my perspective. I have little space to explore, but lots of space in my schedule. With this shift in space, I have a much broader view of the world. I am not stuck in the day to day demands of a typical work day. I’m able to shift my schedule, my focus, and my priorities currently. I have had the time to read and write in ways that are typically not available to me. I have had strong connections to “Mission Control” and am thankful for the ways they keep me afloat, both literally and metaphorically. I’ve had to shift to virtual communications with friends back home, but have been reminded again and again about the importance of good, consistent communication and encouragement, especially during a challenging mission.
I want to complete my mission well. I will see this through to the finish. I anticipate that re-entry into my space, job, schedule, and demands will be rocky and will need guidance and preparation. But that’s why I appreciate my astronaut experience as well as the experience of actual astronauts like Col. Chris Hadfield in his book An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth: What Going to Space Taught Me About Ingenuity, Determination, and Being Prepared for Anything. Hadfield reminds his readers that the work of an astronaut isn’t only the time in space. If an astronaut only cared about what went on in zero gravity, he or she would be sorely disappointed, for even the most seasoned astronauts only spend 1% of their careers actually in space. All the preparation is part of the mission. All the follow up is part of the mission.
The same is true for me. My healing isn’t just this moon booted, EVA-anxious, docking station restrictions that I find myself in today. It includes all the perseverance and grit I developed through my first 38 years of life that makes me ready to face this challenge. And it includes all the buoyant hope and hard work — to go through re-entry, rehab, strengthening, and fight to enjoy life again with my new bionic foot — that I trust will be there when I need it.
My mission didn’t start the day of surgery and it doesn’t end the day my leave of absence does.
My astronaut training is teaching me that.