Snow fell gently from the grey January sky, as I sang along to the music on the car radio and waited at the red traffic light. Before the red light could change to green, my life was changed.

Almost recovered from a dance injury to my right shoulder, I was on my way to physical therapy when a large delivery truck rearended me at full speed, whipping my body forward and backward several times within the confines of my seatbelt. After the crash, I saw no blood and felt no broken bones, so I whispered a prayer of thanks, grateful I could get out of my car. The young driver and I exchanged information, and I reassured him I would be fine– I had never been more wrong in my life.

Until that day in 2001, I had a career as a sign language interpreter for the Deaf. For eight years, I took swing and ballroom dance lessons, danced several times a week and secretly aspired to qualify for a performance troupe. To help keep in shape I lifted weights, danced aerobics, and bicycled for hours at a time. I was single, active, and living to the fullest.

The day after the accident, every fiber of my body hurt. My head seemed to weigh so much my neck could barely support it. My ribs were tender and bruised, and my lower back and left leg radiated tingling pain. Worst of all, my right arm was useless, I could move it only a few inches.

My general physician sent me back to Sam, my physical therapist, to get me back into shape. During my return appointment, as Sam examined my back his animated conversation ceased. He mumbled something about phoning my doctor and rushed out of the room. As I waited for his return, I sat and hummed as I reviewed dance steps in my head.

Sam came back with a medical book in his hands and a troubled expression on his face. “Leslie, it appears you have major nerve damage to your back and shoulder.”

“It will get better, right?” I was eager to return to work and dancing.

Sam hesitated. “I don’t know. I’ve only seen this kind of injury in text books.” Sam had been in practice for more than 15-years.

Sam’s diagnosis was correct. I had a winging right scapula (shoulder blade), the result of a severed long thoracic nerve. My previously injured shoulder just could not hold up under the impact of the crash. My shoulder blade stuck out from my back; visual evidence that my serratus anterior muscle, one of the largest muscles in the human body, barely functioned.

For the next year and a half, physical therapy consumed my life. With the little energy I had remaining, I searched for guidance. One by one, I met with thirteen respected medical specialists. Each doctor was fascinated with my injury, but none seemed confident how to address the problem. My other injuries were overlooked and seemed insignificant compared to the shoulder injury as my whole body constantly screamed at me in pain.

“Give it time,” doctors said after each appointment. I would try to smile and thank them, to go home and sob in pain and frustration.

As I “gave it time,” I lost my career, lost my dancing, lost my exercise routine, and lost many of the friends I knew through these pastimes. For months, the constant pain prevented any kind of restorative sleep, depression naturally followed.

Eventually life settled into a routine unsettledness. I lived off a meager disability check, my savings, and answered phones a few hours a week at the business of some sympathetic relatives. It was a temporary arrangement. I had no idea what was next. The Lord’s comfort and healing touch seemed a world away, but I clung to the verse in Jeremiah 29:11,

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord.
“Plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give
you a hope and a future.”

These many years later, I know this verse is true. Even through the seemingly endless tears, the Lord helped me through each step of the way. Now that life is more stable and the pain better managed, I am grateful for all I have learned and my changed outlook on life. By God’s grace, I’ve become a better person, not a bitter person.

While I do not believe God caused the accident, He has used it in wonderful ways in my life. For one, I began to fulfill my lifelong desire to write. Best of all, through the changes that came about from the accident, I met a wonderful man who became my husband. On our wedding day my name changed from Leslie Basil to Leslie Payne. Yes, I have chronic pain and now my name is   Mrs. Payne. For me, it is a humorous reminder that as we depend on the Lord during our difficult times, He can take something that seems so bad at the moment, and in time, turn it into something good.