Old Dog, New Tricks


My eyes scanned the kitchen before turning off the lights. Dishes, done. Counters, wiped. Table, cleared. I brushed a few wisps of hair back, and the cotton dressing from my early morning surgery rustled in muffled tones.

Last Monday, I broke my lifetime record of no surgical procedures. For the past eight years, I’ve been living with a hereditary, pregnancy-related hearing loss called otosclerosis. In short, every time I carried a baby (or two), the influx of hormones caused the stapes bone in my inner ear to grow. As it grew, it was no longer able to vibrate, which decreased my ability to hear.

Two hearing tests this summer confirmed that my right ear suffered moderate to severe hearing loss. (My husband could have confirmed that a long time ago, bless his patient heart.) A pre-op appointment labeled me a good candidate to surgically correct the issue, and a month later, I was prone on a table, letting a surgeon laser off the faulty portion of my stapes in order to replace it with a titanium prosthetic.

Science is amazing. God is good.

Have you ever seen those videos of babies who undergo a procedure in order to restore their hearing? Their eyes get huge. They laugh. They clap. Sometimes they cry in amazement and stare at their family members, awed by this new revelation of sound. That’s how I felt. I heard the nurse rusting in a drawer for a bandage and I squealed. I heard people having a conversation in the hallway and I leaned forward, intent on what I was catching. I heard the whirring tires of our car on the road and raised a hallelujah.

Amazing, all of it.

But now there’s the sticky issue of healing. I say sticky, because I feel pretty good. Good enough, in fact, that it’s going to be too easy to forget that I’m not allowed to bend, squat, or lift anything over ten pounds for the next 4-6 weeks. (Sorry, Griff. This is going to take some getting used to.)

Which brings me back to shutting down the kitchen for the night. Before I hit the lights, I saw it: an offending blue sock, deflated and forgotten by the chair. I walked over and went to grab it without thinking when the warning bells (literal and figurative) went off in my head.

Do you know how hard it is to reprogram your brain and your body NOT to do something you’ve been doing for years? Socks in the corner. Toys on the floor. Little arms begging you to soothe some hurt. I don’t go to my Tuesday body pump class for fun (even though it is – thank you Wild River Fitness!) I go for life. Daily living requires squats, lifts, and bends – and I do all of those things without thinking.

Until now.

Building a new behavior takes effort. It also takes time, memory, and energy. Our brains need to create new neural pathways in order to back away from old habits and form new ones. And thankfully, the phrase “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks” applies only to dogs. Humans at any age can continue to learn. Though it comes more naturally when we are young, those of us that are thankful for selfie filters and comfortable shoes still have a fighting chance.

With intentionality, practice, and the creativity to problem solve, our “new” will gently become real. It too will lose its unfamiliarity, becoming instead a beautiful pattern informed by our past, holding hope for tomorrow.

God gave our minds and bodies some remarkable abilities. He also entrusted us with some amazing promises.

Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.” – Deut 31:6

None of this is a magic bullet. But the combination of attention, practice, and hope can come alongside us as circumstances require us to change, bolstering us when we feel incapable. I’m sure I’m going to mess up and forget not bend over one of these days – but hopefully the new reflexes I’m building will help catch me before I go too far.

Meanwhile, I’ll just be over here living life for the next four weeks, reveling in how loud flushing the toilet actually is, and mastering the art of picking things up with my toes.