There is a magical place on a mountaintop in Western North Carolina. The Land of Oz was a theme park that operated from 1970 through 1980 on top of Beech Mountain. Fortunately, the Yellow Brick Road remains to this day. The park is privately owned, but is opened to the public several weekends a year now.
At an elevation of 5,506 feet, the Land of Oz is perched among the highest peaks in the eastern United States. There is an observation point near the entrance called the Judy Garland Overlook. On a clear day, you can see 130+ miles in almost every direction. It is an amazing location and the view is incredible!
To the west, the view is into Tennessee. Pilot Mountain is 134 miles away on the Cumberland Plateau on the opposite side of the Tennessee Valley. Turning to the right, you’ll see Black Mountain 76 miles to the northwest, the tallest point in Kentucky. Mount Rogers, Virginia’s highest mountain, is 38 miles to the northeast. Looking east beyond the mountains, the view is into the Piedmont of North Carolina. Grandfather Mountain is six miles away to the southeast with Seven Devils in the foreground. Sugar Mountain is 4 miles due south. Mount Mitchell is 36 miles to the southwest. At 6,684 feet, Mount Mitchell is the tallest mountain in North Carolina and the tallest mountain east of the Mississippi River. A beautiful view of the Roan Highlands and Roan Mountain 15 miles toward the west completes the scene.
The Appalachian Trail follows the state line dividing Tennessee and North Carolina along the five summits of the Roan Highlands. I spent much of my youth hiking these trails. Including this section, I’ve hiked around 250 miles of the Appalachian Trail through Tennessee, North Carolina and Virginia.
Chronic pain limited my mountaintop experiences for 19 years. Nothing beats a mountaintop experience! When I reach a mountaintop now, I’ll stay as long as I can to enjoy the view! This is one of the most beautiful places on earth. Pictures don’t adequately show the glorious beauty of this area!
This was my wife’s favorite place to visit when she was a child. The views make it one of my favorite places, too! The Autumn at Oz event this year was in September. We walked back into Oz almost 19 years to the day after my car accident. Having just reread what my wife wrote in 2005, the symbology is overwhelming.
Adjust Your Life Accordingly
The first two years, from Jennifer’s perspective:
Life had been a whirlwind. In the time since Kent’s car wreck, life had been a blur of doctor visits, physical therapy appointments, financial stress, family stress, marital stress, and some serious bouts of despair thrown in for good measure. All Kent had suffered and still we had no answers. Why does his back hurt? Why didn’t the last surgery work? Why didn’t physical therapy help? Is the pain in his head? Is the medicine making him worse? I have pinned all my hopes on today. I want answers… I NEED answers today.
My first impressions are not favorable of the new doctors office in which we are waiting. There are two windows leading to two different offices. One window is happy and friendly. This side houses an obstetrician’s office. Pregnant women and their husbands fill the waiting room. There are toys for children. Bright magazines litter the tables about new life, parenting and children.
The window we wait in front of exudes a different vibe. The receptionist could easily pass for an army drill sergeant. Fill these out, step here, where is your medicine, oh, you’re new, well you are late, fill these out… are all barked at us upon our arrival. The people in this waiting area look like they have come from a rehearsal of Les Miserables, only their faces are not contorted into practiced looks of misery. These expressions have been etched into faces by something far more sinister and ravaged by time herself. Surely we do not belong here, do we? How did these two offices come to share the same space?
Our wait is long, unproductive, fretful. Kent is fidgeting, picking his nails, twisting in the uncomfortable seat. I want to say something to ease his stress, but I find no words that will make it past the lump lodged in my own throat. I grasp his hand and hold it in mine hoping to convey that it will be okay, that we will do this together, that I am here with him. I do not meet his eyes for fear that he will see how I really feel. He squeezes my hand back and stops squirming. Maybe I have helped. Finally, his name is called.
The nurse looks at me like she might not let me in as we walk toward the door hand in hand. Laminated signs announce the limits of the space and who is not permitted in the small procedure and exam rooms. I pull my body in close to Kent’s side and set my mouth in a line of determination with eyes ablaze. She must decide the argument is not worth it and lets me back into the tiny exam room with Kent.
We wait. In walks an unassuming anesthesiologist. He is all business. Why are we here? We lay it all out interrupting each other to emphasize certain points. It was a car wreck, t-bone, terrible pain, nothing from the x-ray, six-weeks in bed. You’ll be better in three months. Oh, still in pain? Then physical therapy and you’ll be better in six months. Oh, that didn’t work? More tests. We must have missed something, sent to surgeon. Back surgery followed by another year of physical therapy.
The room blurs a bit as my eyes fill with tears – I am reliving all of the misery and helplessness of watching Kent go through this for the last two years. Kent is winding down the story. He is up to the part where we have left the last pain clinic because they told us Kent wasn’t really in pain; it was all in his head because he had a “controlling personality.” They thought this because another doctor told Kent to keep a written log about his pain. Our family doctor has sent us here, our last hope for help, because he does not feel comfortable continuing to write the pain medication prescriptions that Kent needs.
What is wrong with Kent’s back? Why didn’t the surgery work? Why did physical therapy make it worse? What is wrong? Can you help us? Our eyes shine with hope as we gaze at the person on whom we have pinned our last chance of regaining the life we both desperately wish to recover.
He takes a deep breath, but does not hesitate or pull his punches. This will bother me later, but I don’t have time to worry about it right now. I am anxious to hear the verdict, the pearl of medical wisdom that has been hidden from all other medical professionals because HE is here to uncover it for us. This is the moment. “I believe your pain is permanent. This is why you were sent to us – physical therapy didn’t work, surgery didn’t work, additional surgery is not recommended. There is nothing else we can do for you except find a level of medicine to manage the pain and get you on it. In about ten years, your brain may become accustomed to the pain signals it is receiving. At that time, it may be possible to reduce your level of medication. It’s time to realize this is permanent . . . adjust your life accordingly.”
My world is no longer a whirlwind. All is strangely silent. I can feel the impact of the landing in the heels of my feet and the way my teeth are set on edge. Nothing is moving, but in a strange way the room spins and tilts. What? That is not what you are supposed to say. I see that Kent is continuing to question him, but I can’t seem to hear any of the words of the conversation.
Suddenly a door is open and I see my path. It lies down a dark and uncertain road. I must get a job. Kent is not going to get any better. I was living in Oz. It was a Technicolor dream world. I was a stay-at-home mom. Our four children ages five, seven, nine, and eleven, are all in private Christian school. I volunteer at church. I cook dinner. I do all the chores. I make sure all the toys get cleaned up and put back on the shelf at the end of the day. I take the kids to private dance and music lessons. I wait for them and take them home. I am living the life we planned as a young couple. Kent has a small business. He wanted me to always be able to stay at home with the kids. Even after the accident, I would mention getting a job and he would say “No, it will work out.” I was living where Glinda floated out of the sky to offer helpful advice and ruby slippers. Munchkins showed you the path that led to the Emerald City and, when you arrived, the Wizard of Oz would make everything all right. Where water made wicked witches disappear and tapping your shoes together made wishes come true.
Now I realized that door was closed. I was waking from my colorful Oz to the black and white land of the real world that had been devastated by the tornado of a car wreck. What was I going to do? Where would this path lead? Where, even if I could secure a job with my teaching license in the middle of a school year, I could only earn about one-third of what Kent was able to make with his business. Where we would have to make hard decisions about our finances. Where things were going to change with me working. Where the children would have to start being more responsible. Where I would be gone most of the day. Where others would have to take over the things I did at home. My world had gone from color to back and white with just those four words … adjust your life accordingly.
When you reach a mountaintop, stop and enjoy the view!
Every day is a bonus day!