Toddling Along

I am toddling along, trying to get back into my life now that the external fixator is off my arm. I’m taking a couple of dance classes, walking a bit, reading, writing occasionally. Mostly I’ve been trying not to be too introspective, hence the lack of recent blog posts. Besides, pain has a way of focusing attention onto itself and away from the bigger picture.

I’m not in a lot of pain, but there is always some. Either I am trying to work the hand to its new level of normality, or I momentarily have no pain and inadvertently use the hand in a way it has not been accustomed to during the last five months, and so my friend pain arrives once more.

When I returned from my cross-country trip, I had three goals: try to build up my strength, go on an anti- inflammation diet for 30 days, and finish my three works in progress. The strength-building goal was laid low after I destroyed my arm, and now that goal is mostly focused on the arm itself rather than all of me. I do such fun things as squeeze a sponge in a bucket of warm water, grasp a hammer by the end of the handle and flip it gently from side to side to help with elbow and wrist pronation, lay my left hand on flat on the table and try to raise the elbow to bend the wrist. Ouch. Ouch. Ouch.

Twelve days ago I started the anti-inflammation diet — no milk products, no grains, no legumes, no sweeteners of any kind — and so far I’m doing fine, though I do not notice any difference. (Supposedly, I am supposed to feel vibrant and healthy with more energy than I’ve had for years, but that simply is not happening.) When the 30 days are up, I will probably continue with a variation of the diet, though I will add some corn and cheese so I can eat with friends at a favorite Mexican restaurant.

Most importantly, I have finished two of my three or four works in progress. (Three if I include only started works, and four if I include the first book I ever wrote, which needs a complete rewriting. I still love the premise, but I’m not really sure what to do with it.) I opened the file for the third WIP today, which actually is the oldest of the three, started before I ever had the Internet. (I was given the gift of the Internet nine years and 341 days ago. I wasn’t really sure what to do on the Internet, but figured I had a year to decide, and if after that year I still didn’t know, well, I could always get rid of it. But here I am.) I think the last time I worked on this particular book was maybe seven years ago, and I’d forgotten a lot of the fun little bits. It will be nice to finally finish it, but finishing it will bring its own level of sadness because it was the last book Jeff helped me with. My mother’s death, the advent of the Internet and publication of two of my books, and then Jeff’s death, shunted this poor WIP off my radar. And when the book is finished done, it will end my literary link with Jeff.

He was my first reader (or rather listener, since I read to him while he did chores). I did not think I would be able to write without his smile to encourage me, but the books I finished were both started after his death, and in fact, reflected either his death, my grief, or both.

I hope I’ll be able to continue to write after these started books are finished and (keeping my fingers crossed) published. Hope I will still have something to say. But I do not need to concern myself with the future right now. Other things matter more. Working my arm. Finishing my third WIP. Trying to get strong and healthy. That’s enough for any one person to concentrate on.

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Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

Acknowledging Pain. And Pleasure.

Sometimes I wonder at what point telling one’s truth becomes self-indulgence, but I don’t suppose it matters. Writing helps me process my various traumas, and if anyone gets tired of my tales of woe (I am a Wednesday’s child after all) he or she can move on to sunnier blogs. I do know that in the scope of world events, such as wars and other horrors, a disabled and deformed arm is of little consequence, but in my world, the injury continues to loom large.

Still, I don’t suppose anyone really needs to know that yesterday I shed tears of pain, frustration, and fatigue. It’s amazing how much energy it takes to deal with chronic pain and even more amazing that the ensuing exhaustion does not lead to easy sleep. If I sit quietly and don’t move my left elbow, arm, wrist, or fingers, the ache is minor and can be easily ignored, but remaining immobile is a good way of ensuring that my left limb will remain permanently immobile.

Normally massaging an atrophied limb makes it feel better, but I have so much scar tissue to be massaged, that kneading makes the pain worse. Unfortunately, I need to knead, so this pain, too, I have to endure. Ignoring scar tissue is dangerous. (Recently two friends have undergone major surgeries because of old scar tissue) and I have enough problems without worrying about scar tissue eventually impeding the flow of blood.

There’s no therapist cracking a metaphoric whip to make me do the necessary work, just my own undisciplined self trying to put myself back together again. Some of the pain is inadvertent, such as when I absently reached out to grab something with my left hand, but that is all to the good. After all, the whole point of gaining as much mobility and flexibility in the limb as possible is to be able to use the arm without thinking about it.

The very idea of having to live with such pain and effort for a year or two (and possibly the rest of my life) is daunting, so I try not to think — just do. I could take pain pills, and I did take one last night, but although they sometimes take the edge off the pain, they cause additional problems such as vertigo, so I only take them as a last resort. During the months when I absolutely had to take the pills, I couldn’t bend over without feeling as if I were falling, couldn’t walk without feeling as if I were off balance. (I still use a trekking pole as a cane, though now it is more of a precaution than a necessity. But come to think of it, it is a necessity. Any fall could cause more damage to that poor pulverized wrist.)

At the moment, I feel more hopeful than I did yesterday, maybe because I have not yet been reduced to tears. I do know I have to take each day as it comes without trying to negate — or exacerbate — my pain, frustration, and fatigue.

Although I have not yet learned to ignore the wails of the passing trains at night (during the day, the wind blows the sound away, so it’s not as much of a problem) and have not completely eradicated the smell of stale cigarette smoke from my room. I do feel that this new place is more conducive to healing than the old one. I have more privacy inside and a nicer area to walk outside. Being a creature of habit, I often take the same route — winding through the neighborhood, looping across the desert, and returning by way of the longest sidewalk I have seen since I left a city grid. That anachronistic sidewalk pleases me as much is the open space of the desert does.

So, see? I am not all doom and gloom, though sometimes it does feel that way.

Here’s to healthier and happier days for all of us.

 

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(Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.”) Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

Rear Window

Time for another fireside chat, euphemistically speaking. The heat I’m feeling is not the breath from my Dragon, the speech recognition software I am currently using, but from the sun burning through my window. After several days of cold, rain, and wind, the sky is temporarily clear and the sun is scorchingly hot. For the first time in my life, I feel inclement weather in my bones and muscles, in increased pain. But ah, with the sun comes a better outlook and acceptable levels of pain, if there is such a thing. (This reminds me of an incident that happened in the hospital after my first wrist surgery. The nurse asked me what my goal was for the day. I said, “You mean like running a marathon?” She said, “No. Regarding your pain.” I responded, of course, that I wanted zero pain. The nurse laughed. I still don’t understand why the laugh. Isn’t that what we all want, zero pain?)

I’ve always tried to take care of myself, augmenting fairly good genetics with supplements, healthy foods, and exercise, so I have not had to deal with a lot of excruciating pain except for occasional ailments. The thought of having to live with chronic pain is daunting, especially because the pain came in an instant. One moment I was fine — happy, healthy, and relatively carefree — and the next moment I was on the ground screaming in pain. And now nothing will ever be the same. I’m planning on doing whatever I can to gain a painless existence, but that will always laughably be a forlorn hope. I have already reached the age where small aches are a daily occurrence and healing a painstaking matter. However, after yesterday’s weather-induced agony, today’s sunny prognosis is a real blessing, and it assures me that there is hope no matter how forlorn.

One of the many benefits of modern medicine, or so I always thought, was the ability to remove physical pain from our lives, but I am learning that many of the miracle drugs merely take the edge off the pain. In itself, that’s a good thing, but it still leaves behind one heckuva lot of unpleasantness. Perhaps, in the end, I won’t have to deal with as much unpleasantness as the orthopedic surgeon claims I will. Perhaps I will find a way to turn off my reaction to the pain so that it’s just another sensation. Perhaps I will learn to heal myself. Perhaps a lot of things. All I know is that today, sitting here in the sun, staring out the rear window, I feel pretty damn good.

In the early days of my incarceration in this room, I’d look out the window and muse that this must be the absolute worst performance ever of the movie Rear Window because, unlike Jimmy Stewart, I couldn’t see much of anything. Cars in the mid-distance. Cactus close in. But no murderous folk. No folk at all for that matter. But today it makes no difference that I can’t see anything happening outside that window. All that matters is that inside, by the window, my life is happening.

It’s been nice chatting with you. I hope you are also having a relatively pain-free day.

The watercolor below is my most recent offering, an almost obscenely cheerful and optimistic image, and way out of character!

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(Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.”) Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

Final Edits, Perhaps

I received the final edits for my novel Light Bringer, which will be published later this month. I had a couple of editors go over the book to look for any problems; when I get the proof copy, I want it to be strictly a copy-editing job — checking for typos, the letter I that mysteriously transforms itself into the numeral one, and other such exacting details. When I sent Donna B. Russell the manuscript to edit, I enclosed a message:

Donna, I hope you enjoy this book as much as you did Daughter Am I. Thirty years of research, about six years of writing from start to finish — it’s my magnum opus, though it won’t be so magnum if no one likes the opus.

When Donna sent the manuscript back with the edits, she replied, 

In your last e-mail, you said, “It’s my magnum opus, though it won’t be so magnum if no one likes the opus.”  I don’t think you have to worry about that because I’m sure Light Bringer is much closer to an “opus” than an “oops.” *S*  You have a good beginning, building tension with Helen driving in the snowstorm and finding a baby on her doorstep, and a superb ending.  The double plot twist at the end was absolute genius — a kind of literary whiplash, but in a good sense.  Your vivid descriptions helped me “see” not only the people, but the scenery and locations.  You made them very real.  You made me care about the main characters, and developed both the good guys and the villains very well.

One of my favorite passages in the book didn’t have to do with the main story, but with Hugh’s father (p. 218):

“His father, who had endured years of agony while dying of pancreatic cancer, had once told him pain created its own reality. He said he could no longer remember what it felt like before the pain began, nor could he imagine what it would feel like when it ceased. Nothing else ever existed, or would ever exist, except the eternal pain.”

You’ve captured exactly how many feel who live with chronic pain on a daily basis.

Below are the line edits and some suggestions.  I hope they are helpful.  I wish you all the best with Light Bringer. — Donna

How can you not feel like a real author when people are going around quoting you! Okay, just one person, but still . . .