Anniversary of a Dubious Miracle

I’m  not one for remembering dates of my anniversaries and such — the practice doesn’t fit well with a live-in-the-moment attitude, and besides, I seldom know what day it is anyway, and it’s almost impossible to remember what you never knew in the first place. For example, I have no idea what day I met Jeff, and even though I knew at the moment that he would be important to me (I just didn’t know how important), it never occurred to me to mark the date. Years later, when I did want to know, I could only remember that it was the first or second Saturday of August that year. (I wonder if it ever occurred to me before now to make the connection — he came into my life on a Saturday, and left it on a Saturday.)

Still, with my penchant for not paying attention to dates, there are some things so stunningly ghastly that the date can never be forgotten. Jeff’s death, of course. And also the destruction of my arm.

A year ago today, at this time, I was perfectly perfect (in my own overweight way), but by the end of the day, I would have sustained such a devastating injury that from one minute to the next, my life would never be the same.

If there is such a thing as a miracle that brings horror rather than joy, this particular event would have to qualify.

It started in dance class a month or so before the date. The class was going to perform a couple of dances as part of the local college end of semester dance concert, and I did not want to be a part of it. For days, weeks, the class members badgered me to change my mind, and I remember almost crying when I finally told them to leave me alone. “If I do it,” I said, “Something awful will happen.” I did finally agree to be understudy for one particular dance since if any of the principal dancers couldn’t do it, they would be in big trouble.

They finally left me alone, but then a whole string of events occurred. First of all, instead of being at the beginning of December as it always is, the program was scheduled for the middle of November. Second, a major wildfire destroyed the venue of my teacher’s grandson’s wedding, causing the wedding to be changed to the same day as the performance. And one of the best dancers had been absent for a couple of months due to an illness that threatened her grandson’s life.

And so, there I was on that fateful night.

Even then, all would have been well, but just as I turned to cross the parking lot between two cars, the motion-activated lights went out. (I guess from the lights’ perspective, I had disappeared.) Next thing I knew, I was on the ground, screaming in utter pain. When I finally was able to look to see what had happened, I discovered I had tripped over a parking berm. Instead of the parking lines lining up with the berm, they lines forced the cars to park in the space. (Utter idiocy!!)

Well, I finally stopped screaming in pain, and started screaming for help. And not a single person came, not even the security guards who were supposed to be patrolling the area. I considered going back inside to get one of my friends to help me, but after going through all the aggravation to make sure the class could perform, it seemed contraindicative to get them riled up. (And anyway, I didn’t want to trudge that long distance back to the performing arts center — what if there was another unseen obstruction waiting to trip me up?) I considered calling an ambulance, but since it was a Saturday night (Saturdays are sure fateful for me!!) with sirens already sounding in the background, I feared it would be a long time before I could get help. So I wrapped my destroyed wrist (with the bone sticking out) in my veils from the dance and drove myself to the hospital. (At the time, it seemed logical, but now I shudder at the thought.)

And events still conspired to exacerbate this “miraculous” event. For one, the surgeon on call at the hospital told me my elbow wasn’t broken, and as it turns out, it was broken in so many places I eventually had to have the elbow replaced. For another, the surgeon only put on an external fixator without fixing the bones, so that when I finally had the necessary surgery, scar tissue had already began forming. Luckily, this on-call surgeon didn’t want to perform the follow-up surgery, so he sent me to a specialist. That surgeon didn’t want to perform the surgery, either, so he tried to pawn me off on a specialist’s specialist, but when he couldn’t find anyone else to do it, he reluctantly agreed to do the surgery.

At my final follow-up appointment with the surgeon, I thanked him for taking care of me, mentioning that I knew he didn’t want to do the surgery, so I especially appreciated his fixing my elbow/wrist/arm. He laughed and said, “I really, really, really didn’t want to do it.” He went on the explain the difficulty — with a normal wrist fracture, the radius is still connected to the elbow, but with my injury (a pulverized wrist, a shattered elbow, and more than a dozen breaks in the radius due to all my weight landing on the wrist), the radius was unconnected to any other bone (not even to the ulna, since those connecting tendons had also been destroyed in the fall), which made the surgery horrendously difficult. And then, there was the problem of it being an “old” injury. (Even injuries a couple of weeks old apparently cause problems for the surgeon because of the necessity to scrape the scar tissue from fragmented bones.)

Although he told me it would take two years to get back partial use of my hand, wrist, and elbow, I didn’t believe him. But today I do. After a year, I can do many of the things he didn’t think I’d ever be able to do, such as open a door with my left hand. He’d also said I “should” be able to type and drive again, but the tone of his voice expressed doubt. He also said I’d have chronic pain in the ulna (which hadn’t been broken) and the fingers (which hadn’t been broken but which had been pushed out of line) and he was right about that. He also promised arthritis, which is apparently nothing I can avoid. But that won’t come for awhile.

Meantime, after the fear of never being able to use my hand/arm/wrist/fingers, and despite pain and a deformity that apparently only I notice, I am grateful to be able to type, open doors and bottles, drive, carry sort-of-heavy items, and oh, so many things.

In the end, it wasn’t the fall that was miraculous. In a strange sort of way, it was inevitable. The miracle is that I am doing as well as I am.

So as it turns out, this is not a day to remember horrendous event and mourn the loss of some mobility, but a day to give thanks for being able to use my left hand/wrist/elbow/fingers at all.

***
Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels UnfinishedMadame ZeeZee’s Nightmare, Light BringerMore Deaths Than OneA Spark of Heavenly Fireand Daughter Am IBertram 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.

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Olio

Olio is one of those words dearly loved by crossword puzzle makers but that you never hear in real life. Olio means a miscellaneous collection of things, and that’s what today’s blog is — a collection of loosely connected thoughts.

Every time I write a blog using speech recognition software, I am especially pleased with how easy it is to tag an article. Normally, I would scour a blog searching for keywords, then copy and paste those words into the blog editor. This always added an extra 15 minutes or more to a blog — not that I begrudged the time, but it felt laborious. Now all I have to do is set my cursor at the bottom of the document, re-read what I wrote, and voice any terms I come across that I wish to use for keywords. Then I copy and paste the entire list into the blog editor. I don’t honestly know if using speech recognition software to tag an article saves time, but the process is so much less tedious, I don’t mind tagging as much as I did.

People keep telling me that one day I will understand the good that has come from destroying my arm, but I don’t necessarily think things — especially this injury thing — happen for a reason. They just happen. I do know most of us tend to make the best of bad situations, because really, what else can we do? In my case, since my pulverized wrist keeps me from two-handed typing, I got speech recognition software to make writing easier. And oh, it truly does make writing easier — though is it still writing if one is actually speaking and not writing?

I imagine writing has come to mean any means of disseminating one’s thoughts via words to people not immediately present. Every writer knows there is a vast difference between typing and writing, so there is also a difference between merely talking and writing using speech recognition software.

Still, as helpful as the program is, there is no way I would have ever exchanged a perfect arm for a piece of software, especially since I could have bought it either way, giving me both a perfect arm and speech recognition software. As for other benefits of having broken my arm? There are none that I can see. I can’t think of any lesson I learned. No monetary windfall came my way, and because of all the bills, I’m worse financially than I was before. And, of course I am worse off physically. The best I can hope for is to regain as much mobility I can, learn to live with whatever disability (and pain) is left, and not let fear of injury impede further adventures.

Oddly, with all of the care and worry of the external fixator, and the recent surgery to remove it, I’d forgotten I broke my elbow in so many places that I now have a metal elbow to match the various pins in my arm and the plate in my wrist. I never did any physical therapy for the elbow, just exercised it, and though I don’t yet have full mobility, I’m doing quite well. And my fingers are working to a certain extent. I was finally able to cut my hair (yep, I’m a do-it-yourselfer all the way). And today I discovered I could tie my shoes. Such a big girl now! Can tie my own shoes! When I had the occupational therapist, she tied my shoes for me; I left the laces tied and used the shoes as slip ons.

During the past four and half months, ever since I fell, I’ve been more or less drugged. It didn’t really feel as if I were, but now that I have been drug-free for a week — the recent anesthesia has worn off and I’ve sworn off pain pills — I can see that I’ve been in some sort of altered state. I don’t remember everything that happened during the past few months. It’s as if I walked out of the theater after the dance performance on November 19 and woke up today living in a different room, different neighborhood, and with a disabled arm.

I’m also disoriented as to time. I fell in the autumn and now summer is on the way. I seem to have misplaced a season or two. And I’m disoriented as to days and hours. When I was out walking today, I panicked, thinking I should be at the doctor’s office for my post-op appointment. I called to tell them I would be late and discovered I would not be late but in fact was twenty-three and a half hours early.

I don’t really know what to make of all this, though I suppose there is nothing to make of it. Just continue on as I’ve been doing — one day at a time, taking the bad with the good.

My most recent watercolor. Maybe it’s time I start signing them.

***

(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.

A Special Treat

Such a wonderful treat today — I took a walk!

The past few weeks have been trying — first the fall that shattered my wrist, the hospital stay, surgery, and then the demoralizing discovery that things were worse than expected. The first surgeon told me my elbow was not broken, so I tried to use it as much as I could, which was a mistake. The elbow was in fact shattered, and the movement only served to dislodge the bone fragments, and those fragments in turn severed the ligaments. Because my wrist had been pulverized, I have some heavy piece of equipnent (external fixator) screwed into my bones to keep them in the proper position rather than melding and shrinking my arm. Not only do I still have to contend with that thing for another six weeks, I had additional surgery to replace the shattered elbow and to further repair my wrist.

At the post op visit yesterday, I found out that I would have even less wrist recovery than originally expected, the wrist will be deformed, and in about a year, when all this is healed and I have regained as wide a range of motion as possible, I will need additional surgery. As if that news wasn’t enough to cope with in one day, I had to make the rounds of pharmacies to get the pills I need to keep from screaming in pain. A couple of pharmacies didn’t have the drugs. (Someone said that because they are a controlled substance, the drug companies can only sell so much, and this time of year, the pills are hard to get.) One pharmacy didn’t trust me because they weren’t my usual pharmacy (I don’t normally take medication, so I have no usual pharmacy). And one pharmacy thought I was trying to pull something by submitting a prescription from a different doctor. (How is it my fault that the doctors didn’t want to do the delicate operation and were passing me around like a hot potato?)

But I got the prescription filled, dealt with the not-good prognosis, and survived the self-pitying bout of tears.

This morning I woke with but one wish. To go for a walk. Seems so basic and ordinary, doesn’t it? But with only one hand, it’s hard to put on socks and impossible to tie shoes. And there is a bit of cowardice involved — if one can fall with absolutely no foreshadowing of the traumatic event, it’s hard to trust one’s foot placement. And then, of course, there is the matter of being drugged into a fog.

When the therapist came to check on me, I asked if she’d help me with my shoes and socks. She did. She even walked with me. It wasn’t much of a walk, perhaps a half mile or so, but oh! It felt wonderful. As if I were alive again.

For tonight, I’ve pushed all thoughts of the future from my mind, and am concentrating on that one special joy.

I took a walk today!

***

(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.”)