Sisyphean Tasks

Sisyphus, a king from Greek mythology, was condemned to an eternity of rolling a great boulder to the top of a hill. Every time Sisyphus fulfilled his sentence, the darn boulder rolled back down, and he had to push it up again, hence the term “Sisyphean task.”

I know exactly how Sisyphus feels. Every day I work my fingers trying to form a fist, and though I manage to get them folded a bit, the next morning they are stiff again, and I have to start all over. It’s not just the fingers I have to work on, but also the elbow, though now the elbow does move a little more smoothly than it has been, and the shoulder, which is out of whack from the sling and the weight of the splint and fixator.

The odd thing about not being able to make a fist is that the doctor said it would probably be two years before I could comfortably create a real fist, and every time I manage to fold my fingers into a semblance of a fist, I wonder how could this possibly take more than a year and think I should be fine in a week, maybe or two. And every day I start from the same place, work myself up to bending the fingers at the joints, and it never gets any better than that. So despite my determination, it could take two years. And I haven’t even started working on the wrist yet.

The external fixator is still screwed into my bones, and will be attached to my arm for another month. The fixator prohibits all wrist movement and most finger movements, and since it’s been on for three months with an additional month to come, there will be a lot of stiffness to work out over the next couple of years. Stiffness isn’t the only problem, though. With this many bones that were broken and pulverized, with this many tendons and ligaments that were damaged, it’s amazing that I will have any use of the arm and fingers. Knowing that, and being grateful for what I do still have, does not really make it any easier.

Making things even more difficult, I’m counting down to the seventh anniversary of Jeff’s death. I didn’t think I would still be feeling such strong grief after so long, but such is the nature of the beast. Grief does what it wants, and apparently, this year, once again, it wants to be felt. Last year I was on the road, mystified by the sadness I felt that this time of year. But then I was thinking of other things besides why I was free and unencumbered and able to take that trip.

The anniversary, the arm, the fixator, the isolation, the loneliness, the loss of my occupational therapist, are all combining to make this a rather sorrowful time. I do manage to pacify myself with games, with reading, with walking on the few nice days that we’ve had, and with hug therapy. (Lacking a living being to hug, I’ve been hugging a large Teddy bear I found on my trip, which is a trifle more satisfying than hugging a pillow. And it works to a certain extent — something about the pressure, I think.) And occasionally I play with watercolors. But all those activities put together don’t make much of a life. Still, my main focus has to be on healing, on keeping the  skin around the fixator pins from getting infected (another almost impossible task), and on keeping the rest of me from atrophying while the healing is taking place.

I wish I could be one of those writers who could put everything out of her head and just write, and perhaps I could if I were writing anything but a book about a grieving woman. I’m afraid if I continued writing right now, I’d get so deeply into the story, I’d never pull myself out of grief. (I’m not sure that’s even true, but it sounds good.)

Besides, I have the Sisyphean task of opening and closing my fingers.

This post sounds almost emotionless, and in no way shows the spurts of tears that come out of nowhere, the moments of a great yearning for . . . I don’t even know what. Jeff? Perhaps, but I wouldn’t want to disturb his rest with my prickly problems. (I said piddly problems, but my speech recognition software wrote prickly, and I like that word choice better.) Someone to care? There are a lot of people in my life who care, but not in the personal way than a mate does, or in the personal/professional way the occupational therapist did. Maybe it’s just a feeling I miss and need, but I don’t know what that feeling is or how to get it back.

And so life goes on, one Sisyphean task after another.

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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.

A Halcyon Time

I’m sitting here trying to think of an exciting opening sentence for this blog, but I can’t think of one, probably because my life itself is not exciting. I still have the external fixator attached to my arm, still can’t do much, am mostly homebound. I do get out to walk on nice days, though I find I’m still unsteady enough to need a trekking pole for balance.

The main difference is that my brain is clearing up. I hadn’t realized how fogged I’ve been, not just because of the trauma of the fall, or even the heavy pain medications I’ve been on, but also residuals from the anesthetics I was given during my operations. I’m not in as much pain now, so I’ve been cutting back on the pain pills, which is a very good thing. I don’t seem to be in any danger of becoming addicted — the drugs barely dull the pain, and whatever the pills do for other people to make them such a valued street drug, they don’t do for me. What I mostly get is a huge drain on my pocketbook. More than two dollars a pill! Still, I’m grateful for the relief they give me, even if they only take the edge off the pain.

I still spend most of my time by myself, though an occupational therapist comes a couple of times a week. She helps wash my hair; cuts up my apples and opens bottles; massages my fingers, elbow and shoulder; keeps the fixator sites clean; gives me exercises to strengthen wasting muscles. Mostly, though, she makes me feel cared for, which is something I have desperately needed (but didn’t know I needed) after all these years of taking care of others.

The therapist is taking care of her aged mother, so we have discussed the problems of grown women living with their parents (in her case, though, the parent is living with her). When I mentioned some of the things that have happened during the past 10 years — my mother’s death; Jeff’s illness, his death, and my long years of grief; taking care of my father until his death, and dealing with my mentally ill brother — she said, “So you’re used to dealing with trauma.” I laughed and said, “Compared to what I’ve gone through, this is nothing.” This, of course, meaning my arm. And it’s true — compared to all the traumas of the past decade, this is a mere blip in the road. Although there is a good chance I will have a deformity and will lose mobility in my wrist, fingers, and elbow, these are rather minor disabilities, all things considered.

When I was waiting for my prescription to be filled yesterday, the woman sitting next to me smiled and said, “At least you still have your thumb.” She showed me her right hand, which had been mangled in a car accident. Her fingers were badly deformed, and she was missing the thumb. We got to talking about how grateful we were because no matter how much we have lost, it could have been worse. She was grateful she still had one thumb, and she mentioned a man she met who had lost both thumbs to a freak accident. (The top section of the extension ladder he had been using disengaged and crashed down on his thumbs, smashing them beyond repair.)

Yep, my injury is a mere blip in the road.

I even have a hunch that in the coming years, once the memory of the pain and trauma has faded and the lesser mobility has become normal, I will look back on these few months as a halcyon time. No one to take care of but myself. No plans to make because I have no idea what’s going to happen or what I will still be able to do. Nowhere to go and no way to get there even if I did have a place to go. And mostly, someone to care.

Until then, of course, I have to deal with the reality, which is neither peaceful nor happy. Just life.

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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.

Dragon Myself Back to Writing

I haven’t been blogging lately, partly because I have nothing to say or rather nothing I want to say —I have been too depressed to want to share what I’ve been feeling, though depression does go with the territory of being housebound — and also because it’s too hard to type one-handed. (I fell and destroyed my left wrist and elbow a couple of months ago.) Yesterday I installed Dragon speech recognition software on my computer, so now I can blog without typing. I’m not sure if it will change my “voice” or if dragonI will even be able to think while talking, but at least it gives me something new to play with and something new always offsets depression.

It’s funny that the depression didn’t come from the injury so much as being alone in a room for days on end. It’s my room not a hospital room, but still fate has brought me to the thing I’ve dreaded all these years — stagnating alone in a solitary room. I’ve been desperately wanting to go home, but it always comes down to the same thing — I have no home except this temporary one. But maybe that’s the truth with all of us, that whatever home we have is temporary because life itself is temporary.

It seems strange that even though only the arm is injured I am housebound, but there is a whole lot I can’t do. I can’t go walking unless the day is warm and the street dry because another fall at this time would be disastrous, and I have to use a trekking pole to help keep my balance since the broken arm is in a sling. I can’t drive so I am dependent on willing or mostly willing friends to take me wherever I need to go. Mostly I’ve been reading, playing solitaire, checking Facebook for interesting articles, and trying to take care of myself.

Caring for myself is hard. I can’t cook except for simple things, so I mostly eat prepared salads and frozen dinners. Can’t even take a shower by myself. Luckily, an occupational therapist comes once or twice a week to help. I will probably have the external fixator on my arm for another three weeks, and the fixator makes doing anything even more difficult. When the fixator finally comes off, of course, it will be months before I will gain some use of my arm. I really hated the thought of not being able to write during all that time, especially since I got such a good start on my latest book before the accident, but hopefully Dragon will drag me kicking and screaming all the way to the end of the story.

I am writing this blog with Dragon, though I am not sure that technically it can be called writing if one is speaking. I suppose I should say I am composing this blog, but what the heck — it all looks the same at the end no matter what tool one uses to get there.

For the most part, I’ve been accepting of my injury. There’ve only been a few times when I panicked at the thought of not gaining full usage of my wrist and elbow, but mostly I’ve been taking things as they come. Now that the swelling is down, I can see that the doctor is right — there is considerable deformity. Depending upon the mobility I regain, or don’t regain, I might need another surgery in a year, which might also fix some of the deformity. Once the fixator is off, I will do whatever I need to do to get as much mobility as possible, and then wait and see what happens.

Meantime, there is Dragon. The program is actually easy to use. The main problem I have as a temporarily one-handed person is putting on the headphone so I can use the microphone, but so far I have managed. If nothing else I can wear the headphone around my neck.

It’s been good talking to you. I hope you’re having a good year so far.

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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.

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!

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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.”)

On the Road to Healing

I think I am finally on the road to healing. For the past three weeks, ever since I tripped over a parking curb in the dark, doctor visits have only served to add complicated discoveries to an already complicated injury. Originally, I was told that my radius was broken in several places, then I was told I also pulverized the wrist. And finally, I was told that in addition to those severe injuries, I shattered my elbow.

On Tuesday, I had what I hope is my final surgery. Now, in addition to the pins already inserted and the immensely heavy external fixator (to keep my arm from shortening while it is healing), I have more pins, a metal plate, and a titanium elbow.

If you ever think that a single step does not matter, remember that all of this came from one misstep. I have no idea how this will end up, but the surgeon assures me I will have arthritis, about fifty percent use of my wrist, and possible chronic pain.

And so, from that one step, my life has changed.

I try not to think of how the accident happened or why it happened — I simply try to accept that it happened and go on from there.

It’s been difficult. I don’t want to feel sorry for myself — that path can only lead to misery — but I have found myself feeling demoralized and discouraged, lonely and alone. The pain prevents me from thinking, which is probably a good thing, and the pain pills keep me in a dozy haze. I am left to take care of myself as best as I can, though friends have chauffeured me since obviously I can’t drive, a nurse comes once a week to check on me, and an occupational therapist comes to help me shower.

I can’t say that I am learning anything from this. I’m just going with the flow dealing with my disabilities as best as I can, and feeling grateful things aren’t worse. (I am right handed, and it’s the left wrist/arm/elbow that’s injured, so I am nowhere near as inconvenienced as I could have been.)

I’m hanging on as best as I can, finding a way around the pain. (Ice works much better than even the strongest pills, but it is so weird to feel the inside chill from that metal elbow as the ice cools it down. As if something is gripping me on the inside. When I can think/write/type again, I might have to write a horror story based on that feeling.)

My two vanities were that I didn’t look my age and that I am still relatively strong and healthy, but since I have aged at least ten years in the past three weeks, those vanities have been shattered as well.

Life sure is interesting.

I joke that I got a new elbow for Christmas, but I would have preferred something a bit more fun or at least guaranteed pain free.

Well, there’s always next Christmas.

Wishing you a great December, a joyous holiday, whichever one you celebrate, and a wonderful New Year.

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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.”)

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