My Humpty-Dumpty Arm

I went to the doctor on Wednesday to get an update on my arm. The news was sort of disappointing. I’m not healing very fast at all, so the external fixator has to stay on another four weeks if I can keep the insertion points from getting infected. Apparently, I did so much damage that the arm/wrist/elbow can never be completely repaired. At the moment, the best we can be glad about is that the wrist and hand bones aren’t migrating. The real problem bone for me at the moment is the unbroken bone, the ulna, because basically it’s not attached to anything near the wrist, and it hurts even worse than the broken bone. Not only did I shatter my elbow, pulverized my wrist, break the radius in a dozen different places, I tore or destroyed multiple ligaments and even a tendon or two, including the ligaments that hold the ulna in place.

The surgeon still claims that my wrist will have only about a 50% mobility, but for the first time he admitted that most people generally don’t use more than 50% except for turning a doorknob or accepting change, so that part of my prognosis doesn’t sound as dire as I thought, though a two-year window for healing is daunting. He says it could also be two years before I have full use of my hand and fingers, and even then I will lose 10 to 20%, but how often do you need to make a tight fist or bend your fingers backwards? I guess boxing lessons won’t be in my future! (That was a joke — I never wanted to learn to box.)

He seems to be mystified by the scope of the injury. Apparently, it’s a bit of a physics miracle in that a single fall cannot create this much havoc. Generally the energy from a fall is dissipated by one or two breaks, so this sort of damage normally comes from something like a car accident. The only thing he can figure out is that I must have bounced, which I think is possible, though I don’t know for sure. All I really remember is complete disorientation and confusion as I was falling, then lying on the ground screaming in pain.

I continue to be left to my own devices most of the time. I still can’t drive, still can’t walk far, can’t concentrate well because of the pain medications, so all that’s left for me to do is piddle around on the Internet, read, do puzzles, and think. People keep accusing me of thinking too much, and yet why not? At best, I might come up with some interesting ideas. At worst, it’s cheap entertainment.

Ever since seeing the doctor, I’ve been pondering on miracles and other life-changing events. For the most part, it seems that life-changing events are of the “negative” variety — the death of a significant person in your life, severe injury, loss of a job, or loss of savings due to medical bills. I know there are “positive” miracles, the most common ones being falling in love or having a baby, but still I wonder why the negative life changers seem to outnumber the positive ones. I realize that positive and negative are judgments we put on events that happen to us, that inherently things are not necessarily good or bad, but you have to admit, falling in love is a heck of a lot more fun than destroying an arm, and the results are much more pleasant. (Falling in love isn’t always a good thing, especially if the object of that love turns out to be abusive, but it still feels good until it goes bad.)

We humans are myth-making creatures. We tell stories about our lives, the things that happen to us, and the things we want to happen to us. (If you doubt our myth-making capabilities, all you have to do is look at the current political milieu and the accusations of evil being bandied about on both sides — good and evil are mythic elements, and are not necessarily representative of a cosmic truth.)

When people say things happen for the best or that things happen for a reason, that is the beginning of their myth. I don’t think my fall was anything but a fall, no inherent meaning, no “best”. I have not yet created my “fall” myth, haven’t figured out yet how to turn this devastating injury into something positive. I suppose I could look at it as a way of facing my worst fear — stagnation. My problem is not that I hate being alone, especially with nothing to do, it’s that such a lifestyle suits me too well, and I do not want to spend the rest of my life in a cocoon of entropy. When you are with someone, they bring energy to your life, but when you are alone you have to work at garnering energy otherwise you succumb to entropy. But still, facing this fear in no way is worth the pain, panic, and poor prognosis of this injury, especially since I would eventually have to face such a life anyway.

I suppose it’s too early to create a myth surrounding this injury. That will come with time. Meanwhile, I try to remain as stress-free as possible, to eat as well as possible, to do what I can to foster healing. I’d keep my fingers crossed in the hopes that I don’t need the full two years of healing, but it’s going to be a long time before I can cross my left fingers. Ah, well, something to look forward to.

I hope the myth you’re creating for yourself today is a happy one.

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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.

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Countdown to Adventure

I will be leaving in exactly six days to make the journey I’ve talked about so often, and I have a confession to make. I’m . . . well, I’m not exactly afraid, but I am apprehensive. I have never done anything like what I am going to be undertaking. I only camped once as a child, and certainly never by myself. I have never driven cross-country by myself, and definitely not in an aged car, no matter how well restored. (And there is a matter of a mysterious leak onto my leg when it rains that no one can seem to find.) I’ve hiked by myself, but always with others or close to where I was staying. I’ve never slept under dark skies where the stars are so brilliant and numerous, you feel as if you are falling into the void. I’ve never backpacked and still don’t know if I can. And, I have never found joy in the discomforts of travel.

But, despite my trepidation, and maybe even because of it, I am starting to feel excited about my adventure. So many “never have”s to be done! So many wondrous sights to see. (I just corrected a typo. I wrote “many wondrous sites to see,” which makes me realize how important this trip is. Even with my data being severely limited, I still spend too much time online. Now it’s time to explore offline territory!)

I am as ready as I will ever be. Despite the age of my VW bug, it’s as reliable as possible, with a new engine and transmission, new paint, new brakes. (As a test, I took a couple of drives “down the hill,” over an often foggy pass to the more populous area of the county along a congested five-lane highway riddled with road construction detours and delays, and the bug sailed along as if that treacherous road were a lazy river.) I have a carload of equipment, some of which I hope never to have to use because those items fall under the category of “emergency.” I have clothes for both winter and summer, insulated sleeping pads and camping quilts rated for a much more frigid climate than any I plan to travel. (I sleep cold, or rather, I don’t sleep cold. If I’m cold, I shiver all night.) If I can’t get warm, I have a nalgene bottle to use as a hot water bottle and hand warmers to tuck around my long-underwear-insulated body. I have at least a week’s worth of food. (Which reminds, me, I need to get several more days worth of water.) I have hiking poles and even a bear canister to protect my food if I spend the night away from my car in bear country. I have lanterns — solar lanterns and small battery-powered lanterns as well as a head lamp. I have word puzzles and pencils, paper and a printout of my WIP. I have maps and guidebooks, a binder full of notes, a head full of research. And I have a solar charger and an external battery for my phone, so as long as I have any sort of signal, I will be prepared.

Yep. Prepared. For anything. At least, I think I am. And if not, well, I’ll figure it out. (It’s hard to prepare for something if you don’t know exactly what that something is.)

Some people have found my preparations amusing, and I suppose it’s possible I’ve gone overboard, but this is not supposed to be a death march. It’s a journey into life, a quest to find joy in the rubble of my sorrow. And being prepared, even overly prepared, leaves me free to experience whatever comes without the trepidation I currently feel.

Note: I will be heading east across Interstate 10. If it’s warm enough on the return trip several weeks from now, I will be traveling on a more northernly route. If you want to meet for lunch or something, let me know, and I’ll put you on my list. (If you’ve previously expressed an interest, you’re already on my list!)

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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.”)

Around and Around I Go

My New Year’s resolution to write more seems to have sputtered out before I ever got a chance to make good, but the year is still new. I have more than eleven months to find a way back to writing more. Contrary to popular belief, New Year’s resolutions are for the entire year, so if you think you’ve already broken your resolutions, think again. Try again. That’s what I’m going to do.

Ferris WheelStill, it’s hard to write if I have nothing to say. About the only things going on in my head are plans for my journey across country, and sometimes I’m embarrassed to continue writing about those plans and preparations. I’ve been talking about some kind of epic journey for years, though the scope of the journey has changed. At the beginning, it was about going to bookstores across the country to promote my books, and to that end, I bought all sorts of authorish clothes. Flowing tops. Colorful scarves. Dramatic hats. When that fizzled (I wrote to all the independent bookstores in the country and received not a single response) I got the idea of an epic walk, such as the California Coast Trail, the Pacific Crest Trail, or maybe even a walk across the country. When I discovered the impracticalities of such an epic hike (impractical for me, that is, since I can’t carry a heavy pack), I decided upon a cross-country trip, camping and hiking as I go — a sampler of possibilities.

I now have more gear than might be practical, but I need to be prepared for many eventualities. This is supposed to be a fun trip, not a death-defying adventure. Though, to hear people’s warnings, any trip a woman takes by herself defies death. I have heard so many warnings that I no longer listen. If I heeded any of them, I’d never set out. And that would be a sort of death in itself. It would be bad enough to give in to my own fears, but truly stultifying to give in to other people’s fears.

And I have plenty fears of my own. Well, not fears. More like trepidation. Worry. Can I really do this? Take off with no firm plans? Camp out despite dire predictions for unprecedented storms? Go hiking with no support system? Deal with all sorts of physical discomfort? Live with unfamiliarity for weeks on end? Stay with people I only know online?

I tell myself I’ll be fine once I’m on the road and have set up my first campsite. I know challenges and great wonders are in store for me if I have but the courage to go. (And then, of course, I’ll be fulfilling my resolution to write more, because I’ll have things to write about!)

I still have to have one more thing to do with my car (the new engine needs to be checked and the valves readjusted), and I’ve paid rent until February fifth, but then . . . do I stay longer, or do I go? I don’t particularly want to spend another month here in this doghouse (the people who own the house where I am currently staying have seven dogs, one of whom hates me and has tried to attack me), but then I worry I will be leaving too soon and will heading into winter storms. (Of course, if I wait too long, I’ll be heading into summer storms and have to deal with heat besides.)

Around and around I go. Aren’t you glad I haven’t been writing more?

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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.”)

Facing My Dreads

Yesterday was Saturday, typically a sadder day for me, but today I felt strong enough to face some of my fears. Or at least my dreads. Facebook has been threatening to switch me over to their new timeline format and today I decided to run toward my dread so I could get it out of my head. I wasn’t sure what photo I wanted to feature. I’d planned to use photos of my books, but since I used them for my page, I didn’t want to confuse the issue by using the same image for my profile. I’d played around with word art once, so I decided to use that. Spent a couple of hours getting it just right. So now I have timeline. And I have overcome one dread.

Then I decided to go after the big one. Watching a movie.

My life mate and I used to watch movies together — all kinds, from westerns to serial killer movies to comedy to romance. He taped hundreds of movies for us, and they’ve been packed away since his death two years ago. I just could not bring myself to watch the movies, especially the romantic ones because I knew how much it would hurt.

Flush with the success of overcoming the dreaded timeline, however, I decided to watch Notting Hill. I’d pulled it out of storage to view on the one-year anniversary of his death, planning to celebrate his life, but I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t even put it away. The tape has been sitting on the shelf, waiting for me to watch for a year and two weeks. And it is again sitting on the shelf.

I put the tape in the VCR, watched for about forty-five minutes, and then came the gusher. Not just tears but sobs and gasps for breath and a yearning to see him one more time that clawed at me with a ferocity I haven’t felt in months.

I know two years isn’t that long, but I never imagined I would still have such upsurges of grief. Mostly I can handle being alone, though I do have times of gargantuan loneliness. I even have times now, such as when I’m focused on completing a task, where my missing him gets pushed into the background. And sometimes I can even look forward to the future. But the one thing I can never seem to get a grip on is the thought of his being dead. I have come full circle to a realization of how necessary it was for him to die. He was in such pain and could no longer function that continued life would have been torture. But even so, I hate knowing that he will never eat another meal. Never read another book. Never plant another tree. Never watch another movie.

I do still have the ability to watch movies, and someday I will finish watching this one.

Just not today.