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.

Surprised by Grief

I continue to be surprised by the intensity and depth and variability of grief. It’s been more than ten months since my life mate — my soul mate – died. Most days now I feel normal, but “normal” for me is his being safe at home, perhaps in the other room, perhaps outside shoveling snow or watering our trees. The renewed realization that he is gone from this life still brings me raw pain. I’m getting used to being alone — in some ways, that aloneness feels normal, too. Until I met him, I’d always expected to be alone, and so part of me is looping back to that earlier life when I had only my concerns to worry about.

Still, despite that normalcy, there are days when it feels as if he just left, as if he walked out on me (or I walked out on him) and it’s a matter of time until we reconcile our differences. I don’t know where such thoughts come from — we had no major differences. Well, except for the soul-shaking differences that came when our journeys diverged — his into death, mine into continued life.

I mentioned before that love and grief were the bookends of a relationship. Because of its intensity, the ability to change a person’s life and outlook, and the all-consuming focus on another person, grief seems to mimic falling in love, though in a bleaker, blacker, lonelier way. And like love, grief stirs up your depths, making you realize you are more than you ever thought you could be. As I’m slowly beginning to define my life solely by me, not by “us”, I’m seeing another similarity. When a couple embarks on a life together, they learn to depend on each other, to find ways to complement each other, to meld their likes and dislikes, their hopes and frustrations into a workable emotional environment for both parties. When half of a couple dies, the person left behind has to find a way to unmeld. To go from thinking about both of you, to thinking solely of yourself, to depending solely on yourself. It’s hard and painful and feels futile at times. (Because, you think, if life is worth living, he would still be here.)

It’s like a teeter-totter. When one person leaves abruptly, you crash to the ground. You do learn to play by yourself, but you are always aware that the other side is empty. Gradually, you get used to it, though — or at least resigned. And that’s where I am, most of the time. Resigned.

I’m even getting resigned to that great yearning I once talked about, especially since it’s nothing new. Looping back to the time before I met him, when I was young, I remember being consumed by yearning, though I never knew for what. I didn’t feel it when we were together, but I feel it now. Could that yearning have been for him? Or could our being together have masked the earlier yearning? Just one of the many questions stirred up from the depths by grief.

I Am a One-Month Grief Survivor

I have survived my first month of grieving. I’m surprised it was so hard, and I’m surprised I survived it (at times my lungs stopped working and my heart felt as if it would burst with all the pain) but in the world of grief, a month isn’t much. Still, I’ve come a long way. I can look to the future, though I know the best way to deal with that future is to deal with each day as it comes — thinking of living the rest of my life without my mate makes me sick to my stomach.

And I have moments when I can stand outside my grief and see the process for what it is. Grief is an enormous undertaking (I hesitated using the word “undertaking” since it’s so close to “undertaker,” but it’s a good analogy because grief is, to a certain extent, facing the death of a part of you). Grief involves physical, emotional, psychological, spiritual, and in my case, geographical changes. Grief rocks you to the very depths of you being — a soul quake. Grief changes your sense of self, your sense of your place in the world. Grief affects your self-esteem. There is only one other experience of such immensity — falling in love.

I have come to realize hate is not the opposite of love, grief is. Grief encompasses all the wild emotions, the life-changing experiences, the immensity of love, but in reverse. Falling in love with the man I was to spend decades with and grieving for him are the bookends of our life —  not my life, my life will continue, though changed —  but our life, the life we shared.

I wonder sometimes if I’m going to change out of all recognition. I’ve gone through so many life-changing experiences in the past year that I no longer know who I am. And if one doesn’t know who they are, how can they write? Because isn’t writing is essentially an expression of who we are? If, as L.V. Gaudet rebuts, writing is more of a discovery of our inner selves, then when I get back to writing, the writing itself will change me.

Will he recognize me if we ever meet again? Will he be proud of what I become? I guess that is part of the future, not of this day. And right now, this day is all I can handle.