Everything Passes

I had a moment of discouragement today. It didn’t last long — moments by definition don’t last long —but in that moment, I totally lost heart.

This should have been a good day. I had my post-op doctor’s appointment to get the final bandages off my arm, and I was actually feeling pretty good until I saw my arm unadorned — no fixator, no bandages, just me. I knew the arm was deformed but had never actually seen what it was going to look like, and the misshapenness shocked me. My wrist and arm were unfamiliar as the back of my hand, or even the front of my hand. (All the bones of my hand were squished together in the fall, and they were never able to be put back where they should’ve been.) I don’t suppose other people would notice the deformity, especially at a casual glance, but it is quite pronounced.

People keep telling me to look on the bright side. That at least I still have an arm. That other people have it worse. That up until now I have been lucky. I understand what they’re saying, but it doesn’t really help. Once you start comparing yourself to other people (some do have it worse, but others have it better) or to what was or might have been, self-pity is not far behind. And self-pity is a deformity of its own.

Besides, today is about me. What happened to me. And it seems as if being disheartened for a moment, or even two, is a perfectly sensible reaction.

Still, when people aren’t trying to be encouraging (and succeeding only in making me feel bad), I’m okay because the truth is it could have been worse, a lot worse. And up until now I have been lucky. I’ve never been particularly beautiful, and I carry some extra weight, but in its own way, my body has been perfect. And now it’s not.

As the surgeon said, however, it’s not how the arm looks but how it works. He was quite impressed with the mobility I have managed to regain in my fingers. (I can almost make a fist.) I only did what he told me to do, which was work my fingers whenever I got a moment, and I will apply that same diligence to my wrist. This is the long haul now. He says even the most simple hairline fracture of the wrist takes a year to gain the maximum possible mobility, and my injury (injuries, actually) was 1000 times worse than that. So I’ll try not to be discouraged for two years, at which point I will know what I have to live with, and will probably even be used to it.

Although several people have told me to make sure I demand physical therapy, the surgeon said there’s no point in going to physical therapy yet, that it’s better to wait until I get some mobility, otherwise the therapist would just sit me in a corner and have me work the wrist. And that I can do now. He will reassess in three months. Until then I am on my own. He did offer suggestions, such as massaging the scar tissue because the extensive scar tissue is impeding some of the motion. And he suggested water therapy: A large sponge in a bucket of warm water. Reach the hand in the bucket of water and squeeze the sponge letting the water run down the arm. Sounds therapeutic, doesn’t it? Almost pleasant.

When I stand outside myself and don’t let myself get involved in the emotion of the injury, I find the whole thing both interesting and challenging. But you can’t live outside yourself. And in myself I feel . . . so many aches and pains and emotions.

But one way or another, everything passes, and so will all of this.

***

(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.

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.

sisyphean-task

***

(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.