Can’t Cook, or Clean, or Do Laundry

I still can’t cook, or clean, or do laundry. That’s what the surgeon still says, God help me.

It’s been some summer I’ve been having, as full of twists and turns as the classic Wild Mouse ride that almost yanks your head clear off the celery-stalk of your dear little neck. (Or wait, maybe it’s more accurate to call those twists and turns ‘ups and downs’ in honor of all the Big Boy roller coasters out there.)

The story is, I had one of the tendons in my shoulder repaired in mid-June and it’s kind of sad, because even all this way through August I dread the nights for the pain that they bring. When you’re moving around as you do during the day, see, you’re sort of ok, in part because your movements pump the healing blood up into the site, a badly needed thing since, as I understand it, the shoulder doesn’t have much of a blood supply on its own. Most nights, by contrast, I’m so sleep-deprived I keep thinking I’m the parent of a newborn again,

Ah but the mornings! The mornings this summer have been lovely. This is the view from the guest bedroom, a view I relished every morning as I sat sling-bound in my rented recliner chair. fullsizeoutput_5127

So an undeniable upside has been having the time to look out the window at Nature.

A second downside, however, is I can’t near do near enough walking, since walking any real distance makes the pain in my shoulder worse. (Now if I were a NUN, gliding along on the roller skates my sister Nan and I always suspected the nuns in our convent school had hidden under their robes, it probably wouldn’t hurt much at all.)

But the upside there? I’m getting a LOT of reading done.

A third downside is that I can’t blowdry my hair. Oh, I can wash it, sort of, using my one functioning arm. I just CANNOT lift both arms in the way you need to do to blow it dry. And without blowdrying, my hair looks like a stainless steel  scouring pad after months of use when it loses its integrity and just splays out in runaway coils. I shouldn’t complain about that, I know, because now I get to go to this walk-in salon where I can get any one several operators to style and blowdry my hair FOR  me – and really only once did I get a stylist who gave me a definite Phyllis Diller look.

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Fourth downside, and I’ll stop here, I promise:

I can’t wear the contact lenses I have relied on for nearly 30 years. I just can’t get them IN, where I need both hands for that operation and I can’t get my dominant hand anywhere near my eye. I’ve never worn glasses in my life until now and frankly I’m not doing so well with the whole progressive lens thing. But the upside here if I’m honest?  What I’m really doing this summer is getting a whole lot of binge-watching in, and God bless the invention of TV!

So here we are…

 I slept poorly last night, natch, but again this morning I woke to a matchless summer dawn.  Below, the view from my office-that-is-an-office-no-more since I’ve left the column-writing game but is instead just an airy upstairs room that anyone at all can relax in. In fact you guys should come by anytime! I have a fridgeful of eats from the Prepared Foods aisle and I can show you my newly mastered trick of tucking in the top sheet on even a king-size bed using just my own little toes.

(Click on the video if it looks askew. It plays right when you do.) 

 

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The Upside of Being on the DL

I think where I last left off in this absorbing tale  I was two days out of surgery and throwing up on my new recliner ‘lift’ chair, an apparatus that still looks to me like a still from a Stephen King movie where somebody’s long-suffering furniture comes alive and goes after its idiot owner.

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Today though, I’ll spare you further grisly tales and say only that there are real silver linings to recovering from an operation. I mean, where would the world be without the caregivers, whether paid or voluntary? Immediately after ‘losing it’ in that grab–the-towels way,  I called two RN friends, both of whom manifested like a couple of  heavenly apparitions, one bearing an analgesic far less terrifying than the oxy the surgeon had prescribed. (And THAT stuff, whoo! You take it and you still have the pain, all right. You just also have a whole lot of other weird sensations too. On oxycodone I felt like a wildly scrambled swirl of hurt wrapped up in a cotton candy cocoon.)

Besides remembering that I was the recipient of a lot of good care in those first weeks spent feebly sitting around in my ice-filled sling I now recall watching a super long, multi-episode documentary about the Roosevelts.  Visitors came and went and I would greet them with  “Look! It’s the Roosevelts!” to which most would reply, in somewhat puzzled fashion, “Ah yes, the Roosevelts.”

I also remember in this early time of confinement actually looking at some of the seeming thousands of catalogs that drop through my mail slot every week . It seems I am now officially, and universally, targeted as a likely customer for catalogs with names such as “A Time for Me”, whose translation might as well be “Make Your Own Damn Dinner,” and “As We Change,” whose primary message is “Of Course WE Like Your New Mustache But Should You Ever Wish to Get Rid of it Our Newly Patented Mini-Taser Will Do the Job Nicely.)  Mostly of course such catalogs are marketing just two main items: (1) Loose-fitting clothing and (2) Vibrators. Who knew?

And look at that: Even setting down such a racy observation shows me that now, with the knife eight whole weeks in my past, I’m at last getting back my ability to smile. 🙂

24 Hours Post-Op

The initial 24 hours following my rotator cuff surgery were event-filled all right, but mostly for the hidden gifts they brought me.  The first gift came when, on returning home just two hours after the surgeon had packed up his saws and chisels, I saw that my friend Sarah had alighted like a benevolent fairy on this house and left an entire meal, along with an array of wildflowers that looked like they were straight from the opening scene of The Sound of Music. She had even set the table with two goblets, a nice wine for David and some sparkling water for me.

I ate it all, if a tad tentatively, then spent that first night quaking with dread over the  real pain that was sure to ensue, while an electric ice machine with a Mr. Snuffleupagus-like snout nuzzled around inside my giant brace.

post surgery sling brace

I’m pretty sure that by morning David couldn’t get off to work fast enough, but THAT WAS OK, THAT WAS FINE because we both knew I had a heavenly host of caregivers – well, two caregivers – arriving at 9:00.

Aisha was the actual caregiver and Gayle was her supervisor. Gayle had come twice before, first to interview me the week before the operation and again several days later to lend me two chairs, one for the shower and one with rails to set over the toilet, this one being designed so that, having sat down, a person could hopefully, with a mighty one-armed effort, stand up again without pitching over into the wall and onto to the floor.

Aisha was from Uganda as she told me, and a more sensitive companion I could not have asked for. I vaguely remember her helping me down the stairs and settling me into the amusement park ride of a reclining lift chair we were told to procure. I recall the two of us speaking at first about Idi Amin and Lake Victoria and later about how meaningful she finds it, in her other job at the nursing home, to sit in the presence of the dying. Weeks after her visit I came upon the notes she had made about her time with me. She called me ‘a wonderful lady’  – this in spite of my exceedingly sparse knowledge of her home country – and added that I was “alert and oriented. “Ask her what she wants you to do for her and she will let you know. She has been a little shaky walking but is generally very strong. The shift is ending now at 3:30, and Terry is resting in her chair. She has had plenty to drink but has eaten very little.”

Eating very little doubtless because within an hour of her departure I threw up and lost not only the breakfast in bed that my mate had made for me but all of Sarah’s lovely food from the night before. “David! Dodson! A bowl!” I yipped to my husband and honorary son seconds before it was too late,  but didn’t they hurry into the living room, the dears, reassuring me that this was no big deal and quickly wiping away all the ‘evidence’.

This was just the first 24 hours of my 50-days-and-counting post-op period and if it will help any other candidates for this surgery I can tell about other days as well. I can’t write in my diary yet – too painful to hold a pen – so this serves as a record for me as well.

In the meantime here are Dodson and David way back in the old days when ONE of them, at age 18, was still just a little shy about open displays of affection. 🙂

Dodson and Dave '90

One Bad Wing

All through May and half of June I knew I was about to have the famously painful rotator cuff surgery, and what I pictured was so bad it practically scared the hair coloring right off my head. Day and night I lived in the kingdom of panic.

HOW, for example, would I go about the so-called Activities of Daily Life with my dominant arm immobilized in the large contraption I would have to wear day and night for six or eight or even (gad!) ten weeks? What about bathroom tasks? Should I be fashioning hundreds of little ‘corsages’ out of toilet paper like the ones we made from Kleenex for our moms when we were kids? I knew I wouldn’t be able to reach over that big sling/brace to reach the ol’ Charmin roll, affixed to the wall on my dead side as it is. 

toilet paper carnations

And what about feeding myself? How would I one-handedly slide a baking-panful of heavy raw chicken into the oven, much less heave a pot of water onto the stove for pasta? How would I even SEE, since I wouldn’t be able to reach my eyes to put in my contacts?

“You can lift a coffee cup and a fork and that’s it,” the surgeon’s assistant had told me a month before Scalpel Time. “You cannot send your arm out to the side. You cannot  lift it to the front. And you, cannot, under any circumstances, reach it behind you. BUT HEY YOU’LL BE FINE!” he crowed gaily. “Just think of yourself as half a T-Rex with one tiny arm!”

As warnings go, these were dire but they were honest too. And once the knives and saws and drills came out on June 14th at two o’clock in the afternoon, I set aside all feelings of dread and got down to the business of getting through.

The surgeon did too. He and his team yanked the two ends of my severed tendon together and stitched it over with what I picture as the kind of indestructible packing tape you use when you’re mailing packages. He drilled and sawed and sewed for two-plus hours and sent me home three hours after that with the admonition that I was not to lie down for eight weeks but rather sleep sitting up, either propped with a million pillows in the bed or else in a reclining ‘lift’ chair.

That was almost seven weeks ago and during all this time I haven’t been able to write with a pen. Even keyboarding hurts like the devil. Oh but there have been  so many things I have wanted to say here, most of them not even about this procedure! I just wanted to get this grisly tale told first.

post rotator cuff 'graffiti'a week post-op

So yes, I’m severely limited still. Flossing too is about impossible, I can’t drive and I couldn’t chop an onion if I wanted to. But just thinking here about those toilet paper corsages has me smiling, and that’s something all by itself. 🙂

 

Call Me Eeyore

eeyore quoteBack in the long-ago 90s I did therapy for six months (a) because I felt sort of busily jazzed up trying to save the world at all times and (b) because my husband thought I should. Maybe he detected a sadness under all my over-functioning I don’t know. I started going all right but every time I went to that therapist’s office I could tell her how everyone else in my life was but not how I was. After a few sessions she told me that as fascinating as my lively tales about other people were, she felt frustrated that I couldn’t talk about myself. If there was sadness underneath all my rushing-about what WAS that sadness? Darned if I knew.

Well LIFE SURE CURED THAT and these days anyway I do know why I’ve been so sad, so off my game, at times so bereft-feeling at times that this mate of mine sometimes finds me standing outside the bathroom door waiting for him to come back out. (I know! Pathetic!)

So, without further talk, here is my litany of reasons for sadness, some general, some specific to me.

  • Like so many of us, I am still sad  that we lost Bobby Kennedy. Fifty years ago this coming Saturday I watched his funeral and well do I remember the quaver in the voice of his one remaining brother as he gave the eulogy,  and the sight of his children crowding around his casket, and the sight of is that widow, newly pregnant with the couple’s 11th child.
  • Again, like many of us, I am sad about the changing climate with its ever-more-devastating weather events. I’m very sad that we in this country are doing so little to ward off what looks to be the very dire consequences.

Less catastrophically,  I’m sad about my own small stuff:

  • I’m sad about the way time is passing so fast. I can still picture the color, style and fabric of the dress I wore the day they buried Bobby, and now I am… how old? I said to my mate only last Christmas, “Just think! In 15 years I’ll be 73!” “Um,” he replied with a kind smiled, “in 15 years you’ll be 83.” Where did it all go?
  • I’ve been very sad that I can’t seem to write much anymore. It just hurts to sit, to stand, even to lie down for any length of time with a spinal column that has come to resemble a Crazy Straw the way it veers right up by my bra-line, then veers sharply left around my hips, then ends with a flourish of two additional veerings that together deliver pain not only to my back but also clear down one leg. Sigh.
  • I’m sad about my digestion-related insides since I now have “bacterial overgrowth” in there, which is diagnosed by having one blow air into a glass tube and send it off  in the mail. That part was kind of fun, to be honest, a little like capturing fireflies – only these turn out not to be fireflies at all but rather a dense civilization of little sea monkeys as I picture them. These tiny tenants  now renting space in there have apparently moved in for keeps, the doctor says, so that for the rest of my life if I wish not to suffer I can’t eat wheat, barley, dairy or really any kind of sugar including the innocent fructose that comes in apples peaches, nectarines and so on. Who wouldn’t get sad on being told this news?
  • And finally, to conclude this tale of woe, I am about to have rotator cuff surgery, which sounds both so picturesquely dreadful and immobilizing that I’m actually looking forward to the adventure of it . More on THAT another day.

So there it all is and maybe that stern therapist was right: I do feel better for having told all this.  Also, there’s a real upside to the thought of being unable to so much as wash a dish or fold a pair of underpants for ten whole weeks. Plus anyway come on: Who doesn’t love sea monkeys?

sea-monkeys

On the Path

It’s nearly three weeks since I began taking that increased dose of the thyroid-boosting drug and, if I’m honest, nearly three weeks since I began also taking an antidepressant. Who knows whence cometh my help as the Bible says? Will it have come from those loving individuals who reacted to my last post? For sure. Will it have come as well from lifting up my eyes unto those hills that the Psalmist talks about, especially now that their trees have set their petticoats to flouncing? Very likely. And it also seems that the process of paying closer attention to everything outside myself will help. 

For example: 

The other night I sat parked next to a 100-foot stretch of bike path that emerges from a wooded glade to create a small ‘stage’ before disappearing back into the foliage. This path passes through a number of towns just north and west of Boston here, so in itself it is far from rural. In fact I found myself beside it in this parking lot because I had just met my grown daughter and her two babies for an early supper. And when I returned to my car afterward, the light of the May evening was just billowing so that I had to pause and watch as an ever-freshening stream of people passed. 

Here zipped past a whippet-thin cyclist curved like an apostrophe over his handlebars.

Now here came an identically dressed brace of young women, high-stepping like a couple of drum majors.

Now I watched a man lope by at an easy trot, plugged, like almost everyone I saw, into his ear buds.

As I sat I saw that for ten or 15 seconds at a stretch, the path would be empty. And the sky was so blue. And the light was so golden.

I watched as an older lady in a sari appeared. She paused as if winded, settled her fists on her hips, and called out repeatedly the name of an unseen child. It was like watching a play, for now, as if on cue, came the long-awaited child, a boy of perhaps five, zooming into sight on his little scooter to describe several small circles around his exasperated companion,  

I watched these folks and others for some 25 or 30 minutes. I would have gladly stayed another 30 but the light was now changing, growing both more luminous and more coppery and I knew I didn’t want to see it fade.

So instead I came home, tucked away the memory and remembered again that as the old Irish adage says, it is in the shelter of each other that the people live – and find freshly, every time, a sense of peace.

 

Bouncy No More

I wanted to write something about Mothers Day last week but lately I have felt put off by the idea of even opening up a blank page to create a post, and now it’s been over three months. What has happened to me?

I had an invitation 30 minutes ago to speak before a journaling group.

I turned it down.

I turned down two other offers too, in the last months. I’m just so tired of talking, tired of being a person who always speaks up, who thinks it’s her job to make it a ‘good class’ for the people around her, as if I did as a young teacher, eager to make every minute count. These days, I often sit through whole meetings without saying a word. I find I would much rather listen.

‘And this is OK’ I’ve told myself. ‘It’s an ebbing of ego is all, which can only be good’.

But now it comes back to me that near the end of my annual visit to my primary care physician last week, she asked me something as she was listening to my heart:

“So,” she said.  How’s the writing?”

I was slow to answer. “Well… I know I told you a year ago that I stopped producing the column…”

“I remember. But beyond that?”

“Beyond that, I…. I.. don’t write anymore.” The words alone caused me a pang.

“Oh, that’s just writer’s block,” she said cheerily. “It’ll pass!”

I looked down at my lap and remained silent then, leaving her to her tappings and palpatings. It was during that pause in the talk that a memory came back to me of an exchange I had had with some old old friends, my college roommates and co-member of the Class of a Thousand Years Ago, when we travelled to Italy together. Midway through the trip one of them said with a laugh, “So Terr, we just have to ask: What happened to that wicked wit we all remember? You’re just sort of … kind these days,” and laughed again, to show she loved me anyway.

Looking up from my lap I related this freshly remembered exchange to my doctor who took the stethoscope from her ears and looked me full in the face.

“Are you sleeping?” she asked.

“Sure,” I said. “In fact, most days I can hardly get up.” And I told how I stay in the bed, awake and looking out the window for 60 or sometimes 90 minutes until my husband gets up.

“Listen to me,” she then said. “I get what your classmates meant. For more than two decades, every time you have come in here you’ve been practically bouncing, in high spirits, and full of stories. These last two visits I haven’t seen that. At all. I think we have to consider the possibility that you have dysthymia, a term for chronic low-grade depression.”

Normally I would have laughed, the way I did back in the 90s when she told me my bloodwork revealed hypothyroidism. “Hypothyroidism?” I had said. “What are the symptoms?” We looked up the condition on her computer and she swung the monitor around so I could see. “Low energy, sadness, sleep issues,” it read, along with 40 other unhappy signposts.

I was almost offended at the time. “But you know me! “ I said back then. “Does my busy life sound as if it comes with any of these symptoms? And now you’re saying I have to take a pill every day for the rest of my life? What happens if I don’t?”

“If you don’t, you’re facing all of this and more,” she’d replied, indicating the screen.

So, these 25 years later, I take the Levoxyl, which is no big deal. Last Friday though, the bloodwork from this latest visit came back, indicating that my level of need has increased. She has upped my dosage therefore and I guess we’ll see. Either that does the trick or  I’ll need additional help.

In the meantime I want to aplogize to any of you out there who have been wondering if I’m still here. I’m here. And from now on I’ll be taking some advice I learned from the Recovery movement and fake it til I make it, which means,  “performing actions that are known to be positive even if one is not necessarily comfortable with them.” In other words “the mind may be willing, but the emotions may not be there yet.”

I’ll do that now. I’ll fake it ’til I make it. I’ll try just ‘showing up’ which, after all, is what most people do every day, whether they feel like it or not.