Friday, August 31, 2012

Learning to Reframe the Message

I am attempting to settle into the new routine that requires me to wear two splints on my arm for an hour at a time, three times a day, to speed up the stretching and healing process. It’s a real stroke of luck that my doctor knew about these miraculous aids, which are called JAS splints.  They work on the principle that slow stretching, where I can control the pain, is better than a rigid splint that requires 6-8 hours of suffering. It’s the “tortoise” approach, which fits my philosophy that this will take as long as it takes but eventually, my right hand will be able to touch my right shoulder.

While I’m sitting in the splints, I’ve been reading a great book by Jill Bolte Taylor, “My Stroke of Insight”.  Jill is a neuro-scientist who had a stroke at age 37 and is now almost fully recovered. She describes her experience in a fascinating, spiritually open hearted way, and it has helped me enormously to shape the way that my mind is perceiving my own pain and challenges. Of course, I am very aware that what she went through was so much more difficult and serious than repairing a broken arm and dislocated elbow.  Still, I am able to use her as a role model, especially in moments when I feel discouraged or negative. 

It’s interesting to see that she supports scientifically how thinking positive and surrounding yourself with people who are encouraging and kind leads to miraculous results.  After re-organizing my life to accommodate wearing the splints for three hours a day, I must say that I was feeling pretty grouchy and resentful.  Yesterday, I found myself dreading having to put on the splint, and I became aware that the stretching is causing more pain than I anticipated, despite the gentler approach.  I asked myself what would Jill Bolte Taylor tell me about dealing with this . This morning, I strapped the wrist splint on as I told myself how lucky I was to be able to have these tools to speed up the recovery. I found something interesting and distracting to listen to on the Internet (Krista Tippett interviewing Roseanne Cash at “On Being”). I consciously relaxed each time I tightened the knob to increase the pressure on my wrist to give me more “supination”.  I stayed in the moment and didn’t let my mind race over all the things that I still have to do today.

Two and a half more hours in the splints still to go. Horses to be brushed, chores to be done, a meeting this afternoon, dinner to cook, and I can’t let all those tasks run over the two sessions that I need to have with my splints.  I’m trying not to think about how I have to do this every single day for who knows how long – maybe months. I’m trying just to congratulate myself for getting it done today and taking time to notice how my elbow and wrist are moving more, even if they are sore. I’ve added pep talks to my daily to-do list.

“ I may not be in total control of what happens in my life, but I certainly am in charge of how I perceive my experience.”
Jill Bolte Taylor

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Stella Bella

Stella, Stella, Stella… what am I going to do about you, mia puppia! This is a revved up, crazy dog, and I am having a hard time keeping up with her.  She’s half lab and half Springer Spaniel, but there are days when I swear that she’s also part Whippet. I can run her for a few hours and after a twenty-minute rest, she’s ready to play all over again.

When my stepson was a little boy, someone asked him to do something and he replied, “I don’t listen to that.” It’s been a saying in our house for many years, and Stella clearly subscribes to that philosophy. Some days, when I call her, she will run like the wind to be with me, but if there’s a stinky good smell or a small furry creature that she’s after, it’s “I don’t listen to that!” While I was unable to go outside with the dog when I first broke my arm, my husband invented a game called “chase the stick”. Stella finds these huge branches that she gets in her mouth and proudly marches around. To exercise her, my husband would run after her, and she learned how to play keep away.  Big mistake. Now, she’s started just taking off into the woods when she is off the leash, and it’s really hard to get her to come back – especially since I can’t really chase after her yet. She teases me, running in circles around me refusing to let me get near her.

Stella has in the last two months also become afraid of some things that never used to bother her. She suddenly hates having Frontline put on her back. She used to love to go to the vet but recently, she’s terrified. No one has ever done anything to hurt her, and since she was a puppy, I was really good about touching her ears and her legs and generally getting her used to being handled.  Just during the time I have been injured, my trusting pup has become a total scaredy cat. If she sees me approaching with dog treats, she runs away like I’m going to poison her. So I’m going to have to go back to step one and start over on training her.

I’m going to begin taking her to doggie day care so she can spend more time playing with other dogs while I’m healing my arm. I just don’t have it in me to go for the long walks that we used to, and my daughter and husband are too busy right now to help exercise her.  If anyone has any ideas about the re-training process or any of this, I’d welcome them. I’ve had dogs my whole life, and they’ve all always wanted to stay by my side off leash and been really responsive and well behaved.  I’ve done all the same things with Stella, but she’s got a mind of her own and can become oblivious to anything I do to get her attention.

I’m used to trusting my dogs without a leash, but right now, Stella is on a short lead or a long retractable flexi leash whenever we leave the house.  I was visiting a friend this week who has a golden retriever puppy that is younger than Stella. This dog was so mellow and calm that it almost seemed like he was drugged.  I came home to be joyously greeted by my wild child, and while I admit that I was feeling jealous, I also knew that I wouldn’t trade Stella for anything in the world. I’m sure that she has some lessons to teach me while I’m teaching her.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Changing the Dream

I spend a lot of time sitting in an armchair that was my father’s favorite chair, placed in our family room next to the window.  As I was growing up in a small town outside of Chicago, I recall how my father loved this over-stuffed chair with its matching ottoman and relaxed in it every night after a long day at work. When he passed away, my mother settled into “Papa’s chair” for many years, observing our front yard and the comings and goings of our neighborhood.  Over time, this venerable throne has aged. The fabric that is a green Southwestern print has faded from the sun. The stuffing in the cushions has settled into slightly lumpy but contoured shape for a perfect fit.   Now, it’s my turn to occupy this comfy seat as I heal myself.

  I’m going to be spending three hours a day sitting around in a splint for the next couple of months, which is supposed to speed up the stretching and bending of my right arm and elbow.  It’s also going to give me probably way too much time to think. In fact, I have been trying to spend more time not thinking, just meditating and staring out the window at the beautiful peaceful view while our cat. Velcro, sprawls sleeping on my lap. If I position myself properly, I can see the horses in the back pasture by gazing out of the windows across the room as well as observing the goings-on in the front of our property.

 It’s a perfect place to use my laptop to visit everyone’s blogs. I was traveling around the Internet the other day and stopped to check in with my friend, Deborah Carr, at  “Nature ofWords”. She lives in Eastern Canada in a panoramic bit of heaven.  Her post about how things don't always go as planned when following one’s dreams gave me lots of food for thought: “I’m not saying that dreams are not worth fighting for, certainly the purpose of a dream is to pull us beyond our boundaries, but maybe it’s worth examining why This Dream is so damn important. I think sometimes you have to pick that old heavy rock of a Dream up, turn it over and look beneath to see what is really there. Is it money, recognition, status, power, ambition, security, envy? …..Or is it someone else’s Dream?
I’ve always been a big one for dreaming a dream and following it. I’ve also gone down several paths and hit a dead end or decided that it wasn’t really going to be what I had dreamed it would be. I have learned that one dream usually leads to another and another. I don’t regret pursuing any of these dreams that I left by the wayside because each one gave me a skill or a lesson that I needed at that time. Still, I think that Deborah brings up an important idea. Certainly, at this point in my life,  I’m free floating and reconsidering what direction I want to go next. I get lots of helpful suggestions –“You should do this. You should do that.” And then, there’s all this crazy new technology racing along at the speed of light, outmoding and replacing many of the creative avenues that I used to travel. 
It’s probably a good thing that I have a well-worn, time tested seat in which to contemplate what it all means to me.  As Gabriel Garcia Marquez wrote: “It is not true that people stop pursuing dreams because they grow old, they grow old because they stop pursuing dreams.”

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Carrying On

I just went outside to give some hay to the horses, and I noticed Silk was hot so I decided to rinse off her neck with some cold water.  It took me so long since I had to protect my right arm – I am no longer wearing the brace!  I was struggling with the hose, the pump, the corral gate, getting over heated and so frustrated that when my husband appeared magically and asked if I needed help, I started to cry. 

This is only Day One of my daughter’s vacation in California, and I promised myself that I wouldn’t get discouraged over the next week as I attempted to get back to my usual chores. I’ve had a setback in my physical therapy due to over zealous aggravation of my soft tissue around my elbow. Both my doctor and my pt guy – two very confident young men - blamed me for being too diligent with my exercises. I walked around for a while feeling bad and angry until I realized that this was not my fault. I was only doing what I was told to do. So I decided that I wasn’t going to be blamed or intimidated by anyone. There felt like there was all this pressure and false deadlines being imposed on me. I am going to heal in whatever time it takes, through thoughtful and encouraging steady effort, not by anyone trying to make me feel worse than I already do.

Over time, I’ve learned to be an advocate for my horse and for my child. Now, I have to stand up for my own instincts about how to deal with the pain and get better. So, I’ve had a talk with the pt guy, and he is backing off, being less aggressive. We’re still working hard on bending my elbow, but he promises he will listen to me when I tell him to stop, whereas before he’d keep going while telling me that it has to hurt if it is ever going to bend. Hopefully, I’ll feel less frightened when he starts to go at it. Just as I had to gain Silk’s trust in the beginning before she would let me do things to her when she was sore, this fellow is going to have to win back my trust. There’s a delicate balance in this pt twisting and bending, and I think it’s a real art to know how far to go and when to stop. If I don’t feel confident about what he’s doing, I’ll look for a new person to help me.

It was unexpectedly hard when I wasn’t feeling my usual strength and confidence to be able to stand up for myself. And even though I have moments like I did in the barn with Silk where I am overcome with frustration, I know that this too shall pass.  There are so many people in worse situations than I’m in who persevere and triumph. This summer, I’m certainly gaining a new perspective on my health and aging that I’m sure will change the way that I approach so many things in the future.