Six Months of Practicing Daily Gratitude

Six months ago, Wednesday, January 11, at this very moment, I was writhing in pain on a gurney in the emergency room at St. Peter’s Hospital waiting for the results of my x-rays. I was trying not to snap at my sister Sandy, alternating between bursts of crying followed by deep breathing. Every fifteen minutes or so, when she would try to tell me to calm down and not think too far ahead, I tried to ground myself with a gratitude list.

I am not alone.

You are here with me.

They finally got an IV started.

The orthopedic intern is cute. Cocky and arrogant, but cute.

I am not in a coma.

They brought me a warm blanket.

I can feel my feet.

That was the list. I kept repeating variations of it throughout the evening as we received confirmation of my broken femur and I was admitted to a bed on the orthopedic unit. The list grew throughout the night. I was grateful for surviving the transfer from the gurney to a hospital bed, a roll on and off the bed pan, and the manipulation of my leg into an immobilizing splint. I doubt I adequately conveyed the depth of my gratitude to Sandy for her willingness to spend that first night with me and adjust my bed every 15 minutes. The hospital was unable to locate bed controls I could operate independently, so Sandy pushed the buttons on command as I begged her to raise and lower my head and feet, adjusting pillows along the way.

I am not alone.

You are here with me.

My feet are warm.

The pain meds are working.

I am not in a coma.

I only broke one leg. Can you imagine if they were both broken?!

Over the next 2 days while I waited for surgery, the list changed. I was grateful to several nurses, but after four failed attempts I was especially appreciative of the fifth nurse who tried to insert a catheter into my bladder around 10:30 PM Thursday – the one who FINALLY got it. I was grateful for my boss, who stopped by to tell me not to worry about work. I was grateful to my friends who came to relieve Sandy so she could get some rest.

I am not alone.

You are here with me.

They are going to be able to do surgery.

I can drink all I want without having to worry about transferring to the bed pan since they finally got the catheter in. Did you ever think I would be grateful for a catheter? Thank God I have a sense of humor.

Thank God I went to Australia last year!

I’ve written about my experience with rehab, and the transition home. I’ve shared my triumphs publicly along the way through my blog and social media- transferring in and out of my van, driving, and returning to work. My updates have been some of my “most liked” posts, garnering many comments along the lines of “Atta girl!” and “Good on ya!” Throughout it all, I kept finding ways to be grateful. Even when I was in the middle of a “this-sucks-and-I-HATE-that-everything-has-changed” self-pity cry fest.

I am not alone.

You are here with me.

I have heat.

There is food in my fridge.

I can binge-watch ‘The Doctor Blake Mysteries’ all afternoon if I want and find out if the good doctor ever finally ends up with Jane.

My job allows me to work from home, for the most part.

Thank God I have an understanding employer.

Six months after the latest event which completely changed everything about my life, I recognize my significant progress. I am thrilled to be driving – yet still remain dependent on others because I cannot independently transfer from my driver’s seat to my wheelchair. I am grateful to have new Personal Assistant staff – but remain distrustful due to recent burglaries at my home. I am excited to see improvements in my knee strength and range of motion – but the chronic pain is exhausting. I realized last week that I no longer complain about pain in any other part of my body. I don’t even notice pain anywhere else anymore because it doesn’t compare to the pain in my knee. That’s not because I’m taking pain medications. I mentioned the burglaries, right? Guess what was stolen?

The biggest hurdle is my inability to access a toilet outside my home. Since I am still not weight-bearing on my broken leg, I cannot perform a stand-pivot transfer from my wheelchair. I use a slide board to transfer on and off the toilet. The board I use, combined with my limited trunk control, requires me to transfer on/off a platform seat. I wrote about this when I described transitioning home from the rehab hospital in this post. Since the only toilet I can use is located in my house, I am limited in how long I can be away from home.

Think about the number of times you use the toilet throughout each day. Now, imagine you have to return to your house every time you need to use the toilet. It doesn’t matter if you have a meeting, or a lunch appointment, or plan to volunteer somewhere in your community. Now, imagine you not only need to return home, but you need to have a nondisabled person at home with you every time you need to use the toilet. Then, imagine you are a menstruating female and think about using a slide board while you are bleeding for five days each month. Or, transfer onto your bed to use a bed pan.

Too graphic? Sorry – but it’s reality. And reality is not pretty. It’s messy and complicated. Life is like that for everyone, not just those of us who live with disability.

It is the main reason my gratitude lists “post femur fracture” are particularly important now. Because when I am stuck in the middle of of a “this-sucks-and-I-HATE-that-everything-has-changed” self-pity cry fest (and there have been lots of those these past six months), one of the only ways I know to pull myself around is to force myself to grateful. I don’t have to be grateful for the pain, or grateful for the fracture which is giving me plenty of life lessons and fodder for writing. I just need to concentrate on the start of my list, the same two lines I use to start every gratitude list I make.

I am not alone.

You are here with me.

Strength is not found in the number of repetitions performed during an exercise routine. It is not described in the extra degrees of range of motion measured during a physical therapy re-evaluation. The strength to endure comes from knowing the burden is carried by more than your own shoulders. The strength to persevere comes from understanding we don’t have to face our latest challenge alone.

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18 thoughts on “Six Months of Practicing Daily Gratitude

  1. This wasn’t TMI. Thanks for your honesty! This probably doesn’t help right now, but maybe in a few years it will seem more relevant. I recently went through menopause (I turned 50 last December). I made myself some mental lists kind of like yours of why I love menopause and am grateful for it. Not bleeding every month tops the list, and it’s a pretty good one!

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    • I have told many people that if I ever need to be anesthetized for surgery ever again, I want my uterus to be removed at the same time. I have known all of my life I never want to be a mother, and I definitely do not want to be pregnant. For 20 years I have asked medical providers about taking care of this medically and still I get my period every month. I need to write a blog post about my experiences with this probably. I don’t mind if the ovaries stay in – but I have no need for my uterus.

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  2. Long ago a friend and I thought you should be able to have your uterus removed when you are done with it. I had to have cancer in my 60s for that to happen, but it has been better than I ever thought. I am now six years past the surgery and cancer. Hopefully, you can convince someone that being wheel-chair bound would be easier if you didn’t have to have that monthly thing. I adore your writing and thank you so much for letting us into your life.

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    • Oh, I completely agree! If you aren’t going to use it – why do you need to keep it?! I am glad you are doing well. Thank you for taking the time to read, and for sharing your thoughts.

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  3. Denise, working with clients in various states of disability, I appreciate your honesty and I truly empathize with your plight.

    Your rehab cannot be easy.

    I’m pissed about the caregivers/personal assistants and even the suspicion of theft.

    I admire your candor, your tenacity, your willingness to share intimately with us.

    You’re a strong lady!

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    • Rehab has been interesting. As someone who spent the first 10 years of her professional life in the rehabilitation arena, I knew what I was in for. My body’s response has been challenging – but it’s never done what I think it “ought” to do before. Why am I surprised it’s not doing it now?!

      I am pissed about the theft, but only because I can’t get the medicine that has helped. The replacement is not as effective. Next week I talk to my doctor about going to pain management. I share the experiences because I know there may be someone who will learn from it. I appreciate your comments and your support!

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  4. I love your gratitude lists and you inspire me to work on my own. Pain med theft – horrible. I used to work with two women who were addicted, and it was amazing what they’d do to get more. Periods – I used to take a birth control shot ( Depo-Prevera) every few months that completely stopped them. Ask your doc about it.

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    • Thank you! I have spoken to my doctor about several options for period cessation. Some of the options don’t mix well with my other medical conditions, given risk factors and complications. The opiod addiction problem is one which has impacted my life in many ways this past year. All 3 of my burglaries in the past 6 months were related to people looking for pills to get high or money to buy pills to get high.

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  5. I feel privileged to be one of the people you shared this with. I love your attitude towards life and honesty about it’s challenges and barriers. While I try to stay connected here, just know I am always here. You’ve got my personal site, too. Thanks for sharing and don’t ever lose your incredible attitude!

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  6. Love, love, LOVE gratitude practice. And I always forget to do it, and then when I come back to it, I can’t understand why I ever left it. My new gratitude lists will all start the same way now: “I am not alone. You are here with me. I am not in a coma.” Love!

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    • I started including the coma gratitude after spending 4 days in a coma in 2013. While the near death experience changed me, I don’t necessarily want to have a repeat! I am grateful for you, and the gifts of your encouragement and friendship.

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