Photo of a waterfall seen through ferns and leaves.

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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Medical DeeScriptions

Today is Monday, January 25, 2016. Twenty-five days into a new year and my life has already had one year of action packed in. Here’s what is happening, and a brief glance at where 2016 will take DeeScribes.

I spent an enjoyable week at my sister Caroline’s house for Christmas/New Year vacation. It seems like years ago, not just three weeks. I played with puppies, crocheted projects, wrote, and visited with friends and family. It was a perfect week.

Just before leaving my sister’s house, I checked my bank account balance online. I planned to make a few returns and needed to check on my status. I discovered someone had written over $1000 of fraudulent checks.

The fraud caused me to take additional time off work to process the paperwork and fraud protection account changes. I have always had good relationships with my local police officers. Unfortunately, it is not the first time I have been the victim of theft.

At the end of the first week, I began to get sick. An ear and sinus infection kept me home for five days, coughing and congested. Of course, my wheelchair decided this would be a good time to die, so before I could go back to work Wednesday, January 13, I had to get my chair fixed.

With a working chair, I powered through 4 hours in the office before heading home. I am trying a new work schedule which permits me to work part of my day at home so I have access to an accessible rest room. Good thing, since that Wednesday my body decided to surprise me by starting my menstrual cycle. I know I don’t typically share this much personal detail here, but trust me – it’s relevant.

It’s relevant because it is why I used the bathroom with urgency on Wednesday afternoon. Or, at least, I tried to.

Instead, my leg gave out as my Personal Assistant was transferring me onto the commode. She didn’t listen to my commands, and she dropped me.

SNAP!

I heard it crack as my butt hit the floor. My left femur broke in two places.

Imagine the scene – me, half naked on the floor by the commode, bleeding profusely, knee blown the size of a basketball, a whimpering Personal Assistant trying too late to make things better, with the police officer who worked with me for five days to arrest the women who stole from me. Can you see me sobbing on the floor, in a puddle of blood, with the policeman rubbing hair out of my face while we wait for the ambulance? It wasn’t pretty.

It definitely wasn’t pretty as they moved me to a backboard and lifted me to a stretcher. It was downright ugly as I swore in pain while they secured me in the rig.

Competition at the operating rooms meant surgery did not happen until Friday. For 36 hours I lay in agony, anxiety about impending surgery coursing through me. The last time I had “routine” surgery in 2013, I spent four days on life-support in the Intensive Care Unit.

Thankfully, surgery happened on Friday. According to my surgeon, my leg is now held together with (his exact words) “plates, rods, some chicken wire and a little bubble gum.” I don’t know the exact ratio of those components. I’ll do some investigating.

For the past ten days I have slowly started the healing process. My body has been drastically changed and I don’t know what the end result will be. I don’t know where I will come out but I do know these things:

  1. Orthopedic surgery still hurts worse than any other pain I have ever felt. I forget sometimes, and then things happen to remind me.
  2. Friends and allies who speak up for you are worth their weight in gold. Once again, I was in a position to require others to have detailed conversations about my heath wishes. We have had these discussions amongst ourselves before, so when emergencies occur they know what I want. I am blessed to have Sandy, Sally, Stephanie and so many others to advocate for me when I am weak.
  3. Nurses and patient care technicians deserve to earn far more than they make. Especially the ones who answer your call bell at 2:30 AM because your eye is tearing and you can’t reach your face to itch it. And the ones who clean you up after your laxative decides to start working. And the ones who heat the soup your sister makes for you because nothing tastes good. And the ones who have to try to make you comfortable after your urinary tract infection causes you to void with urgency every half an hour. And the ones who listen to you and respect you as an expert on your body.
  4. Complementary medical treatments need to be funded and supported. The massage I received reduced my leg pain more effectively than the narcotics. And human touch is so essential for healing.

I am waiting to learn where I will go for rehabilitation. I will be non-weightbearing for at least five more weeks according to the doctors. The real work is just beginning. Transferring, driving, working, living arrangements – all of these unknown factors are still to be faced. This injury is a game-changer. There is no doubt about it.

But I am a tough cookie. And I have too many things to do. There are books to write, people to reach, hearts to touch. I am overwhelmed by the love and support given to me these past ten days. I am gathering such great fodder for future work! And I am witnessing countless acts of service and love which make me want to work harder.

To the nurses and doctors at St. Peter’s Hospital, especially McAuley 2, you are rock stars. It has been great to get to know you. I’m going to have fun writing about our times together!

I’ll blog as I am able. Letters and cards from friends have been positive and keep me focused. If you reach out to me and I don’t respond, please try again because I know I am not at 100%.

Thanks for reading, and for sending positive energy my way.