Pandemonium: a chaotic situation; tumult.
Pandemic: a global outbreak of disease.
NOTE: The COVID-19 pandemic is real and it’s devastating. In the following posts, I am in no way minimizing what good folks around the globe are facing in loss of income, sense of security or family members. This is simply a look into my personal world with one jaded eye…while the other one is filled with sadness, empathy and hope for all of us.
From Darlene’s mouth to God’s ears: My daughter did me right (see Pandemonium Part 2).
Within three days of my arrival at DD’s, my darling daughter’s, house, I was in a nearby outpatient hospital being prepped for what was billed as a 90-minute surgery to repair my fractured humerus.
“I want the nerve block, too,” I told the anesthesiologist as he described the propofol and versed cocktail he’d inject into my IV line. My son-in-law told me to ask for the block as he’d heard horror stories about the after pain from shoulder surgery–and he knew I’d be in their house during my recovery.
The deep sting of a long needle aside, the block immediately numbed my upper right torso, and as the nurse told DD she could tell me goodbye before they wheeled me to the OR, the doctor was testing the IV’s efficacy. When he asked me about MY favorite cocktail, I went straight to the margarita, describing in detail how I like it, then adding, “Hold the salt–it will bloat you,” or so DD recounted.
Thankfully, I remember none of this drugged-up convo, nor do I remember the surgeon telling my family afterward that the fracture had splintered and the bone had shifted since the original scans.
I’m now sporting more metal in my right arm than what’s on a gold-studded Valentino handbag. It took four hours, 11 screws and a metal plate to make the repairs. “Your mother is not going to like me tomorrow,” the surgeon warned DD.
But, my son-in-law did me right, too, as that nerve block worked like a charm. High on oxycodone, leftover anesthesia and with a nifty little machine pumping icy compressed air around my incision, I was chipper as a chipmunk for 24 hours: Sending out chatty emails, talking to my three merrymakers, and asking for things I could eat using my left arm.
Then, that nerve block wore off.
And I entered the portals of hell.
I won’t bore you, dear readers, with my very slow, depressing recovery in an immobilizer sling with a shelf for my wounded wing, which made me look like I was carrying a long-barreled shotgun under my wool poncho. Many a fitful night ensued, trying to sleep upright and control convulsing pain at 2 am when the bedtime dose of oxy wore off.
But what’s different about my story is that by the time the surgeon said I was healed enough to fly back home to CA where I could complete my physical therapy–COVID had come calling.
I was stranded.
(Please see NOTE at the top of this post).
Feeling that five weeks was plenty to ask my dear family for food, shelter, ice and sympathy, I hitched a ride to the nearest rental car office, climbed into a white SUV, and felt the bare-knuckled (only one set of knuckles since my right arm was still immobilized) freedom of driving–I hadn’t touched a steering wheel in six weeks, and was not quite cleared to drive yet by the surgeon. However, I was desperate for some semblance of my old life.
My next stop was the condo office where I rented last summer–yes, they could lease me a furnished place for three months. A one-armed packing job aside, I was cozied up watching cable on a down-filled sofa in my own apartment by the next night, missing the kids already but knowing I needed some quiet space–and so did they.
As I write this, I now have a plane ticket to return to my desert home later this month. The dusting of snow that welcomed me here in February has been replaced by cloudless skies, a big ol’ dollop of humidity and fully-bloomed flower beds. I’ve had 35 physical therapy sessions, an hour each, and probably have a couple dozen more to go before I regain an acceptable use of my right arm. I most likely have lost forever 30 degrees of above-my head flexion, which even the physical therapist agrees is a miracle it’s not more.
“Did you lose your sense of humerus?” my pal Big T. asked me post injury. Yep, I sure did.
But on a sunny yet brisk Easter Monday, I saw the light.
While lying flat on my back atop a black vinyl physical therapy table, the man in my life three mornings a week, therapist M., was working like a determined Rottweiler, manipulating my arm (a nice way to say he pulls it every which way but loose so that scar tissue doesn’t turn into concrete). Wincing, I closed my eyes and it appeared: A traffic light-green orb hovering just behind my left eyelid.
With every pull and twist and extension, the orb pulsated and I fixated on it, like a yoga chakra. Instead of bracing myself for what was coming, I tried easing into the release, as layers of muscle and taut tendons that guarded my broken bone began to relax, too.
Physical therapy is an intimate act, really. Someone who starts out as a stranger becomes your healer, protector and confidante; M. was the first man who’s had his hands on that many parts of my upper body, well, in years. We talked about my kids and his, his education and mine, how we spent our weekends, and finally he drilled down on some of the details of my fall on a difficult day where my progress seemed stagnant, my whole body inflamed and achy.
“The mind/body connection is part of you getting better, Linda,” he said, as he gently moved my arm to the most painful spot, the inward rotation, and the twinges became torrents from shoulder to fingertips. “We’ve talked about your fall, but you’ve only mentioned briefly the burglary that started all of this. Have you processed your anger, your fear about what happened?” he asked.
How in the hell did a millennial get so smart?
About three hours after that session, the tears finally came, in the same torrential way the pain had come on that table. The more I cried and felt sorry for myself, the more I raged at the assholes who crowbarred my bedroom door open and had their way with my safe space. I was a sniffling, snuffling mess.
Yet as Big T. said to me just days before when I was whining about my plight, “Be glad you’re seeing an ortho and not an oncologist.”
I get off the elevator the next day for PT, and pass the empty Sarcoma Clinic next door to my therapy space. As thousands are dying each day of COVID complications, my empathy pops up, too, for the cancer patients who can’t risk coming to their appointments for fear of getting sicker. I am thankful that my clinic has remained open, daily distancing folks as we mask and sanitize over and over, and get the help we need to move our broken parts in a new way.
And how lucky I was stranded, I think, with my family during this deadly pandemic, until it’s easy to see the silver lining I’d hoped for in all this mess: I celebrated Easter, Mother’s Day and Memorial Day, something that hadn’t happened in six years, with DD, my sweet son-in-law (who is the best griller AND ice machine filler I know), and the three merrymakers. I sat curbside for rollicking birthday drive-bys for Wee (who cannot be 11 already!!) and for baby T, who’s now five but assembles Lego tanks and trucks made for much older kids. I saw middle child, J, suit up in brand new catcher’s garb, his baseball schedule curtailed by COVID. And we all shared casual suppers together on the kids’ back deck when spring was ushered in on gentle breezes.
My time here has been as sweet as the strawberry shortcake I like to fix them for dessert, all loaded with enough whipped cream to start a cavity.
Six months into the Year of the Rat, I laugh at the thought of my concern over the tiny little line that a derm cut into my left cheek earlier in the year as he removed a skin cancer. I now sport a real doozy of a pink line that runs about 7 inches as the crow flies from the top of my shoulder, past my armpit and alongside my deltoid, and I absolutely know what I’ll say when somebody asks what happened.
“Knife fight. You should see the other guy.”