The Call

These past few months, I have been preoccupied with my rehabbing; looking for little milestones on my path towards full functioning of my hand and shoulder.

I will listen to the news regularly, but very few bits of information penetrate my bubble. I consider that I’ve become numb to the circus that has become our national political scene and have never much hung on lifestyle trends, no matter which celebrity may be involved.

But last Tuesday morning, while making tea and watching the morning news, I caught video of a developing story; another weather related tragedy that was just beginning.

Wild fires were ablaze in northern California. Black smoke filled the streets. Beautiful trees along rolling hills seemed to have been turned into kindling. Thousands of homes were being destroyed.

I was upset about the suffering in Puerto Rico following Hurricane Maria, but this uncontrollable act of nature hit me personally. My best friend lives in Sonoma.

Lin moved from Chicago about ten years ago. She sold her Bucktown home and joined her husband to live in wine country.

We have managed to see each other almost every year and have enjoyed many Friday afternoon Happy Hours telephonically. At the end of our respective workweeks, we have clinked glasses in the area of our receivers before venting about current events in our lives.

She has put so much into her house; reconfiguring the kitchen and entranceway, overseeing the rooftop installation of solar panels, converting a barn into a guesthouse, and landscaping. It was hard to think about it being threatened. Then, I was slammed with a heavier thought.

Oh my God, Was she okay?

Immediately, I texted a short note to her.

After not hearing back all day, I left a message on her home answering machine. Late at night, her husband called me to acknowledge receipt of my message.

He reported that the town was full of smoke, that they could look out their windows and see flames only two miles away, that the nearby town of Glen Ellen and various vineyards and tasting rooms I had visited with them were hit hard.

He relayed that Lin had left the previous day and was staying with friends in San Francisco and that he planned to join her the following day.

Last Wednesday, I abruptly ended another phone conversation when I saw her cell phone number flash on my caller I.D.

She explained that the devastation was incredible, that she was in touch with her boss and was advised not to even think about coming in to work. She explained that her husband was going to join her and stay a few days at Jennifer’s and that they were also in touch with his brother in Palo Alto.

The conversation was short. I don’t know if all her words registered in my brain, but I heard her VOICE. That meant everything.

For the rest of the week, I watched for more news on the region, but it was not personally geared for my concerns. She called me on Sunday night. She was home. The fires were still very close, but firefighters were doing a better job of containment.

She said that she was tired but glad to be home.

I realize how vulnerable we all are; to natural disasters or to psychologically challenged people with guns. Literally, her safety and the preservation of her home depended on which way the wind blew.

I have never had children and have never been one to require a call from friends or family after a visit to announce their return trip ended in safe arrival.

I’ve heard the expression, No news is good news, and I don’t like to indulge in worry, but I cannot explain how much I changed when I heard her voice. There’s something about hearing the actual voice of someone you love telling you that they are safe that spells relief and comfort like nothing else.

Getting a call from a loved one and hearing, in their voice, only that they are home safe is no small thing.

Pull Me Up

My life seems to revolve around rehabbing my shoulder and hand.

I visit my chiropractor’s office a few times a week for treatments and have been going for physical and occupational therapy a couple times a week also. Of course, I have a home regimen.

Since being sent home from the ER, I take time each day to bend at my hips and let my right arm dangle. Like a pendulum, first, I’d swing my arm in a circle going one direction, then the other. I’ll do 20 reps of various motions with my right arm dangling three times a day.

I also practice touching my thumb to my index, middle, ring and pinkie tips then make fists and practice extending, straightening out, my very stiff fingers.

I use props for some exercises. Recently, I bought a simple pulley from Athletico and had a friend hang it on the back of the door to my guest bedroom.

Sitting on a dining chair in front of the door, I’ll place each of my hands on crescent shaped handles at the ends of each pulley cord and draw my left hand downward to pull up my right, my “affected,” hand.

The exercise provides a good stretch. I feel in control. I can set the pace and the height that I lift my right hand. From day to day, I can see progress. I can see how much farther I can move my arm over the previous week. That’s really important to me.

As I’ve reflected on my journey, my path from injury to normal functioning, I’ll think about how easy it is to get discouraged, to worry about how long rehabbing will take. I’ll ask myself whether my bone and joints are aligned and on track for me to resume my lifestyle.

I worry about whether I am making the best decisions for treatment and recovery. I worry about how to minimize my out of pocket expenses.

I have been going out more and more, but I still don’t drive. It’s easy to sink into periods where I feel isolated.

Having this injury, at this time, considering my situation in life, I’ve become especially aware of how much I miss having regular contact with a mate or close friend.

I’ve contemplated how nice it would be to have someone know about my little accomplishments and disappointments. I recognize that I have done myself a disservice by assuming, as I often have, that no one would care about the little details of my life or how I feel.

I have been considering who, among my existing network of friends, could transition into a role of greater intimacy. And I think the universe is supporting me in this exploration.

One of my gal pals from my book group had hand surgery about a week after my injury. When we found out about each other’s wounds and recoveries, she’s reached out a lot with offers to help.

She’s acted as a great sounding board when I’ve wanted to think through a decision about treatments and has started to call me every other day to make sure I’m doing my exercises and keeping up with my home therapy regimen.

I appreciate the gentle accountability her calls have added to my life. More importantly, I like to know someone’s thinking about me and wondering how I am doing.

While I sit in my chair under the pulley and use the mechanism to lift my arm, I’ll think about being able to provide a good report when Deb W. calls. I’ll also think about the Talking Heads song from the seventies.

 

I was complaining, I was down in the dumps
I feel so strong now ’cause you pulled me up!
Pull me up up up up up up up up!
I slipped, and I got pulled
Pulled up, I tripped, and then you pulled,
You pulled me up…
 

 

Getting regular calls from your accountability buddy is great. Getting a call or text from someone, with no other purpose than to show you they’re thinking about you, is no small thing.

 

MY LEFT HAND

TRUE TO FORM, WHEN I EXPERIENCED MY SHOULDER INJURY A FEW WEEKS AGO, I TRIED TO THINK OF WHAT I HAD TO GAIN FROM THE EXPERIENCE.

NOT THAT I’M A POLLYANNA, BUT I THINK, GENERALLY, THERE ARE POSITIVE LESSONS TO BE EXTRACTED FROM ALL RANGE OF EXPERIENCES – EVEN DIFFICULT ONES.

ONE OF THE FIRST THINGS I BECAME AWARE OF WAS THAT I HAD TO ASK FOR HELP.

THIS IS NOT EASY FOR MOST PEOPLE. IT CERTAINLY HASN’T BEEN FOR ME. IT SEEMS NATURAL FOR ME TO TAKE PRIDE IN MY INDEPENDENCE. AS MANY PEOPLE DO, I’VE OFTEN EQUATED ASKING FOR HELP AS A SIGN OF WEAKNESS OR CAUSE FOR SHAME.

DESPITE ENDORSING THE IDEA THAT ACCEPTING HELP FROM OTHERS ACTUALLY SERVES THEM, I’VE HAD PROBLEMS WITH THE REALITY OF BEING IN THIS POSITION. THE IDEA OF ACCEPTING HELP IS FINE — BUT NOT SO FINE FOR ME. ESPECIALLY WHEN I’M UNCERTAIN HOW LONG I WILL BE IN NEED.

THE RANGE OF THINGS I FOUND MYSELF NEEDING HELP FOR SURPRISED ME. IT WAS NOT LIKE GETTING YEARLY TAX ADVICE OR NEEDING A SINGLE RIDE TO A DESTINATION. WITHOUT THE USE OF MY RIGHT ARM AND HAND, I SEEMED TO NEED HELP FOR EVERYTHING.

THIS LED ME TO MY NEXT LESSON.

I TRIED TO PLAN THE SIMPLE TASKS OF MY LIFE. I DID NOT JUST WANT TO AVOID WASTING TIME, I WANTED TO AVOID WASTING OTHER PEOPLE’S TIME,

WHEN I HAD SOMEONE COME OVER TO WALK MY DOG, I USUALLY ASKED THEM TO HELP ME WITH SOME ARM EXERCISES OR TO OPEN A CAN, OR CHANGE A LIGHT BULB.  ACCOMPLISH TWO GOALS WITH ONE VISIT, RIGHT?

I ALSO FELT REMINDED TO CONTEMPLATE THE PHRASE DESCRIBING PEOPLE AS HUMAN BEINGS, NOT HUMAN DOINGS. WHEN I COULDN’T PERFORM MY JOB [OR, I COULD ONLY DO MY JOB IN A VERY LIMITED CAPACITY], I NEEDED TO REMEMBER NOT TO JUDGE MY WORTH BY MY PRODUCTIVITY.

I STARTED TO ACCEPT HOW CONTINUED WORK IS NEEDED IN THE AREA OF PATIENCE. AS I LOOKED AT PROSPECTS FOR REHAB, I REALIZED THAT HAVING GREATER PATIENCE IS ESPECIALLY IMPORTANT. BRINGING MY ARM BACK TO FULL FUNCTIONALITY WILL NOT BE A SHORT-LIVED VENTURE.

OPPORTUNITIES TO EXAMINE MY GROWTH HAVE BEEN IN MY FACE. MOST HAVE NOT BEEN TOTALLY UNEXPECTED, BUT I WAS SURPRISED BY A MOMENT I HAD WHEN I TRIED TO MAKE OUT THE ITEMS ON A SHOPPING LIST THE OTHER DAY.

I’M VERY RIGHT HAND DOMINANT. FORGET ABOUT SIGNING A CHECK OR CREDIT CARD SLIP WITH MY LEFT HAND.

SINCE MY INJURY, I’VE HAD TO TURN ON LIGHTS, TYPE EMAILS, BRUSH MY TEETH, AND CLEAN MYSELF AFTER GOING TO THE TOILET USING MY LEFT HAND. EVERYDAY TASKS HAVE TAKEN MUCH MORE TIME WITH THIS FORGOTTEN SIDE.

BUT NOT UNTIL I SAW MY ATTEMPTS TO WRITE A GROCERY LIST WITH MY LEFT HAND THAT I REALIZED HOW MUCH JUDGMENT I HOLD AGAINST PARTS OF ME.

I PRONOUNCED THE SCRAWLED OUT LETTERS AS INEPT, JUVENILE, USELESS — UGLY. EVEN AFTER ATTRIBUTING THE UNEVEN SCRIPT TO LACK OF EXPERIENCE WITH MY NON-DOMINANT HAND, I DIDN’T WANT TO THINK THE WORDS WRITTEN WITH BLACK INK ON THE BACK OF AN 8 ½” X 11” SHEET OF PRINTER PAPER CAME FROM ME.

I GUESS I WANT TO THINK OF MYSELF IN TERMS OF MY BEST FEATURES. I AM A GOOD WRITER AND QUICK WITH A JOKE OR OBSERVATION. I HAVE NICE LEGS….

I DON’T USUALLY WANT TO ASSOCIATE MYSELF WITH WHAT’S NOT CLEVER OR ATTRACTIVE, WITH WORDS PENNED WITH MY LEFT HAND.

BUT THESE THINGS ARE PARTS OF ME, TOO. MY LEFT HAND HAS SERVED ME, THOUGH PERHAPS NOT AS EFFICIENTLY OR AS ELEGANTLY AS MY RIGHT. THESE PAST THREE WEEKS, MY LEFT HAND HAS WASHED MY DISHES, RETRIEVED COLD-PACS FROM THE FREEZER AND TEXTED MESSAGES ON MY SMART PHONE.

MAYBE MY HANDWRITING WITH MY LEFT HAND WILL IMPROVE SOMEWHAT AS I AM FORCED TO USE IT MORE OFTEN, BUT THAT’S NOT THE MAIN TAKEAWAY. [I DON’T EXPECT CHRISTY BROWN-LIKE ACHIEVEMENTS, THE IRISH ARTIST WITH CEREBRAL PALSY WHO DEVELOPED THE ABILITY TO TYPE AND PAINT WITH HIS LEFT FOOT.]

BUT I CAN RECOGNIZE SOME OF MY DIS-OWNED PARTS AS BEING IN SERVICE OF THE WHOLE ME.

KNOWING YOURSELF TO BE WHOLE, EVEN IF A LITTLE BROKEN, AND RECOGNIZING THAT YOUR WHOLE SELF INCLUDES ASPECTS OF YOU THAT ARE NOT PREFERRED OR NORMALLY ON DISPLAY, IS NO SMALL THING.

Many Happy Returns

I don’t normally do this. When I buy something, I really do intend to put it into use.

But, the other week, I found myself looking at a couple neutral colored purses on the rack at a fashion outlet. I wanted something on the small side, but big enough to accommodate my cell phone and brush — something that would go with my new pink and green floral print linen dress. A summer handbag.

I found two contenders, neither very pricey, and couldn’t make up my mind.

As I stood in front of the register, with both, the clerk stared at me when I questioned their return policy. Well, of course, you can return an item within 30 days of purchase, if returned with a receipt and all the tags still in place.

She looked at me like I must have been living under a rock most of my life.

When I got home and examined both next to my summer dress and shoes, I formed a preference. I was surprisingly pleased, almost gleeful about setting both handbags in the seat next to mine for the short drive back to Riverpoint Plaza, so I could to transact the return.

It was easy. No cash was exchanged, only my credit card was re-swiped. I made a mental note to check on this month’s statement to make sure the credit was posted.

I kept thinking about the phrase, Many Happy Returns. I looked up the entry on Wikipedia.

“Many happy returns” is a greeting which is used by some on birthdays, and by others in response to “Merry Christmas” and “Happy New Year.” Since the 18th century this has been used as a salutation to offer the hope that a happy day being marked would recur many more times. “

I now had a vastly different understanding of the phrase.

I think of the fantastic sense of freedom I have when I can re-choose something, or make a new choice.

At restaurants, I love it when I find myself gravitating towards the Alaskan Salmon, then end up getting the duck when the waitress actually asks (I figure I can get a single portion of nice quality seafood more easily than prepare a duck leg the French way).

I might get a kick over picking out a route back home from a destination and find myself changing my route multiple times after I get a beat on traffic and construction.

And who doesn’t fight with their couch buddy over the right to hold the remote during a TV night at home?

There’s something about exercising your right to re-choose that’s almost more liberating than making the choice in the first place. It’s great to remind myself that there’s no judgment involved in exercising a preference, even in changing my mind.

I’m not a big shopper. I don’t consider it a sport or hobby. I don’t think I’ll ever plan a vacation around bringing something back home from a foreign land — even if it’s not something my friends will likely have (and I do like feeling special).

I don’t think I’ll look into ways to stretch a store’s return policy or shop with the intention of bringing something back as a strategy to feel the short-term thrill of stepping into something I can’t afford.

But I like to feel the freedom of changing my mind. I like being able to change my mind without the weight of any judgment, even my own.

A shopping do-over is no small thing.