It’s amazing what a person can get used to. Four months ago, after I broke my arm and elbow and wrist in more than a dozen places, I had surgery to have an external fixator screwed into my arm to keep the hand bones from migrating down to where my wrist was supposed to be. When I woke from the anesthetic with the hardware attached to my arm, I have no idea why I didn’t freak out. I don’t know if they told me what they were going to do; if I was so drugged, what they did to me just didn’t register; or if the whole thing was so preposterous that I just accepted the device for what it was.
At first, it was hard having something that looks like a small sewing machine attached my arm, a sewing machine that weighed a couple of pounds, but at the beginning I had a bit of help — an occupational therapist that miraculously showed up at my door one day. I think one of the hospital doctors have prescribed a nursing service, which I did not need, and along with the service came this wonderful woman. For a couple hours a week, she helped me open bottles, cut up apples, wash my hair, help with whatever finger exercises I could do, massage scars and aching muscles. During most of that time, I was on heavy duty opioids that did little more than fog my brain, make me sleep, and slightly reduce the acuity of the pain. The loss of this therapist, who I had come to depend on, happened to coincide with my grief anniversary date (exactly one month before the seventh anniversary of his death, which for some reason is more painful than the anniversary itself).
I survived that unexpected and quite profound bout of grief, of course, because, odd though it might seem, I have gotten used to grief popping up whenever it feels like it.. After the grief episode, I entered a period of equanimity that hasn’t been especially good, but it certainly hasn’t been bad. I think it’s more that I’ve gotten used to the fixator, to not being able to drive, to spending most of my time a loan in a single room. The last week or so, I have done away with all pain medications, and surprisingly — or I suppose not surprisingly — I’ve begun to feel like writing again. Having forgotten most of the book I was writing, I had to reread the entire thing — twice — to get it back into my head. I also gave the rough draft to a couple of friends to read, and took their suggestions into consideration along with some of my own suggestions, such as moving a crucial scene closer towards the end.
Now that I have gotten used to this life, I have been given a surgery date to get the fixator removed. (First week in April.) People keep telling me, “I bet you’re going to be glad to have that thing off your arm,” and though I agree to keep from seeming contrary, the truth is, I’m not particularly glad. To be honest, I feel a bit of trepidation. As long as the fixator is on my arm, I am more or less forced into a life of idleness. Reading, writing, walking, painting, doing puzzles. When the fixator comes off, there will be a period of recuperation, drugs, and I’m sure quite a bit of backtracking in the use of fingers, elbow, etc. After that comes a year maybe two of relearning how to use the wrist and hand, and learning how to accommodate whatever deformity and disability I end up with. All necessary steps, but not necessarily pleasant ones.
So for now, these last couple of weeks before the fixator comes off, I intend to enjoy this idleness I have gotten used to.
I hope you are finding periods of creative idleness, too!
(Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.”) Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.