An Insular Life

Day two of reacting to and interacting with only that which is before my eyes was lovely. Elsewhere, there were sorrows and tragedies, nasty political commentaries, and . . . well, problems too numerous to mention, but here, in my insular world, the sun shone warmly, lizards scampered in the desert, rabbits lolled on the lawn, and a trio of ravens silently chased each other above the treetops, the only sound the loud whooshing of their wings.

A perfect day. Others did not have the option of such a perfect day, of course, but in the end, I can’t worry about them. All I can do is live is my own life.

Besides, does knowing all that is going on the world really help anyone? Maybe we aren’t supposed to be global people, feasting on the news like scavengers, emoting about things that couldn’t possible touch us. Chaos theory tells us that everything does touch us (the flap of a hypothetical butterfly wing in Hong Kong supposedly affects weather halfway around the world), but the effects may not be felt for a very long time, too long to matter.

I think about rural peoples in days of yore who seldom saw anyone outside of their households. They knew nothing of the human, political, and natural forces in countries across the ocean, even in far away cities in their own country, that might have created (or at least affected) their world, but if they didn’t know, did it happen? Did they live lesser lives for not knowing? Would we live lesser lives if we did not know?

It’s hard not to know what is going on today, at least in a cursory way, since people talk about what they saw on the news, but at third or fourth hand, the tragedies lose their immediacy. (And anyway, almost all news is third or fourth hand by the time it is sifted and filtered down through news bureaucracies, which makes it all a sort of gossip.)

Maybe it’s not possible to live in the small world before my eyes. Maybe trying to do so makes me an unkind (though happier) soul, but my mission (to the extent that I have a mission) is not to succor the world, but to help the bewildered bereft make sense of what happened to them. (An email or a blog comment directed specifically to me is included in the world before my eyes, as is the page of a book, so to that extend, I do live the larger world.)

I hope that in whatever world you found yourself today, you, too, bathed your eyes in loveliness.

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Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels UnfinishedMadame ZeeZee’s Nightmare, Light BringerMore Deaths Than OneA Spark of Heavenly Fireand Daughter Am IBertram 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.

Peachy Keen

The tenth anniversary of my birth into the online world, the tenth anniversary of my dipping a toe into the blogging stream, passed by unnoticed. For all those years, the internet was a place of refuge for me, a way of both slipping away from and embracing the traumas of my life. For an entire decade, I had to care for the sick and dying; grieve the deaths of loved ones; handle the loss of homes, friends, hopes, and security; deal with the pulverization of my wrist, arm, and elbow. And I survived it all.

Now, this virtual place of refuge has become less of a haven and more of morass of passions, opinions, issues, and divisiveness, making me feel estranged in this oh, so strange non-land. During the decades I lived with Jeff, I had no fear of delving into the truth and voicing my thoughts no matter how far out of the ordinary because they were always received with his respect and understanding. I have tried to continue the path of truth, but in an indoctrinated world, a world where propaganda rules and reason is trumped by passion, I have been rendered mostly mute, which is okay. It’s better for my sanity if I live in the world in I see before my own eyes rather than the world reflected in the vitriolic eyes of the unsocial media.

It’s also better for me to live with my own emotions, not just online, but offline. When my own wild emotions — grief, anger, fear — began to fade, I still felt as if I were drowning in sorrow. Other people’s sorrows. Staying away from those particular people and their problems (no matter how cold that makes me seem) has brightened my life considerably.

Someday, I am sure, I will take to blogging regularly again. Someday . . . when I have something to say.

Meantime, I am trying to wean myself away from Facebook, trying to empty my mind of extraneous thoughts (though, to be honest, my mind is already mostly empty), and trying to enjoy my unlonely solitude — when I am alone, that is. I still take frequent dance classes, and once in a while I even go on a small adventure, most recently to pick peaches in an orchard less than three miles from where I am staying.

(I had to smile at the discovery of the peach orchard. In my latest book, Madame ZeeZee’s Nightmare, I called this community Peach Valley and commented, “nope, no peaches, and not much of a valley, either.” I sure was wrong about that!)

I still have no clue where my life will lead me but there is so much of the country I haven’t seen, so much I haven’t experienced, that I am contemplating another long trip after my hand is completely healed. (The fake elbow works fine but the hand and wrist still don’t always behave, and sometimes they are very painful, though for the most part, they do what I need them to do.)

But for now, there is dancing.

And fresh peach cobbler for dessert.

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Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels UnfinishedMadame ZeeZee’s Nightmare, Light BringerMore Deaths Than OneA Spark of Heavenly Fireand Daughter Am IBertram 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.

Blue on Blue

Blue on blue actually refers to the photo below, a toy VW bug on top of my VW regulation-size VW (you might have to click on the image to see the tiny car), but it can also refer to my current life. Though I don’t particularly like admitting it, I have been a bit blue lately. Healing is frustrating because it takes so darn long, but not healing is even more frustrating because . . . well because it’s frustrating. It’s hard not being able to do simple things that I used to be able to do with my hand/wrist/arm, and when I can do things, it’s not without pain. Some wrist mobility I can never get back because of the plate holding everything in place. At best, using the hand feels awkward, though I can drive and type, so that’s good

Then there is the whole financial thing, which I try not to think about because at the moment, I can do nothing about the situation. I have a new book coming out soon (Madame ZeeZee’s Nightmare) and that should fix all my financial woes, right? Yeah, right. But, in a perfect world, it could happen.

And this thirty-day diet I am on that is supposed to give me energy and get rid of any inflammation seems to sap whatever energy I have. But there is just a week left, and although I hadn’t planned on deviating greatly from the diet (I do think staying away from wheat and sweeteners is a good idea, for example) I can’t help thinking of all the things I could make next week if I had the energy — made-from-scratch brownies, pierogies, bread, hamburger rolls (aka Bierocks or Runzas).

But there are other shades of blue besides the gloomy blues in my life such as the bright blue sky and the risible blue of smiles. Not much makes me smile right now, but there are some things. My current work in progress has some amusing moments that made me smile when I read it. Recently when I was out walking, I got caught in a hail storm (yep, hail in the desert!) and for some peculiar reason, despite the discomfort of being very cold and very wet, being out in that storm made me smile. A new dance I am learning makes me smile. (Actually, two new dances make me smile — an Arabian ballet from the Nutcracker and a Samoan dance to the tune of “We Know the Way” from Moana.)

And the blue toy VW made me smile. It’s one of those pull-back cars that speed along by itself, and that, too makes me smile.

So, blue on blue. Nowhere near as bad as it sounds.

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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.

The Blooming Desert

The desert is blooming, and so, I hope, am I. Each day I do a bit more, stretching my poor deformed limb, trying to get back into my life, whatever that might be.

No — not my poor deformed limb. My exquisite limb. As Sheila Deeth, friend and fan extraordinaire, suggested, paraphrasing the blurb at the bottom of my posts, “’an exquisite wrist, wrenching to move, and at the same time full of profound promise’ perhaps?” I like her phrasing so much better than the way I describe my wrist! And I’m sure the wrist would appreciate the new appellation because it is trying so hard to move! It’s not the limb’s fault it doesn’t look the same as it used to. (Though who am I to judge? I don’t look the same, either!)

Today I used both Pacerpoles (I’d been using the right-handed trekking pole as a cane), thinking the left pole would give my wrist a workout, and sure enough, it did, though I had to carry the pole part of the way. Still, any usage of the wrist, no matter how painful, is a step in the right direction.

And, even better, both my exquisite wrist and my exquisite self were rewarded with these exquisite images of the blooming desert:

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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.

I Have a Secret

If you’ve known me long enough, I’m sure you can guess what my secret is. Although I try to take things as they come, am grateful for the blessings that tiptoe into my life, struggle to find a good side to any setback, the truth is, I hate this.

I hate that I fell and destroyed my arm and wrist so badly I won’t be able to do everything I once did. I hate that I am in pain and that from now on might always have to deal with pain. I hate that my arm is deformed. I hate that after almost five months, I am still struggling just to get through the days. I hate that getting the fixator off didn’t really change anything except that it catapulted me into a new and vastly longer time of pain and rehabilitation. I hate that Jeff is gone — somehow it seemed to me that after all the agony of his death, I would live a charmed life, because shouldn’t such a terrible thing be offset by an equal amount of joy? I especially hate that that particular conceit didn’t turn out to be true, and I now have to deal with not only his absence but also my increased vulnerability.

I tell myself all the things I’m sure you are thinking. I tell myself the injury could have been so much worse, and that is true. The force of the fall was so great, I could have broken my back or my neck or my face.  I tell myself I will get used to all of this, and that also is true — I will get used to it . . . eventually. I tell myself that just because we survive one horror in our life it doesn’t mean we are safe from other horrors. I tell myself that I am grateful for this time of healing, that I don’t have responsibilities clamoring for my attention. And I’m grateful for the friends who helped me in my need, for the readers who have offered support and comfort, for the doctor who tried to put my mushed wrist and shattered bones back together.

And yet, tonight, none of that seems to matter.

Luckily, there are only so many hours in one particular night, and soon this night will be over. I don’t suppose tomorrow will be much different from today, except for perhaps gaining the strength and courage to go on.

That, at least is one thing I do not hate — the ability to keep going despite the traumas that sometimes bow my back.

Here’s hoping will all have a good night and that tomorrow we’ll wake refreshed and able to shoulder the burdens — and joys — of the new day.

***

(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.

Acknowledging Pain. And Pleasure.

Sometimes I wonder at what point telling one’s truth becomes self-indulgence, but I don’t suppose it matters. Writing helps me process my various traumas, and if anyone gets tired of my tales of woe (I am a Wednesday’s child after all) he or she can move on to sunnier blogs. I do know that in the scope of world events, such as wars and other horrors, a disabled and deformed arm is of little consequence, but in my world, the injury continues to loom large.

Still, I don’t suppose anyone really needs to know that yesterday I shed tears of pain, frustration, and fatigue. It’s amazing how much energy it takes to deal with chronic pain and even more amazing that the ensuing exhaustion does not lead to easy sleep. If I sit quietly and don’t move my left elbow, arm, wrist, or fingers, the ache is minor and can be easily ignored, but remaining immobile is a good way of ensuring that my left limb will remain permanently immobile.

Normally massaging an atrophied limb makes it feel better, but I have so much scar tissue to be massaged, that kneading makes the pain worse. Unfortunately, I need to knead, so this pain, too, I have to endure. Ignoring scar tissue is dangerous. (Recently two friends have undergone major surgeries because of old scar tissue) and I have enough problems without worrying about scar tissue eventually impeding the flow of blood.

There’s no therapist cracking a metaphoric whip to make me do the necessary work, just my own undisciplined self trying to put myself back together again. Some of the pain is inadvertent, such as when I absently reached out to grab something with my left hand, but that is all to the good. After all, the whole point of gaining as much mobility and flexibility in the limb as possible is to be able to use the arm without thinking about it.

The very idea of having to live with such pain and effort for a year or two (and possibly the rest of my life) is daunting, so I try not to think — just do. I could take pain pills, and I did take one last night, but although they sometimes take the edge off the pain, they cause additional problems such as vertigo, so I only take them as a last resort. During the months when I absolutely had to take the pills, I couldn’t bend over without feeling as if I were falling, couldn’t walk without feeling as if I were off balance. (I still use a trekking pole as a cane, though now it is more of a precaution than a necessity. But come to think of it, it is a necessity. Any fall could cause more damage to that poor pulverized wrist.)

At the moment, I feel more hopeful than I did yesterday, maybe because I have not yet been reduced to tears. I do know I have to take each day as it comes without trying to negate — or exacerbate — my pain, frustration, and fatigue.

Although I have not yet learned to ignore the wails of the passing trains at night (during the day, the wind blows the sound away, so it’s not as much of a problem) and have not completely eradicated the smell of stale cigarette smoke from my room. I do feel that this new place is more conducive to healing than the old one. I have more privacy inside and a nicer area to walk outside. Being a creature of habit, I often take the same route — winding through the neighborhood, looping across the desert, and returning by way of the longest sidewalk I have seen since I left a city grid. That anachronistic sidewalk pleases me as much is the open space of the desert does.

So, see? I am not all doom and gloom, though sometimes it does feel that way.

Here’s to healthier and happier days for all of us.

 

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(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.

Everything Passes

I had a moment of discouragement today. It didn’t last long — moments by definition don’t last long —but in that moment, I totally lost heart.

This should have been a good day. I had my post-op doctor’s appointment to get the final bandages off my arm, and I was actually feeling pretty good until I saw my arm unadorned — no fixator, no bandages, just me. I knew the arm was deformed but had never actually seen what it was going to look like, and the misshapenness shocked me. My wrist and arm were unfamiliar as the back of my hand, or even the front of my hand. (All the bones of my hand were squished together in the fall, and they were never able to be put back where they should’ve been.) I don’t suppose other people would notice the deformity, especially at a casual glance, but it is quite pronounced.

People keep telling me to look on the bright side. That at least I still have an arm. That other people have it worse. That up until now I have been lucky. I understand what they’re saying, but it doesn’t really help. Once you start comparing yourself to other people (some do have it worse, but others have it better) or to what was or might have been, self-pity is not far behind. And self-pity is a deformity of its own.

Besides, today is about me. What happened to me. And it seems as if being disheartened for a moment, or even two, is a perfectly sensible reaction.

Still, when people aren’t trying to be encouraging (and succeeding only in making me feel bad), I’m okay because the truth is it could have been worse, a lot worse. And up until now I have been lucky. I’ve never been particularly beautiful, and I carry some extra weight, but in its own way, my body has been perfect. And now it’s not.

As the surgeon said, however, it’s not how the arm looks but how it works. He was quite impressed with the mobility I have managed to regain in my fingers. (I can almost make a fist.) I only did what he told me to do, which was work my fingers whenever I got a moment, and I will apply that same diligence to my wrist. This is the long haul now. He says even the most simple hairline fracture of the wrist takes a year to gain the maximum possible mobility, and my injury (injuries, actually) was 1000 times worse than that. So I’ll try not to be discouraged for two years, at which point I will know what I have to live with, and will probably even be used to it.

Although several people have told me to make sure I demand physical therapy, the surgeon said there’s no point in going to physical therapy yet, that it’s better to wait until I get some mobility, otherwise the therapist would just sit me in a corner and have me work the wrist. And that I can do now. He will reassess in three months. Until then I am on my own. He did offer suggestions, such as massaging the scar tissue because the extensive scar tissue is impeding some of the motion. And he suggested water therapy: A large sponge in a bucket of warm water. Reach the hand in the bucket of water and squeeze the sponge letting the water run down the arm. Sounds therapeutic, doesn’t it? Almost pleasant.

When I stand outside myself and don’t let myself get involved in the emotion of the injury, I find the whole thing both interesting and challenging. But you can’t live outside yourself. And in myself I feel . . . so many aches and pains and emotions.

But one way or another, everything passes, and so will all of this.

***

(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.

My April Time

Last week brought big changes. First, although I was not supposed to have the surgery to get my fixator off until this Tuesday, April 4, when I went for my pre-op on Monday, March 26th, the surgeon decided to take the hardware off the next day due to irritation around the pin sites. So, I had the surgery on Tuesday, March 27, the seventh anniversary of my life mate/soul mate’s death. I spent Wednesday in bed trying to recuperate, finished packing on Thursday, and moved on Friday and Saturday with the help of some friends.

I hadn’t really planned to move, but the place where I was staying had become un-conducive to healing. (Is that proper terminology? If not, the words describe how I felt, which makes it proper.) And this new place fell into my hands. It’s across the street from open desert, and while the house itself is much quieter than the one I came from, the area is vastly noisier. Dogs barking, power tools screeching, and trains howling. (This is a major transit area for trains, not passenger trains but freight trains, and they come within a mile of where I am staying, sometimes every few minutes, blaring horns all the way. Yikes.)

Still, I think the trains create sounds I can get used to, I have earplugs for other intrusive noises, and — did I mention? — I am across the street from the desert! I can’t really go hiking yet— because of my destroyed arm I am considered a fall risk (and I feel like I am at risk for a fall) — but I can pick my way carefully through the lower trails and washes. The neighborhood is also much nicer than the one where I’d been staying, and I have a private bath, which, along with the proximity to the desert, helps offset the noise pollution. (It’s amazing to me how much noise pollution we allow. Why should one man with a chainsaw be allowed to destroy the quiet of an entire neighborhood? It doesn’t seem right.)

I still have a long recovery ahead of me, at least a year, perhaps two, until I get to my maximum mobility. Although the surgeon continues to claim I will only end up with fifty percent mobility and guarantees that I will suffer from posttraumatic arthritis, I intend to do everything I can to heal. If I were with someone, I’m sure I would have the same resolve, but being alone and facing a future alone, I need to give myself the greatest chance of being able to take care of myself completely for as long as possible.

Oddly, despite a few surges of grief over the fate of my arm, I’ve handled the situation with equanimity. Perhaps the lessons of grief and other adversities have finally sunk in. The arm might be deformed, might be lacking in strength and mobility, but I am not deformed. I am not lacking in strength and mobility. Whatever happens with the arm, it in no way changes me — who I am at the core. (Of course, it still hasn’t been determined who I am at the core, but I don’t know if it’s necessary to make that determination. It should be enough simply to be. To adapt. To become.)

One change I’m curious to see how will affect me is that for the first time in a long time, I have a place to read and relax other than on the bed. Will I be able to sleep better using the bed only for sleep? I guess I’ll find out.

It seems sort of a new beginning, this April. I passed the seventh anniversary of my life mate/soul mate’s death. I got the external fixator removed, which will allow me to enter a more active role in my healing. And I have a new place to stay.

In her book The Stillwater Meadow, Gladys Tabor wrote: “People have seasons . . . There is something steadfast about people who withstand the chilling winds of trouble, the storms that assail the heart, and have the endurance and character to wait quietly for an April time.” During the first years of my grief — while I worked through the pain of my life mate/soul mate’s death and our separation, adjusted to life without him, learned to think of him with gladness instead of sadness, searched for new ways of being and new reasons for living, realized that he is he and I am I and we have separate paths in life — I held fast to the idea of an April time.

Now, finally, an April time — perhaps even my April time — is here.

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(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.

Yay! Great News!

I went to the doctor today for my pre-op appointment in preparation for surgery next Tuesday. Because there is a bit of irritation around one of the insertion points of the external fixator, he decided to reschedule the surgery for tomorrow. I planned to do a countdown this coming week, counting, down the days until the fixator is removed, so here is the countdown to surgery:

One.

I thought this would be an unsad day because of the doctor’s and lab appointments, and that busyness would have kept me from feeling the grief of this day — the seventh anniversary of Jeff’s death — but at the moment I am too excited to feel sad. I refuse to think about the coming weeks (and months!) and the pain that will be involved in trying to get my hand back into its proper position and getting some mobility in my wrist, but I won’t have to think about any of that for at least another week. After the fixator is removed, they will bandage the puncture wounds and put a soft cast around the wrist to give it a bit of support for the next week. And after that. . . well, I’ll go from there, dealing with whatever it is I need to deal with.

Although this should be a relatively uncomplicated surgery, any surgery under anesthesia is a risk, so please, spare a thought for me tomorrow, and wish me well.

***

(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.

If You Have a Queasy Stomach, Don’t Look

I haven’t wanted to make people sick by the sight of hardware screwed into my arm, but people have asked to see my fixator. As one fellow said, “we need some gruesome stuff to make us feel how fortunate we are.”

So, here is my arm with the fixator attached. Don’t you wish you had such a handy dandy ebook rest?

As you can see, a person really can get used to anything.

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(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.