Suffering for Art

I’ve never been one to believe in suffering for my art. Not that “my art” is actually art — it’s more in the line of pretty photos I’ve taken to memorialize some flowers I’ve grown. And if art isn’t worth suffering for, then pretty photos — no matter how attractive — definitely are not worth suffering for.

Actually, there wasn’t much pain or suffering involved, and it was a silly thing anyway that’s not much to talk about. And yet, here it is . . .

Last evening, when I got home from work, I noticed this bright orange zinnia, and wanted a photo.

It was a couple of feet into the garden, so I used my walking stick for balance as I leaned over to get a photo, and the walking stick slipped on the foliage, making me lose my balance, and I went down. Sort of ironic, really — if I hadn’t been using the stick for balance, I wouldn’t have fallen. Luckily, I wasn’t hurt except for a small scratch on my arm. Even more luckily, I was able to get up without any trouble.

So that’s a good thing, I suppose — not the fall but learning that I can still get up. I’ve been wondering about that, but I’ve been hesitant to sit on the ground to test myself in case I couldn’t get back on my feet. So I passed the impromptu test and got up with very little trouble. Whew!

It’s been a while — years, maybe — since I’ve fallen, and hopefully it will be a long while before I fall again. I am very careful about such things because I’ve known too many older people whose lives as they knew them came to an end after a fall. (Not because of the fall itself, of course, but because of the injuries the fall caused.)

If ever I need another photo in a hard-to-reach place, I won’t try to balance myself as I lean over to get a close up — I’ll just step right into the garden, and the heck with any damage. One footstep would for sure cause a lot less damage to the garden than an entire falling body. Or I could simply pull out the plants that are in my way. (That’s why the reach was so great to get the photo — the garden had grown out of its bounds.)

I won’t have that same problem next year — that particular garden spot might be mostly empty. Although it’s on the north side of the house, it turns out the be the sunniest (and hottest) place on the property, which is probably why my cool-season grass browned out along there, so it will be the perfect place to plant the desert wildflower seeds I received yesterday. Because it might take a year for the plants to germinate, it’s possible there will be only dirt (and weeds, of course) in that spot.

But for now, there are still some pretty flowers for me to photograph.


Pat Bertram is the author of Grief: The Inside Story – A Guide to Surviving the Loss of a Loved One. “Grief: The Inside Story is perfect and that is not hyperbole! It is exactly what folk who are grieving need to read.” –Leesa Healy, RN, GDAS GDAT, Emotional/Mental Health Therapist & Educator.

Third Time’s an Alarm?

I seem to have backed into period of being accident prone. That there are separate — and understandable — causes for each of these three “accidents” does not mitigate the alarm factor.

I wrote about falling a month ago, a full-frontal splat that jarred my whole body, leaving me with a couple of achy days, but no other damage. My foot had become caught in a strap attached to my carport, and since I hadn’t removed the strap when I should have, that fall could be considered my fault, but still, the fall was a result of an accident rather than a physical problem — no dizziness or weakness or imbalance. It was just one of those things that could happen to anyone (to anyone who let their attention lapse, that is).

What I didn’t write about was a fall that happened a couple of weeks ago. I generally don’t go out at night because it’s harder to see, obviously, but I got a ride from a friend who was attending the same meeting. I’d stepped out of the car, on my way into the town hall, and I tripped on the two-part curb in front of the building. (A brick pathway had been placed on top of the original sidewalk, but since the bricks didn’t go all the way out to the curb, there was a tiny step where the original curb still remained.) The irony was that I had been headed to a meeting to discuss ways to make the town safer, and there it was, a classic example of what needed to be fixed.

A couple of days later, someone asked me how I was and if I’d recovered from my fall. It took me a minute to realize what she was talking about because the fall wasn’t much of anything — the shin pain had dissipated in a couple of minutes, and I’d immediately forgotten the incident. Besides, the woman hadn’t even been there the night it happened. I asked how she knew. She laughed and said, “This is a small town,” Apparently, it’s even smaller and more insular that I thought, because how could such an insignificant fall by a rather insignificant person (insignificant in the grand scheme of town doings, that is) be a topic of conversation?

Then yesterday I went for a walk with a friend. When I’m by myself, I usually walk in the middle of the road where there are no hazards (except an occasional car, of course), but since there were two of us, I was walking off to the side, and suddenly, without warning, my foot slipped out from under me and I slowly but inexorably hit the ground. A neighbor was passing, and he got out of his truck to help, but except for a bruise on my thigh, I was fine and able to get to my feet by myself. I must admit, though, I was (still am) quite perturbed — and alarmed — at falling again.

After asking me how I was, the neighbor said, “I saw you go down.” He explained that I’d slipped on a patch of loose gravel, and then he added, “It wasn’t your fault. There was nothing you could have done.”  My friend agreed and asked me if I were accident prone. I said no. Because I hadn’t been. At least not until a month ago.

Now I need to get her question out of my head because thinking of it might make me accident prone for real, and frankly, three falls are quite enough, thank you very much.


Pat Bertram is the author of Grief: The Inside Story – A Guide to Surviving the Loss of a Loved One. “Grief: The Inside Story is perfect and that is not hyperbole! It is exactly what folk who are grieving need to read.” –Leesa Healy, RN, GDAS GDAT, Emotional/Mental Health Therapist & Educator.

The Trip of a Lifetime

The trip referred to in the title is not a day trip or road trip or any kind of fun trip. It is a trip, as in . . . splat.

It was a gorgeous day with mostly clear skies, a warm sun, and a caressing breeze. I went for a walk because it seemed the perfect way to participate in such bounty at the very beginning of winter. As I passed the carport on the way out of my yard, I noticed the strap that was still attached to one of the support poles. The strap had been used to secure my just-delivered gates and even though the gates have now been installed for a few weeks, the strap is still there. Why? I don’t know. Haven’t a clue why the workers left it there.

There are a lot of tools and supplies spread out over my yard waiting for the contractor and his employees to return to work. Even more than the rolls of fencing or the bucket of ties, that strap suddenly struck me as hazardous, and I thought I really should do something about it. But I didn’t want to interrupt my walk, so I continued on.

Since I was out, I stopped by the grocery store, and headed home with several pounds of apples, a pound of nuts, a pound of butter, and maybe a pound or two of something else. A lot of pounds, in other words. I wasn’t carrying the groceries in my hand but on my shoulders via a BackTPack, which is supposed to be better for the back than even a properly fitting backpack.

A couple of blocks from the house, I felt a desperate need to relieve my bladder, so I quickened my steps. “Just a few more minutes,” I told myself as I opened the gate into the yard. I hurried, bypassing the zigzagging sidewalk and cutting through the carport and —

Yep. You guessed it.

It was the hardest I had ever fallen, partly from the velocity — I was really hurrying when my foot got caught in the strap — and partly from the weight of the groceries I was carrying. Even when I’d destroyed my arm, I hadn’t fallen as hard. Back then, I landed on my wrist, and bounced onto my arm, pulverizing the wrist, destroying the elbow, and splintering my radius. I had no other injury, not even a bruise, since that arm bore all my weight.

This time, I landed flat, a full-frontal drop onto the bare ground. Luckily, I caught myself before my face hit the concrete sidewalk that I should have been walking on. I lay for a few seconds, shocked and scared and hurting and angry at myself and ruefully aware of the irony of the situation (not just the strap that I hadn’t moved when I should have, but also having mentioned just the other day that the last instructions my orthopedic surgeon gave me before releasing me from his care were that I wasn’t allowed to fall). When I took stock, I realized nothing was broken, nothing was sprained, so I clambered to my feet and hobbled into the house. I divested myself of my groceries and coat, emptied my still-full bladder, got cleaned up, slathered my knees with arnica gel, and dug out my ice pack. (Not peas, but a medley of stir-fry vegetables.)

My left knee hurt the most, so it got the attention. Later, though, other pains started making themselves felt. Since I was so stiff and sore and afraid of my joints stiffening up even further in the night, I took a couple of ibuprofen at bedtime. (Oddly, I never even thought of taking pain pills until a friend mentioned she needed to take some to relieve the pain from her fall, which had happened shortly before mine). I managed to sleep, at least as well as I ever do.

Today, I can feel the rest of my body, not just the knees. Ouch. Ouch. Ouch. Some of the pains I understand, like that knee (which must have been the first thing to hit), and the side of my foot, which might have been wrenched by the strap. Some pains I don’t understand, such as my very sore triceps. Nor do I understand why my deformed wrist and forearm don’t hurt. Don’t get me wrong — I’m glad they don’t — but I distinctly remember landing on that hand, too, and there is a small bruise on my wrist to prove it.

Needless to say, I am taking it easy.

I’m hoping this really is the trip of a lifetime, and that I never fall that hard again. But dare I confess? I have yet to go out and find a way to remove that strap.


Pat Bertram is the author of Grief: The Inside Story – A Guide to Surviving the Loss of a Loved One. “Grief: The Inside Story is perfect and that is not hyperbole! It is exactly what folk who are grieving need to read.” –Leesa Healy, RN, GDAS GDAT, Emotional/Mental Health Therapist & Educator.

A Special Treat

Such a wonderful treat today — I took a walk!

The past few weeks have been trying — first the fall that shattered my wrist, the hospital stay, surgery, and then the demoralizing discovery that things were worse than expected. The first surgeon told me my elbow was not broken, so I tried to use it as much as I could, which was a mistake. The elbow was in fact shattered, and the movement only served to dislodge the bone fragments, and those fragments in turn severed the ligaments. Because my wrist had been pulverized, I have some heavy piece of equipnent (external fixator) screwed into my bones to keep them in the proper position rather than melding and shrinking my arm. Not only do I still have to contend with that thing for another six weeks, I had additional surgery to replace the shattered elbow and to further repair my wrist.

At the post op visit yesterday, I found out that I would have even less wrist recovery than originally expected, the wrist will be deformed, and in about a year, when all this is healed and I have regained as wide a range of motion as possible, I will need additional surgery. As if that news wasn’t enough to cope with in one day, I had to make the rounds of pharmacies to get the pills I need to keep from screaming in pain. A couple of pharmacies didn’t have the drugs. (Someone said that because they are a controlled substance, the drug companies can only sell so much, and this time of year, the pills are hard to get.) One pharmacy didn’t trust me because they weren’t my usual pharmacy (I don’t normally take medication, so I have no usual pharmacy). And one pharmacy thought I was trying to pull something by submitting a prescription from a different doctor. (How is it my fault that the doctors didn’t want to do the delicate operation and were passing me around like a hot potato?)

But I got the prescription filled, dealt with the not-good prognosis, and survived the self-pitying bout of tears.

This morning I woke with but one wish. To go for a walk. Seems so basic and ordinary, doesn’t it? But with only one hand, it’s hard to put on socks and impossible to tie shoes. And there is a bit of cowardice involved — if one can fall with absolutely no foreshadowing of the traumatic event, it’s hard to trust one’s foot placement. And then, of course, there is the matter of being drugged into a fog.

When the therapist came to check on me, I asked if she’d help me with my shoes and socks. She did. She even walked with me. It wasn’t much of a walk, perhaps a half mile or so, but oh! It felt wonderful. As if I were alive again.

For tonight, I’ve pushed all thoughts of the future from my mind, and am concentrating on that one special joy.

I took a walk today!


(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.”)