Monday, January 28, 2013
Tilling the Soil (with lots of yuck)
A friend of mine messaged me shortly after my last blog post, asking: I read your post... but how ARE you? (Thanks H.L). So I thought an update was in order. Here goes.
Honestly, this go-around has been really tough. I'm usually more inclined to share the good stuff, which I know is not uncommon (we all would rather share the happy and uplifting stuff). I'd venture to say that emotionally it is even harder right now than it had been a year ago, because I'm looking at issues with the word chronic thrown in...which has much more of a grinding nature to it. I know there is another surgery in my future to fix my ankle.....and I'm waiting with baited-breath for that (I can't wait to walk without pain again!). My back is another issue....
I'm recalling a conversation I had with my first physical therapist last June....when I attempted to pin down some pretty specific answers, trying to capitalize on her 20-something years of experience. She said something like "Chris, in all of my years of doing this work, I'd be lying if I told you that you would not have some issues of chronic pain. I'm not saying that you will not have some good days and some bad days, but from what I know about the severity of your injuries...particularly your pelvic/sacral fracture...I just think it would be very unlikely if you did not have some chronic issues to a certain degree." I remember my heart sinking to my feet that day, and while I was dead-set on proving those things to be untrue, I am thankful for her honesty. My nature is to fight against things that I don't like, or those things which I would prefer to change. I'm damn hard-headed that way and will always go down fighting. Pain is quite a humbler that way. Some days it kicks my butt, and I am trying to learn from it.
You see, there's this problem called gravity....It makes standing for longer than 10-15 minutes painful for my lower back (although intervals of rest and activity definitely help). As of this point, the several cortisone injections and lumbar radio frequency ablation have proven unsuccessful, unfortunately. My orthopod won't allow chiropractic manipulation, and physical therapy has been minimally helpful. I'm finding that there's kind of a "trial and error" approach to these things which is frustrating.
There is this nifty measure called a "perceived pain scale" (0=no pain, 10=unbearable pain), and I usually hang out somewhere between 4-5 when I'm up and standing for an extended period (sans meds). Laying down usually brings a 0-2 rating, and sitting brings a 2-3. The great thing about exercise is that it combats stiffness and lifts the spirit.....so I've been riding the stationary bike and trying to do what I can to keep up my strength. STILL, mindset is huge....and winter is tough for most folks. I'm finding that it is extra hard for me this year.
One of the cool things about being laid up however, has been the luxury of being able to read some helpful books: The Places That Scare You, and When Things Fall Apart...both by Pema Chodron. I find great encouragement in the idea of residing with pain in order to cultivate greater compassion.....a concept called Tonglen (or cultivating loving-kindness). These books, and others, have helped me to realize how important it is to reach out and share our struggles for the purpose of knowing that we are not alone. I know that I have a hard time admitting things are difficult, mostly because I believe that this is not what folks want to hear. But then there's a little voice inside of my head that tells me that if I admit these things, maybe other folks would feel free to admit their difficulties too. We live in the age of Facebook and Instagram, where image is important, I know. But there is usually a much deeper reality...
....during many of my follow-up appointments throughout the past six months or so, I became increasingly compelled to ask the question of my doctors and treatment providers: "Why is there a lack of emotional / spiritual support for survivors of trauma once they leave the hospital? Once we are 'put back together', why is it assumed that your work is done?" Overwhelmingly the response has been a graceful acknowledgment of this being an area for needed growth (emotional/spiritual/peer support...for patients and caregivers). Knowing first-hand about the physical / emotional experience AND looking at the realities through the lens of social work and ministry, I thought, why not till this soil a bit? It is something I wholeheartedly believe in, and something to keep me going when times are tough. I guess if the pain-thing has to be a part of my life, I might-as-well find a use for it....I know I am not the only one facing these struggles.
Two weeks ago, five of us met at Froedtert Hospital (the trauma program manager, psychologist, folks from spiritual services and myself) to discuss how we can begin developing a trauma survivor / peer-support type of network. I also spoke with the Director of the National Trauma Survivor Network and had a delightful, encouraging conversation about lots of possibilities. We will meet again at the end of February as a working-group to begin laying the ground-work for the program, with more patient involvement, hopefully! Send your prayers and good energy our way...
Any time we add the moisture and warmth of compassion,
it will automatically expand.
If we keep it in the freezer, however,
(The Places That Scare You...a Guide to Fearlessness In Difficult Times. Pema Chodron)
Posted by Chris P-M at 10:39 PM