Here’s what they don’t tell you about recovery from a catastrophic injury: It’s only gradual from the 10,000-foot view. Up close, it’s fits, starts, and frustration, punctuated by euphoria.
Two and a half-steps forward, one step back. One step forward, three steps back. My body retreats to near-immobility for a couple of weeks, it seems that I’ll never actually walk on my own, and then…breakthrough.
I woke up half-asleep last Monday morning, got out of bed, and walked to the bathroom without assistance.
Took me a second to realize the significance: I walked. By myself. Maybe I’d rolled my gait like a sailor too long at sea, but… I WALKed.
Spent the week pushing hard with the cane and trying to ignore the wheelchair. The Resident Carpenter and I went to the beach this weekend, and I easily slid the grannywalker along the ocean cliffs for blocks, looking down into the tidepools.
I wasn’t anywhere NEAR stable enough to try climbing down those rocks to actually explore, so I stayed on top while Nathan, Monty, and the other Normals headed down to the sea. Tidepooling, it seemed, must wait another month or two…
…until the RC took matters into his own hands. “You,” he said firmly, “WILL touch the beach–and a tidepool–this weekend.”
He drove Sherman the Suburban down the Oregon coastline until he found a driveable beach. Then he sailed onto the sand, windows down, happily getting blown to bits. He parked Sherman next to a rocky outcropping, got out, and grinned.
I slid down onto the beach, steadied my cane and…started walking. The sand was wet enough to be firm, not wet enough to play non-Newtonian sinking games with my still-shaky pins.
The cane’s a little too short for me, delivers a back ache if I walk too long–the Resident Carpenter is going to lengthen it this week–but I WALKED ON THE BEACH WITH JUST MY CANE!!! Maybe 75 yards, there and back.
Things got a bit teary-eyed for a second: Another checkmark on a bucket list I wasn’t sure I’d ever get to try.
I snuggled down into my coat, against the wind, leaned against the sun-warmed rocks and basked. Seawater had collected against the barnacles and mussels on my little rocky outpost; seaweed swayed in the pools and I watched little critters chase back and forth.
As tidepools go it was very small potatoes. As rehab victories go… glorious.
On Friday night, Sept. 16, 2016, I fractured my left femur just above Elmo, my replacement knee. I lived in a wheelchair, facing hip-high amputation of my left leg, for about two years while I fought health care bureaucracy, cost-conscious HMOs, and myself to figure out a way to walk again. (Spoiler alert: Elmo won!)
I documented my adventures in remobilization in 49 blogposts. They’re awfully self-indulgent, occasionally icky, and probably only of interest to me, but on the off-chance that they help someone else with a catastrophic injury, I’m keeping them together here. If you don’t want to read them, that’s OK; I still love you. If you do, you might want to start from the beginning, on the archive page that lists all 49 posts.
The house we rented for the weekend wasn’t much more than a trailer park and certainly not wheelchair-accessible, no grab bars at all in the bathroom, but I managed it without much effort. Up the stairs, cooking in the kitchen without even a cane.
By the end of the weekend I’d (naturally) overdone it; Nathan brought his fishing tackle and started a coastal survey of the best fishing holes in river and rock while I pretty much stayed in Sherman, tired and sore, and wrote.
He found some good potential spots for salmon and ling cod, discovered an absolutely fabulous old-fashioned bait-and-tackle store where they make hand-crafted fishing poles.
Brought back a gorgeous little salamander with a fire-orange belly for my perusal (he made sure to put the little guy back where he found him when I’d looked my fill).
He carefully explained what he was doing and why, how to cast, how to check overhangs for potential fish sign. “Next trip,” he promised, “We can just camp and save some money. We’ll get a yurt you can sleep in; I can stay in the back of the Suburban. It’ll be easy for a beginner.”
I refrained from mentioning that I went on my first fishing trip–with my dad–before I was actually capable of walking, so fishing–or camping–was not exactly an unfamiliar experience. Preferring not to get bloodily dirt-covered with wilderness peskies is a personal preference, not ignorance.
Probably wisely, I did not say, “For heaven’s sake, I KNOW how to cast. Humpfh.”
After years of blessedly living without a male ego to trip over, I’m relearning how to cope with another human in the house. It takes a bit of willpower to shut up, let someone else teach, not to be such a knowitall. But what is it about males and male-dominated activities like car-buying, hefting stuff, and understanding finny denizens of the deep?
Speaking of finny denizens, our marine tank has had a bit of a breakthrough, too: It now contains THREE fish: Two that I think are hermaphroditic damselfish, and Goby Wan Kenobee. They’re stunningly beautiful.
The damselfish–or whatever they are–start out life as females. Then one of the females becomes a little overbearing, a tad nippy, and starts to grow. Her body begins to shade from orange-yellow to a gorgeous, shimmery cranberry, outlined in neon blue.
Basically, she’s becoming a boyfish–an assertive knowitall. I’m trying not to draw parallels here.
We named them RuPaul and Priscilla of the Desert.
Goby Wan Kenobee has bonded tightly with Luke Sandwalker the pistol shrimp (well, duh), and the two now are rarely more than an inch away from each other. I’m going to try to capture a picture but they’re shy critters that definitely prefer living underground.
Luke built a beautiful little house for Goby, of piled-up shells and sand, just wide enough for Goby with enough headroom so Luke can get out. Goby gracefully backed into it, so that only her head was sticking out, and looked content.
Then Hulk Hogan the Crab pulled one of the shells out of the goby house wall and all hell broke loose. Hulk likes to play with stuff–she grabs shells and inspects them, bounds up and down the sides of the tank, and drags her favorite pieces of detritus with her. She took the goby’s shell wall off to the other corner of the tank.
Disgusted, Luke pulled up stakes and moved around to the front, starting the entire excavation all over. Goby waited patiently beside him, slipping in and out of the hole he built to ensure a good fit.
I watched their antics as I started up testing our water. The process is involved and–because the kit wasn’t all that well-designed and leaked dark blue all over the color sample cards–probably not that accurate. But I’m learning about nitrates and nitrites and KH and ammonia and specific gravity that tells me salinity…etc.
Nitrates were a bit high–I think, hard to tell with a greenish color card–so this week we’ll “cycle” the tank, which means dumping out about 10 percent of the water and replacing it with fresh seawater. They sell seawater at the fish store for 50 cents per gallon, and we’ve got two fresh containers just for the fetching and carrying.
I have a feeling that at some point, once we know more about the ropes of caring for a marine tank, we’ll be making our own.
Meanwhile, the Resident Carpenter tended his backyard farm; all the plants and bulbs have arrived, along with packs of mushroom spawn. We now have bags of Lion’s Mane, shiitake, morel, blue oysters, and pink oysters, awaiting implantation.
“We need to understand the symbionts for each of these mushrooms, to make sure we plant them in the right substrates,” Nathan said, solemnly. Turns out morels like apple trees, shiitake prefer beech or maple, Lion’s Mane wants hardwood pellets, and oyster mushrooms aren’t fussy as long as there’s some wood pulp around.
Good to know. He’s planning a morel expedition–combined with fishing–sometime this week. We’ll see if I’m up to it.
The weekend left me exhausted and sore; I gratefully sank into Tyrone Spiffy the wheelchair when we got home. I’m back on the down-curve of recovery, letting my worn-out muscles regroup while I’m back on the walker. My legs are saying extremely rude things to my brain.
Can’t wait for the next breakthrough.