Screaming for help: Part four

The first two and a half weeks after surgery…

Following on from last week

I’m one day out of surgery, my arm is bandaged – not cast – swollen, and very warm.

I had pain killers that the hospital prescribed that I was to take every 3-4 hours (or as needed) along with Tylenol Extra Strength every 6 hours.

Those first few days, I set my alarm for both doses – even through the night.

When Karen left the morning after the surgery I felt sure this was the time to grieve. I wanted to cry my heart out for the experience of the past four days.

I remember sitting on the couch, running through everything that had happened, with my arm propped on pillows at neck height (I wanted that sucker above the heart!), wrapped in enormous soft ice packs, with the ice cube pouch on my sprained wrist, thinking “now is the time, let it go Ali, let it go.

I couldn’t.

Still the fear of the entire events held me back. The only tears I’d shed were the silent ones that I couldn’t stop while lying on the surgical bed waiting for the doctor to arrive.

Was it shock?

My heart wanted to curl into a ball and cry all of that fear, pain, and the façade of strength I’d been wearing, out of my system.

Those tears wouldn’t come.

Within me is an iron will in a crisis, perhaps one that is borne of past necessity, but when there is the potential of breaking down and losing control something inside of me snaps into place and keeps me from that loss.

A blessing or a curse?

I would say a blessing initially for sure. My even keel and iron will in a crisis is a very good thing, especially as a potential single mom! There are sure to be many crises that occur where I will be the only adult around to take the action needed. In that respect, being able to stay calm and strong will be an amazing blessing.

The curse might be the unwillingness to let go, and the coldness that sometimes arrives with it – to keep me from feeling I suppose. And that coldness, almost like the paramedic I did not like very much (!), may feel as uncomfortable to my children in such situations. Or maybe they will come to know this as “momma’s crisis mode”? I hope we don’t have enough crises for there to be a “mode” but still.

The curse of it in this particular situation was that even though I was ready to let go and have that breakdown and cry my heart out, I couldn’t let go.

That desire to cry felt like indigestion for days and days, always present, feeling like a build up inside of me, that wouldn’t release.

Where are the Tums for that?!

I talked to my best friends about it – all of them are not within visiting distance – and I realised that I needed someone that I felt “family” close to in order to feel safe enough to let go.

It’s over a month later now, and I never did break down and cry over the accident itself. However, I did cry through fear over silly things that I anticipated as being worse than they turned out to be! I believe the redirecting of tears have released that ball of need and I am again clear. We all have our ways of coping and no one way is better or more effective than others. This is my way!

My first night alone, I locked Greyson out of the bedroom. He cried at the doorway for a while and then settled down in the other room. I watched movies and eventually fell asleep until the first alarm for more painkillers went off.

This was my routine for the next week or so. Painkillers, set up a movie, prop with pillows, wrap with ice-packs, and sleep between doses.

Day two of being left alone, Karen came back with a few other items I needed, and to check in on me.

There was a moment where I tested out the crying with her. I just wanted to release those first few moments, the actual accident that continued to play on a loop anytime I felt pain in my arm, or had to stand to walk to the bathroom.

“I was just so scared,” I whispered to her as a few tears leaked out. Those tears were like a small burp to the indigestion of tears that gurgled inside of me, they did not release the demon.

“Of course honey,” she replied and kissed my forehead.

I wanted to bury my head in her shoulder and sob, but the wall was not ready to come down. So instead, we talked about other stuff until she had to go and do some of her own errands.

That night I let Greyson into the bedroom. I needed his comfort as much as he needed mine. He was very gentle with my arm, aware that there was something amiss with it and he did not try – as I’d worried he might – to lay on it, or step on it, or snuggle into it. He gave my arm a wide berth and snuggled instead on my other side, or by my legs, or on the pillow next to my head.

I found his presence to be a soothing comfort and in a way he was able to ‘nurse’ me back to health with his love and support just as I had after his broken leg last year.

As the days went on there were times that I had to redirect him from the arm, the more comfortable he became with it, but each redirection he respected and again gave my arm a wide berth. I think the ice packs helped there too!

About a week after surgery I started to feel a little more awake, I was off the narcotics – which was a relief because they were starting to give me terrifying nightmares – and now only taking Extra Strength Tylenol every 6 hours or so. This was not enough so I started taking Advil as well.

People were amazing during that time.

Texts, emails, phone calls from people all around the town, people who wanted to help, or drop off food, or do some cleaning for me.

There are so many beautiful, loving, caring people in the world, and so many of those people live in my town and I get to call friends. I was beyond humbled during this time and wished there was some way to repay them for their kindness, support, and food!

With every new contact made by someone I didn’t realise cared, I cried. I cried tears of gratitude for all of these people.

For the first two weeks I did not have to cook a dinner for myself, just pop in one of the foods brought by the wonderful people around me, heat, and eat.

This was an enormous relief and I felt so overwhelmed and grateful.

It’s hard to imagine how difficult it is until you are in the situation. It was my left arm that was healing and I am right handed, however, I use my left hand for more things than credited!

Everything was difficult.

And everything had to be adjusted or relearned a new way.

Even the simple things like:

  • pulling down pants & underwear to go to the bathroom – one handed down and up…took some manoeuvering and relearning
  • opening anything! Bottle of water, jar of peanut butter, ziplock bag, plastic container with a seal-tight lid
  • putting on clothes of any description
  • washing and drying myself
  • getting in and out of bed
  • turning out an ice cube tray
  • chopping anything!

All of these things had to be done differently. I learned to use my knees to open bottles and jars, my teeth to open ziplocks, my chest leaning on the counter to twist the ice cube tray, sometimes I simply gave up on the plastic containers with seal-tight lids and ate something else.

Even putting peanut butter on bread without using one hand as an anchor is hard.

There was no way to open a can of anything, it just wasn’t possible. Same with chopping anything, couldn’t chop an apple or an onion or anything at all without the anchor of my left hand to hold the item to be chopped. So those meals provided by people were so greatly appreciated I didn’t know how to thank them enough.

I became creative in my mission to do the simple things. And I have to admit that sometimes I marvelled at my ingenuity! There was a life-giving silver lining to the struggles; I got to appreciate my ability to work around, to come up with solutions, and to get creative in some laugh out loud funny ways.

My union sent an enormous basket of fruit, crackers and cheese. It was wonderful. But when it came to the oranges, I couldn’t peel them, and I couldn’t cut them! There was a pineapple in the middle… I imagined using one hand and my teeth to get in there, but that didn’t appeal! I couldn’t eat it without assistance.

The man a few doors down made contact and patiently cut up some apples and pears for me. He changed a light bulb that had burnt out, and he fizzed bottles in my soda stream.

Friends would bring by food, and I would ask them to cut up the pineapple, or open a can of beans.

I was unable to shower for the first two weeks after surgery. This was doctor’s orders due to the risk of getting the wound wet under the bandage and infection occurring as a result.

I’d been doing the sponge bath of the essential bits every day! However, my hair had not been washed in 9 days and it was awful. It stuck out at the weirdest angles as though it too was ashamed to be a part of my head!

A friend came over and offered to wash it for me. {insert enormous love for this friend!} By that time I was done with it. I asked her to pull my hair into a pony tail and cut it off at the band. She did, and it felt amazing! Then she washed it and I almost – almost – cried with the delight not only of clean hair, but of the short manageable length.

Oh the joy. I felt like a whole new human after that.

Washing my sheets was the other thing that went far too long. Usually, I wash them every week on a Sunday without fail. It’s my one thing I always do, no exceptions. I love Sunday sheets! It had been nearly two weeks before I got the courage to ask someone to come over and make my bed. I was certain I could get them off the bed one-handed, even into the washing machine, but I couldn’t get them back on the bed. I’d been spraying them with a 100% pure lavender spritzer and trying not to think about how long I’d been sleeping in these sheets. Having fresh sheets was the best feeling, and I determined from that point forward I would not leave it so long again.

My solution was to hire a cleaning company to come in once a week to clean and to put on my bed sheets. After a few weeks alone in the house, living one handed, there were other things that were being neglected. I was able to do things like clean Greyson’s litter tray, though it was a much slower process, and I was able to stack and unstack the dishwasher, and wipe the kitchen counters. What I couldn’t do, was clean the bathroom, vacuum and mop the floors, and dust (though I could dust some areas just not others). The bathroom started to get to me after two weeks at home. It had now been three weeks since it was last cleaned and it grossed me out. A bathroom is not something you ask a friend to clean for you. Vacuum…sure…bathroom…no, just no!

They started to come every Tuesday and having clean sheets and a clean bathroom made a huge difference in my state of mind.

One handed is tough.

When I was 16 I had a few driving lessons from a friend of the family, I forget his name but he taught all of us kids to drive a standard car. He only had one arm. Thankfully it was the one he shifted with, however, he had taught himself to use his knees in place of the other arm. I had thought his ability to drive one armed was mind-boggling, but he was a great and patient teacher and I learned to drive a standard from him. Now I appreciated even more that he taught himself to drive one-handed. People are amazing.

The doctor had said I would not be able to drive, until he gave the go ahead. He thought that would likely be three months. Thankfully, I live in the downtown area of our town and am within blocks of grocery stores, pharmacies, and physio. Walking was an option, whenever I could feel safe enough to walk a distance again.

Over a week passed before I ventured out of my front door without a friend with me. I walked to the Library which is literally across the street from the front door of my building. I can see it from my window.

That trip was terrifying for me. I have never walked so slowly or carefully. It might have even taken me 10 minutes to get from my front door to the Library front door (a 60 second trip). Fear rendered me dizzy for moments when I had to cross the street or step up onto the sidewalk and back down again.

I was proud that I went and that I made it back without falling. Proud enough to tell people, “I went to the library today!” and have them respond, “Wow, well done!”

I did use the elevator though. I’ve lived in this building for five years and in that time I’ve used the elevator maybe 15 times. Twice a year when I bring down my wheels for switching (summer/winter), and a few times with friends that are not comfortable walking the four flights of stairs. The rest of the time, groceries, parcels, or no, I took the stairs.

Part of the reason was I liked the feeling of strength in my legs, but mostly it was that the stairs are quicker than the elevator and I hate standing around waiting, as well as the fact that the thought of getting stuck in the elevator crosses my mind every time I step in – worse if I have to share that space with random people.

So it was that now the elevator was less frightening to me than the stairs. Interesting how our perspectives change! I was happy to wait as long as it took, and even stand in silence with other building dwellers.

There was a lot of relearning for me over those weeks.

Clothing was difficult too. I was only able to wear tank tops that I could pull up one handed and stretch the straps over my swollen, wrapped, immovable arm. No bra.

No BRA! It was likely I wouldn’t be able to wear a bra for a few months. For modesty, I took to wearing scarves that would cover the nipple area whenever I left the house. I’m not a ‘double D’ or anything, but I’m a ‘healthy C’ and not at all lacking in the chest area. I’d never been without an underwire bra or some kind of sports bra in public in my life! (With the exception of swimwear, but that has its own kind of support.)

Tank tops, which I doubled up when possible again for modesty, were not very warm and the weather was starting to turn cooler. At home I was draping blankets over me, outside of the house I was wearing cardigans with one arm in the hole and the other arm draped over my broken side. Eventually, I dug out a poncho and began wearing that as much as possible.

One of the people I work with brought me a prayer shawl, a beautiful knitted shawl that his wife and her church group had knitted. They had also prayed over the shawl and provided me with a card wishing me a speedy recovery. The gesture touched me so deeply and made me cry. I’m not religious myself, but I appreciated that someone put their faith into this shawl with the intent of helping me recover. It was beautiful! Plus it was made with my two favourite colours – red and green!

I was so touched, so filled with love and gratitude and humility. I wished I could give back what I’d received from the people who have been so generous with their time and assistance.

If only tears were dollars, I’d have been able to give richly.

I eventually worked out how to wash my own hair in the kitchen sink with only one hand. It took a long time, much longer than I had anticipated, and I strained my bad arm trying to hold it out of the way, but I did it.

Taking successes where I could, I found I was proud of my achievements during this time.

i-have-to-admit-that

I’d also been doing the physio exercises that the hospital physio nurse gave me before checking out the day of the surgery. She’d told me to start them within 48 hours; I waited an extra day because I couldn’t imagine trying to bend my elbow when it was swollen three times its size!

I wanted to be able to move my arm though, and my fingers, so I did all of the exercises with the reps suggested on the pamphlet almost every day. Some days the pain was just too much to imagine moving beyond the necessities.

Some days movement helped the swelling go down and this surprised me, and other days it increased the swelling and the heat in my arm.

Not having a cast was confusing for most people and honestly caused me concern too. I understood that there was a plate and screws in my arm after the surgery that were holding the broken bone together so I understood that I couldn’t damage the healing broken bone. Still, not having a cast was hard to comprehend.

After about six days with the bandage; it started to slide, and then come undone. It was held together with bandage tape only.

I found myself having to unwind the bandage and redo it every morning. Underneath the bandage was a cotton wool kind of wrap which I left in place, I did not remove that. Partly because I didn’t want to see what was underneath it. Partly because I had no idea how I’d get it back on again!

But I was proud of my ability and newfound agility with one hand. Bandaging myself?! I was pretty darn awesome!

My right arm was getting stronger, more agile, and more toned for all the work it was doing.

Two and a half weeks after the surgery I went to see the surgeon for the first time since the surgery. I felt nervous about this appointment, uncertain what to expect and equally eager to ask questions.

…More to come…The Unveiling!…

Warm smiles and Love,

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One thought on “Screaming for help: Part four

  1. Pingback: Screaming for help: part five – Ali Jayne .com

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