I had an accident in late February and my left arm will never be the same again. It is “sadnessly amusing” how we think we know what it means to take things for granted, or at least I did. It was impossible to imagine any of the consequences in any sort of accurate way. Since this is my first text in public on the topic, it contains a random range of aspects and I hope you read it only if you feel in balance mentally. Some readers may feel some parts particularly upsetting or triggering even, so please take care of yourself first. As for the many photos, objects and colours are something I enjoy looking at and today they are a comfort in their support, both literally and figuratively. My mind is a chaotic place at the moment but it is what it is. Life is strange in its unpredictability. Oh and there will be some cursing, so be warned.
White Ice Fire
The pain post-surgery has been constant. I call it white ice fire because I can’t distinguish whether it is hot or cold, but rather it feels as if a whole system goes haywire simultaneously.
Why white? That is the colour my mind has perceived it as, but in reality there is an added note of the silvery grey that can be seen on overcast days reflected on water and at the very edges of clouds. As for the character of it, it’s dull quite often, but sometimes flares up in huge bursts of pain that run through the whole lower arm, wrist and hand. The signal through my nerves feels like a bundle of smaller pain threads next to one another.
When someone in your social sphere talks about suffering from chronic pain, please don’t presume to understand what it is like, how you would handle it, and as though it is worthy of being dismissed akin to a nuisance. Every story is unique, and as important and valid as the next one.
Well. Don’t read this paragraph if you are squeamish, but jump to the next one, there will not be more intricate medical talk in the rest of the blog post. It’s hard to say it out loud as I haven’t told many people about it yet, but my tissues were severed about ten centimetres, or four inches, below the elbow. I was lucky in that the bone remained intact, but the surgery lasted around five hours and they had to make a nerve graft from a cutaneous nerve to n. radialis. There is other damage too, but it is beyond the scope of these ponderings. I’m more interested in trying to convey different sorts of thoughts and feelings that have come up so far, but suffice it to say I lost quite a bit of blood and my haemoglobin was 65 when admitted to the hospital.
As a result, for many weeks I had no sensation in the skin of the first three fingers (thumb is number one) even though I was able to wiggle them a bit. Sensation is returning to parts of the hand very slowly, but the thumb is largely without it still, as is a large portion of the lower-arm skin.
I never realised just how fantastic our brain is. It learns and remembers how hard or soft to grip different objects depending on material, size, shape, weight, etc. However, when stuff goes to shits like in my case, I have to literally look at an item and tell myself how to grab as well as hold it. If my attention moves to the handling part and I no longer actively tell my brain what sort of signal to keep sending the fingers, it isn’t unusual to drop things.
Those are situations that can surprise with their emotion-inducing effect and so far I think I’ve worked through nearly the full range. It would be convenient for a while to go all in with the Hulk mode, but then there’s the cleaning up afterwards and when you don’t have flatmates…
Right, clothing. Painful yanking of yoga pants with one arm. Underwear that rolled up so they became impossible to drag across the skin to put in place. Clothes that stuck to moist skin after showering, to an extent that tears almost welled up. Unwrapping balled-up socks by biting one sock and pulling at the other.
Yes goddammit, except I cry too. Recently quite often at that.
The first two weeks I wore a large and very heavy orthopedic cast of plaster. It was difficult to find t-shirts with wide enough sleeve openings even when rummaging through the short-sleeved t-shirts only. Usually the right sleeve goes on first, but I had to switch the order such that the left sleeve could be pulled over the cast to begin with. Yanking the right one on next became incredibly cumbersome due to its backward nature. Not having fingers available to assist the process made it both frustrating and horribly slow.
If you happen to be a person with breasts, who also likes to wear a bra, here comes the part of my fights with clothes that is still ongoing and hatefully emotional: the bra. It was too much to consider one during the first week, but then I got so annoyed by free-range boobs that I made this the first major project to tackle. It’s years since I put the bra on by turning the inside of it out and placing the hooks above navel level, hooking, turning the front portion to the front, sliding the straps onto the arms and finally folding out the outside of it. This however is the only way to do it now since my inward rotation of the lower arm combined with a weak wrist is toast. In reality, putting the bra on is only the first half, but victory is when the arm and hand can handle hooking on the backside. Not there yet and time will tell.
Night pants with string for belt up for discussion next. It was only once my fingers had become more wiggly and strong, once a lighter cast had been applied that I was able to tie the string like a shoe lace. I used my teeth to help tighten the knot, then my left pinky finger to pull one of the laces. The resulting knot was never just so.
The winter boots were left laced except once when the knot on one of them loosened too much. Closing the zipper of my winter jacket with one hand only was another (slooow…) adventure. Putting on a hat is still a project and up until yesterday I could forget about a mitten on the left hand.
And I had never given thought to how difficult socks can be to yank on, if you want the toe and heel parts to sit where they are supposed to.
Showering And Hair Stuff
Speaking of showering, applying surgical tape to the opening of a trash bag happened each time, so the cast would stay dry. It was sweaty business and maddening as hell, because the damn tape strips would tape to themselves before I had had a chance to put it on trash bag and skin. Switching after two weeks to a considerably lighter, mouldable cast of wood and biodegradable plastic by Finnish Woodcast made a difference particularly in the patience department.
Due to the non-functional inward rotation of the lower arm, I still can’t wash my hair with both hands. My wrist starts to hurt from the weird angles, and the little cup that one usually is able to form in the palm for shampoo and the like isn’t happening either. In the trash-bag phase I shook out some of the very thick conditioner onto a bent leg, because there was no other place to put it.
Let’s not even talk about how slowly I was able to work the conditioner through my hair with a comb. Showering is slow still but not quite as big of an ordeal as when even my balance was affected by the original opiate medication and low haemoglobin level.
And/But While these scenarios may sound hilarious—and trust me they genuinely were/are to an extent—it is emotionally taxing to go from sarcastic humour to crying in grief the next moment. Especially when you remember once again how life offers no guarantees whatsoever in terms of recovery.
I would just love to put my hair in a pony tail, but unless I get my mother or sister to help me occasionally, I’m stuck with a double-claw kind of comb contraption with hinge in the middle. My hair is so thick that it falls down and I need to readjust many times a day. Next to the bra, this is a second major project.
Seemingly a minor vexation yet not are my awfully frail nails, which keep breaking badly because of so much and many types of medication. I have to be particularly careful when it comes to the left hand as I can’t feel all the cuts yet. Clipping right-hand nails with that hand isn’t happening either so in reality I don’t do much nail stuff myself yet, but have to ask for help.
A blurry mind was mostly happening due to the very frequently taken Oxynorm, which I luckily managed to stop using within a bit more than three weeks, but occasionally I still feel slight dizziness from Lyrica for nerve pain (which unfortunately isn’t working for me.)
I’m not sure an image was necessary yet again, but there is something so utterly accurate about the messy, fast and chaotic take-off of this flock of birds captured in a most artistic and intriguing way. And I spend an undescribable amount of time observing both myself and my surroundings, trying (desperately) to create new order.
In fact, the flowers below convey well what I used to aim for with regard to systems, organisation and efficiency, but currently I’m facing both fatigue in and of tweaking, and tiredness in general. Why me? So, tulips, let’s appreciate their beauty since going back in time is no option.
Maybe there are food blogs for people with different types of physical challenges, but I haven’t had the energy to go looking yet. My first attempt at heating something pre-cooked ended in a rush of disappointment as the cold potato was rather uncooperative in my left hand. Or rather my left arm had such crappy rotation that a simple potato of decent size could roll away from its grip and the knife move a tad too close to my fingers.
My wonderful ergotherapist gave me a piece of grip mat to place on the tabletop, but despite using it with a lid-opening tool I have lost count of how many jars are on my request-for-help list. The other day I nearly lost it with the latest failure. Bags of stuff are opened in assistance of my teeth and items with plastic corks create burn sensations on the skin of my palm whilst sweat is breaking out. The lacking inward rotation and very low grip strength cause the concept of opening something to be far from a favourite right now, but I’m seeing small improvements thanks to sticking to a daily physiotherapy routine.
So I’m focussing on easy dishes or food prepped by my lovely family members for now. That doesn’t make it any easier to live up to my expectations of table manners though, as cutting long things, round things, thick things and so on usually is neatly done with two hands.
Stupid Thoughts And Provoking Chirpy-Chirpy
Trigger warning: suicidal thoughts. Yeah. Well, the mind is vulnerable and sometimes it engages in what I call stupid thoughts. Jumping, popping, killing a liver slowly, you name it.
Stay put? Jump? Sea looks cold and fog so lonely.
Nom nom. Except the amount needed and how much regret could happen due to the sheer volume.
This requires a dedication as well as great finances, neither of which I have. And the damn Lyrica. It says on the paper slip that you aren’t allowed to mix it with alcohol. I’m such a ridiculous rule follower that I follow the order.
Is it a sign of depression at all times to wonder what it would be like to fly as a bird one last time or engage in reckless behaviour at the very least? I don’t know. I’d rather see this researched as a direct consequence of grief, instead of always tied together with some psychological or psychiatric condition. Would I end it? No. But when mental fatigue badly hits my very creative mind especially at the end of the day, it’s easy to think stupidly.
I also find it incredibly difficult to tell exactly where the line between true grief and drama-queen sorry-for-myself is drawn, when my humour gears towards morbid and darkly sarcastic at times. There is no inclination on my part to shove crap under the carpet, but I welcome the whole spectrum of emotions whilst trying my best to remain non-judgemental about them and simply observe, then let float away again. Yet it seems that the nice-girl syndrome is trying to make me feel bad about my raw emotions and pure grief expressed in momentary inconsolable crying.
On the other hand, there can be outside pressure to “smile more often,” “just pull yourself together instead of wallowing,” or something equally hurtful that invalidates honest feelings as they are.
Oh shut up.
I’ll show you some fucking sparkle.
Except my left middle finger malfunctions still. Hence, being able to flip the bird is a prioritised task on my to-do list for physiotherapy. Plus I’m drooling over the watch as I haven’t worn one in weeks: I absolutely detest not carrying time on me.
Despite notoriously killing all plants to enter my home, I now have a (growing *gasp*) collection of them and I intend to keep them alive if it’s the last thing I do. So there’s that. (“I bounce back. It’s my superpower.” Feel free to quote me on that one.)
Speaking of nothing, I’m considering taking up macramé.
So what do you do when the party is over and the life you used to have is gone, when you at least in this moment are far from able to find every damn bright side or silver lining to your situation, and when you would prefer daily temper tantrums aka glorious regression as defence mechanism?
I hate asking for help. If forced to point to one major personal challenge in the mindset department, it would be this one.
Have you ever watched a documentary on how they recruit people to some US special force? They always yell “I feel fine!” or show a thumb up under water or such even though they’d actually want to be somewhere else than amidst excruciating physical and emotional pain. And then the game is done for most of them and they aren’t fine.
So what do you do when you are completely lost? (It isn’t a rhetorical question unless you want to, but I welcome constructive, thoughtful and kind comments below!) When you feel like an outsider looking in at other people’s lives as the real deal and your own being a numb blur? When you can’t see past the first bend in the road?
All I know is I still have many pies to learn how to bake, macarons to enjoy in Paris, street art and “fine” art to enjoy everywhere, paper lanterns to watch on a dark Asian sky, moves to dance, cherry and magnolia trees to touch, sewing of different types to do, meditations to sit through, sunrises and constellations to watch, and tears to shed. Most of the latter are because of my worrying about what will happen to my piano playing and the mere thought of never doing it again is scaring me shitless quite frankly. Especially since nobody knows how my recovery in terms of physiotherapy will develop.
I only saw the name of the photo just now. Usually photographers leave their work unnamed, at least if it has the Creative Commons 0 (zero) licence. Anyway, choked up.
Wrapping Up (Yes, Finally!)
If the page loads slowly due to the large number of photos, frankly I don’t give a hoot. This word-and-image barf was very therapeutic and that is all I care about at the moment.
Maybe it can help someone else in a somewhat similar situation, too? Or perhaps you have a loved one, who struggles for a reason? My only advice is not to assume anything but ask gently what you can do, including make a cup of tea, offer a tissue or two, and a listening ear if nothing else. Not everything needs or can be fixed always, but unconditional support is true love.
I was as reckless as to leave this mostly unedited. I need the mercy as well as the permission to be vulnerable right now instead of a never-ending perfect facade.