They say 45 days is the magic number. I have laid here like a Christmas ham for the past six weeks yet there has been a frenzy of activity going on in my shoulder. It’s amazing that whatever the surgery — back, leg, arm, shoulder, brain — it’s always six weeks until you really turn the corner on your recovery. The human body is so predictable and efficient in this way. If it can make a whole new liver every six weeks, and an entirely new stomach lining every five days, then it can certainly make some real progress on a centralized trauma wound when all systems are focused on healing. Cells spewing out chemicals to get everything going, other cells replicating themselves to replace the damaged ones, the immune system ramping up to squash infection, tiny little fibers sprouting up to reattach the torn ligaments to the bone, collagen collecting near the wound to build up the scar tissue — a surgery marshals all the body’s resources in order to heal itself. When I think of how much is going on at my surgery site it’s really not surprising that I still have to take breaks when I walk up a flight of stairs.
It was really tough to go from being so physically active to this slug-like existence, but I have found that reading and learning about how it all works has been comforting during the more frustrating times. Apparently there is 100% turnover of the atoms that make up your body every five years. That means that you are literally not the same person you were just a few years ago. And we have 60,000 thoughts a day, yet 90% of them are the same thoughts we had yesterday. So even as our body gets constant upgrades, our thoughts tend to go around and around like a hamster wheel. I know mine do. ”What would we look like without noses?” pops up pretty frequently.
I also think it’s crazy that we are all made up of 65% water. Which means that when PCA says “I love you,” what he really loves most about me is water. And babies are 80% water! So weird.
Okay, enough about our bodies and ourselves.
Last night we hosted our Christmas party and it was wonderful! We hadn’t planned on doing it, with PCA out of town and me being of feeble body and spirit, but we rallied and it turned out to be one of those magical evenings where everything goes smoothly and you laugh all night and reminisce all the next day. I love our friends because they don’t care that I’m rocking a fetid sling and bad hair (still can’t reach my arm up to style it) or that we served ham, biscuits from a can and Peeps. PCA made chocolate peppermint martinis, my sister brought homemade marshmallows for the hot chocolate bar, my adorable nephews showed up in Christmas sweaters and flashing Rudolph noses, and although we had every intention of stopping early we ended up going until 1:30am! I LOVE when parties have a good ebb and flow and last night was one of those. PCA has to go back to work for a 20-day stint out of town the day after Christmas, and so we both felt very lucky to have the time to catch up with old friends, new friends, neighbors and family.
PCA is working so hard these days to pick up the slack. The surgeon has said it will be about a year until I can go back to work. Which I am reeling from. Speaking of thoughts going round and round, what does this mean? What will I do? I always had this vision in my mind of a time when I would happily say goodbye to my career with no regrets in order to try something new. I find myself wondering if that time has come, and whether I could ever make my peace with having that decision made for my by someone else’s actions and negligence.
I started physical therapy and have had two sessions so far. PT has been great for understanding why it could be upwards of a year out of work. The therapist told me that I had enough work done in my shoulder for 5 people, because all of the tears were so serious. I can’t lift my arm more than a millimeter at a time and all the exercises we do are passive range of motion — meaning the therapist flings my arm around and yells at me to relax while he does it and I grit my teeth and concentrate on not screaming. He asked me to make a muscle with my bicep and I couldn’t! Where did it go in such a short time? I love physical therapy though. It’s the good hurt. It is forward progress and it feels like someone is in it with me for the long haul. It’s hard for me not to push it and my therapist keeps telling me to slow down. He’ll say “do five reps” of one baby exercise or another, and when his back is turned I quickly do 10 or 15 reps. I can’t help it. I just want to get better quickly. It’s very hard to not feel in competition with the person I used to be before the accident.
Most days now I don’t think about the long term and I try to focus on the small successes. I can mostly dress myself now, and tie my own shoes. I can drive short distances if it’s a route I know and I can avoid the freeways. I can almost sleep through the night. I can cook, as long as I have a sous chef there to help me lift a pot off the stove or chop an onion. All of these seem like small miracles and I’m so grateful for them.
One last anecdote. About 20 years ago there was an experiment conducted on mice at the National Institute of Health. A scientist, the Head of Molecular Biology, injected the mice with a chemical that stimulated and enhanced their immune systems. He had them smell camphor at the same time. After a while, just the smell of the camphor would stimulate their immune systems without the use of the chemical. Then he took some other mice and he injected a different chemical that destroyed their immune systems, and he had those mice also smell camphor at the same time. And so he ended up with two groups of mice: one group that could smell camphor and stimulate the immune system, and one that could smell the same camphor and destroy the immune system. Which is so crazy, because it means that it is the brain that is deciding whether to heal or destroy itself based upon external and arbitrary factors. It says so much about the mind-body connection when it comes to getting better.