Room 37

In reviewing some of my past posts, I have mentioned the context of our personal dramas playing out against the backdrop of the national and international stages. I will include my personal drama that began two weeks ago and is now very slowly abating. I should be a lot better in another 6 weeks or so. I’lll keep you posted….Judi Bachrach 6/22/22                          Room 37

I fell inside of my room using my rollator to cross an area rug, an act that I had accomplished safely many, many times before. I fell backwards as is my wont, always on my left haunch from years of neurological compromise on that whole side. At first, I got back up and even took the time to clean my-handmade-by-Tibetans-in-Dharmsala rug as my container of yogurt and fruit salad had spilled off my rollator and onto its’ red corner. Aghast at the mess, I successfully cleaned it up, and made a new batch of food to bring to my lunch meeting. I sat through that only feeling a little sore as is usual after a fall. Then I sat through a lovely memorial for an hour. And then the pain kicked in. Sharp acute nerve zingers that were not at all usual.

By dinnertime, I suspected I may have a fracture in my lumbar or sacral area. I knew unless I got it checked out, I would fret. Not that anything special is done about it- but I have a need to understand what is happening in my always changing body issues. I asked an IL friend if she would drive me to the local Mercy Alan hospital so I wouldn’t have to pay for an ambulance. We were shown to a private (too hot) ER room to wait. We saw a kind male nurse who took my information and said he would set up a CAT scan for me to verify any damage.

In about two hours I got the scan. It was painful maneuvering into a wheelchair and on and off the exam table and onto the CAT platform. But I did it and the scan is quick and easy and then more waiting until the radiologist read it. Finally, we heard that there was no sign of fracture and the hardware for my fused L4-5 vertebrae was alright as well. Both answers were a relief and four hours after we had arrived, we got back into the car after breathing the soft moist air of the evening. It was only a little cooler than inside the room, but the air was fresher for not being inside of the ER. A brave boy with a broken arm had cried and went home with a cast shortly before we left. Profuse thanks to my friend for hanging with me for such a long wait. And then…

The next day my body was in more pain. The pain medication they gave me at the hospital is only slightly above Ibuprofen levels and I had refused the steroids they also offered me because of a past negative experience. Usually, steroids make you feel that you are up to any challenge and can conquer the world as it benignly reduces inflammation. But I had had three days of IV steroids for an MS exacerbation years ago. I had a historic abreaction- my MS weakness had scooped me out like an empty paper bag. The steroids made me typically talkative, hungry, and red-faced, but also FURIOUS. I was an angry empty paper bag. I wouldn’t let my husband help me over a curb when we went to the high school graduation of a friend’s daughter. I turned and irrationally yelled out, “Don’t you dare touch me,” which was more than slightly embarrassing as we were both known as psychotherapists in this crowd. Oh well. So, I was reluctant to take the steroids again. Even though we produce our own natural steroids, taking it in a concentrated dosage directly reduces inflammation and can be used in conjunction with antibiotics and other drugs very effectively.

The reputation of the local hospital is that it is not that of a tightly run ship. In the morning, as I

was in more pain than the day before, my nurses suggested I get to the hospital in Elyria for an MRI. I have had many MRI’s in my life to see if my MS had produced any new lesions. It hasn’t for many years, but my latest neurologist of course, had me lie in the loud knocking, honking chamber for a whole series from head to pelvis not long ago. This one would be specific to just my lumbar region and wouldn’t take very long at all. An ambulance took me there as I didn’t think I could handle sitting up in a car and anyway I would not want to have anyone wait with me again for another unknown length of time.

Good decision. What a busy place the Elyria ER is. I was shown into a curtained room pretty quickly and nurses, registrars, and attendants came and went for about 2 hours before a doctor appeared. She asked good questions and realized I wasn’t an easy read due to past neurological issues and operations for stenosis both in my neck and lower back. She suggested an MRI to which I said yes, and this is was why I had come. I was then rolled out of the room on the hospital cot and placed in the hallway. For six more hours.

A sea of busy people surrounded me. From doctors to nurses, attendants to janitors, everyone had a job to do rushing back and forth, socializing on the run- planning a party, describing the last patient, and then over the loudspeaker- FULL TRAUMA IN ER, repeated three times right over my head where I had been parked. Faster chatter of “Car vs. motorcycle,” and another said, “Actually it was a motorcycle that ran into a car.” Soon a man was wheeled by me and he was saying,” I was just driving along when this 15-year-old girl on a motorcycle run into me…” He was bleeding around his arms but was clearly coherent. A short calm of activity before the next storm included a question asked of one another by some attendants. “What bottom feeder in the ocean would you be?” “A shrimp, well, not a lobster…,”and more answers of obscure creatures from those that knew their oceanic bottom feeders.

Another trauma announcement. “57-year-old man, some drinking, fell on the kitchen floor and is totally unresponsive.” Ambulance drivers arrive, unload and scoot out of the way. Soon loud garbled angry ranting was heard, so I presumed the man was now very responsive. A nurse running by commenting to her friend, “The wife smelled of alcohol, too.” A son was heard to say- “They wasn’t drinking much, ‘cause I only saw two cans…”

In another curtained area a diabetic elderly father was lovingly visited by his adult children all day. “Well, dad,” the son said, “the truck was only $500.00 a month for four years but he ain’t telling it like it is. Gotta be at least 8 years. Ya know he ain’t good with numbers.” His father agreed and there were many truck comparisons discussed for quite a while until the son had to go back to work. A kiss followed by,” Love you, dad. “Love you, too, son.” An ebullient daughter arrived next. She worked elsewhere in the hospital and described in detail her father’s morning to his doctor, until the time that her dad had called her after she had left for work and said he didn’t have the energy to pick up the remote to the TV. As a loving caretaker she made sure the nurses and docs had the full picture of what he had and hadn’t done to bring on this sudden weak spell.

Later in the afternoon, (I considered him a kind of an invisible friend of mine as the hours ticked

by) I heard a doctor scold him for his sips of soda and two doughnuts that he ate yesterday. Protests and some muttering about his daughter, but my friend was good natured about it all. It was a tight knit family that supported him. I was glad for him.

My legs were so weak that I could not make it to a restroom and use it by myself. I snagged a passing nurse and asked to use a bedpan. Maybe 45 minutes later a really lovely nurse that was appropriately named Summer (it was the first day of summer) came to my rescue. Since I was right out in the hallway, where could she safely roll my wide cot without bumping into all of the other wide carts, laundry bins, ambulance cots, and wheelchairs to give me some privacy?  Aha! A plastic sheeted hallway that was under renovation.

We could hear workmen inside the translucent covering, but urgency overrode modesty. Summer was professional, discreet and a really good driver of hospital carts. I made it safely back to my wall space which further demonstrated her parallel parking skills. I was now famished having only had a small salad before I was whooshed away from Kendal at around 2:00. I mentioned to several people rushing by that I needed something, anything, as I had a hunger headache and was feeling faint which is a trick since I had been lying down the whole time. “I’ll get your nurse, I am not your nurse, not just now…”

A nurse did come by to prick my finger to see if I was diabetic. I said, no, I am just very hungry. “Just checking and see, your number is good,” she threw over her shoulder as I held the ball of cotton over my bleeding fingertip. And then another trauma patient was admitted with “brain activity” later spoken of as a stroke. I saw the woman in question wheeled by and she couldn’t answer any questions and could not squeeze a loved one’s hand. OK, a hunger headache will not be the death of me.

All of a sudden a transport woman appeared by my cot announcing, “Hi, I’m Fran. I am to take you to the MRI now.”

“Great”, I said, pushing away a fantasy of eating, well… anything by then. It was around 6:00. Fran told me that my wall space was called room 37. Good to know but it had taken her a while to find it. She actually got me into a wheelchair despite my screeches of pain and told me the MRI guys were great and if I wasn’t wearing any metal I probably wouldn’t have to put on a gown. Good again, as transferring had been painful and undressing and dressing seemed an impossible task.

Down to the bottom of the hospital where all the mysterious radiology arts are performed, Fran deposited me in the bare waiting room. One cheerful chatty man came out after he and his partner had been discussing the merits of the rock music that their current patient had chosen to listen to. They didn’t like it as much as the Hungarian folk music an earlier client had asked for. Ah, the bounty of the internet through earphones. He asked me what music I wanted and from previous MRI experiences I said I’ll just take earplugs. He earnestly suggested, “How about ocean sounds?” I said, “OK, yes, ocean sounds were fine.” He was glad I agreed.

 I used the wait for my turn to move my upper body after lying around all day. The guy’s partner

peeked around the corner and said, “Wheelchair Tai Chi. Cool.” I did not disabuse him of my coolness as drained and in pain as I was. They were both indeed nice guys.

Finally, I somehow crawled up onto the MRI bed, got a bolster under my knees, and lovely thick padded headphones. I was handed my call button and slid into an apparently brand new “Siemans Healthineer” MRI machine. It was as spacious as a tube could be and the glide in was ultra smooth. The ocean roared and gurgled in my ears and the powerful magnetic noises were as minimal as this machine could ever be. 25 minutes later I was rolled out, a star patient who did not move, and the pictures were fine. Next up the was the wait for a radiologist to read them. No idea when that would be as I have always been told after this kind of photo shoot.

A different transporter came for me and to return me to room 37.  By this time, I was determined to eat something. I had looked longingly at the snack machines as we whizzed by them when we headed up in the elevator. We arrived upstairs in the middle of the shift change. Smells of dinners were just cruel, and someone had baked a cake for the surgical residents for some occasion. “And what do you guys do when you are not on call?” Some flirting, some cake, and then the sea of talking people dispersed and it was quiet again. My time for demanding food had come. Wait, was that my very own nurse still on duty? It was!

I said loudly, “Sorry to bother you, but I have been here for a very long time and I am starving.” The nurse took pity on me. Usually a healthy vegetarian, I immediately devoured the sliced turkey on plain white bread but skipped the can of Sprite and pretzels she had brought me. That sandwich was enough to quell my pounding head. Uh Oh. I needed to use a bedpan again. I saw my nurse rushing away and I said, “Sorry, but now I have to use a bedpan.” She said, “You keep saying sorry, but I’m not feeling it.” She said it with a very slight smirk which was Ok as long as she provided me with the means to relieve myself. She found a privacy screen to surround my cot and that was enough for me, and at this point, who cared? Not me and surely not all of these official body mechanics swarming around room 37.

At about 9:00 a new doc arrived and the privacy screen was long gone. He said, “Good news, the radiologist saw no fractures and your fusion hardware is fine. We will put you on steroids and the previous script of Toradol should help with the pain. I will work on your discharge papers.” I now accepted the steroids gratefully however they may change my personality. I had to have some relief from the inflammatory pain. I had a shot of my painkiller (stronger than taking it orally) and swallowed the steroids.

½ hour later, the papers were deposited at the end of my cot. When my nurse flitted by she saw them and said. “Good, you can go home now.”

“But how? I came by ambulance.”

“Well, we will call you an Uber.”

“I said, look at me. I can’t sit up in a car.”

“Isn’t there someone you can call ‘cause waiting for an ambulance takes a long time.”

“I have a daughter who lives in Lakewood but she is exhausted from her non-sleeping baby. And I can’t get into and sit up in a car.”

Another sigh from the nurse. She came back a minute later saying, “I always feel bad for people

who have to use an ambulance. They said they might be here any time from 11:00pm until midnight.”

I blanched, but what choice did I have? In another quiet moment I looked over at the woman in the nursing station who had been manning the phones all day on her very long shift. I told her that I thought she was a whiz and a wonder to be so organized with fielding doctors, administrators and anxious relatives all day. She thanked me and another man came in and asked for some papers. She indicated they were on the table over there. He said something about that being sloppy. The woman shook her head and pointed at me. “Uh unh. According to her, I am very organized,” and gave me a wink.

Thankfully, the ambulance arrived to load me up on their gurney at 10:30. Goodbye ER room 37. I was so grateful to be on my way home. The SCC (Stephen’s Care Center) night staff welcomed me home and due to steroids, I was able to actually shuffle with my rollator to painfully but successfully to use the bathroom on my own with intense care. Wow! In the morning, still feeling the help of steroids (no anger in sight) I participated in the Olympic event of a shower and got dressed and fixed breakfast verrrrry carefully. (I only scored a 2, but hey, it was the Olympics.) Satisfied with accomplishing a few normal human activities, I went to bed. After 3 hours of lying around I got up to use the john, and…my legs collapsed and down I went, directly on the same haunch. Bad immediate pain. My call button didn’t work! I crawled onto the toilet, relieved myself somehow and pulled the call button cord on the wall above my head.

The sense of strength I had enjoyed was gone again. I now had to have two people lift me on and off a commode. I am not able to get out of my bed on my own. I have to ask for every little thing I need and am so grateful I am attended to by someone who calls me by name and isn’t rushing anywhere. After a day of misery adjusting to the sudden loss of all independence and unabated pain as the steroids wore off, I woke up this morning with a steroid afterglow.  This time I called on my nurses to do my morning ablutions as I will not misread the temporary relief of strength to attempt standing on my own until my legs can obey a standing order again.

Last night the head nurse came in and said a new MRI report indicated a possible small fracture in my sacrum was found. I can tell you that from my own Goddess-like senses, that yes, I knew I have a fracture or otherwise I would not have lost the capacity of bearing weight in my legs. And the acute sharp pain? That is a new pain for me, and a fracture is the only thing that makes sense. There is no other treatment except for time to heal it and as sitting and standing depends on a sacrum, I won’t be doing more than short supervised experiments of those actions as bone and muscles heal of their own accord. Isn’t that amazing? The body wants to heal and it shall.

And to end with a small miracle, my older daughter came for a visit outside the ambulance entrance here today with my 6-month-old grandson. He can’t come inside as he cannot wear a facemask. I transferred to a wheelchair with only slight pain in my left knee which had gotten torqued from my second fall. I sat for a full 15 minutes of non-stop talking with my daughter and singing baby songs to his smiling face with two brand new teeth to show me in return.

Slowly but surely my recovery is in sight. And my 2-and-1/2-year-old grandson who was napping at home thought I needed a piece of cheesecake that he told me on the phone that he had liked “very much, very much”. My daughter also brought me a scarf my older grandson had picked out from Spain where they had visited last month. The final healing food was two chocolate chip cookies that I had seen him make last night on FaceTime with his mother. Watching him contain himself from eating chips out of the dough was a hoot. I now will check to see if my cookies still contain any chips. Little rascal.

I am glad to be back in the SCC in room 602.

Back again

I haven’t stopped writing I just was not finding my way to enter it into a post. Some of the hiatus was about a month of bad pain. My old back issues reconfigured as a neurological condition called caudus equinus. The caudus is the end of the spinal cord and equina is named for the “horsetail” of nerves that emerge from there. The symptoms are evidenced in a particular pattern from the low back into all the areas of the body that would touch a saddle if you happened to be sitting on one. Given the pain, numbness and tingling that result from this rare condition, having had MS and spinal stenosis in the past (no longer active), no one could have spotted it within those conditions until now. In my case, I believe my caudus is recently inflamed increasing pre-existing old symptoms to flare up. I also managed to displace some ribs while leaning over my windowsill (!) and the pain from my chest merged with the inflammation in my back and instead of two separate hot fireplaces of pain, I was one conflagration. I was on painkillers for a while which greatly reduced the fires and then I could feel the slight return of sensation in my equina nerves again. In any event, I am back to my basic back pain which is tolerable, and I am able to increase my mobility and sit up at the computer to write more.

I will include one of my favorite summer poems that I wrote from a collection called Stopping by Ponds on a Summer Morning (homage to Mr. Frost).

6/12/21

Day Makers at Buttonbush Pond

The conductor raises his baton

from absolute stillness

the whispering chatter

of surrounding leaves

drops with the breeze

then

we begin

lone percussive woodpecker

bass gulp of a frog

buzz of insects

warning cry of a redwing blackbird

chuckling robin

myriad trills and chirps

fugues interweave

my breath and heartbeat

part of the orchestral morning

brought to you by

Day Makers

Judi Bachrach

I also include the lyrics of a song that took months to emerge, just in time to sing for the holidays. Next year I have a friend who is going to help me set up a podcast so that I can sing my songs or recite a poem as well as write them down to share. I am no singer, but I write songs in my head and sing them since nobody else can do it for me. Here is the song:

Find Your Way Children, Children

Find your way children, children

Find your way children, children

Find your way children, children

Children, find your way





Maybe you’ll climb a mountain

Maybe you’ll cross the sea

Maybe you’ll stay and plant your garden

Wherever you may be

Don’t let fear hold you back

Or tell you what to do





Anger only grows in fear and

Anger will poison you





Reach for love to make real changes

Love makes your dreams come true

Reach for love, love, love, yes, love will see you through




Find your way children, children

Find your way children, children

Find your way children, children

Children, find your way





If you slide back down the mountain

You lose what you thought you had

Your ship won’t sail, your garden won’t grow

The whole world makes you sad





Don’t let sorrow hold you back

Or tell you what to do

Embrace your sorrow, you will find

More joy inside of you





Reach for joy to make real changes

Joy makes your dreams come true

Reach for joy, joy, joy, yes, joy will see you through





Find your way children, children

Find your way children, children

Find your way children, children

Children, find your way





If your heart is broken

If your body fails

No more gardens, no more mountains

No more ships to sail





Pain is all you’re feeling

Feeling pain just everywhere

Ask for help and it will come

Don’t give up, and don’t despair





Reach for one thing that you’re thankful for

Giving thanks is what you can do

Reach for gra-ti-tude, yes, giving thanks will see you through





Find your way children, children

Find your way children, children

Find your way children, children

Children, find your way





If people are always fighting

If people are always at war

If people are always greedy

Always hateful, grabbing more





Don’t let the war inside your heart

Or let fighting be your way

Stand up strong where peace must start

Inside you every day





Be the peace to make real changes

Make your dreams of peace come true

Be the peace, peace, peace, be the peace that lives in you





Find the love children, children

Find the joy children, children

Give your thanks children, children

Children, live in peace





Find the love children, children

Find the joy children, children

Give your thanks children, children

Children, live in peace

Judi Bachrach

Finally, here is my poem with my friend Rebecca Cardozo’s marvelous photos which is part of Kendal’s Winter Solstice celebrations. Once more it will be part of an inhouse TV channel prerecorded program though we are inching closer to auditorium gatherings once again.

https://docs.google.com/presentation/d/1V1_lBDXi9lXJkcMcVr9uracP9DJd3Z2O/edit?usp=sharing&ouid=100755859289511988714&rtpof=true&sd=true

Click on the link or Copy this link and see if it opens for you. Glad to be sharing here once more. More coming….

Fluidity

DIARY 11/5/20 Water Blessing

I was finally allowed to use the physical therapy pool today for the first time since March 11. Staff were worried about my being exposed to the area currently used by independent living residents from the larger community who can now move with care on and off the campus for curbside pickups, doctor and car appointments, rides around to see the lake or car to car meet ups with local family or friends. It was decided I could use the pool first thing in the morning when a physical fitness staff person would be there as my lifeguard before guarding or teaching classes with the other residents.

That half hour in the warm pool water was bliss. I literally dream of being in the water. It was sobering to realize how much I had lost in strength and endurance since last spring. But it was also invigorating to walk around inside the pool perimeter without holding on to anything, and to lift up my unresponsive legs with buoyant support while penetrating warmth soaked into my nerve damaged back and arthritic sacroiliac joints. The experience left me sore but also alive and stimulated to harness this feedback of where I need to target my exercises on dry land.

Last weekend my friend and colleague, Elaine Colandrea, led a zoomed gathering for students and teachers of Continuum work from all over the world. This coming together was called a Water Blessing and was part of her work with Watermark Arts*. Each participant dedicated this interactive ritual to healing bodies of water all over the world. Continuum is what I call a bio-spiritual practice based on evoking and moving from within our fluid bodies. The by-product of this work that I studied and taught for eleven years is healing on many levels.

Neuroscientists understand how elastic the brain is. During my work in Continuum I felt like I could almost individually touch the neurons I possess- and we all have as many neurons as there are stars in the Milky Way. Through dynamic breathing patterns, sounds (vocalized breath), and evoking wavelike circular movements, I learned to engage with my original un-patterned liquid body. I felt that I could awaken new pathways of thoughts, behaviors and muscular innovations that I attribute to slowing down the progression of my years of living with active MS. Evolving as a species from the ocean and renewing the recapitulation of development within the ocean of my mother’s womb, I am indebted to my deep meditative encounters with Continuum.

Last Sunday was a wonderful time to commune with so many of us following Elaine’s guidance and inspiration. Elaine asked if I would read a poem of mine for this occasion and this is the poem I wrote. *watermarkarts.org

Fluidity (Water Blessings for Our Times)

Chaos begets

rigidity

for containment

Rigidity begets

chaos

for freedom

Beneath our skin

fluidity dances and ripples

for life in between

Fluidity rises

to the evocative coherence of Love

Track

the gentle ebb and swell

Become

the terrifying

curl of a monstrous wave

Breathe deep

Dive within

the boundaryless ocean of being

9/28/20 Judi Bachrach

Light Therapy

Diary 1/20/20 Light Therapy

Over the weekend we finally experienced wintry weather. We didn’t have a lot of snow and the few inches we had were immediately drenched with rain. But overnight the temperature dropped hard and fast, and what snow is left remains frozen. It felt like this matched my inner weather for the last few weeks which has been still, with a quiet blank, white slate. After the busyness of the holidays and the excitement of my grandbaby arriving safely into the world, I felt very quiet. I am still very much in a physical healing mode with days when I feel more active and mobile and days when I am reading a lot lying down with my very weak and tired back. I am certainly in much less pain and in that sense I feel the surgery was quite successful. How my nervous system will ultimately respond in furthering communication with neuronal firing to my muscles is very much a work in progress. I still have a few weeks to go before the surgeon’s declaration of my post-operative muscular healing is official. The nervous system is on its own schedule altogether.

I am currently trying LED red light therapy, which is known to penetrate deep into the cells, affecting the mitochondria which I think of as little engines for cellular activity. There is chemical interaction involved but I am not that informed to be more specific. In less than a week of ten-minute sessions two-three times a day, I believe I see a glimpse of something new- a steadier accrual of both sensation and strength in my low back and into my legs. It is early days yet, so I remain open and observant. I shine the light directly on the affected areas of my first operation in my neck and in my lumbar region. Yes, I am “shining light into dark places”.

I have also taken to shining it on my face and I have to say, given the lack of sunshine in general in northwest Ohio, it feels like I am immediately relaxing on a beach somewhere. I do not think I am someone affected by SAD (a lack of full spectrum light that causes depression in some folks) but that jolt of green after images behind my closed eyelids as the red light bathes me, has been a lovely experience that makes me happy every time. Today I was inspired to walk outside on cleared asphalt paths to stand in the last 20 minutes of light from the actual setting sun in a nearly clear sky. That in itself is something I have not been inspired to do in a long time. It was a balmy 27 degrees and the fresh crisp air was delicious.

I have also been aware of holding the unfettered joy of loving 7-week-old (today!) Max, and the grief of an ever-unraveling political scene in our country and around the world. I sense the need to open my heart wider and wider to embrace it all. My small life, my sense of loss for the planet’s woes, and the fear-generated violence and greed as we further disconnect from cause and effect on the worldwide stage, makes me feel very vulnerable. Staying open-hearted is the only way I know to keep shining the light of all spectrums into dark places.

Joyful Inspirations

Diary 12/9/19

Today is my grandson Max’s one-week birthday. Already he has accomplished so much; he is learning how to take in nourishment and to digest, survive the (so far) extreme displeasure of being gently bathed, to experience the undifferentiated onslaught of smell, taste, hearing, sound and touch, with only the foggiest of visual input. At 8-12 inches away, babies can only see in black, white and grays to being with. They may come to recognize their caregiver’s faces from that distance as early as two weeks. By two months, their eyes muscles can hold a steady focus. By three to four months they can begin to discern colors on small objects. Max’s eyes are wide open from time to time, but it is hard for me to imagine what it is he is actually perceiving.

I remember the weight of holding my babies very well, but I cannot actually remember them ever being this tiny and light. The wisp of a fingernail, the slightest dimple of a finger knuckle, and the cupid bow of tiny lips are amazing to behold. It is no wonder I cannot remember this stage accurately. Babies change so much, so fast, and new mothers are as overwhelmed in their own way as their small charges the first month or so. I do remember well the piercing cry of infant distress- mothers are directly targeted by that particular wailing. I have on occasion heard that same cry from an adult therapy client during a session when they tapped into their previously unconscious early mother losses. That sound goes directly to the heart and demands immediate action on the baby’s behalf. Not all babes are as lucky as my grandchild in having a warm and safe nurturing environment for their entrance into this world.

I watch my daughter and son-in-law surrender to the full-on care, delight, and exhaustion of their son’s presence and I am glad to be the grandmother. I empathize and resonate with their adventure and am happy (need) to receive daily picture by picture updates (how did distant grandparents handle life before cyber communication?). I am also clear it is their life and am so glad to see their active network of other young parents and friends they have to support them. What a gift it is to love and participate in my new role.

While I write, I am listening to sacred music of medieval Spain. I discovered this site when I was still going through rehab and was so touched by the rhythmic joyful expressions of love of the Divine Maria. I was plugged into my earphones so as not to disturb my neighbors and felt that much more inspired to move through my post-operative pain and get moving. I highly recommend a listen if you’d like to hear a superb professional young choral performance with wonderful genuine medieval instrumental accompaniment. For all the darkness we associate with the Spanish Church of this period, here is a counterpoint of vibrant celebration. I love some of the pieces so much that I keep thinking I will directly swipe one of the melodies and rhythms to create a songful celebration of my own. “Imitation is the highest form of flattery…” Oscar Wilde

May we all find our own joyful inspirations in this turbulent period of our country and our world.

Gratitude

Diary 11/25/19

I can hardly believe it is Thanksgiving week. Of course, I have been in surgery and recovery mode which took a chunk out of the days passing as anything but usual. Now that my head is emerging above the water, I shake the drops out of my eyes and look around to see it is fully late November. Warmish days, sunny days, cold, gray days, snow piles from the plow melting in the corners of the parking lots- all of it speaks of November. Outside my windows, the grounds people here have been busy planting new shrubs and trees to fill around the skimpy garden I tried to start last spring. This spring, Kendal will provide more perennials that I helped to choose, and my small patch will blend in with this whole side of the building that holds our six-year-old wing of assisted living. It was never properly landscaped before this and now I will be able to observe it come to fullness along with my own growth.

I am delighted to be back in my own room. Being inside my room makes it clear that I have a way to go to undertake the hundreds of small activities I did more easily before. I can stand up without holding on for a minute at a time before I get a still unhealed nerve zing that weakens my leg muscle and have to reach out to hold on. First thing in the morning I am at my strongest. The other day I got up and took an unaided normal step or two before I noticed and quickly had to grab the handles of my rollator. If I have to walk more than twenty feet, I wear my sturdy new back brace and my old foot/ankle orthotic from the time MS had caused bad foot drop on my left side. That condition has returned due to my disrupted nervous system. I work on that every day on my own and I am back to twice-a-week PT sessions now that I am out of rehab when I worked with PT and an OT every day.

My weak back can just handle sitting up for an hour for my meditation groups and the Sunday Quaker meetings, and I hope to get back to my committee meetings and writing groups after this week. Of course, I am mostly focused on the coming grandchild. My lovely waddling daughter is a happily expectant mom, still teaching her classes on the Oberlin campus last week and this. There were indications that her babe may arrive earlier than the December 20th due date, but now it is up to the mysteries to decide when another particular human being will appear in our turbulent world. After this week he is considered full term. As my younger daughter is taking the train here and back from NY state for Thanksgiving, we can hope he waits until after all the plans are fulfilled, a family meal and reunion is concluded, and the activity runway is cleared for his safe and healthy landing. May your own Thanksgiving be full of less obligations and full of more opportunities for gratitude.

This is a love poem for my pregnant daughter and her babe.

Message

You are swimming

in the dark belly of the mothership

the ocean that bore us all

silently awaiting cell by cell

powerful waves of mystery

wave after wave after wave

will launch you towards our bright shore

Love to love

and you will inhale

your First Breath alone

your latest message from Home

will touch many hearts

all the years of your life

“Gather all the Kindling”

When the light around lessens
And your thoughts darken until
Your body feels fear turn
Cold as a stone inside,


When you find yourself bereft
Of any belief in yourself
And all you unknowingly
Leaned on has fallen,

When one voice commands
Your whole heart,
And it is raven dark,

Steady yourself and see
That it is your own thinking
That darkens your world.

Search and you will find
A diamond-thought of light,

Know that you are not alone,
And that this darkness has purpose;
Gradually it will school your eyes,
To find the one gift your life requires
Hidden within this night-corner.

Invoke the learning
Of every suffering
You have suffered.

Close your eyes.
Gather all the kindling
About your heart
To create one spark
That is all you need
To nourish the flame
That will cleanse the dark
Of its weight of festered fear.

A new confidence will come alive
To urge you towards higher ground
Where your imagination
will learn to engage difficulty
As its most rewarding threshold!

                                    John O’Donohue

John O’Donohue says it best. What schools my eyes today is the innate resilience of my body that has been lurking under chronic pain for so long. I am slowly healing. Through this healing time, I am in less and less nerve pain, and the pain from the surgery itself is not hard to handle. Connecting nerves to muscles is an ongoing lesson plan. With the help of a wonderful back brace and my old left foot/ankle orthotic from when my MS was much worse, I am walking longer and farther every day. I must be very careful because sudden nerve spasms can fell me if I am not holding on carefully to my rollator. I cannot twist around my low back and can lean forward only with great care. Otherwise I am becoming more self-sufficient and expect I will be able to leave the rehab area of the Care Center and return to my own room next Thursday. I look forward to having my own space and no longer having to be checked for levels of various body functions at all times of the day as is necessary for skilled nursing care.

To be on a healing path with the obstacles removed and my spine revamped is a true joy. Boredom, fatigue, and irritation are small passing squalls that do not temper the underlying momentum of healing that my beleaguered body has shown during my days here. I know I will be stronger after I recover, and I will return to my life with renewed gratitude.

“A new confidence will come alive
To urge you towards higher ground
Where your imagination
will learn to engage difficulty
As its most rewarding threshold!”

Home

11/9/19

I am back at Kendal in the rehab area of the nursing center that encompasses my own room in the Assisted Living wing. The surgery went well. Four and a half days in a small local hospital was hard, and I experienced the worst physical suffering of my life for two of those nights. Off the chart post-surgical pain, nausea, and a pounding headache created a harsh mix of sensation. Drugs both helped and didn’t help, but it is what I had to work with. After my last surgery, a Kendal friend of mine who used to be a nurse gave me a get-well card that said, “People who say that laughter is the best medicine have never tried morphine.” I say, first the morphine, and then the laughter.

There is something very pure and clarifying about undergoing intense pain. The urge to disassociate from my body was strong. It was not a “near death” experience, because my pain was not signifying life or death. Nonetheless, I had to summon something that insists on life not usually called upon from deep within. It happens during childbirth, on the battlefield, extreme athletics, or at any time the body is threatened at that level. I kept breathing, and the pain receded by degrees. I know I went through an ordeal, but the body memory fades it from view as soon as it passes. I remember sobbing on the toilet (sitting up at all was hard) with a nurse calmly standing by without judgement as I wailed, “I can’t take this anymore.”

My pride was in shreds. I wanted her to know that this is not my usual reaction to pain, that I am very strong, that I am not some flaky wimp. I calmed down and staggered back to bed with my rollator. I was glad she held neutral ground. My pain meds were adjusted, and then I could laugh at the picture of helplessness of me weeping all exposed in that hospital bathroom. That reassertion to live is a gift and, I begin to realize, so is the pain that precedes it. I have worked on embracing chronic pain for many years. Though I never would call it my favorite teacher, I see now that it is, in fact, a gifted teacher. Pain is an immediate humbler of the ego. It is paint stripper to the personality, creating an opportunity to see what else you are made of beneath the carefully cultivated images we strive to maintain.

At Kendal, the nurses here know me, and I know them as well. They know me as a person, not just a patient. We work together as a team and exchange helpful dialogue where my personal perspective counts as much if not more than theirs. That atmosphere in and of itself is healing. I do not need to push for self-advocacy. We all need to be truly heard and seen. It is Love in action. Hospitals are filled with professional strangers and do not provide a nurturing environment. Nurses run from room to room filling out endless paperwork, running meds, checking stats and have little time to give compassionate care. For the last three nights in a row I asked my three different new young night nurses how they liked working at Kendal. All three gushed that they loved it. Here they get to care for patients as people. I am beyond lucky to be here.

I learned something else. In my humbled vulnerability while waiting for the ambulance to transport me, I couldn’t wait to come HOME. I hadn’t realized how significant that thought was until I was back in my rehab bedroom. Once I was settled down, people kept dropping in to see for themselves that I was back. Some were friends, some were members of the community I know only a little, but everybody knew that I had been gone and had now returned. I hadn’t been wishing to go to back to my former house and home. I wanted to be here at Kendal with my community. These people are my home now. The transition from my former life has already happened. Home is not a particular room or a house, or a specific time of your life. It is the interactions of the heart cultivated with others around you. Corny, but true- home is where the flexible, spacious heart is. Home is not a static location. It includes all friends and family, the beloved old ones, and the shiny new ones still to come.

Exile From Home

10/27/19

Exile is such a brutal word. Many of us have decided that self-imposed exile is the best choice to disentangle from an impossible situation. We may exile ourselves from toxic families, spouses, jobs, a former community of colleagues, or friends. Wavering between the context of cowardice or courage, we finally may choose self-exile as the better part of valor. To be exiled by others is that much harder. To forcefully lose your home and the country of your heart through catastrophes, natural or manmade, is heartrending. When your reasons for wishing to return to the country of your origin are benign, but opposing forces conspire to prevent that from happening, it appears as grossly unjust.

Thich Nhat Hanh, a Buddhist monk from Viet Nam, experienced political exile for forty long years. I read his lovely book of short stories and essays, At Home in the World. After practicing Buddhism since the age of sixteen on his way to becoming a monk, he credits this painful obstacle of exile from his country for helping him to attain his True Nature. There is a Buddhist saying, “The obstacle becomes the path.” Most of us search to find meaning in our own obstacles, and acknowledge the growth required to have met our challenges. In the end, gratitude arises when we find that we can now bear the apparently unbearable.

Where have I experienced self-imposed exile? Most of my struggles have been placed within the geography of my own body. I was another sexually abused child. Growing up in my small world of dance, I was once famous for the fastest footwork known to young females, unconsciously trying to escape my body. Later I endeavored to transcend my unidentified suffering by living with my spiritual head high up in the clouds. I choreographed, and performed in, potent dances highlighting separation and wholeness. I wrote songs that spoke to the unfulfilled longing of the human heart. I tried to ground myself in my body and heart while I tried escaping it through artistic expression at the same time.

I finally understood how much damage was behind the need for these semi-successful strategies and spent years in therapeutic practices and spiritual searching to uncover and heal my wounds. I seem to have laid down neurological tracks utilizing my genetic inheritance of MS to erase my bodily sensations from the ground up. That I also had degenerative disc disease was not identified until recently, when stenosis and bad arthritis in my spine began to cause the kind of pain at a younger age than is usually the case.

Honestly addressing causes of lifelong stress does not necessarily lead to a cure. In my case, I have applied and studied a wide variety of therapies and disciplines, including both allopathic and Western medicines to heal my mind/body issues. I have long been actively returning from exile, welcoming the tattered refugees of various bodily ailments into my loving care. I now see myself as a co-creator in the country of my life. I see that I am responsible to, not solely responsible for, what occurs within my boundaries. I love this home which life manifests within and around me. I respect my past choices for survival and current choices for revival. The spaciousness of unbounded spirit as I know it, is one and the same as my citizenship of this planet. Exploration and celebration of the full range of the human condition feels like Love in action. I, too, am slowly learning to be At Home in the World.

For My Next Act…

I will have a laminectomy on November 4th. The surgeon will be fusing vertebrae L 3-5 which means he will drill through the presenting lamina bone to reach behind into the interior area. He saves the bone dust to fill in the hole later. The interior is where my discs should be cushioning between each vertebra. But they are not, resulting in bad arthritis. The discs are disintegrating, and one is bulging out causing pressure on a root nerve, which is responsible for much of my pain. This arthritis also allows one vertebra to slip back and forth over another which increases the inflammatory pain with the slightest movement in the wrong direction. The discs will be removed and I will have new titanium springs to replace them. I never imagined that I would be someone with double sets of metal in her spine. A metal cage will hold the three vertebrae in place. I am assured I will not lose too much range of motion and anyway, I am barely moving my back now.

            It is amazing to me that modern medicine can clearly see inside the human body to address this problem. It is further amazing that they now can fix it with only two small incisions on either side of my spine, which is why it is called Minimally Invasive Surgery. MIS it may be but having undergone my cervical surgery, I understand that while reducing the impact on healing cut muscles and nerves, MIS does not change the internal assault on the spine. I know it will be excruciatingly painful for a few days, and in a week’s time it will be tolerable with fewer and fewer painkillers. I am willing to trade my never-ending unstable back pain for a different temporary pain that should totally heal within a few months.

            At first, I had no idea how to time this operation against the reality of becoming a grandmother in late December. When I walked into my doctor’s office last week, he said that he had just gotten a cancellation for the 4th and did I want it. I figured it was my sign to go for it, that the timing was as good as it could get. I should be fairly functional by Thanksgiving, and free of still anticipating a medical intervention after the baby is born. I can’t quite remember what it is like to be free of constant pain in that specific area in my back anymore. To deal with a pain that is always changing as it heals sounds like a wonderful alternative to me.

            I like my surgeon, I got cleared for my pre-operation testing yesterday, and I have a new primary care physician whose office is right next to my surgeon’s. They even like each other, which is a good feeling. I am confident the outcome will be successful and am practicing staying in the moment when I start to spin out into fear of further pain and “what ifs.”  

            I only need to stay in the hospital for one night. Kendal is the right place for me to pursue healing my body as best I can. The rehabilitation nursing staff is just down the hall from my room. As I need less medication and care to see that my wounds are healing, I should only be there a few days before I return home to my own room. My daughter, pregnant as she is, will confer with the doctor when I am in recovery from surgery at the nearby hospital. Back at Kendal she can visit with me when she is done teaching for the day just across from the Oberlin campus. I have many Kendal friends to look in on me. The nurses already know me, and physical therapists know me well and how my body works. I am entirely grateful to feel cared for in all these ways.

            My friends, near and far, shall also be with me in spirit and I am blessed.