Catching The Train.

Today, I caught a train to Melbourne. Perhaps I should have thought about that a little more.

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Today I caught a train into Melbourne for an appointment tomorrow. 

That doesn’t sound like a big deal, but.. ouch. 

I didn’t even think about only being seven weeks post-surgery when I got on the train.  I probably should have done, though. 

Here’s the thing. A country rail journey here is bumpier than a car trip and the jostling is constant. You can’t adjust the seat or change your position, so it is what it is. 

The great thing was that my travelling companions were a. people I know well, b. very helpful and c. not actually able to walk much faster than me, so apart from the jiggling it was quite a good trip. 

By the time we arrived at Southern Cross Station in Melbourne, my back was feeling very tender indeed. It was great to get off the train and walk for a bit, which helps to relieve the inflammation and get the circulation going again. 

I also really like this railway station. Melbourne has two iconic stations: Flinders Street Station is old and beautiful, while Southern Cross is funky and cool with its sleek designs and wavy roof. I find it hard not to look up at that roof and think, “That’s SO cool!” 

From the station, it was only a short cab ride to the hotel. Now that I am lying down in my hotel room and have had some ibuprofen, I feel quite okay, so no harm done. 

Six Weeks Post-Op Post.

Current Status: My neurosurgeon is happy, and so am I.

Today I saw my neurosurgeon for my six week post-surgery check up.

The short story is that he is extremely pleased with how I have healed and the way in which I have managed my recovery.

He showed me the MRI scan that prompted him to have me sent to Melbourne for surgery. Holy Toledo, I had no idea a disc would make such a mess when it ruptured. There is a very good reason they used the word “debris” to describe it.

He said the pain I still have is normal for the healing I still need to do, especially given that I am also dealing with fibromyalgia which can add to the inflammation of absolutely anything in the body at a moment’s notice. I still have to rest and pace myself, but any pain from the surgery should be gone within three months, which is good to know.

There are, however, some things he has advised me not to do, in the interests of maintaining my other lower lumbar discs as they are a little degraded. No gardening/digging, no vacuuming or cleaning the loo, minimal bending to the floor and no heavy lifting. If something causes discomfort, it is to be avoided so that I preserve the other discs.

All in all, the outcomes are very positive because a. I can walk, work, drive, and be independent, and b. I don’t actually like doing any of the things the surgeon told me not to do.

So, this is most likely going to be my last “update” on my adventures with Explodo-Disc. It’s nice to be able to say that it should be all onward and upward from now on. I’m looking forward to that.

Current Status: Bearing Up Quite Well!

Current Status: Onward and Upward!

It’s just over four weeks today since my spinal surgery, and I am really happy to be able to say that things are going very well.

My efforts toward moving better, walking further, regaining my strength and working toward a return to work before the end of the year have been yielding good results.

I am able to stand longer, sit longer, walk further and manage my pain better than I was even just a week ago. I have driven on my own, for ten minutes each way, and then twenty, to build up my ability to drive to Warrnambool for work.

On Friday night my husband drove me to Warrnambool – a 45 minute drive – so that I could attend to the graduation dinner for my senior high students who have now finished their formal school education. I didn’t last the whole night, but I did get to wish my past students well. I was really pleased to be able to do that because I wanted to show them that they mean a lot to me and that I am enormously proud of each one of them.

This was a huge achievement for me – it was my first “big outing” post-surgery, and I am proud of myself not just for getting there, but also for recognising my limits and leaving when I needed to. As soon as I was home i cracked out the really big pain meds, and went to bed.

On Saturday, I went back to Warrnambool with my cousin Angela, who just happens to be my partner in crime when it comes to Charlie Bear collecting. We both have a penchant for those particular bears, so an invitation to celebrate Charlie Bears birthday and witness the unveiling of the annual birthday bear was one we were both keen to accept.

I didn’t adopt the anniversary bear reserved for me: she is beautiful, but too pink for my taste. Anyone who knows me knows that the only time I like Pink is in my music collection, so that bear went home with Angela instead. I adopted a little black bear named Teddy and a little panda named Bobble instead. They will both be featured soon in my #abearandabook posts on Instagram.

I came home having coped really well with my second trip to Warrnambool in two days. It was a deliberate decision to do back-to back trips, because that’s what I am going to have to do when I return to work.

Today I drove to Camperdown again with a different purpose in mind. I will tell you more about that tomorrow when the details of my mission can be made public, but I can tell you that today’s significant achievement was walking down a set of steps – and back up again later – without pain. I can’t remember when that last happened, but it was at least a decade ago. 

I am very optimistic about returning to work on Tuesday.  I know I have to take it easy and not overdo things, but I am keen to do what I can to pick up the pieces of my life and see what I can do with them. We”ll see how it goes! 

Progress!

I’m feeling positive about the progress I am making.

Now that I am making more progress in my recovery from my spinal surgery and I am moving a little more freely, I’ve decided to be more deliberate and purposeful about starting to retrain my muscles and building up some stamina for both my body and my mind.

Today I got out some pencils and a book, and started colouring, which is always something that makes me happy and peaceful. It’s also something I can do standing at the kitchen bench. I don’t have to do it all at once – it’s something I can do, and leave, and go back to through the day.

Like me, it’s neither perfect nor finished, but it’s on the way.

It may not seem like much, but getting this much done is a big achievement for me. I have been largely horizontal and only walking fairly short distances -although frequently – since the surgery on my spine on October 19.

Since my last update on my recovery, the first lot of bruising has faded to a dull shadow and the deeper bruising has begun to come to the surface now, so I am still all the colours of the rainbow, but the pain is less intense and more manageable now. I’ve ventured out of the house and walked around the yard, and begun to do light things around the house like folding laundry and doing dishes. Things that exhausted me at first are easier now, which is really encouraging. I have, however, learned the hard way that I am not ready for cutting pumpkin (it was just a little bit of butternut) or bending to get things out of low places. You don’t know until you try, right? Suffice to say that dinner on Monday was delicious, but I paid for it on Monday night and yesterday. The aggravation has settled now, though, much to my relief.

Sitting for any length of time is still an issue: I’m currently managing about ten minutes at a time before I have had enough. That means I will have to be ready to stand up most of the day when I go back to work in a couple of weeks. I will have exams to mark and papers to grade, so this seems like a good way to begin to prepare for that sort of thing. I can gradually build up to standing for longer periods of time without feeling any pressure to “perform”.

I also plan to start walking a bit further than I have been, especially now that I am a bit more confident and steady on my feet.

I fully understand that healing and recovery can’t be rushed, but I think that small progress in these ways will only help me to get stronger. And when I have had enough each time, my bed or my recliner will still be here waiting for me.

Today I am feeling positive and encouraged, which is also helpful to my healing and easier to live with all round.

Current Status: Not Ready For Adulting

Today, I ventured beyond home for the first time since coming home after surgery.

I had to go out today. There was sunshine. There were people. It was traumatic.

My driver’s license expires on Thursday, so my husband agreed to take me to the next town where I could get the photo taken, sign the form, and give a chunk of my cash to the government for a new one.

I did my hair, put on real clothes instead of pyjamas, and put on some makeup.
I thought I was doing okay for someone recovering from surgery, so I sent a snap to my best friend.

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Naturally, she was both encouraging and completely understanding of why I made the extra effort. She is consistently awesome like that.

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Let’s face it, you don’t want to be thinking “Oh yeah, that was that month where I spent two weeks nearly dying from a mystery chest infection and then ended up having spinal surgery after screaming non-stop for four days!” every time you look at your license photo for the next ten years, do you?

The drive to Camperdown wasn’t too bad. I had the seat reclined a fair way because I still can’t sit comfortably for more than about eight minutes, and my husband was pretty good at missing the worst of the bumps.

I walked from the car to the shire offices without too much trouble. I didn’t have to wait long, thankfully, and everything went smoothly so that the license renewal was taken care of in just a few minutes.

Then my husband suggested we call at the supermarket to pick up something for dinner. My approach to grocery shopping is quite pragmatic: get in, get what you need, and get out. I thought I could handle that, even at this stage of my recovery.

Of course, it’s never that simple when you really need it to be. I wasn’t two meters through the door of the store when an acquaintance stopped me for a chat. I had the cart to hold onto – what a clever disguise for an disability support walker that was! – and it was a very good thing, because just standing there, I could feel myself fading and the sweat breaking out on my skin as I tried to pretend there was nothing wrong. In the end, I told her I had to go and staggered off to find my husband, who had been gathering the things we needed and had his arms full of stuff. We went to find the last couple of things, and that was when he pointed out the Harry Potter Quidditch Match LEGO set.

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That may not seem significant to you, but Harry Potter and LEGO are both big-ticket items in my world. I didn’t have to rationalise anything. It was coming home with me. I left the set with Aragog behind, though, because while Hagrid may love giant spiders, I do not.

We got through the checkout and back to the car, and my lower back where I had the surgery last week was really starting to hurt.

The road seemed longer and much bumpier on the way home than it had on the way there. I was really thankful that I wasn’t sitting upright, and tried not to complain but couldn’t help making those awkward little little grunty noise that you make when something hurts and you try to just grit your teeth but the sound gets out anyway.

When we got home I had to take some ibuprofen and lie down. I didn’t even take a moment first to look at my new LEGO set. And once again, I am writing a blog post on my iPad while lying flat on my back.

The good thing is that my driver’s license is good for another ten years.
The not-so-good thing is that I know I am nowhere near ready to use it.

Sledgehammer.

A short reflection on the significance of my newest poem.

I finished a new poem today. It’s only short, but it has great significance.

The idea for this poem came to me in a moment of reflection while I was thinking back to how broken I was just a year ago. Back then, I would not have been able to write this poem: it would not have been true.

In fact, it’s only since I did some “housekeeping” via the publication of ‘A Poet’s Curse’ at the end of August that I’ve actually begun to feel free of some of those things that were holding me down and tormenting me. I wrote in a post back then that it was a cleansing experience, but I had no idea just how liberating it would turn out to be.

I also wrote in my previous post that writing is, for me, really effective therapy. I’ve used it to resist and fight my own personal demons. I’ve used it to grieve, and to rejoice. And I’ve used it to say any number of things that it might not be appropriate to communicate in any other way.

‘Sledgehammer’ is not even defiance. For me, it’s like a milestone that shows me how far I’ve come.

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My walls may not be perfect— they have, after all, been damaged and repaired. I am, without a doubt, both stronger and harder than I was before. That’s not to say I am insensitive or uncaring: I’m not talking about being hard of heart. I’m referring to the kind of hardness that can not only resist the assault of a sledgehammer, but also remain completely indifferent to and unmoved by it.

As far as I’m concerned, that sledgehammer does not exist.

 

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When The Difficult Falls Into Place.

It’s exhilarating when something you’ve been working on starts to come together.

Any author will tell you that some works are much more difficult than others to write. This is true in every genre and every style of writing. It’s true for other artists, too, and in most walks of life.

As a poet, I deliberate over every word choice, I measure the rhythm and listen to the music of each poem. They’re all different. Some rhyme, some don’t. My poems vary in length, subject, tone and style. They all demand to be written. And some are really challenging.

There is one poem I’ve been writing since May 2nd this year. I knew when I started it wasn’t going to be easy – it’s a medieval fantasy narrative poem, for crying out loud, so that was never going to happen overnight. It’s not ‘The Lady of Shallot’, but I suspect I may have a fair idea of what Tennyson might have experienced while writing it. It has developed in bits and pieces, sometimes just one or two lines at a time, while at other times it’s just been a matter of reading through what I’ve written and changing one or two words, while the rest remained incomplete.

It really has been like doing a complicated jigsaw puzzle. I had an image in my mind that I wanted to create through the narrative of the poem, and planning the stages of the poem was a little like finding all the edge pieces and joining them together to form the frame. Then it was a matter of finding pieces that matched and fit together, and bringing the story to life bit by bit. It’s been slow and steady work, but it’s also incredibly exciting when the different sections link up and the whole thing starts to take shape.

Today was the day that the “big picture” of my poem started to come together. That which has been difficult and frustrating is now exhilarating. My motivation has had a boost, and I feel as though I am cheering myself – and my heroine – on from the sidelines.

It’s not finished yet, but it’s getting closer. I can smell victory in the air. And it’s fair to say I’m more than a little in love with this poem.

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My friend Helen and I completed this puzzle together on a rainy Sunday afternoon,a couple of weeks ago. Here’s the completed image.

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Tiny, huge victories.

A week ago there was not a lot of hope. The doctors thought that there was insufficient progress or response to indicate any great hope of recovery.
That changed in the blink of an eye – literally.

We stood by the bed and my husband spoke to his father.
“Hi Dad, it’s Fred.”
Eyes that had been closed for ten days opened a little.
I saw it; so did the nurse.
We didn’t know that the same thing had happened to my brother-in-law a couple of hours earlier.

Those two responses were tiny, but huge. They were enough to show the doctors that there was response and possibly recognition.
Feeling encouraged, we all sat outside in the courtyard and talked.
We looked at a patient across the courtyard, under a tree in his reclining chair, and commented how nice it would be if we could do that with Dad “one day”.

Since then, there has been significant improvement and more direct response. He has nodded slightly for yes and moved his head sideways for no.
Then, this morning, there was a golden moment. I commented to him that the family were being noisy. He raised his eyebrow in a “What’s new?” expression. Everyone saw it and we all laughed.

I could have cheered. This was the first time since his accident that he revealed his sense of humour. This was more than I had hoped for this early.

A little later I was holding his hand. I talked with him and gently squeezed his hand. He squeezed back. I had to swallow my tears. I am so thankful I don’t even know how to express it.

And now, Dad is in his reclining chair outside, in the sunshine and surrounded by his wife and sons and a few other family members. He turns his head when his son speaks to him. He dozes off and wakes again, and looks up to see blue sky and sunshine. He nods when I ask him if the sunshine feels good on his skin.
Was it really only a week ago that we thought this was a pipe dream?

We don’t know what the future holds or how he will progress, but it’s such a blessing to see that the man we know and love as our dad is still with us. His body may be a bit broken but his spirit is not.

Even through the pain, fear and despair of the last few weeks, we can see that we have been very, very blessed. Every victory is tiny, but huge.
Thank you, God.