Coming home

I always feel relief—I’m almost home!—when I turn onto my street. I drive slowly because there are often kids and dogs playing, people walking. The young boys who live in the house on the left, just after I turn, have set up a small farm stand with a few squash, some ears of corn, an occasional tomato. A neighbor a few houses down has planted lots of flowers in the front—this is a first for them and I love the bright colors. Lawns are starting to show midsummer brown—nobody in this neighborhood has in-ground sprinklers.

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Soon I reach my driveway. One flower bed is filled with phlox, vibrant pinks and soft purples. Another bed has blackberry lilies. I saw a butterfly there the other day–maybe a Swallowtail, although I don’t really know my butterflies. After the bloom passes, the seed pods will form and open to reveal clusters of black seeds that look like large blackberries.

The driveway needs repaving—tufts of grass sprout in the cracks. When I open the car door I hear Old MacDonald Has a Farm ringing out of the front window of my next door neighbor’s house—a piano being played hesitantly and mom singing to her toddler. I smile to myself as I walk down to the mailbox, retrieve my one piece of mail, and head across the lawn to the front door.

The clethra smells sweet after a day in the heat. I put my key in the door and come into the cool living room, put my purse and mail on the table and call for the cat, who usually greets me at the door but is absent today. I go to the kitchen to put something in the fridge and hear her down in the basement. I call again and she rushes up, meowing loudly to let me know she’s starving. I’m home finally, ready to just be for a while.

Sometimes, less is more

“Just a little more. Push it further. Go on. A little more…” This is the refrain from the physical therapist as I work on bending my knee. One more degree of bend, and another, and another as I work toward a magical goal of 120 degrees.goniometer

“You’ll need to work hard at PT,” were the words spoken by just about everyone I told about my pending knee replacement operation. And the expectation is that this will hurt. In the hospital I was offered extra pain meds before PT. When I told the in-home PT that pushing for more flexion was making my pain spike into the 7 to 8 range on that 10 point scale where 10 = intolerable pain, her response was “Good, that’s what should be happening.” Say what??? Her goal is severe pain???

The day after surgery I was strapped into a passive motion machine for an hour which repeatedly bent my newly operated knee to 60 degrees then to 90 degrees, flex and straighten, flex and straighten, over and over. That same day I was wheeled down to the therapy room and put through my paces—ankle pumps, quad sets, and bending. “We want you at 110 degrees of bend before you leave tomorrow,” the therapist said. “And you’re going to lock me up and make me stay if I don’t achieve that?” I thought.

“No pain, no gain.” The warrior’s approach to recovery. This is a very American approach. Push through pain to achieve your goals.

I take part in an international online forum for people who have had knee and hip replacements and from reading other participants’ posts, I’ve discovered a different perspective on recovery.

Yes, keeping the new knee joint moving is essential for a good recovery. But this can be done gently. In the first weeks of recovery, the focus can be on letting traumatized soft tissue heal and moving just enough to keep things from freezing up—bend to the point of pain and slightly beyond then stop.

This seems like such a sensible approach but when I mentioned it to the PT she looked horrified. “You’ll never get flexibility back unless you push hard!” she said.

I’m in my fifth week of recovery. On the days that the PT is here to measure me I push a bit—it’s hard to resist those cries of “just a little more”—but on other days, I follow the gentle approach. I spend a lot of time with my leg elevated and an ice pack on. I stroll around the house and take short walks outside. Every time I get up I spend a few minutes gently bending my leg but never to the point of extreme pain. And with this approach, right on schedule, I reached that magic goal of 120 degrees of bend.

Seems like there’s a life lesson in all of this. I’m reminded of my forays into floor waxing. My house has oak floors and when I first moved in they needed to be waxed regularly (I’ve since had them refinished). I rented a power floor buffer and had to learn just the right amount of pressure to apply to control the machine—too much pressure and it took off across the room at warp speed, dragging me behind and gouging the floor.

Sometimes less is more. Sometimes the motto should be “No pain, more gain.” The trick is knowing when to push through and when to back off and let healing happen.

Recovery land

I’m sitting on the back porch, with my right leg elevated on cushions and an ice pack draped across my newly replaced knee. I’m beginning week four of recovery and hitting all the milestones. Straighten leg—check. Activate quadriceps muscles—check. Bend beyond 90 degrees—check. Walk with a cane and a normal gait—check. Walk without a cane—check. Wean off pain pills so I can drive again—in process.

I tell friends that I’m an impatient patient. But “patient” is the wrong term. We were told in the pre-op class that we should not view ourselves as ill and were encouraged to bring street clothes to wear on the hospital unit. I was up and walking a few steps on day 1, walking up and down the hall on day 2, climbing stairs on day 3, and then sent home to recover.

I don’t feel ill—it’s more a feeling of being suspended in time. This is partly due to pain meds, which make me sleepy, content to mindlessly surf around the Internet and let time drift by.

Or at least that was the case in the first couple of weeks. Now that I’m reducing the pain meds and regaining energy, restlessness has sidled in.

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I’ve been nesting on my back porch daybed, which gives me a limited view of the world—the rhododendrons that flank the east and north side of the porch, an occasional bird that lights there, preens, sings, and flies off. If I turn my head to the left, I see the pink bloom of filipendula, grass, evergreens. Occasionally a critter of some sort scampers through—squirrels, groundhogs, rabbits, one day a spotted fawn. My gardens are blooming and thriving but seen for now from a distance. Soon I’ll venture out for a closer look but that feels like a next week activity.

My days have a rhythm. Morning means coffee and toast, the welcome coolness of morning air, easy contentment as I slowly wake up, maybe write a little, check Twitter, look at an online newspaper, ease into the day.

Afternoons stretch longer and desire clashes with reality. Mind and spirit want to go and do—body is not quite ready.

I pace around my small house. I might venture out for a walk down the driveway, across the street and down a ways, mindful that however far I go, I need to do the same distance on return.

Now, the sun is out and the air is steamy. Ten minutes ago, a thunderstorm raced through, a few loud claps of thunder, brief torrential rain. Another storm is on its way—I hear thunder in the distance. There are lessons to learn about accepting the present moment, whatever that moment brings.

I hear myself thinking, ah, I’m missing out on summer but of course I’m not—I’m just having a different summer than usual. A porch summer, a recovery summer, a summer to ease back into my busy life, slowly, one degree of bend, one step at a time.

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My cruising around the Internet sometimes takes me to delightful places, such as this clip of Natalie Merchant and the Kronos Quartet. Enjoy! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Qbxwa_ie3dQ

Listen. Breathe.

On Tuesday, I check into the hospital for knee replacement surgery and my stress levels are rising as I try to finish up at work, get my house and life prepped, go to myriad medical appointments, shop, see friends. Ah…I’m getting breathless just typing all that. Life these days is all about doing and distracting.

I haven’t been spending enough time simply listening to the world around me.

Sunday afternoon. I’m on the back porch, ceiling fan spinning, grackles noisily doing what grackles do, adult voices and kid voices from next door, breeze in the trees.

Silence. Listening. On Twitter earlier this week, a quote from Wendell Berry arrived like a small gift: “Make a poem that does not disturb the silence from which it came.”

I imagine words dropping into a pool, sending out ripples, sinking, disappearing.

IMG_0413A couple of weeks ago, Robert Macfarlane asked: “What is the place or landscape to which you most love listening?”

I immediately thought of Maine, the cottage on Back Cove where my sister and I went for a couple of years, early morning light, distant boat motors, bird call, occasional plop and ripple of water as acorns fell or birds dived for fish.

Or Pemaquid Point, with waves crashing against rocks and gulls calling.

Or here, now, the porch, the trees, the kids, the birds, the cat crying from inside the house, the dog in the distance, sounds of a summer afternoon.

Listen to the small sounds, I tell myself, the here sounds, now sounds, inner and outer sounds.

Be silent, listen, breathe.

Be. Listen. Breathe.

A little fiction for the weekend

I was sorting through online files and found this fictional snippet. Enjoy.

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Shayla imagined disasters, although if anyone asked, she would have said she was an optimist. That was certainly the front she presented to the world. She was the one who would say, “Oh those blood tests will be fine, you’re just a bit low on iron,” or “He’s not cheating on you. Why would you think that? He loves you. Just look at the bouquet he sent–it has love written all over it.”

She said these uplifting things to herself as well. “You’ll get that raise, you’ll see,” she’d say to pep herself up, “then you’ll pay off all those credit cards and be able to go on that vacation. Where was it you thought about going?”

But in the back of her mind there was a little voice saying, “but maybe…” Yes, things would turn out well, the world was more good than not good, people meant well even if they didn’t always show those good intentions, but maybe, just maybe she was wrong.

She’d shy away from this thought and retreat into her rosy world but at night when she was drifting off to sleep, or sometimes on weekend mornings when she could linger in bed, her unruly mind would drift towards disaster.

She’d begin thinking about a trip she and her friend Glenn were planning. A quick jaunt to Rhode Island, a walk on the beach–and before she knew it, their car would be crashing in flames or Glenn would collapse on the beach from a heart attack or maybe both–the chest pains ignored, back in the car, then the heart attack leading to the fiery crash. And she’d lie there with tears streaming down her face, wondering if Glenn had ever finished making his will and would his children honor his desire to be cremated.

Then she’d wake up a bit more and mentally shake herself, get up, look out at the cloudy day and say, out loud, well there’s an edge of blue sky over there–I bet the sun will be out before long.

Shayla never told anyone about these bouts with doom. But sometimes she wondered, which was the real Shayla, the bright, peppy cheerleader or the doom monger? What would happen if she switched roles, began spouting all the dire predictions and then let her daydreams swim towards happier shores? “Wow, they took how many tubes of blood? Hmmm…what are they looking for do you think?” or “Flowers. Well, they’re pretty, you can take consolation in those bright colors. But I don’t know, flowers always say guilty conscience to me.”

No, she couldn’t do that. The world was dark and scary enough these days without her adding to the angst.  Maybe this was her job–to keep the brightness turned up high, keep spirits soaring, even if it meant plunging towards death every night.

Of tardigrades and…

I woke at 5 a. m. from a deep sleep. I had been dreaming but don’t remember the dream, just the feeling of being deeply under and then emerging, slowly, to consciousness. I could hear the cat scratching in her cat box in the next room. Birds were starting to call outside the closed window.

A snippet of a Johnny Flynn song played in my head—“been listening all the night”—providing a soundtrack for early morning mind rambles—Manchester bombing, work dilemmas, upcoming knee surgery, Manchester again, what’s the latest information. I resisted the urge to grab my phone and check email and news updates.

Out of the warm bed and into the chilly house. Furnace rumbling, coffee maker gurgling and coughing, cat brushing my ankles and yelling for food.

All too often, I launch into the day, as I did on this morning, feeling taut, distracted by news from the international and national stage, stresses on the home front—and then, when it’s most needed, something will sidle in that shifts my perspective, helps me pause and breathe and listen in a new way.

Coffee made, first sip taken. Cat fed and quiet. Computer booted up. Twitter feed on screen. I’ve deliberately kept my Twitter feed a politics free zone—an occasional tweet about national or international shenanigans sneaks through but mostly I read about things related to language, art, music, education.

This morning I was captured by contributions from Robert Macfarlane about tardigrades. He linked to an article from New Scientist, in which I learned that tardigrades are also known as water bears and are tough, tardigraderesilient creatures that can survive years of dehydration.

And as is the way on Twitter, what began with a link to a scientific article then led in a different direction, this time to a song from Cosmo Sheldrake praising tardigrades.

Sometimes all that’s needed is a nugget of information and a song. I listened to the song, and listened again, then set about my day with a much lighter heart and mind.

What helps you to shift perspective?