Atmospheric Rivers and Other Strange Things

On November 12, while attempting to cut a recalcitrant squash in half, I managed to damage my left rotator cuff. Within two hours I was assaulted by crippling pain so acute I could barely move. Early that next morning having spent the night popping Tylenol and dozing upright on a stack of pillow, I had a virtual visit with a physician in Spokane! Yes. I live in Skagit County.

This kind man said I had probably torn my rotator cuff, I needed and X-ray and perhaps an MRI, and Physical Therapy. Fine I said, but the pain. What about the pain? Keep up the Tylenol.

Let me say, and anyone who knows me will verify this, I am not a hypochondriac I am not a whiner. I avoid medical establishments like the plague. I am and have been a very healthy person. So when I say I cannot bear this pain—I cannot bear the pain. I, once upon a time, gave birth to two boys—two and a half years apart—natural childbirth. That is my bar for pain. This shoulder pain was in second place.

Throughout that long day I placed calls, texts and chats with my health care provider asking for pain relief. Nada. On the 17th, I asked a neighbor to drive me to the Mt. Vernon Regional Medical Center ER. She did. After waiting several hours, I was taken for an X-ray of the shoulder and then seen by a kind, responsive doc and sent home with 6 tablets of hydrocodone.

I could relax, I could sleep, I could manage gingerly such things as dressing—in loose things with raglan sleeves, clogs, sweats and so on. I didn’t fix food—I had no appetite. And I slept. Sleep does “knit up the raveled sleeve of care.” It allows the body to heal. By the way, pain pills did arrive from my primary care provider on November 20–8 days after my injury.

So here I am today able to key board, wash dishes, prepare a limited cuisine. Open bottles and pop tops of cans, dress, undress, shampoo my hair, take a walk but not drive. Not yet. My left hand and shoulder begin to ache if I use the hand too long holding the arm crooked at the elbow for as long as it’s taken me to write this makes it hurt. So I have to stop now. But I’ll be back with some of the funnier things that ensued and reflections on distance and solitude. And facing the reality that getting help needs to be planned and in place not a spur of the moment response. No one can plan for every contingency, but I can do better—I must.

Have you ever tried to shampoo a big mop of curly hair with one arm and one hand? Forget the shampoo. Have you tried to wash yourself with one hand. And even more taxing, dry yourself after the shampoo and shower? I realize there are many people who cope with disabilities every day and I now have greater respect for what they must do to accomplish routine self -care.

After I took that shower—first in ten days—I was unable to dry myself. I ended up just rolling on the quilt on my bed and air-drying my hair. Thankfully, the ambient temperature was pleasant. Getting dressed was also a challenge. Certainly no bra—no way—anything over the head, painful. Raglan sleeves, good. Sweats yes. Laces on shoes, not possible. Great jolts of sharp pain would remind me anytime I tried to move my arm away from my side. Mostly I kept it safely tucked on my chest where it liked to stay.

It was so hard to make something to eat. Friends brought soups—easy to manage with one hand—but meal prep was hard. Opening a jar? Not so fast. Pop tops, good. But I had no appetite—I lost five pounds during the first two weeks. I just didn’t eat.

Eventually, with meds and Physical Therapy, the kindness of friends who drove me to PT, and bought groceries for me, I got better. The PT was wonderful. It’s six weeks after the bout with the squash and I am functioning fine. Still tingling in the left hand if I keyboard too long. And most activities are doable. I am still careful with my arm, and have some tender areas. It’s important to keep up the exercises the PT doc gave me. I’m not as diligent as I should be, but when I do them my arm feels much better .

The Atmospheric River dried up or rather converted into a a snow storm on December 25 which continued for several days shutting everything down until January 3. An overnight rain and warmer temps melted all the snow away. I’ll be able to drive somewhere this week.

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