April 30, 2021
As the days of April inch into May, my home slowly gets swallowed happily into its clearing among the trees. Two days ago, I dodged snowflakes and sleet which began to collect on Wisconsin highways. Yesterday I bought two pairs of shorts in preparation for the summer season of leg-baring!! No matter what the weather or my mood, the forest seems to have a mind of its own. There is a schedule, like a renewed contract between Mother Earth and her greenery.
I feel linked to spring more than I ever have. I do not pretend to feel renewed or reborn or anything like that. I watch the greening of the forest with the honeysuckle bushes filling under the canopy of apple trees, maples and pines. I find myself wondering at my recycling soul. With everything I write, think and feel, I yearn to be tied to the seasons.
Well, I guess my last name is “Springborn”. “Springborn” here means that I blissfully disappear into the woods.
I like that.
The Body Wonderful.
Today I sat in the dentist office for an emergency repair on a crowned molar which had popped out. DUring my daily commute over the weekend, I indulge in a bit of protein – namely a few bites of cheese and meat. As I did so, the top half of my molar came loose. Today, my dentist – who I claim is half miracle worker and half artist – reattached the crowned half to the half which remained in my jawbone. It is an amazing feat. Someday I will need an implant, but not today and probably not for months. I believe it all to be an insane amount of genius science. And artistry.
He had fit me in at the end of his day today. I arrived twenty minutes early and was seated in the room the farthest down the hall. As I waited, I remembered an emergency visit with my father years ago. As the dentist proceeded to drill to clean the surface for reattachment, I braced myself for inevitable pain. But none came. I vowed to myself that I would not flinch, should I feel anything.
And at that momemnt of internal oath-taking, I remembered my father. He had been coughing up a material which resembled ‘coffee grounds’. He was bleeding internally and the coffee grounds were the partially digested remains of blood. I was called to accompany him in the emergency room. I remember arriving, anticipating all sorts of emergency scenarios.
Imagine my surprise when I walked into the ER to see my father joking with the nurses. They explained the procedure of pumping his stomach as my father agreed with explanation. They guided me to say that they would insert the hose down his throat. His esophagus had been worn from an infection which now had bled into his stomach. The nurses said the easiest for them would not be the easiest for him.
I knew that the only way I could stay in the room with him was to show no emotion. And I did so. I sat directly opposite him. As he sat up, the nurses began the process of first feeding the tube to his stomach, then pumping out the dried blood mixture which resembled coffee grounds. But first came the mustard colored liquid.
And all through the process, my father rolled his eyes to make me and the nurses laugh. I remember shaking my head in disbelief.
I also remember he survived and recovered from the ordeal almost immediately.
As I sat in the dentist office, vowing to myself I would not flinch, I smiled. “Father,” I heard myself whisper in my thoughts.
Injury upon Injury.
It has been almost four weeks, perhaps longer that I had hurt myself. If the timing had been any different, I could have blamed the COVID vaccine I received. In that way, I am lucky. It is probably the first time timing has been on my side.
I am fifty-five. Even though people remind me that I certainly do not look or act my age (imagine that!) the body realities of age are present. I am not sure how I hurt myself or when it started. But before Easter, I noticed my back becoming tender. I do not know if I had been lifting weights incorrectly or exercising too heavily. I do not think so as I had just begun my regimen. But I have a tendency that once my body exhibits an ailment, I most certainly am the worst of worst patients. With hypochondriac tendencies, I am what would be referred to in the most unpolitically correct verbiage, a whining sissy.
When cooking Easter meal, I found a waist cinching corset type undergarment that I would dare say is beyond the term “foundation” garment. It is tortuous but provided the back support I needed to not be the “complaining ninny” during my Easter cook-a-thon. (I love holiday cooking and Easter ham is beyond the most delightful smell to enjoy in ones kitchen).
In the days around Easter I could barely move properly. My walk stiffened, becoming even less graceful than usual. I administered a dosing of acetaminophen flip-flopped with ibuprofen. From what I read, back injuries as slight as mine can occur from almost any acivity. Given my age, if I had not had any back problems by now, that in itself would be a rarity. To this day, I do not even know how it righted itself.
But my back did.
The real pain was yet to come. All I remember is waking up to an incredible pain in my left hip and upper thigh. Was this a nerve? Did I crack a hip? The hypochondriac in me imagined hip replacement surgeries and rehabilitations. I started to figure where I would do therapy and how long would I be off work. I started wondering how soon I could return to work.
I could medicate myself with anti-inflammatories for most of my workdays. The worst was sitting, then standing. Any change in position other than walking was like a gnawing in my upper thigh and inside my hip. I worried about my knees – a real concern given that now I was compensating as I walked and stood. I have had two knee surgeries many years ago which taught me that the body’s shifting and compensating just transfers energies and pressures to different body parts.
Each day after work I would sit in my Jeep. Pausing to feel the comfort of sitting and knowing I had my commute to relax. Each night I would raise my legs. I then began a series of lidocaine wraps and patches up and down my thigh and hip.
By my best calculations, the whole process has taken a little over four weeks to wash through my system. I say that lightly but it has been anything but a light process. I reminded myself constantly that “It could be worse.”
“It could be worse”
The first relief came one day at work when I felt a warm rush through my left leg. I could walk normal for ten to twenty steps. My gait returned. I researched more. Was it a blood clot? Was it a nerve?
Smiling, I remember the process of healing my knee after the last surgery seven years ago. Ten years ago, my first knee surgery went smoothly with a 1-2-3 type recovery. But seven years ago, I recovered slowly and unevenly. And with pain. I was attending school and teaching. Walking down the halls, I was grateful to be walking, but I had wondered if I would never walk normally again. The nightmarish fear of falling was ever present.
At the time, the healing process took an additional, unexpected turn when my eighteen year marriage began to fall apart. I did fall. Many times I fell. I never hurt my knee. I kept at therapy. Oddly, I began to walk in the snow. Then I learned to run in the snow. That particular winter was heavy with snow. I strengthened my knee by, what I would call a trot movement, through the unplowed snow, up and down the driveway by my home. There I was, in the woods, with my dog Wally, trotting through the snow. My imagery was that I had channeled my inner “Rocky” who trained in a Siberian farm for the boxing match against a particular nasty character from the Soviet Union. I also imagined that my body was as a horses. I needed to keep moving, keep my legs driving.
The snow taught me how to walk, how to run and how to be tied to the forest around me. Soon, I was dancing in the snow. No, I am serious. I relearned to dance. In the snow – in the woods – my only audience was the tall pines I called my sentinels.
And we laughed, together, the sentinels and I, in the wind. The emotional pain of divorce and physical injury led to one of the most magical, spiritual experiences of my life.
Fast forward seven years later. My leg never swelled nor did it turn color. A person starts watching for any signs of blood clots (this was before the vaccination). I held hope after the first day when my pain subsided. But the next day, there was no relief. Nothing. The following day, no relief. Two days later I could walk a bit longer without pain. When I had moments away from work, I stretched and rested.
I watched the greening of the trees. I took time to listen for the wind in my little woods.
I climbed steps a few times. You know, just to try it out. Every day I wrapped my left thigh in lidocaine patches. Each day, my leg progressively returned to normal.
But I did not. I found myself aching for the new normal in which I took time for peace. Something changed for the better. At fifty-five, the woods taught this old dog a few new tricks.
One of the most important is the practice of self-care with movement and ease. And also, with deliberation and focus….
With the woods around me to ever remind myself…
May your April end with fond memories of showers. May you be surrounded by the lush promise of flowers in the month of May…
My love always,