STILL BALANCED – Marilyn Armstrong

FOWC with Fandango — Balance

My spine is a mess. It was a mess when I had a spinal fusion and laminectomy in 1967. The surgery then was nothing like it is now. They chopped and hacked and hewed to make room for the spinal cord to not be cut in half by my 50% displaced spine.

How did my spine get so badly broken?

First, there was trying to dig out an old swimming pool using a pickax. I swung it back and there was a nasty snap in my spine. I was maybe 10 (possibly younger) and my back never worked properly again.

I ignored the pain because I was a kid. Kids don’t have back pain, or they didn’t in the 1950s. Now they do, but it was a different time.

After that, there were horses.

Despite the pain in my back (and yes, it really hurt a lot), I wanted desperately to learn to ride. My mother refused to let me take lessons, so I rented a horse when I could and taught myself. That sounds better than it really is.

Learning to ride, especially without a proper teacher, involves a degree of falling. Falling on your ass looks really funny (har har har), but the damage it does to your spine — especially when it’s a hard fall from a tall horse that’s moving pretty fast —  isn’t pretty or humorous.

By the time I was 19 (and married), I had lost all feeling in my right leg. It was numb. My first husband (RIP, Jeffrey) thought a doctor was a good choice and we went. It turned out that I had a 50% dislocation in the lumbar region and my spinal cord was essentially being sawed in half by three ruptured, herniated disks.

It was 1967. All the delicate work they do these days to fix spines didn’t exist. Neither did a lot of the tests they use today. So it was pretty much drills and saws and a lot of surgeons for 11 hours that left me delirious with fever and in more pain than I thought a human could sustain.

That was when I had my first conversation with The Voice in which I got a choice: I could die and that would finish the pain (and me) … or I could cope with the pain and move on, but it was going to hurt a lot and for a long time. I didn’t understand that “a long time” meant “the rest of your life” because I was just 19 and “the rest of my life” meant two weeks from next Thursday.

Also, paying for the surgery — those were the good old days — effectively bankrupted us.

I wanted to live. I am too interested and curious about the world to give it up. I was also (wrongly) still of a mindset that assumed I could somehow use “mind over matter” to make everything work properly. I could “think myself well.”

I was in the hospital for five months and after that, wore a body cast (chest to knee on the right and to the hip on the left) and it was old-fashioned plaster. I got LOTS of signatures on it.

I hurt a lot. Constantly. I dealt with it. That was when I learned to smile broadly and to the question “How are you?” I could answer while smiling broadly, “Oh just FINE, thank you.” Any other answer was too complicated. No one really wanted to hear about it anyway, least of all me.

As soon as the cast came off, I got pregnant. Not accidentally. Absolutely on purpose. I had been very near death and I wanted to make a life.

Balance. Between death and life to come, I needed to create a life, too.

Then I went back to work. I became a writer and editor and I took up horseback riding again because I totally refused to admit there was anything wrong with me. For the next 30+ years, I NEVER got a checkup of how my back was doing. Until that uninsured moron t-boned me in the late 1990s.

The people came out of the x-ray room white-faced. It was really bad. The “fusion” had long some unfused and what had been bone paste was just crumbled bone pieces.


Balance. I said “Does this mean I can’t ride anymore?” and I had the sense that they thought I was both incredibly stupid and totally wacko. Also, I was pretty sure they meant “No.”

I gave up riding. The accident finished off what had long since begun, but arthritis took over the job that the fusion was supposed to do. Calcification set in and literally wrapped my spine in an arthritic “sleeve.” Very sturdy. Rather painful.

So now, I have to be very careful about balance. I wobble a lot. My legs are weak. I can walk, but it hurts. My hips hurt. Sometimes my knees and ankles hurt.

For all that, with a lot of other unfortunately physical stuff happening (cancer X two)(two heart valves needing replacement, a pacemaker because the heart won’t pump on its own, a redesign of the left ventricle (myocardectomy, for those of you who like technical terms), and a bypass.

And my heart doesn’t bother me much except for the failure of the breastbone to solidify — it’s not the bones that are the problem. It’s the connective tissue which has not regrown, so the chest wall moves around a lot. No one can make the connective tissue regrow and even though there are new ways to do it, insurance won’t pay for it.

Getting out of bed in the morning is a serious balance issue. I take a fair number of painkillers … Excedrin, Tylenol, and a Demerol which is the only one of the chemical-non-opioids I can take without getting deathly ill. Yes, also horribly allergic to opioids.

After all of this, and another half hour’s sleep, I can actually stand up. Then I have to find my balance point … before I try to walk because if I walk, I’ll fall and falling is NOT good.

So balance for me is not about dance or the beauty of movement. It’s managing to stand up then convince the legs to move me along.

I sometimes wonder if all of that had happened today, with all of the better surgery and work they do, would it have changed everything? I didn’t have a choice, of course. That was the thing. I was lucky they could fix it at all. A few years earlier, and they wouldn’t have.



Definition: A person’s nickname.


I suppose when asked if I have a nickname, I could lugubriously point out that “I lack a sobriquet,” but I would feel like an idiot.

Sobriquet can also be occasionally used to mean a place, like “The Met” rather than The Metropolitan Opera or the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The problem becomes then which of these two items — both commonly called “the Met” do you mean?

Mostly, it means “nick-name.” Generally, for a person, not a place. I think airports may be the only things that get nicknames that stick. Logan is always Boston as LAX is Los Angeles.

After more than 30 years as a tech writer, I find fancy versions of simple words weirdly off-putting. I also taught technical writer for a few years and if there is one thing we carefully beat into our young writer’s heads was that using a complicated “look it up” word when a simple, easy-to-understand one is available will pretty much always annoy and confuse readers.

The more flowery and “complicated” the text, the worse the writing is. A lot of people use twenty-dollar words because they think it makes them sound smarter.

It really doesn’t work.

Use the five dollar word. Reading is not supposed to be a vocabulary test unless you are in fifth grade and it’s a reader and they are making you do it. That’s what makes “readers” so very popular and why kids are so eager to engage with them.

I don’t have a sobriquet. I also don’t have a nick-name.


Fandango’s were:

Why did you begin blogging? What got you started? What keeps you doing it?

I started blogging because I had nothing more interesting to do. I was retired and I had a lot a lot of photographs which I figured I could post.

October — canal and river

I have continued it because I turned out to be good at it. It gives me something to do with all the weird ideas I get and need to write about. It turns out there are a lot of people who are amused by weird ideas.

What — if anything — do you hope to gain from blogging?

Nothing. I have never been able to consider this a money-making endeavor. To make money, I would have to write what people want to read. Worse, I’d have to write what sponsors want to hear.

For free, it keeps me busy. It also makes me think, requires that I not fall into a depressive slump which is easy when you aren’t doing anything that feels worthwhile. Also, I make friends and communicate with people all over the world.

What do you do in the blog world that makes you feel the proudest?

Sometimes, I can give good advice and every once in a while, I get the opportunity to help somebody.

What makes you follow a blog?

Often because it’s funny, or someone has an intelligent way of looking at the world. Good writing counts for a lot.

Do you regard the people you meet online as real (not-virtual) friends?


Marilyn’s Questions are:

Your favorite Season of the whole year and why.

October 13

Autumn. Always Autumn and it’s coming soon. It’s the quality of the air, that “snap” you get. The colors of the leaves. There is an energy to fall you don’t get any other time of the year.

What’s the most mystical or magical thing you ever experienced? 

I’d really rather not say. Or I could say, but then I’d have to kill you.

Do you enjoy a lot of company or are you happiest when in solitude?

I rarely enjoy a LOT of company, but I also don’t necessarily want to be entirely alone, either. With Garry, family, and good friends.

Would you do something dishonest if there were no witnesses?

No. Unless a life was at stake.

What is one destination you’d like to visit before you die?

The south of France, Rome, and the stone circles of England.


Cee’s Fun Foto Challenge: Lime or Light Green

That sounds like spring to me because that’s when the leaves are a light green, almost gold.

New leaves on our Japanese maple tree 

New leaves in the woods 

Trailing philodendron 

The long green in the backyard in June

FRED FLAMINGO: DAY FIVE – Marilyn Armstrong

fred flamingo – dAY FIVE

I got Fred a couple of years ago. I intended to get some more flamingos, but I never got around to it so Fred is our lonely flamingo. We have so decimated real living flamingos, there are far more plastic ones than living ones.

Fred, keeping an eye on the Columbine — also pink.