FRAGILE HANDS – Marilyn Armstrong

FOWC with Fandango — Fragile


UPDATE!

I was going to try and write, but with the brace, I can’t. I keep trying but get more wrong keys than right. Sorry! Crepuscule will have to wait.

Note: Solved the problem. Removed the brace. The hand really HURTS.


Funny how this works. Just yesterday I was offering advice on pain in hands and wrists from essentially overusing of these critical muscles and nerve bundles.

Our hands are what make it possible to do the small, precise work involved in most of the activities we pursue. Music, typing, knitting, sewing, cooking, pottery. Unlike the long muscles in our legs and arms and even our hearts, our hands (and feet) consider of hundreds of very small, intricately connected muscles that are absolutely essential to complete the ordinary tasks of life.

Typing this, for example.

Last night, my right hand and wrist went into OH MY GOD THAT REALLY HURTS mode. This is not the first time by any means. I’ve been pounding piano keys, typewriters and computers since I was a very small (like four years old) child. I painted, drew. I chop food and I carved wood. I quite literally don’t know what I would do without my hands.

I’ve also been working on a computer since the early 1980s. Constantly. For work and for play. Until very recently, I still had my piano, but I could only play it for maybe five minutes until the pain was so intense I had to stop. I finally sold my piano because it was just sitting there getting dusty. I had to admit my days of playing were finished.

You notice how rarely you see people my age who are concert (classical) pianists? This is because we all develop arthritis in our hands. My piano teacher had it and her older sister could no longer play. Arthur Rubenstein played anyway, but eventually, the pain got to be too much.

When I sold the piano, it was an admission my days of making music were over. For good. Add that to the endless hours on a computer keyboard and my hands are a mess. I have pretty extensive arthritis in both hands and carpal tunnel issues in both wrists. In theory, I could the carpal tunnel fixed, but I’m not really up for surgery these days. Also, that wouldn’t take care of arthritis which is the bigger problem.

Usually, one hand hurts more than the other, for no special reason. Whichever hurts more gets the ice. When I was trying to practice the piano, I had ten minutes of practice followed by half an hour of icing on both hands.

I was like a pitcher who doesn’t want to give up baseball, but my curveball isn’t cutting it and the fastball will never happen again.

Garry asked me what he could do for me.

I said nothing, but there was something I could do for myself. I turned off the computer and put it on the shelf. That’s what I can do. I can give my hands some time off and with a little luck, after a few days or a week, they will be better.

I’ll try to write when I can, but I’m not going to comment on everything and I can’t write a lot. I shouldn’t be doing this, but I don’t know what else to do. Not writing seems too weird.

Take care of your hands. They are fragile. If you push them too hard, they won’t work. No kidding.

Hands are fragile, even if you aren’t old!

ALL COMFY? – Marilyn Armstrong

FOWC with Fandango — Comfortable

Note: Yes, it is the wrong word, but somehow, this is what popped up in my email this morning. So I’m going with it anyway!


Comfortable is what I wish I were, but which, so far, I’m not. Despite a new mattress, pillows, and all that, by the time morning has rolled around, my back has seized up.

It’s frustrating, not to mention painful. On a more positive note, the thing I have to do — which is the thing I don’t want to do because I could really use another couple of hours of sleep — is get up and move.

Photo: Garry Armstrong

Every time I see Lionel Barrymore in his wheelchair — a result of his arthritis — I wonder how come they didn’t help the guy keep moving. But those were the days when if it hurt a lot, they plopped you in a wheelchair and that was it. Bad idea.

Arthritis hurts. No argument. About the only thing that makes it hurt less is activity. It doesn’t have to be heavy exercise. Mostly, I can’t do that for other reasons including that my heart doesn’t like it.

Light exercise helps a lot. “Woman’s work” like vacuuming the house, cooking, dusting — all of that and other examples of inside work loosen you up and make you feel a lot better. Quickly, too. A bit of gardening and even light raking or snow shoveling makes it better.

Marilyn can still walk! Photo: Garry Armstrong

The hardest part of the effort is not doing the work. It’s getting out of bed and getting started. I have to do a lot of mental pushing and shoving to convince myself that it’s what I need to do. Oh, those conversations with one of me saying “Sleep. You need sleep. You are tired.”

Meanwhile, the other me is shrieking “Get your lazy butt out of bed and do something. Come on! You can do it.” I frequently say it out loud too, sitting on the edge of the sofa telling myself “You can do this, I know you can. One little push and you’ll be up and moving.”

Eventually, the second me wins.

Those first few steps are pretty wonky, but I look relatively normal a bit later. Eventually.

My arthritis is severe. I take relatively high (or as high as I’m willing to go) amounts of painkiller. All they do is lower the level of discomfort. Nothing will fix it. More drugs won’t make it hurt less and would probably make the rest of me feel worse.

I had surgery to fix my spine when I was 19. It was an early version of the work they do these days, but without the electronic assistance and tiny implements. Everything depended on saws, drills, and bone paste created from a different bone (my left hip).  It crumbled over the years and now, it’s a mess. No surgeon wants to go fix another surgeon’s mess. Fixing old surgeries is one of those things most surgeons hate.

Since chances are about equal of making things better — or making them much worse — and this from Boston’s top spinal neurologist — I’ll pass.

Clean!

I’m up. Not quite at’em yet, but I’m working on it. It’s about an hour and a half earlier than I wanted to on my feet, but I am out of bed, dressed, having coffee. The vacuuming is done. The dogs are barking. The sun is shining through the hazy, humid air. And I feel better.

Almost comfortable.

A QUINTESSENTIAL NIGHT – Marilyn Armstrong

A quintessential night and I’m too tired to hold my eyes open.

The quintessential night. My back hurt when I got into bed. I hurt slightly less when I turned on my left side but a few hours later the dull, throbbing ache had moved from quintessential to OWWWWW.

Photo: Garry Armstrong

Only one thing helps and that’s moving the bed into an almost sitting position, taking much more aspirin than I should, a couple of tranquilizers (to get the muscles to calm down) and passing out for a couple of hours. I was really counting on NO phone calls and NO visitors. Lucky me. None showed up and Garry, one of the rare moments in our lives, got up before me.

Parked cars

By the time I got up, other than being zonked from an OD of over-the-counter medications, I was not screaming in pain. I wonder how much longer I can go like this?

Quick trip to the grocery. Frozen pizza for dinner. I was in no mood for cooking.

And it’s probably time for a new mattress. It has been 15 years and even a latex foam mattress grows weary.

The problem is, I’m weary. Trying to avoid getting whiny about it, as a life, this sort of sucks. Between the fibromyalgia, arthritis, heart, and a general sense of decrepitude, this is the quintessential stage when all the things that are wrong with me gang up and say “GOTCHA!”

I’m sure by this afternoon, I’ll be in a better place. Or maybe tomorrow. But right now, on a day that is the first cool and comfortable one in weeks, I HURT.

Just saying. And I really need to spend an hour in the grocery store, too. That will probably help. I may not want to do it, but going out and doing something helps. I hate the process, but the results are usually (overall) pretty good.

THE SIMPLICITY OF SLEEP AND WAKEFULNESS

COME SLEEP, O SLEEP …

Come, Sleep! O Sleep, the certain knot of peace,
The baiting-place of wit, the balm of woe,
The poor man’s wealth, the prisoner’s release,
Th’ indifferent judge between the high and low;
With shield of proof shield me from out the press
Of those fierce darts Despair at me doth throw!
O make in me those civil wars to cease!—
I will good tribute pay if thou do so.
Take thou of me smooth pillows, sweetest bed,
A chamber deaf of noise and blind of light,
A rosy garland, and a weary head;
And if these things, as being thine in right,
Move not thy heavy grace, thou shalt in me,
Livelier than elsewhere, Stella’s image see.

Sir Philip Sidney


I remember when going to sleep was simple. I changed into a nightgown or pajamas. I took off my jewelry. Brushed my hair. Brushed my teeth. Washed face and hands.  Plumped up the pillow, pulled up the covers — and went to sleep. Sometimes, I read for a while … and then fell asleep.

Last night, I went to bed. I did the whole nightgown, hair, wash, brush thing. Of course. Then I adjusted our electric bed trying to find the angle which would give me the least amount of pain in my back while keeping me sufficiently upright to continue to breathe.

I then took the various medications I take before bed — some for blood pressure, others for pain, and one for actual sleep. That was when I realized my rash was acting up. Damn. I put some cortisone cream on it, but that didn’t do it. So I went into the bathroom and used the other, stronger gunk. I stood there for a few minutes waiting for the gunk to dry, then went back to bed.

I realized I couldn’t breathe. I used the daily inhaler. Still couldn’t breath. Used the emergency inhaler — twice. Breathing restored, I realized my eyes were dry enough to feel like I had gravel in them. I found the eye-drops.

“Ouch, ouch, ouch, ouch,” I said as the liquid hit the gravel. Garry couldn’t hear me. He had the headphones on and was deep in a western.

I tried another round of eye-drops. “OW!” I yelped. Two rounds of eye-drops later, the gravel had diminished. I realized I needed to do something about my incredibly dry lips. One round of chap-stick. Another round of chap-stick. One more round of chap-stick and by now, I’m wide awake. And my back was killing me.

I found the lidocaine cream. Applied it to my right hip. My left hip. Up and down the spine. Then — again — I waited for the most recent gunk to dry.

By now, a full hour had passed since I put on my nightgown and brushed my teeth. I had been sleepy, but by now, I wasn’t sleepy. Not a bit. I thought wistfully of those long ago days when going to bed was just … going to bed.

Worse, I still had to look forward to the thrill of getting out of bed. Convincing my legs and arms to wake up. Making sure my spine was going to let me stand  up and hopefully, walk.

Eyes – very dry!

The getting up ritual is a whole other thing, starting with around four in the morning when I start readjusting the bed. Because during the night, my spine will congeal into a solid lump of misery. I have to decide what — if any — medication will help. I have to be careful because I can only take a specified amount. If I take meds at four in the morning, I can’t take them later.

You get the idea.

Sometimes, the complexity of going to bed then getting up — first for medication and going back to bed. Next, rearranging the electric bed, trying to go back to sleep, hearing The Duke hit the door, knowing if I don’t get up and give everyone a biscuit he’s going to keep hitting the door until the door breaks or I get up and do the “Good Morning, beloved Dogs” thing.

Nothing is simple. Especially not simplest things.

COZY MORNING

Garry was up early because he has a medical thing today. He wanted the extra time to have coffee, for showering and all that morning stuff. I lolled in bed for an extra hour, mostly because that’s how long it takes me to get my back functioning.

I’ve gotten pretty good at untangling myself. It’s all about positioning, taking the pill I sometimes don’t want to take, but if I take it, the day goes a lot better than if I don’t … and slowly stretching until things are more or less mobile. My back has been in poor shape since I was a teenager. I had my big surgery on it when I was just 19 and time hasn’t been kind to the bones.

Time generally isn’t kind to bones. Arthritis seems to be universal for damaged joints, whether broken by accident or surgically renovated … and often, just “because.”

Mine are a mess both because of surgery — and “just because.” Arthritis is not a special issue at our age. It’s not a matter of “if,” but more like “how bad” and “how much does it affect you.” It wasn’t too bad this morning. I slept on my back and generally, if I make myself sleep on my back, I wake up more mobile than sleeping on my side, which I find a lot more natural. My back doesn’t agree. There’s not much point in arguing with my spine. It always wins.

So we are off. Garry is getting a CATscan of his head to make sure he has all the requisite pieces for a cochlear implant. Then, in another few weeks, the first doctor’s appointment with the cochlear audiologist, then after that, the surgeons. This stuff takes a lot more time than people think it will.

When you have an emergency, everything happens in a hurry, but when you have choices to make, it takes time. And of course, it’s winter, so everything takes more time. Christmas vacations chop December into pieces and the hangovers from New Year’s take care of early January.

I remember waiting for my heart surgery. First, they hustled me along. Urgent, urgent, urgent … but they delayed it three-times. I had to delay it once because I had pneumonia. Heavy coughing doesn’t go well with heart surgery. It took — in total — more than three months between determining I needed the surgery and actually having the surgeon and me both available at the same time. Emergencies came up and for a heart surgeon, they are always first. Heart surgeons live on emergency schedules. By the time I actually got into the hospital, I was an emergency. You can’t always tell from testing alone — and that’s something everyone needs to remember.

This surgery for Garry isn’t an emergency, but it is not optional, either. It needs to be done. Hearing aids won’t work for him anymore, so it is this or a gradual  and close to total loss of hearing for him. He needs his hearing back. I need it back, too, though I wonder what it will be like knowing he really can hear me. I won’t be able to mutter under my breath all the time!

Our granddaughter sent me a note last night suggesting  we should have Garry run for president … because we know Garry could fix everything. I’m pretty sure Garry doesn’t think he could fix everything, but sometimes, I wonder. He’s been a pretty good fixer over the years — and even when he can’t fix stuff, he’s very good at getting everyone to CALM DOWN. In the process, he may be leaning towards madness, but you’d never know it to look at him.

A man with a poker face like that should have played poker. What a waste!

I’ll be back later, but not with more news. They never tell you anything at radiology. You have to wait for the doctor to officially tell you. Eventually, news will follow but do not hold your breath!

IF YOU CAN’T FIX IT, COMFY FURNITURE HELPS

Ouch! That really hurts! My back’s been a mess since I was a kid. Fell off one horse too many. Rebuilt in 1967 — fusion and laminectomy using saws, drills and chisels — long before micro surgery and instrumentation. I’m not special because I deal with pain. I’ve got plenty of company. Sometimes, too much company. We’re all squished together in an over-crowded lifeboat.

96-Me-Young-HPCR-1
Me at 20, a year post spinal fusion.

I’ve had a lot of problems with my back over the years. The fusion, made from bone paste taken from my hip, began to disintegrate about 25 years ago. Nature kindly replaced it with a sheathing of arthritic calcification. That’s not such a bad thing because without the arthritis, I’d (literally) fall apart.

Looking at pictures of me in years gone by, I got to wondering how life landed me here. How did the bright-eyed woman become this creaking achy old thing fighting to keep moving under her own power?

Who is this person?

She doesn’t look or act like me. I can vouch for this because I used to be her, but now I am not at all sure who I am or whose body this is. Maybe while I slept, someone gave me an impostor body. I would jump right on the impostor theory except being me is not something a sane person would want. If I had a say in the matter, I would be healthier, wealthier and younger. Some other body, but I’d keep the brain. I like that part of me.

Life changes, sometimes in a split second.

Remember Christopher Reeve? One minute, he was a big, handsome, strapping movie star. A dreadful split second later, he was someone else.

My down hill slide occurred at the pace at which bones and joints calcify. I broke my back when I was a kid. I was reconstructed when I was 19. For the next 35 years, I refused to pay any attention to my spine. I was not going to be disabled. Not me. It was mind over matter and I am strong.

Turns out, mind over matter only takes you so far. Seven years ago, I began to have trouble walking. My balance became erratic. I lost sensation in my feet and miscellaneous reflexes disappeared. (I didn’t yet know about the heart problems which no doubt contributed.)

I went to doctors, orthopedic hot shots. All of them said I need a new spinal fusion, the old one having fallen apart over the long years. Diagnosis: Horrible spine. Solution: New fusion in which I get screwed together using metal rods. After surgery, I would be in even more pain than now, but my spine would be stable. Say what? This surgery would be the 21st century version of the surgery I had in 1967.

I said Hell no and took my case to the top spine guy in Boston, the Supreme Court of spinal diagnosis. He said I don’t need surgery. More to the point, he said the surgery wouldn’t solve my problems.

This time I heard: “Your back has got you through this far, it’ll take you the rest of the way. Pain control, gentle exercise, and recognize your limits. Don’t do anything stupid.” Like fall off a horse? Lift heavy packages?

selfie 23

There are a lot of members of the back pain club. After you join the club, you usually get a lifetime membership. I finally discovered I have a problem I can’t fix. No amount of persistence, research, medical attention or cleverness is going to make it go away. So I’ve designed the world to make my back happy. We have a back-friendly home. From our adjustable bed, to the reclining sofa, our place is kind to spines.

There’s no moral to this story. It’s just life. If you don’t die young, odds are you hurt. The years roll on, pain gets worse.

I’ve had to accept reality but I don’t have to like it. Sooner or later we all face an intractable problem. Or several. It’s a nasty shock, especially if you’ve always believed you are unstoppable. When you hit that wall, I recommend buying very comfortable furniture.

AN OVER-CROWDED LIFEBOAT

Ouch! That really hurts! My back’s been a mess since I was a kid. Fell off one horse too many. Rebuilt in 1967 — fusion and laminectomy using saws and chisels — long before micro surgery and instrumentation. I’m not special because I deal with pain. I’ve got plenty of company. It’s just sometimes, I feel like I’ve got too much company. We’re all squished together in an over-crowded lifeboat. Sinking. Together.

96-Me-Young-HPCR-1
Me at 20, a year post spinal fusion.

I’ve had a lot of problems with my back over the years. The fusion, which was bone paste made from a piece of my hip, began to disintegrate about 25 years ago, to be replaced by a sheathing of arthritic calcification. That’s not such a bad thing because without the arthritis, I’d (literally) fall apart.

Looking at pictures of me in years gone by, I got to wondering how the long winding road of life landed me here. How did the bright-eyed woman become this creaking achy old thing fighting to keep moving under her own power?

Who is this person?

She doesn’t look or act like me. I can vouch for this because I used to be her, but now I am not at all sure who I am or whose body this is. While I slept, someone slipped in an imposter body. I would jump right on the imposter theory except being me is not something any sane person would want. If I had a say in the matter, I would be healthier, wealthier and younger. Some other body, but I’d keep the brain. I like that piece of me.

Life changes, sometimes in a split seconds.

stages of spondylolythesis
I’m grade 4, considered a miracle I can walk. It’s only part of the problem. That’s the way it usually works. You don’t have a single problem, you have a basket of related problems.

Remember Christopher Reeve? One minute, he was a big, handsome, strapping movie star. A dreadful split second later, he was someone else.

My down hill slide occurred at the pace at which bones and joints calcify. I broke my back when I was a kid. I was reconstructed when I was 19. For the next 35 years, I refused to pay any attention to my spine. I was not going to be disabled. Not me. It was mind over matter and I am strong.

Turns out, mind over matter only takes you so far. Seven years ago, I began to have trouble walking. My balance became erratic. I lost sensation in my feet and miscellaneous reflexes disappeared. I went to doctors, orthopedic hot shots. All of them said I need a new spinal fusion, the old one having fallen apart over the long years. Diagnosis: Horrible spine. Solution: New fusion in which I get screwed together using metal rods. After surgery, I would be in even more pain than now, but my spine would be stable. Say what? This surgery would be the 21st century version of the surgery I had in 1967.

I said Hell no and took my case to the top spine guy in Boston, the Supreme Court of spinal diagnosis.

He said I don’t need surgery. More to the point, he said the surgery wouldn’t solve my problems. Now I heard: “Your back has got you through this far, it’ll take you the rest of the way. Pain control, gentle exercise, and recognize your limits. Don’t do anything stupid.” Like fall off a horse? Lift heavy packages?

There are a lot of members of the back pain club. After you join the club, you usually get a lifetime membership. I finally discovered I have a problem I can’t fix. No amount of persistence, research, medical attention or cleverness is going to make it go away. So I’ve designed the world to make my back happy. We have a back-friendly home. From our adjustable bed, to the reclining sofa, our place is kind to spines.

75-GoodNight-CR-66

There’s no moral to this story. It’s just life. If you don’t die young, odds are you hurt. The years roll on, pain gets worse.

I’ve had to accept reality but I don’t have to like it. Sooner or later we all face an intractable problem. Or several. It’s a nasty shock, especially if you’ve always believed you are unstoppable.

When you hit that wall, I recommend very comfortable furniture.