2 I fell from a tree into the light of love A story of healing for everyone facing a daunting physical challenge, and the people who love them By Laurie F. Childers (cc) 2021 www.lauriechilders.com 3 Table of Contents Part I: The Summer of Laying Low The Fall in Spring 1 The Ambulance and the Emergency Room 2 Feeling the Love 6 Decisions, Decisions 8 Trauma and Triggers 10 Tenderness 12 Observations About Drugs and Other Treatments 12 Pity Party #1 14 Dream 14 Coming Home 15 This is How Bones Heal 17 Daydream 18 Attitude Preparations 18 Encouragement 20 Laughter 21 Spiritual Boomerang 23 Pity Party #2 23 The beautiful variety of ways that love came to me 24 Occupational Therapy 30 Physical Therapy 31 What do you do all day? 33 Takeaways from the Summer of Laying Low 35 Extras 36 I will walk tomorrow 37 Part II: Standing Tall Baby Steps 38 Bracing Myself 39 Morning Routine 40 When Did I Dance Again? 40 Physical Therapy 41 Setbacks 41 Outdoors 42 Braceless 43 Work and Travel 43 4 I am a miracle 44 Month 6: Not Quite Normal (Yet) 44 Month 7: All Restrictions Lifted 46 Part III: Stamina and Patience Month 8 47 Month 9 48 Month 10 48 Month 11 50 Month 12 51 Fall Festival: May 25, 2020 53 I was one that got saved 54 On Being Normal 56 Some Thoughts on Grace, Gratitude, Dignity 59 Human Relationship Mandala 61 Post Script 62 Amy’s Caring Bridge Letter 63 Judy’s Poem 64 European spinal physical therapy, in bed. 65 Video links: All-video Playlist: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLoHmkD2QZW2xye- ViSG3fcWyde88ZrKAY “Bedaling” video and construction designs: https://www.youtube.com/watch? v=PIboyc2YZUU&list=PLoHmkD2QZW2xye-ViSG3fcWyde88ZrKAY&index=3&t=98s My community college class sent me a video greeting, all of them adorably wearing rainbow-colored hair extensions 1 Part I: The Summer of Laying Low The Fall in Spring The tale begins on a beautiful morning, May 25, 2019, in idyllic, woodsy, semi-rural Oregon. I was at the home of some friends to help on an outdoor construction project. I wasn’t needed for the work for a moment, and my mind and eyes wandered upward. For seven years, I had wanted to climb this wooden structure on the property. Simple stairs of wooden planks on a notched log led up to a platform between tall tree trunks. Another set of steps led to a second, higher platform. I was just going for the lower platform, about 15 feet up, to enjoy the view, and to watch and listen to birds. My long-time friend Barry saw me crawling up the steps on all fours and hollered, “You be careful up there, girlfriend!” I made a sarcastic reply, because I’m always careful. Vicki, whose home we were visiting, said to me, “I’ve never even been up there.” “I love these things,” I hollered back. As I was getting to the top of the stairs I needed to concentrate, because there was no rail of any kind, nothing to hold onto. I noticed that the platform slightly overlapped the top stair steps, so I stood up carefully, perfectly balanced, placing my feet just off center of each of the two top steps, so I wouldn't trip on the platform edge when I stepped onto its floor. Except I never got that far. When I lifted my left leg, the plank under my right foot broke. I yelled and my hands grasped for anything; there was only air. My left shin scraped a step on the way down, and this lightly pushed my body backwards. I saw the trunks and foliage and then sky in motion, as through a window in a moving train, only vertically. I noted the moment I could have landed without injury but estimated that I wasn't halfway down yet. I surrendered to falling; I didn't know if there is a way one is supposed to fall so I just went limp. Barry told me months later that he saw me fall backward with my arms and legs upward in the air. I landed thwump on my back onto tall grass, blooming larkspur, and fertile damp loam near a singing creek. I gratefully sensed some life-saving cushioning in the soil that received me and expect I left a torso-shaped imprint there. Immediately I wished to rewind life 30 seconds and simply roll onto the tree platform when I was still on all fours. I knew the answer was “not possible” and didn’t repeat the request. Larkspur My body’s response to the impact was tightly contracting 2 muscles. It was a painful cramp, a strong spasm of my entire back, glutei, and hamstring muscles. Nothing could relax that contraction. My limbs, fingers, toes, shoulders, neck and head were all moving fine so I knew there was no paralysis. I thought, with a good back massage, everything will be OK. I also remember thinking, I’m 61, I’ve had a great life already; do I really want to go through whatever is ahead of me? Then I was dreaming, very briefly; I only remember deep colors, vertical stripes. I was awakened by four heads right over me, my friends talking to me, there to help. Barry looked me straight in the eyes and said, “DON’T MOVE.” Someone called 911 and waited at the driveway to guide the paramedics to me. I so wanted to pull my knees to my chest to stretch my agonized back and hamstrings; we had minimal success there, which turned out to be a good thing. Carefully, at my urging, my friends removed my hiking boots. At the very least I ached to be able to move my ankles back and forth. They also brought a bench for me to rest my calves on, which gave some relief. thesaurus.com The Ambulance and the Emergency Room I remember the ambulance paramedics leaning over me, then craning their heads up, guesstimating the height I had fallen from. Twenty feet? Fifteen? They stabilized my neck and were as kind and careful as could be. However, every jolt on the gurney and in the winding 20 minute ambulance ride seemed to re-intensify the acute pain of the muscles' contraction. 3 From the moment the paramedics started to move me, I repeatedly used a coping technique I’d once learned to deal with extreme stress of any kind: tapping two fingertips on my chest, face, or wrist, to remind me to stay in the present but not get sucked into the intensity of the pain.1 Perhaps tapping works by giving the brain a distraction, a second thing to attend to besides physical or emotional pain. In the ambulance, a paramedic pulled out a big syringe. “What’s that?” I asked. “Fentanyl,” he replied. “You’re going to need it.” “NO!” I responded, I begged for a muscle relaxant instead. “Are you worried about addiction?” he inquired. “YES!” I replied. Three times that very week I’d heard NPR stories about fentanyl addiction. “This isn’t the time to worry about that,” he told me. I bet every addict heard that once. I compromised and let him give me half a shot of fentanyl. As I was rolled into the ER, someone said, “This will be your ER doctor, Dr. Goldner.” I smiled and said, “Hi Al! I’m Julia’s mom.” Our daughters were friends in high school. I knew I would be cared for as a neighbor. I do love living a long time in a small city. The ER was a crowded place of continual motion. My gurney was constantly bumped. People were moving rapidly: they needed to find out what my internal injuries were. They cut off my clothing and asked me questions. Getting a CAT scan meant four transfers onto and off of a hard board. Ditto for the MRI that followed. Each transfer deepened and extended that tortuous spasm. I’m sure I screamed each time. On the way back to the ER, the orderly moving my gurney down the hall thoughtlessly pushed on my shoulder to scoot my body a little lower on the slab – unbelievable. I screamed. It must be noted that I understood that speed was of the essence in the ER; I am grateful for their attentive work. The imaging results arrived, and Dr. Goldner read them aloud. The L1 and L4 vertebrae, above and below the small of my back, suffered burst fractures. They shattered into many pieces. There was one worrisome arrowhead-shaped bone sliver pressing its sharp side along the spinal cord off of the L4. The spinous processes (the pointy parts that face outward) of 10 vertebrae snapped off, and I broke 16 ribs. Plus there was a tiny hole in one lung and a laceration in my liver, which he said would heal themselves and in this context weren’t concerns. I asked Al, “When will I.... dance again?” He looked at me gravely and paused, probably wondering if I’d heard him. “You are... broken. Your back can heal, but it will take a long time.” 1 I learned about tapping in a workshop with Nadine Clare Hoover, author of Creating Cultures of Peace: A Movement of Love and Conscience. I see now there is much theoretical information online about tapping, but I wasn’t concerned with where I tapped; that didn’t seem to matter. 4 “I’ve never broken a bone before. Are we talking two months? Two years?” “It’ll be a long time.” How long, no one would say. I was hearing, and hanging onto, the confidence in “your back can heal.” CAT scan of my lumbar spine The day of the fall was a long, difficult and constantly painful day. After the ER, in my hospital room, I waited five more long hours for pain medication, still begging for muscle relaxants, as my muscles maintained spasming. The nurses kept saying it was really busy that day. I buzzed them every 90 minutes, sure that they must have forgotten me. Eventually I asked, “Are there really people in this hospital worse off than me?” “Yes,” was the reply. I shut up. Vicki had kindly followed the ambulance and stayed nearby for hours, starting a tag- team of companions so I would not be alone. Vicki made calls on my phone as requested, the first to my husband John who was across the country. There were a number of commitments in the next week that I needed to cancel before I got drugged and forgot, including my band’s concert and an artist-in-residence program. I remember thinking, this isn’t how Vicki wanted to spend her Saturday. 5 Once settled in Room 3201 of the trauma ward, I started to be more aware of internal imagery. In my mind’s eye, my whole back consisted of thick shiny black ropes that spanned from my shoulders to my pelvis, and with each spasm they contracted like super strong greasy springs, impenetrable as a shield. That first day, each excruciatingly painful spasm lasted 45 minutes, whenever those muscles had time and peace to relax at all. CAT scan What I saw in my mind’s eye: my back muscles during the contractions 6 Feeling the Love I can get through this, but I can’t do it alone. I wrote that late the first night in the hospital, starting a new memo on my cell phone. Exhaustion overwhelmed me, but it seemed important to write down that certainty before I slept. As I closed my eyes and consciously let go of the struggle of the day, I discovered an almost-liquid current of golden light already underneath me, supporting me. What I saw in my mind’s eye: myself floating on a current of golden light Effortlessly I floated, like a buoy with gentle waves rocking me. I could feel it and see it, and simultaneously see myself floating on it. I'm still never quite sure if it’s more like an ocean current or a river current, but it’s huge, wide, deep and strong. That current is the love of my family and friends in many places, prayers for my healing, and the mysterious divine light that somehow exists, as improbable as love or consciousness but comprised of both. In retrospect, welcoming every form of healing prayer and love sent my way made me whole, kept me present and engaged in the healing process, and connected me with my community. This felt true for me that first night when relatively few people could have known about my fall, and I wondered how that healing current could be so 7 strong already. I learned later that in an inipi prayer ceremony that afternoon, my friends had prayed fervently and emotionally for me for hours. I know of individuals, congregations and spiritual gatherings that lit candles, that prayed for me, in the ways they do, with the words that they use, over the next months. I am grateful for it all. Love speaks all languages. Several people told me in the ensuing months that whenever they focused on meditatively sending me love and healing energy, they sensed a huge force that they were joining. I too have experienced that when sending healing love. Polly, 2,000 miles away, learned about my accident almost a year later. She wrote that since love is timeless, she was adding hers to my support. Once I experienced floating on that enormous golden current, I felt no lack. I had what I needed at my core. My growing window of consciousness: what I saw in my mind’s eye the 2nd day, and the 3rd day, when I wasn’t spasming. My husband John was able to fly home from the east coast a day early, and arrived in my hospital room after midnight. His instant forgiveness for the coming hassles, and his can-do, creative attitude were huge gifts to my recovery. 8 Meditation: I’m seeing my body from the inside. Inhaling deep into and beyond my pelvis, I then exhale squeezing my pelvic floor and abdominal muscles, pulling energy into my lumbar spine and upwards. This energy appears as golden light shining from within my vertebrae, and I see them as whole and strong and happily glowing with this life force. Bones are alive. (cc) Laurie F Childers Decisions, Decisions The biggest concern for the team of neurosurgeons was the two burst spinal fractures. Their location made surgical rods a less than ideal choice, because they would have had to immobilize at least half my spine. One of the theoretically compelling reasons for surgery would have been extracting that sharp-looking bone fragment pressed up against the spinal cord, but it would be tricky to remove without accidentally causing paralysis. Furthermore, infection is a serious risk with surgery, as it creates an open wound, one thing I did not have. However, three months of bedrest was originally dismissed, with the neurosurgeons on call saying “no one does that anymore.” This is because of inevitable severe muscle loss and three serious risks: blood clots (specifically pulmonary embolisms), 9 pneumonia and bedsores. Days of debate followed, awaiting the return from vacation of the best neurosurgeon to conduct the surgery, if I were to have it. Bob, a retired doctor friend, told me on Day 2 that he’d contacted his neurosurgeon friend in another state. She’d suggested that if my doctors wanted to operate, that I should ask for a second opinion (it would have been a fourth opinion!), that the additional risk of infection from surgery was worth avoiding if the bones were so well aligned. I was ready to have the conversation. Although I don’t remember it ever being decided (by Sunday I was kept rather drugged and slept through some conversations), apparently there were preparations made for surgery on Day 4, Tuesday May 28, when the best neurosurgeon would return. In preparation, I’d been fitted for a standard brace on Sunday, by someone who apparently didn’t know what they were doing. The straps were twisted and this soon created numerous welts on my torso. I was still aware of back and rib pain but oblivious to the new skin injuries. When Dr. Chris Noonan appeared early Tuesday morning, he spoke confidently. “Here's what we're going to do. No surgery. You'll spend three months horizontal. This will give you the best chance of full recovery.” Several times he said to me, “Your bones are in perfect alignment. If they are like that at the end of three months, I will be ecstatic for you.” Bed rest gave me an excellent chance for recovery, he said, provided I avert the known risks.2 If it wasn’t enough, surgery would be done later. This treatment came with responsibilities. I needed to always keep my torso and hips aligned, to prevent any twist in my lower spine. I needed to be rolled every two hours: from side, to back, to the other side, keeping that alignment. This may seem troublesome but I was always ready to be moved to a new position, as fluids seemed to settle. Rolling me required two people slowly lifting a folded sheet under me. After a few weeks I was able to carefully roll myself holding onto the bedrails. I loved achieving that autonomy. And, it let everyone else sleep all night. Multiple doctors told me to never get on a ladder again. I’m not allowed to fall again, ever. It won’t be me anymore on the roof sweeping leaves and twigs, clearing out the gutters, pulling off the moss, and enjoying the view. Bicycling will have to give way to tricycling. I’ll be choosier than ever about shoes. There was one near-disaster at 4 AM during the fourth night, when two orderlies arrived to sit me up in a wheelchair and take me for “post-op X-rays” that had been ordered, no doubt at a time the previous doctors presumed I’d be having surgery. I 2 The choice to let bones heal on their own was apparently quite unusual; months later my husband met a neurosurgeon from Johns Hopkins on a plane, and he said, “We would have surgically placed rods in her entire back,” effectively restricting my movement for life. My team told me that it’s quite rare to be as broken as I was and have all the bone fragments perfectly aligned. 10 was trying to convince the orderlies that I had not had surgery and needed to stay horizontal, but they had already injected my belly with strong painkillers and even I could tell my voice was feeble and inarticulate. Without my friend Susan staying overnight, waking up and going to persistent efforts to stop them - even having to get my chart from the nurses’ desk - they would have simply ignored my drugged protestations and I would have been deformed for life. Trauma and Triggers In the first week after my fall, I learned a lot about triggers, as I seemed to have suddenly developed an odd assortment of them. If anyone bumped the bed, or a nurse made a rapid motion with the sheets or blankets, or if anyone touched me; or if people on either side of the bed passed things to each other above me, or if someone took a cup out of my hand, or even when I saw someone enter from the left side of the room and walk across the foot of the bed - all these would trigger painful muscle spasms, sustained contractions down the back of my torso and legs. Although I was drugged with opiates in the first days and had a small window of consciousness, I was highly motivated to prevent the tormenting spasms. I used what energy and focus my core observer self had to be attentive to what the doctors were saying about my case and to use my analytical mind as a tool to solve the spasm problem, which had taken root in my subconscious mind. John was highly motivated to do his part and learn with me. Spasms are the worst and they are triggered in the weirdest ways. My mind has been calm and focused, and my body frightened and screaming. Trying to integrate everything with the healing matrix of love I am receiving, I texted friends. I noted patterns and made suggestions. Analyzing the context helped tremendously. • Jolting the bed had to have been a re-traumatization from the fall and ER activity. John stopped everyone entering the room and gave instructions. We asked visitors not to touch the bed or me; eventually, I was able to slowly initiate touch without spasming. • Some triggers had similarities to that defining moment when the plank beneath my foot broke, reliving the sensation of my physical connection slipping away. Maybe deep down I needed some participation in controlling the action. So I suggested to the nurses, “how about I pretend to help you remove the sheet?” Like many routine things, for me not to spasm this had to be done at a glacially slow pace. Slowly, slowly, locking eyes and connecting energetically, and moving the sheet together, the nurse and I could retrain my body/mind not to react protectively with a spasm. 11 • To hand a cup to John, we both held onto it fully for a moment, and then I slowly let go. • I learned to close my eyes when someone entered the room. As I heard their footsteps when they walked passed the foot of my bed, I knew where they were; however, my body did not spasm without the visual. I have vague memories of instances in the ER seeing someone enter from the far left corner at the same moment as some painful transfer or activity like removing my clothing. • I closed my eyes so I wouldn’t see nurses hand things to each other over my body. I definitely remember this being part of the ER experience. Finding ways to reduce the impact of each of these triggers was immensely empowering. Everything I suggested worked. By Day 6, I came to realize that those excruciatingly painful spasms, including the first one there on the forest floor, had been holding my very broken bones, especially the two shattered vertebrae, in perfect alignment. They were making it possible for me to fully recover. To discover gratitude for those agonizing experiences changed my relationship with them. Their sole purpose was to protect my injured spine so it could heal properly. Had I been given the muscle relaxant I kept begging for, who knows what would have happened? As the spasms diminished in intensity and frequency, that image of the dark coiling springs faded away. I saw a very different image in my mind's eye. I can't explain it. It looked quite gentle, like a patchwork quilt of pastel colored squares, and it sparkled and moved like it was hanging in the breeze. As my spasms faded in intensity, the image I saw in my mind’s eye changed to something like a sparkly patchwork quilt. 12 Tenderness The best nurses were able to instinctively meet the energy level that I needed: to lock eyes with me and connect, to move at that glacially slow pace with complete patience, presence, and a deep well of tenderness. To my eternal gratitude, Ariel, the young nurse my first night when I needed it most, was absolutely extraordinary in this regard. (She had only been nursing for eight months!) Friends and family would surprise me too. Making eye contact definitely helped. I learned so much in those early difficult weeks about the power of tenderness. I wanted - and I still want - everyone in the world to stop for just a moment, and do a small act of tenderness, of kindness, for another human being. Surely the human-caused horrors of the world would immediately and permanently cease. Observations About Drugs and Other Treatments The routine was that every two hours - soon reduced to every four hours - the nurses took my vital signs and asked about my pain level. In the hospital room hung a pain scale chart with cartoon faces to assess one’s pain level from 1 to 10, 10 being unbearable. When asked, I would tell them, “It’s 2 or 3 right now, but when I spasm it’s 15.” It seemed I could have gotten any amount of opioid painkillers I wanted, all 12 days I spent in the hospital. I wanted less medication, not more. There is an informative aspect to what we call pain. I did not want to lose sensation to the point where I might move in a damaging way. When, after a protracted discussion, I finally agreed to the second three-day Fentanyl patch, I told them definitively that it would be the last. The doctors didn’t believe me then and they didn’t believe me when I wouldn’t let them replace it, but in truth I never missed it. This is partly because of the advice of a doctor friend. Mari, a sleep specialist, is my ER doctor’s wife, and she was an early visitor the second day, bearing flowers, sympathy, and knowledge. “Oh, Laurie, I’m so sorry, Al told me all about it, the L1 and L4 burst fractures and all the broken ribs! ... I suppose that breaks all rules of confidentiality but we figured you wouldn’t mind.” I happily assured her I was glad he 13 told her. She offered some advice. “Get off the opioids as soon as you can - they stop the digestive system and your body can’t absorb nutrients that you need to heal those bones. A quarter mile away is a CBD-only store. So many of my patients swear by them. ... And they can help you sleep at night “— I finished the last phrase with her in unison — "which also helps healing." She noted that because of federal rules the hospital couldn’t prescribe nor administer CBDs but said they were commonly used in the hospital. People bring their own. All cannabis products are legal for adults in Oregon, but it was helpful that my husband heard her suggestion. About an hour later, a bottle magically appeared. Full doses of Tylenol (acetaminophen - particularly good for bone pain), topped off with CBDs, became my new little helpers. It was such an improvement to have a clear head, to be able to track important conversations with the doctors without falling asleep, and to have a functioning digestive system. No small feat, the latter. That took weeks. After about five days in the hospital I asked, “Could a person get a toothbrush around here?” It was ironic that opioids were offered to me frequently but never a toothbrush, and I had to ask for a sponge bath too. Frustratingly, any food and supplements sent up by the kitchen contained milk ingredients to which I was allergic. We learned to not request or accept anything from the kitchen: they simply couldn't learn. A post-nasal drip cough would have been And then this appeared! miserable as well as dangerous. One thing offered to me was a wonderful surprise. A team of osteopathic doctors (DOs) offered a treatment that sounded a lot like cranial-sacral therapy, which I’ve appreciated as part of massage treatments. I learned that cranial-sacral comes from the DO tradition. At the time they offered, I could barely initiate movement in my right leg and couldn’t at all on the left. When I awoke after their treatment, I could move both legs at will. The second time they came, I was more alert and observant. The three of them floated into the room like Jedi knights, like a cohesive energetic unit. I happily accepted a second treatment. Suzanne, a professional friend, performed this treatment over the next several months. Reiki treatments, with hands held a few inches off my body, were perfect in the first week when I was too sensitive for touch. DeeDee was able to hold that healing attention amidst the constant medical motion and talk in the hospital room. 14 Eventually, massage from our friend and home health care nurse Kathy helped integrate the recovering muscles and renew feelings of bliss and relaxation. Massage has similar effects on muscles that exercise does. It became an almost-daily part of my horizontal recovery. Pity Party #1 It was my fifth night in the hospital, and the first in which no one slept in the room with me. Still quite weak and drugged at night, I was log-rolled into a new position (back, left or right side) every two hours. Around midnight, two nurses rolled a very groggy me onto my left side but didn’t reposition the nurse call button where I could reach it. Usually they would place it in my hand. Sometime later I awoke quite uncomfortable, with my straight knees pressed against the bed rail. I was so close to the edge I couldn’t adjust my position. At least I was facing the door, so I yelled “HELP!” a number of times, but to no avail. I considered making myself “fall” onto my back, but that was unappealing. Then I tried pushing myself away from the rail with my right knee. Instantly I experienced a sharp new shooting pain in my right hip and screamed. That got the nurses in. It also got me crying for the first time since I’d arrived. It was terrible to feel so helpless, and worse, it seemed I’d just caused further damage. (It took several weeks for that new nerve pain to totally subside.) The new nurse, Caleb, improved my position and then stayed with me for some time. I asked him what was ahead for me in the long run, because I had no clue and hadn’t received answers when I asked. “Do you really want the truth?” “Yes, I really want the truth.” He hesitated, then told me that at the end of my three months in bed, I was going to look back and see that as the easy part. The loss of muscle would initially make standing and walking, even holding up my head, really difficult. It takes time for the body to relearn how to pump blood and other fluid against gravity. I thanked him, and we talked for some time. This knowledge helped me recalibrate my endurance attitude. I was grateful to finally have even a vague idea of what the long-term process would look like. This knowledge motivated me to exercise as I could in the coming months. Dream June 4 text to a friend: Had an amazing dream last night in which my body was something of an organic or cyborg Rube Goldberg contraption and people in my “village” had each taken on the different sections to repair/heal. It was a group effort with the lively energy of a creative contest. 15 Coming Home I stayed an extra four days in the hospital because our insurance company wouldn’t approve paying for the bed that the doctor deemed medically necessary to prevent bedsores. They only provide that after a patient has bedsores!3 John later learned that the mattress was available on Amazon.com for $250, but while John talked to supervisor after supervisor, they were willing to pay almost $10K for those extra hospital days. The insurance company delivered a bed without side rails, that had to be hand cranked up and down, and would not tilt. John rejected it. Five perfect beds with the needed mattress were in a warehouse in town, but were bureaucratically reserved for hospice patients. John ultimately bought a suitable hospital bed on Craigslist, rented a trailer, then drove 7 hours one day to retrieve it. There was an epic effort to get the giant heavy beast of a Stryker bed into our house, with a number of strong people coming to the rescue. The addition of a gel mattress pad (with perforations) was a huge improvement. June 5th, I got to come home. Something deep inside me could relax, being in a familiar safe place, even if most of what I could see was the ceiling. Any return to normality, no matter how small, was a source of joy. The bed was placed in our living room, next to a southern wall. Picture windows face a peaceful scene: the tops of camellia bushes overgrown with Concord grapes and looking up into a canopy of heritage Oregon White Oak trees. I watched squirrels run gracefully along the branches. (How did they never fall?) Robins, jays, flickers, and nuthatches flew and rested among them. The grape vines had tiny starburst flowers when I arrived home, and all summer I watched them The view out my window, and a visiting songbird. transform into tiny and then larger green spheres, knowing I would juice the ripe dark purple grapes in fall. At night I could see the moon travel its low summer arc through the trees. I could also see the sky, blue or cloudy or starry, through a large skylight. 3 Likewise, insurance would only pay for scuds once a patient has already had a pulmonary embolism. Scuds are inflating devices that massage the calves and prevent blood clots that then travel to the lungs (pulmonary embolisms). These can be fatal. We purchased scuds. What happens to people without the resources? 16 Placing the bed in a pleasant living room made it much more comfortable for visitors than the reclusion and implied privacy of a bedroom. With the large windows, it was more like a visiting parlor. A card table with a tablecloth and flowers alongside the bed made a nice enough dining table for shared meals. So what if one of us was laying on her side to eat? Plus, starting a week after my homecoming, we could accommodate my weekly RiverRocks band rehearsal in the bigger, brighter room. I couldn’t play piano, but I could sing into a microphone, and eventually play guitar a bit in my horizontal position. I credit the weekly exercise of two hours singing for keeping my lungs clear of water or phlegm, thereby averting the risk of pneumonia. The hospital had sent us home with hand-held plastic lung exercisers, but frankly they were boring and awkward to use. Singing vibrated my torso and impelled me to inhale deeply and then squeeze out every last air molecule on the exhale. I am so grateful my band members stuck with me, bringing love and joy and music – and normalcy - every week. We invited visitors to tie RiverRocks: Tracy on percussion, Bill on bass, Mina on a ribbon on the structure guitar, Michael on violin, me on vocals at the foot of the bed. Those colorful reminders, gifted stuffed animals, and a clipboard with a rotating gallery of Rachel’s many postcards and Lydia’s handwritten blessing, were wonderful company. 17 The digital world helped organize our public interface. CaringBridge.com allowed John (and eventually me) to post updates and images, and for friends and family to post messages to us without the chaos of interruptions. John’s posts were informative, eloquent and created community. The calendar on lotsahelpinghands.com gave people opportunities to help and a way to spread out visitors and meals. I eventually posted updates on Facebook and Instagram. We not only can’t do these big challenges alone, we learned that it’s a beautiful thing to do them as a community. Everyone benefits. I had another digital helper: a new iPad which John attached to a sturdy mic stand. This allowed me, hands-free, to have Facetime conversations, send and receive messages, research Julia’s joyful face on the digital tablet topics like “burst fracture vertebrae” and “TLSO bivalve brace,” play digital card games, listen to audiobooks or meditation music, and watch uplifting movies like “Heal” or gorgeous nature documentaries. I also used it to draw the internal images I’d seen, design my brace decorations, and begin writing this story. One other device proved particularly useful. John has headphones that connect via Bluetooth to his cell phone. So he could be having hours of “me time” for his own sanity, creating large wooden bowls on his lathe in the garage, and I could call him when I needed his help. This gave us both some independence. This is How Bones Heal It sounds like woo-woo magic, but I heard it from Diana Blatt, Physician’s Assistant, with the neurosurgeon standing next to her. “This is how bones heal. The broken parts find each other, and move toward each other. Then extra blood swirls around them, and brings the nutrients needed to create cartilage connections from one part to the other. So you don’t want to take anti-inflammatories, because you want that extra blood there. Over time the cartilage calcifies and becomes bone.” This process happens over weeks and months, and calcification continues for a year. I loved having this scientific image to encourage with my healing meditations. It's worth 18 noting that I'd been told that moving the ribs (via deep breathing, singing, laughing, and even coughing) helped them to heal. So even though the 16 broken ribs announced themselves every time I rolled to a new side (to which I responded, “Hello ribs!”), and they felt all-over painful whenever I laughed, it was never a scary kind of pain. My mind was thinking of my ribs getting a boost in healing. Right on time, my rib pain faded away after six weeks and two days. At seven weeks and one day, I awoke and noted immediately that the last vestiges of pain in my lumbar region were gone. Miraculously, my back felt ... whole. Later that day, when my pencil fell onto the ground, I had a brand new thought. Instead of the usual, I’ll have to ask John to get that for me, my mind imagined myself quickly hopping out of bed, keeping my torso horizontal, picking the pencil up off the ground, and getting back in the bed. I had a similar experience the next day. I realized I no longer had the instinct to be super protective of my lumbar spine, so now I would need discipline. I also had an instinctual sense that, if I had been a prehistoric cave- person and a tiger came into the cave, I would be able to crawl out. This image communication from body to mind delighted me. I believe it was an indication that the cartilage connections were established. I also observed this in my body, during the horizontal summer: Whenever I felt a sneeze or a cough coming on, it was as if the process was soon slowed by various body parts communicating about the relative urgency and what might result. Eventually, the bones and their nerves must have prevailed in the discussions – because I never did sneeze or cough. Daydream I am hiking outdoors, climbing up a hill slope. My view is not the field or forest around me, but inside my skin near the hip joints. I am seeing, and feeling, the muscles of my legs and buttocks squeeze and then stretch with every stride. The rhythmic motion is soothing, reassuring. My muscles grow stronger and more defined each time I take this journey. Attitude Preparations I would not have been prepared mentally without the following critical prior experiences. They saved me much grief, and illuminated the way forward. Jane’s story It had to have been 15-20 years ago that I saw an old friend I hadn’t seen in several years. It happened to be Jane’s first day out, after being confined to bed for six weeks. I hadn’t known. She had been bicycling and got hit by a truck. Six weeks horizontal sounded interminable. I asked her if she had watched a lot of funny 19 movies. “No,” she replied. “Read a lot of books?” “No,” she shook her head again. Perplexed, I asked how did she spend her time. “I looked out the window.” I’m sure I looked even more confused. She explained, “Whenever I was living in the past, thinking to myself that if I’d left the house five minutes earlier or five minutes later, the truck would not have hit me - I was miserable. And whenever I was living in the future, worrying would I ever be able to give massages again, and if not, how would we live on only one income, I was miserable. But when I looked out the window, I was living in the present, and it was blissful.” “Wow, Jane,” I replied. “I hope I never have to experience what you did to learn that amazing lesson.” I have no doubt Jane's wisdom prevented me, starting that first moment on the ground, from investing precious energy into agonizing about “what-ifs” that would have distracted me from the present moment and the energy needed to heal. And, I knew I wanted to put the hospital bed next to our wall of windows. River rapids Two years earlier, we rafted the Grand Canyon. I loved taking on the minor and medium rapids in an inflatable kayak. Usually, there is a V-shaped section of smooth water that indicates the main current leading into the rapids, and that is often the safest place to enter. Approaching the white water at the downriver tip of it, I must discern which is the biggest wave coming at me. I have to point the front of the kayak directly into it, otherwise it will knock me over. As that whitewater passes over me for a few seconds I can see nothing. As soon as I can, I have to identify the biggest of the next waves, and point the kayak straight into that one. It’s often a slightly right, then slightly left zigzag motion, but sometimes not. I have to focus and respond to the exact reality in front of me. Kayaking rapids is a great teaching for me, combining present-moment awareness and courage. Normally, you follow the smooth water into the rapids as far as you can, but at the tip of that V the whitewater is pretty chaotic. There, you have to constantly make instant judgments about which wave is the biggest, and turn directly into it. 20 Eileen’s attitude Eileen announced on Facebook that she’d had a stroke six weeks prior, was adjusting and wanted visitors since she wasn’t driving anymore. Just a week before I fell, John and I brought her dinner and we had a lovely visit. We were both so inspired by how thoroughly Eileen accepted her new reality, telling us it was fruitless to expect to go back to how it was. She was a vivid example of living in the present. Bill’s inner vision Many years ago my artist friend Bill survived a heart attack. In the hospital he’d painted his interior visions. The images were abstract colors and designs, tiny at first and growing larger and more defined each day. I remember those paintings as so intriguing and mysterious. I am certain that Bill’s example helped me notice and stay attentive to what I saw when I closed my eyes. Encouragement Stacey, a retired doctor friend who’s had broken back experiences, told me early on the first two weeks are the hardest. Just get through these and you’ll be fine. I needed to be told that it wouldn’t be so intense forever. I could calibrate the effort needed to endure. One of my nurses had also survived a broken back, and he conveyed total confidence that I would heal. Chet had badly broken his ankle snowboarding the previous year. He came to help overnight at the hospital, with a mission to tell me this: Don’t do what I did, which was waste a whole month being angry about losing independence and control. I just wanted to get back to how it was. It won’t ever be like it was. I’m a better person for learning how to receive care. Let this experience transform you. Preach, Chet! At 36, Kriste had a brain tumor removed and then survived a stroke several hours later. Her journey back to independence taught her about the deep beauty of resilience. We had previously conversed about the gifts revealed in confronting big challenges. She visited me a number of times to make sure I didn’t miss this opportunity to grow. Trauma can been experienced as the best thing that happened to you.4 Her words and presence shined a bright light on the path forward. In the fall, Chet, Kriste and I together gave a presentation on resilience at the local Quaker meeting. I felt the cumulative love and encouragement of so many people via cards, letters, texts, phone calls, cheerful visits, messages, flowers, and gifts – it humbles me. Sometimes my friends expressed deep relief in confirming that I was still “me,” and that it mattered to them. Of special note are the multiple daily postcards I received 4 Which reminds me of a useful acronym: FGO. My broken back qualified as a F***ing Growth Opportunity. 21 from Rachel. Even if those were all I’d received, I would have felt remembered, loved, and encouraged. Laughter The doctor prescribed funny movies. Only a few made me laugh out loud, and those I had to pause frequently to give my ribs a rest. (Get Smart and Wanda Sykes: Not Normal really hit my funny bone.) Real life events and conversations would often provoke wonderful laughter, known as the best medicine! In the hospital, Ellen (herself a retired nurse) cross-stitched me a little present as I was trying to get my digestive track functioning again. The Rainbow Unicorn Poop Emoji made the nurses and just about everyone laugh, and still gives me great joy. Ellen and her perfect, humorous gift One night at home, the water cups were a little too full and one spilled, soaking the mattress topper before I realized it. We pressed towels into the wet area but ultimately decided the area needed more vigorous drying to prevent mold. John asked if we had a hair dryer. I vaguely remembered buying one at Goodwill 20+ years ago (identical to one I’d used in 1972), and my visual memory accurately led John to it. The ancient thing worked, but it had an unhealthy high-pitched timbre. After about 15 minutes the sound changed like it was shifting gears, or perhaps going to explode. Then, back to the unpleasant mechanical squeal. After 30 minutes I suggested to John that we record the hair dryer and sell it as a healing meditation tape. Having listened to many musical mediations on YouTube at night, this struck me as a terribly funny contrast. Laughing at this was the most my 16 broken ribs ever hurt. Pressure reduced rib pain, but I couldn’t quite hold onto them all at the same time, making the situation even funnier. Again, laughing was helping the ribs to heal. RiverRocks band rehearsal is always joyful in large part because of Michael’s witticisms. Inspired by the substantial hospital bed with the catheter bag hanging off the side, Michael announced a new nickname for me: The Princess and the Pee! 22 My son Jordan turned out to be a wonderful and fearless nurse. “Mom, you’ve been telling me for years that I’d be wiping your butt one day, but I thought you’d be a little older first.” He also commented, “Did you ever notice that whenever Mom asks for the bedpan, Julia [his sister] gives it to her but then disappears herself?” “I have to tell you, you look radiant!” my friend Tam told me. “The worst thing I can say to you is, I'm jealous.” My sister Amy (with a famous sense of humor) visited for a week and, while doing epic amounts of work in the kitchen, would ask aloud, “Where’d Laurie go?” She’d then Jordan and me look around the corner to the hospital bed and exclaim with mock relief, “Oh, there you are!” Week 10, my husband John, our son Jordan, and my sister Amy took me on a glorious afternoon “hike” on the paved trails at the base of Bald Hill. We giggled so much just scheming this over lunch. It was great fun to take photos and videos of me on the path, wearing hiking boots and using hiking poles while laying horizontal on the transport gurney. We also cheered up a few hundred people posting them on Facebook. The flat, paved trail at Bald Hill was perfect for our “hike.” 23 Spiritual Boomerang So many people told me they were shocked to hear of my fall and injury. But for me this spiritual boomerang addressed a couple of things I had been consciously thinking about in the days and months before. I have long felt that I don’t get my body outside moving enough, that I overly prioritize email-based organizing volunteer work. Despite my intentions and delight in walking, and my reverence for nature, I don’t get outside for a walk every day. Why, I wondered? So to be immobilized indoors for three months ... was a bit of a cosmic joke. It was also a call to pull up that deep inner will to live in a physical way, and to renew my wonder at the miracles of nature. The lovely view from the bed kept me conscious of the ripening season. However, on my first excursion to our back deck, the sensation of the afternoon breeze on my face and touching living oak leaves with my fingers prompted me to weep with joy. Then, I picked a ripe strawberry Julia had scouted for me and savored its taste. On the first return trip to the hospital for X-rays, soft drizzle settled gently and sensuously on my face between the van and the building entrance. Small miracles. My senses remind me I am alive on a beautiful planet. In the day or two before I fell, I had been pondering the question of how connected I really am with friends. Although I feel like I easily have intimate conversations and develop lasting friendships, I am also something of a loner. In answer to my question: oh my, the depth and breadth and quality of love, tenderness and connection that poured forth to carry me through this challenge was so bright and beautiful and strong and wide and deep that I cannot yet know how transformative it will ultimately be. I will never again doubt that I am, that we are, connected. Pity Party #2 I’d been home less than a week. That day the visiting home health nurse had noted with concern that she wasn’t hearing engagement of my lower lungs through her stethoscope. Some nights I wasn’t sleepy when John and our overnight helper went to bed and I would seek out a lighthearted movie to at least begin watching. This night it was “Mamma Mia.” At the final long scene, with everyone dancing exuberantly, I felt super sad and wept. I can’t dance now, and I might not ever be able to dance that freely again, and I’m missing so much fun active stuff I was going to do this summer. Crying stimulated muscles in my lower back that squeezed clear the bottom of my lungs, like rolling up an old toothpaste tube. It thoroughly wrung out the entire lungs on the exhale. I was expelling grief. Pneumonia is one of the serious dangers of bedrest. Despite feeling the grief, and even a taste of despair, the sensation of breathing deeply was welcome. After a bit, I felt I could sleep and that I’d have more determination the next day. I did. 24 The beautiful variety of ways that love came to me Below is a partial list of gifts of love. I am deeply grateful for each and every one. Months later I would discover things given in the early days when I was not able to track them. I record them here to encourage all of us to do the bit we feel we can and want to do for others. It adds up. • Barry, Vicki, Dan, and Todd cared for me in the moments after I fell. • Vicki’s presence and assistance that first day in the hospital was huge. It would have been awful to be alone. • My husband John’s immediate and full concentration on getting me what I needed, being present with doctors and pursuing insurance coverage (there are nightmare stories there), acquiring the bed, and then creatively engineering exercise equipment for me so that I could build up a modicum of muscle tone and get endorphins flowing, were vital. The “bedaling” contraption he invented was magnificent. He created an easel that allowed me to draw above my head. He bought a used transport gurney and fixed it up nicely so I could go outside occasionally and make it to appointments. John's patient, lovingly attentive nursing care every day was phenomenal and inspired so many, including the OT and neurosurgeon. I credit his affection, humor, patience, creativity and constant encouragement for making my healing possible. I fell in love with him all over again. John, my hero • Friends stayed overnight at the hospital with me that first week, so John could sleep well at home. • Four hospital nurses were extra special: Ariel, Tyler, Cameron, and Caleb. • Chet brought his guitar to the hospital and we sang songs. I discovered not only could I still sing, but that the vibration through my torso felt marvelous and energizing. • Friends stayed overnight at our house the first few weeks, to help turn me every 2 hours and clean me. 25 • Liz Hess, a close friend of over 30 years (and an over-qualified nurse practitioner), flew across the continent as I was arriving home to “tuck the pillows in just right” and show us how to do so much so gracefully. She bought shirts at a thrift shop and cut them up the back so that I could appear dressed without discomfort. She gifted me a lovely scarf she’d knit that kept my shoulders warm on cool summer nights. • Catherine Marzyck, my dear friend of nearly 40 years, traveled twice to lovingly care and cook and encourage and make art with me. On the first visit, she picked up the transport gurney John had found on Craigslist for us. On the second visit, Catherine gifted me the exquisite painting/prayer that is the cover of this book. Liz and her scarf Catherine, cover artist • Rachel May, my best friend from 3rd grade(!) wrote me multiple postcards each morning from Virginia, writing stream of consciousness with her morning coffee. More than a year later I counted: 142 postcards. • My sister Amy flew from New Mexico and lovingly cared for all of us with food, humor, cleaning and reading aloud to me. She drove seven hours to pick up our son Jordan after his hand surgery so we could heal together. • Many friends generously brought us delicious, nutritious meals. This was most helpful. Staying to eat with us was a bonus. Amy P, another of my Rachel’s postcards 26 oldest dearest friends, did this weekly for two months, and it's a 100-mile round trip for her. • All the prayers and loving healing thoughts sent my way created, sustained and strengthened a palpable energetic current. • Quaker Meeting immediately created a Care Committee for both John and me. I knew then that John would be cared for, too. • An out-of-state doctor friend offered (unneeded) painkillers and advice about them, in a most entertaining manner. Reading these texts in the hospital prompted my first laughter. • Marcie dropped off a jar of CBD gummy bears at my hospital room, independent of the professional advice I’d just been given to use them. Carrie and Vicki later gifted me CBD edible gummy bears and homemade salve. One angel I’ve never met, was told what had happened to me, refused payment and gifted me several batches of his CBD gummy bears via our mutual friend. - Our son Jordan came a number of times, bringing his humor, perceptiveness and complete willingness to nurse me as needed. Our thoughtful conversations were some of the best parts of the summer. • Our daughter Julia traveled cross-country to help take care of me for a week, bringing her joyful and gentle presence. She immediately decorated me with jewelry. She sought out simple pleasures for me in creative ways. She downloaded drawing software for my iPad and beautiful, peaceful video games to stimulate my mind and relax me. • Cuban friends made frequent contact. I had been there just a few weeks earlier for Arte del Fuego, a ceramic art event. William texted me at least twice a day from Cuba for months, with some video calls and vocal messages too. And, we put the finishing touches on the 13 minute video we made together! https://www.youtube.com/watch? v=OvxkDC9mLFk&feature=youtu.be • Dalia, in Cuba, created a ceramic sculpture of legs walking, as a prayer for my healing. • Lynda and Kirk sent a video of my community college ceramics class waving and greeting me, all wearing green or pink hair extensions. • My aunt Mary Sue sent me the Christian Science text Faith Dalia’s clay sculpture 27 and Healing and wrote out quotes that supported me healing fully. • Lydia sent me a card with a handwritten blessing: May you be healed, may you be loved, may you be loving, may you be at peace. I kept it visible all summer. •Visits, cards, texts, social media messages, and eventually calls, were all full of love and encouragement. • Harry and Mary brought me a joyfully bold and colorful necklace which we hung in sight Lydia’s blessing as a beacon for the future. It was the first piece of jewelry I wore when vertical. • The Saur family in France, whose daughter we’d hosted ten years earlier, made a creative, loving video to encourage my healing. It made me laugh with joy. • https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Oc-kbWyBCRc&list=PLoHmkD2QZW2xye-ViSG3fcWyde88ZrKAY&index=1 Screen shots from the Saur’s video: a wadded piece of paper travels and unveils a different message of healing each time it is opened. • Stuart Sharpe drew a portrait of me. •Friends suggested and set up CaringBridge.org and Lotsa Helping Hands websites, which kept people informed and gave them ways to help and schedule visits. These facilitated a community mentality and experience. •Judy wrote me a poem; it’s at the end of this book. Stuart’s portrait of me 28 • Kriste and I had such excellent conversations. What she had needed and received from her nurses in the ICU and recovery was different than what I’d needed and received; it made me appreciate the art of nursing even more. She offered some great tips for future adjustments to vertical life again, like getting a floor-to-ceiling pole to hold onto near the bed or the tub. • Friends brought summer inside: fruits, garden produce, flowers, and potted plants. •Four off-duty doctor friends gave me excellent advice at the perfect time. • Sweeping, mopping, cleaning the house. Garden work, clearing weeds and trimming bushes. (Thank you Leah, and I’m so sorry about the poison oak.) • Reiki treatments, cranial-sacral therapy, massages, and acupuncture aimed at my deepest healing. Foot rubs and pedicures were fabulous, as I could not reach my feet. • Shelly bought me a handy Shelly giving me a foot rub organizer for the head of the bed, to store important stuff in my reach, as well as having the most tender, caring hands. Joe, Bill, Mina and Michael 29 • RiverRocks band (Mina, Bill, Michael, Joe, and Tracy), came for rehearsal every Wednesday afternoon. Everything about this was healing. • Julia, Eric and Kathy brought me pictures, videos, and treasures from the Oregon Country Fair, which I had to miss this year. • I was gifted huggable stuffed animals: two adorable bears and a rainbow hedgehog. I also received body oil, granola, salad mix, soap, books, and a practice device for guitar. Jane H created a custom-made barrette that matched my rainbow-color hair. • I so loved personal concerts! Viola and poetry, ukulele and voice, harp & guitar, Native American songs, piano, and (once I was outside) bagpipes! • Penny came to visit and read excerpts of books to me. My sister Amy did, too. Sometimes this put me to sleep (okay, it always it put me to sleep) but it was wonderfully stimulating and relaxing at the same time. Joe loaned me a device that had audiobooks on it. (Those also put me to sleep!) • Another Joe, my college professor from way back, urged me to draw. Great tip! • David sent me a psychic reading, conveying the message that this was about me needing to get out of my own way. • Matthew put me in touch with his sister who’d survived a similarly broken back; she offered helpful advice. It was an honor to be visited by the NW Interfaith Peace Walkers, and their peace cranes. 30 • The NW Interfaith Peace Walkers marched all the way to my house, drumming and singing Buddhist healing chants and decorating my bed with origami peace cranes. • Friends and neighbors helped move me onto the gurney for journeys to X-ray and doctor appointments, for the rare dinner outside, and to get to the riverfront to watch friends perform Flotsam! River Circus in late July. What a joy that was! I was so happy to watch the river circus • Darryla spun silk, yak and camel hair, and knit a soft and lovely scarf/shawl thinking of me and sending healing love with every spin, knit and purl. She gave me the scarf when I saw her in San Francisco 6 months after my fall. I’d had no idea about the scarf – but I had felt the love and tenderness. • Every day someone cleaned my butt and the bedpan and emptied the catheter bag. • John’s boss, upon hearing what happened to me, told him: “I don’t want to see you in the office all summer.” • My boss at the community college told me my teaching job would be waiting for me whenever I was ready to come back. Occupational Therapy Occupational Therapy, I figured out, pretty much has to do with learning physical skills from the waist up, as well as practical skills for independence. I had a lovely OT, who commented to his professional colleagues, “Every patient needs a John Selker [my husband].” These were my OT exercises: • Making clay starfish with small pieces of clay that Catherine cut for me. I had plans for these. 31 • Singing with my band, even playing guitar a bit, every Wednesday afternoon. • Folding small laundry. We had many square cloths to wash each day, to avoid using disposable baby wipes. • Feeding myself. • “Bathing” myself in bed with warm washcloths. • Eventually, near the end when I could tilt the bed a little, making blackberry cobbler. Physical Therapy My view John’s view I named it “Bedaling” - moving my feet on bicycle pedals suspended such that, laying on my back, I could pedal with both legs. This greatly helped the circulation in my legs as well as muscle and nerve regeneration. My husband John thought this up and created it with parts he had in the garage. I loved it immediately. It simply made me instantly happy to move my legs. A video and construction plans/parts, for it and the overheard frame, can be found here: https://youtu.be/PIboyc2YZUU I could also use the pedal contraption to stretch the very tight hamstrings and calves of my legs in a controlled and satisfying way. 32 In addition, the overhead frame and the Stryker bed's side rails sported elastic stretchy bands that were nice for maintaining arm and shoulder muscles. I also used little one- and two- pound weights for my arms. Full-body isometric exercises were taught to me by Stefanie, a European friend who had practiced there as a PT for patients with spinal injuries. These European exercises were extraordinarily effective, took very little time, and worked nearly all the body muscles at once, safely. I didn’t have to try to remember 25 different isolated exercises, which I received from the few inadequate PT sessions I had in the hospital or home care. These made a HUGE difference! See page 65 for more info. In late July, on doctor’s orders, we starting increasing the bed’s tilt and building tolerance each day. Vertical Day was to happen almost a week early due to concern about muscle loss. My heart needed to regain the strength to pump blood uphill again. The maximum tilt of the bed was 12º. To be able to tolerate that, I held up my torso with hands on a rope tied to the head of the bed. This prepared my arms and shoulders for what using a walker would ask of me, and the weight of my legs stretched my spine. Eventually I rested my feet on a board, building tolerance for the upper body weight to be supported by my lumbar spine and legs. John made both contraptions. At first, my arms supported the weight of my torso. This helped strengthen my arm muscles for the walker. 33 Soon I was “standing” on a board, to stimulate spinal strengthening with a bit of torso weight. Bed is tilted to the 12º maximum. What do you do all day? Late in the game, our friend Jimmy reminded me of the old joke/game of reading aloud fortune cookie fortunes, where you had to add the phrase “in bed” at the end. People have asked what I do all day. Now I can describe my routine “in bed.” I wake upon my side or my back and turn to another position in bed. I greet the morning light and John, if either have appeared, in bed. I breathe some restful meditative thoughts of gratitude and healing imagery in bed. I drink some water and take medications/vitamins in bed. Calcium, magnesium, Vitamin D2, and Vitamin K3 are the ones most vital for bone regeneration. After many weeks have passed, I check the news each morning and read what I feel I can withstand, in bed. There’s a card table where others can sit for meals. I eat breakfast in bed. 34 I call for a bedpan and poop, in bed. I get cleaned up by a gracious and caring soul (usually John), in bed. With three warm wet washcloths, I give myself what passes for a bath in bed. I brush my hair in bed. I spend several hours “bedaling” in bed. I do my isometric exercises in bed. I check my silenced phone for texts or missed calls in bed. I write or call back in bed. I roll myself onto my back or side shifting position every two hours or so in bed. I juggle the home nursing appointments with visitors while in bed. Once or twice a week I get a massage in bed. I eat lunch in bed, sometimes with visitors who have brought us treats. I watch the birds and squirrels in the oak branches outside the big windows to my left and imagine their freedom, in bed. All summer I watch the Concord grape flowers become tiny green spheres, then grow larger, becoming the sweet purple grapes I will make into juice in October when I’m no longer all day in bed. I watch Netflix (usually while bedaling) in bed. Nature documentaries about places I’m unlikely to ever go no matter how able-bodied - deep ocean to outer space - are particularly enjoyable in bed. So was the film “Heal.” I play card games or word games or Monument Valley on my iPad in bed. I work on writing this story in bed. I draw using the Procreate app on the iPad in bed. I research burst fractures, human spinal anatomy, bed exercises, back strengthening exercises, TLSO bivalve braces, and devices for home care to prevent falls and assist in the transition to full recovery, on the iPad, in bed. After a month I muster the energy to check email on my laptop, but do so infrequently in bed. Typing on my side, with one finger, is taxing in bed. I fold the medium and small-sized laundry in bed. (Occupational Therapy!) Some days I make little clay objects in bed. I’ll fire them this fall when I’m not in bed. Some days I play my guitar in bed. I read books or listen to audiobooks - and then fall asleep - in bed. On Wednesday afternoons the rest of RiverRocks band arrives for rehearsal and for two hours I sing and laugh and shake a little rhythm rattle or tambourine in bed. I enjoy every friend who has come to visit; we talk and laugh and open our hearts, but only I am in bed. We have dinner, John and me and maybe friends who have come bearing delicious meals; I roll onto my left side and eat in bed. We might watch a film afterward, in bed. I take my evening medications and vitamin supplements in bed. I floss and brush my teeth in bed. I close my eyes and drift off - often with a YouTube meditation music video on low volume - in bed. 35 Takeaways from the Summer of Laying Low • Barry’s immediate takeaway: Listen to the advice of your loved ones. • The first lesson I learned, related to Barry’s: what’s in my head is not the only thing to be attentive to. We are in relationship with each other. Communicate. Listen. • Early on, I decided to accept love in any form that it came in. That acceptance brought more peace to my heart than I ever could have guessed. It freed me from habits of judgment that erect unnecessary barriers that deny our connection, that separate us. I believe my ability to shift away from judgment came out of accepting my new state of utter physical humility. It’s fitting, even humorous, that I fell onto a layer of humus, and discovered an open secret to being human. All these words share the same Latin root, hum, meaning earth. It remains humbling, and ever so worthwhile, to work to continue this spiritual practice. • I’m learning to be in my body from the inside out. Starting with my breath, I feel my lungs, diaphragm, Kegels/abdominal core muscles, pelvis and vertebrae and ribs. I’ve gotten acquainted with my colon. The isometric exercises are getting me to consciously activate the glutes and back muscles and beyond. • The body knows how to heal. Respect its processes, don’t impede them. • Since I was about seven, I have looked at my body in the mirror and seen fat. After a few weeks horizontal, I looked at my strangely skinny thighs and calves and wondered, where is all the muscle? Now, I will see and care about muscle. • We are connected. Never doubt it. • Stopping and being in one place, with no decisions to make about where to go, is a gift. Sharing that be-here-now reality with friends deepened our connection with them. • Leaving my phone ringer off averted being rattled or awakened by the sound. Instead, I checked for messages often. I have maintained this practice to my benefit. • Attitude matters. Nurses, doctors, and friends, especially those who’d broken their backs before, conveyed a certainty that I would heal. Their words were powerfully reassuring. Most friends arrived to visit with beaming smiles, pouring out love and joy at my survival and recognition that I was whole. That joy was priceless. Only one visitor came with an “oh this is tragic” Debbie Downer attitude. It felt toxic. Luckily by then my pain was gone and I had the energy to correct and counteract it. I had so very much to be grateful for, not the least of which were the expectation of full recovery, the absence of nerve pain, and the comprehensive attentive care from my husband, as well as having health insurance. None of those do I take for granted. 36 • I will contribute what I can when friends are hurt or ill. Doing a small thing matters, even sending loving thoughts. • A hospital trauma patient benefits from the presence of an unencumbered companion at all times, especially overnight. • Hiring a part-time home nurse, someone we already knew and trusted, was a huge help for many issues large and small. That she’s also a massage therapist: bingo! The home PT and nurse visits (a different nurse each time) provided by the insurance company weren’t very useful, and the lack of continuity was problematic. • CBDs may well be the prevention of new opioid addictions, and possibly the cure of the current opioid epidemic. • American spinal injury physical therapists need to learn other countries’ techniques. Extras Especially in the first month, I experienced some interesting sensitivities. I could sense the energy from people, whether they were likely to cause my body to spasm or not. I sensed qualities of tenderness that we rarely engage. I sensed connection, or the lack of it. People bringing palpable joy and positivity filled the well of my healing. The images I saw internally, from the tight black greasy coils of my spasmed back muscles to the hopping out of bed to pick up a dropped pencil 7 weeks later, seem to indicate that the body’s way of knowing bypasses words, and communicates by sending images and feelings to our minds. Likewise, it seems that we can help direct the healing of our physical body by choosing and focusing on images and feelings. Our culture’s emphasis on rational, linear logic misses out on these communications. Both are helpful. I would have benefitted from a rational explanation of the spasms the first day, to understand their function. Food tasted so incredibly good. I couldn’t tolerate it the least bit burned or moldy, though. I wanted fresh healthy food and I savored it like never before. I didn’t crave spices. I didn’t want sugar or alcohol. I think being on an IV drip for four days (in case they decided to operate) made the act of eating a new experience, without the deprivation of fasting. My body craved life-giving, bone-healing nutrients. Only once did I need to break the news to another person. Soon after arriving home, I called my doctor of 24 years to check on a medication. Responding to his profound empathetic concern, I cried describing what had happened. Speaking the words aloud somehow made the injury feel emotionally overwhelming. Having others do this task is a gift to the person needing to heal.