Four Years

Tomorrow is the four year anniversary of my car accident.

Four years.

Oh, how life has changed.

It has become a tradition for me to write an anniversary post each year.  It's a time when I think back and reflect on where I am and where I've been.

One event should not define a person's life.

Nevertheless, my life will always be divided into before and after the car accident.

Four years ago, a man ran a stop sign, t-boned my car on the driver's side, and sent my life reeling.  I was a busy mom of three, but suddenly life stopped.  Time was frozen in a tangled mess of crumpled metal, blown-out tires, and skid marks on the street.

Initially, I thought I'd be fine after a few months time.

Now, I'm so grateful I didn't know then what I know now.  I don't think I would have been able to handle it if someone had told me what was yet to come.

There are no words to describe the first three years.

No words can describe that time period in my life, but the depths of hell comes close.

Pain is a word that doesn't begin to describe the breathtaking, teeth clenching, agony I experienced.

Among other things, I lost most of the use of my right arm.  I would guess that I have about 20 – 25% use of my arm now.  I'm right handed.  Try tying your dominant arm to your side for 24 hours to get a feel for what type of life adjustment I went through.

The loss of function was, and continues to be, difficult.  The fact the pain has never let up since the accident, however, has proven to be the biggest challenge.

I went through six surgeries in the first three years.  The surgeries were an attempt to make my arm work as well as possible, and to decrease my pain to a more manageable level.

So where am I now?

Well, I have improved, somewhat, over where I was a year ago on the three year anniversary of the accident.  The improvements at this point are excruciatingly slow and gradual.  Often, I feel like I'm making no improvements at all.  (That's one of the reasons it's a beneficial process for me to sit down and reflect on where I was a full year ago.  It makes me realize the progress I've made over the long term.)  

I met one of my readers for the first time recently.  She commented, "You look so normal.  I expected your arm to look … I don't know, different."

She's right.  

If you met me on the street, you probably wouldn't know anything is wrong with me.  Let that be a reminder to all of us, we really don't know what anyone else is dealing with in their life, do we?  We don't know if they're walking around with a "hidden" disability, or in breathtaking pain.  We don't know about anyone else's challenges or victories.  An orthopedic doctor or a physical therapist would probably instantly pick up on signs something is amiss with me, but the average person on the street would not.  

My right hand works fine.  I can type with a laptop on my lap, but I can't lift my arm to type at a desk.  I can open doors with my left arm, but not my right.  I've learned to apply mascara and blow dry my hair using my left arm.  I drive left handed, and I use my left arm for steering grocery carts, although my right arm rests on the handle for balance.  

I've also become very adept at masking my disability when I'm out in public.  

I can't, however, carry anything with my right hand or arm.  I can't hold a purse on my right shoulder.  I can't lift my arm or reach with it.  I notice the little things the most – the inability to put dishes on a shelf or to reach for a coffee cup.  The daily things most people take for granted are often the most frustrating for me.

I love to swim (which I do daily, with a modified breast stroke).  When I'm in the water I feel normal.  The water lifts my arm for me, something I can't do on my own.  Water gives me freedom; water makes me feel whole.  Swimming has become my sanity.  It doesn't hurt much when I swim.  The pain is manageable.  A few hours after I swim, however, the pain arrives with an astonishing and predictable force.

The benefits of swimming are worth the hurt it causes.

Moving my arm, moving my shoulder, is critical.   If I don't force movement I will get worse.  I've been worse, much worse, and I don't want to go back to that place ever again.  

The fact that movement hurts me isn't as significant as the need for movement is.  

And so . . . in spite of the pain, I continue to swim.

In the last year, the most painful event was not physical, but emotional.  The loss of one of my best friends was unexpected and hurt me deeply.  This particular friend was a huge source of emotional support through the worst of the worst, and I'm not over the loss of his friendship.  I don't think I ever will be.  Losing someone you think will be your friend for life is never easy, but - it is what it is.  

I've been through enough at this point, to know there are some things in life I can't change and this, sadly, is one of them.

On the flip side, my biggest victory since the accident also occurred this year with my return to photography.  For over three years, I was forced to set aside my favorite hobby due to my inability to hold a camera.  Last fall, I decided I would take back this part of my life, regardless of how difficult the challenge might be.

It has been very, very, difficult but I feel I've accomplished something which once seemed utterly impossible.

I won't lie, every time I take even a few photos, my pain level sky rockets.  I hold the weight of the camera with my left arm and use my right arm just for balance and to click the shutter … and yet – the pain is breathtaking.  Nothing hurts as intensely as the pain of taking just a small number of photos.  When I indulge my love of photography even for a few minutes, I know I will need pain meds for days afterward as a result.

Yet, being able to return to photography is an enormous, spirit-lifting, victory.  Photography feeds my soul in a way nothing else does.  Photography is a creative outlet I crave and need.  I've fought long and hard to get this part of my life back, even in a limited way, and I have no intention of giving it up.

Pain be damned!

The fact so many of you have chosen to purchase my photos sends me over the moon with happiness.  There are no words to describe how much it has meant to me to know my photography is bringing joy into other people's lives.

So what does my future look like?

I've given up on physical therapy.  

It's so difficult to even write those words … given up.

After three and a half years of living at the physical therapist's office, I'm done.  

I think physical therapy is something most doctors would say I need for the remainder of my life.  Be that as it may, something died inside me amidst the rubble of my lost friendship.  I can't bring myself to go back to physical therapy.  I don't know if I'll ever be ready to go back but I know, right now, I'm not.  I just don't have it in me to fight that fight again … not right now.

Instead, once a month I spend an hour with a masseuse.  I have him/her work on the parts of my body which no longer function properly.  I don't know if it helps.  It's supposed to increase circulation to the damaged parts of my body.  It's su
pposed to stimulate healing in the areas which have been injured.  I do know, after having even the most gentle of massages, I end up in mind-numbing pain for days.

I've discontinued visits to my orthopedic surgeon.  I refuse to undergo any additional surgeries, so there seems to be no point in returning.  (Although, I am SO grateful for how much he helped me.)  Instead, I'm now under the care of an excellent pain management specialist.  

When a person "graduates" to a pain management specialist, it's often because they will be living with chronic pain for life.  Logically, I know this is where I'm at now, but emotionally I still refuse to accept it.  To be honest, I don't know if "pain management" is really going to help.  The first few attempts to decrease my pain to more manageable levels have not been successful.  I'm not giving up (yet), but I'm starting to wonder if my current physical condition might be as good as I'm going to get.

I now take time-released morphine pills to allow me to sleep at night.  I try not to take them often, but I've gone through four years of waking up repeatedly at night from pain.  Sometimes I just really need to sleep for a few hours.  I have other, strong, pain relievers to take as needed the rest of the time.  I hate having to take drugs.  I hate feeling fuzzy-brained.  Discontinuing pain meds isn't a possibility at this point, and I doubt if it ever will be.  There is only so much pain a person can take before they need relief, even if it's only for a short time.

I want to live my life as fully as possible.  If that means I need to take drugs in order to cope with the pain, I will do so.  The alternative is not acceptable.  I've already lost too much of my life to the accident, I don't want to lose more.  I want control of my life.  I've spent enough time curled up in a ball, sobbing, in pain.  

I'm very, very, focused now on taking back my life and I'm willing to work hard for it.  I'm willing to accept the "trade-off" of intense pain for the things that are important to me.  

Swimming equals pain.  I know that, but I won't give it up.  Swimming has become my sanity.

Photography equals astronomical pain.  I know that, but I won't give it up.  (And I hope, in time, to be able to take more than just a few photos at a time.)

I will never give up hope for improvement.  

I will never stop striving to be able to do more with less pain …

And yet –

Maybe I'm finally, on some level, accepting the reality of my damaged body.

It seems ironic that as I write this anniversary post, I'm in the midst of one of the worst pain flare-ups I've had in months.

Happy four year anniversary to me?

© Twenty Four At Heart

36 Responses to “Four Years”

  1. Pseudo

    You are a woman of strength and a positive attitude Suzanne. You make us laugh, you make us in awe.
    Happy you.

  2. Tami

    I think this post was beautiful. There is so much of YOU in it. Your strength, your resilience, your spirit to overcome. It seems like the appropriate time to tell you how much I admire you. How your writing makes my day everyday. How your photos are so beautiful it is hard to imagine you are taking them with one! arm. You truly are an inspiration to all of us. I’m sorry you are living your life in pain and I’m sorry your pain is so bad right now. I also have to say I’m still so upset about the torturer. So sorry he hurt you. I hope he sees this post and if he’s capable of any feelings at all, feels like a shit for hurting you so much But nevermind him, because you are so wonderful all on your own. You really are!

  3. Karoli

    Wow. Thank you for sharing that — I would never have known. You’re right…you do an excellent job of masking, but I’m glad you are pushing back and doing what you love. Thank you again.

  4. Kristen

    Such a powerful post. I’m in awe of all you endure each and every day.

  5. tonya cinnamon

    sends you hugs .. YOU ROCK!
    just wanted to also say, since i have no clue if this is even an option.since this is for the back , have no clue if they do this for other areas.
    but my sis gets a surgery done where they burn the nerves in her back , have no clue what its called. its done 1 x a year. but the gist is where she got into a huge car wreck shes on pain meds which she hates but this surgery allows her to move a bit easier.to be able to catch her breath.
    The nerves do grow back but she says it works for the most part and shes happy with that.
    hugs to you!!!!

  6. di

    This post makes me sad. Four years is just so long a period of time for you to have dealt with this.
    I know the Torturer hurt you and I’m sorry. Sometimes others hurt us unknowingly so at the time but they’ve just never learned to to say, “I’m sorry”. Men especially. I hope he reads this and truly sees the depth of the pain he’s caused you and at the least can say…. ‘I’m sorry”. He needs to do that.
    Take care of not only the outer you, but the inner you as well, Suzanne.

  7. Kristan

    Ditto what Pseudo said.
    Also: “Let that be a reminder to all of us, we really don’t know what anyone else is dealing with in their life, do we?”
    Brilliant, and so true.

  8. Sandi

    I love you Suzanne. I can’t wait to see you in NY. I have been thinking about you all week long. Call me when you can.

  9. Neil

    The fact that you can be such a fun, funny, and uplifting woman, who is always there for others, despite your own physical pain, says so much about you.

  10. Kelly

    You’ve been through so much. That saddens me. At the same time, I think the accident led you to writing 24. It led to thousands of people getting to see your beautiful photos. I know none of that makes up for the pain you endure but I wonder if sharing your life, love and joy this way isn’t exactly where you are supposed to be?

  11. Michelle Pixie

    I cannot even begin to express what you have given me with this post {as a matter of fact as soon as my husband get’s home I will be having him read this}… I am sure so much of this is what my little girl is going through only unable to put the words to it, you have given me so much insight! We do all we can for her adding another physical therapist to her case today and we also have a pain management specialist as well. Her prognosis is hopeful because she is so young. But Suzanne, you are an amazing inspirtation for us! Thank You!! XXOO

  12. LPC

    It’s huge to bear what you have born. My thoughts go out to you. Thank you for these posts.

  13. Rocky

    I’m so sorry about your accident and the pain. I’m also glad you’re alive to feel the pain, if that makes sense. Most of the times we get to make choices that affect our lives. Sometimes We don’t get to choose what happens to us, but we DO get to choose how we react. You’re doing great!
    p.s. this may be some thing you’ve already tried or considered, but have you ever thought about using a telescoping camera monopod to assist with carrying the weight of your camera?
    http://www.buy.com/prod/vanguard-aluminum-digital-camera-monopod-floor-standing-monopod-21-62/q/listingid/75035304/loc/111/206356251.html

  14. SoloAt30

    This post touched me in deep ways. We have a lot more in common than I would have guessed. My life changed forever 10 years when I got hit by a car while riding my bicycle. I have had chronic pain and insomnia everyday since. I tore my rotator cuff and had surgery two years later. I had bone bruises and muscle tears as well. Recovering emotionally and physically from this kind of trauma is a harrowing challenge, but we learn so much about ourselves and others in the process, don’t we? You have such a positive attitude and uplifting spirit that I admire. Thanks for sharing your story and bringing another dimension to your online persona.

  15. Tiffany

    The 24 I know is funny. The 24 I know makes everyone smile and laugh. The 24 I know has the warmest, kindest, heart and is loving to her friends and everyone she encounters. You are a beautiful person. You are an example and inspiration to all of us. The fact that you are such a great person while in constant pain is AMAZING. I wish I had just a little bit of your strength.

  16. Jack

    In my life I learned long ago that mental pain is far worse than the physical. There are ways to compensate, things we can do to get beyond that. But the mental stuff is harder- so that is not to downgrade or minimize your physical pain. That is real- but the loss of a friend is hard.
    Very sorry about that.

  17. Overflowing Brain (Katie)

    I could’ve written so much of this. Just swap right hand with head/left hand. And car accident with screwed up genes and it’s alarmingly similar.
    I’m truly sorry about the pain, but I am grateful to know that there are others, nearby, who understand things I’ve gone through, go through. I’m not sure if that’s of any consolation, but maybe it can be a silver lining somewhere on this 4th anniversary.

  18. Peeved Michelle

    I wonder if using one of those wired, remote shutter clicker button things would work for you. I clearly don’t know the name of it, but I have seen it used by studio photographers.

  19. Shay

    Your post breaks my heart for what you have gone through and what you will still go through. But, I think it’s wonderful that you’ve made the decision to still live your life aside of the side effects that will accompany that decsion. More power to you! and may you be blessed with releif somehow someday.

  20. Judi

    I agree with everyone, especially Rocky: “Sometimes We don’t get to choose what happens to us, but we DO get to choose how we react.”
    I have had just a taste of living with the pain levels you describe, and I thought I would go crazy from it. Those six weeks were hellish. I can’t imagine 4 years.
    Your strength is inspiring, your writing witty and insightful, and your photos stunningly beautiful. Thanks for sharing so much with us.

  21. Nancy P

    I sit in awe and amazement at your strength and determination.
    Big big hugs to you

  22. Sara

    I have never posted on your blog before, but read it daily. I cannot imagine what your life has truly been like since your accident but your writing and photos are amazing!!! You are an inspiration to us all! Thanks for sharing!

  23. Jane

    Wow, this post is really from your heart. It’s beautiful, just like you, inside and out. We’ve never met, but if I’m ever in SoCal, I’m calling you!
    I have a friend here in SLC who has a frozen shoulder, only the left side. She has begun seeing an acupuncturist (after years of futile attempts at western medicine) and it is really helping her. Just throwing that out there.
    I have a different take on why the Torturer broke ties with you, but it’s pretty dramatic. I’ll email you. It puts a whole different spin on things! (Happened to me with a friend.)
    Pain meds have a bad rep but they can be lifesavers when you need them so don’t feel guilty about taking them. Yes, they can make you “fuzzy-brained” but they let you breathe a little! I could not do what you do every single day. You’re a hero to a whole lot of people!

  24. Kati

    If I have a headache I’m a bitch. I have no idea how you can do what you do day after day. You are remarkable and such an inspiration. I hope it brings some comfort to know you have so many people out in the world who have your back.

  25. Poppy

    Too true, so many of us have ‘disabilities’ be they physical or mental that no one can easily pick up on. Makes me more compassionate to everyone realizing this.
    I am a new reader and had no idea you live with such pain. Kudos to you for carrying on, having your adventures.

  26. Lori

    A very honest beautiful post of where you are at right now. What a journey you have been through! You already know that I understand. Pain fricken sucks…bottom line…but I rejoice that it is NOT beating you…even though it kicks your ass at times…here’s a toast to another year of living your life, following your dreams and heart and not letting what has happened to you stop you from living life. I toast to you Suzanne! XX

  27. Christi

    You know what really bothers me? If you had not had the insurance/falling out with the torturer you would probably still be in his care. I wonder how much further along you’d be? Instead, losing him seems to have lost some of your spirit. You’ve given up on pt. It really bothers me, it’s just not right and it makes me sad. Life is a journey, this accident recovery has been a journey but that part of it seems to be a wrong turn.
    Maybe in time?

  28. unmitigated me (m.a.w.)

    Hang in there with the pain management. It took several tries, and two different doctors to find something that works for me. If you had told me a year ago, how much better I would be today, I’d never have believed it. A great pain doctor won’t run out of options until he finds something that works.

  29. VDog

    Hugs to you.
    I’m still limping on occasion and in pain most days from the whole #vdogsankle debacle, but I no longer have those outward signs that there’s something wrong. So I totally get the invisible disability thing. 🙁
    It sounds like you are making steady progress and have a great attitude about soldiering on.
    XO

  30. Linda Tustin

    Suzanne-You are an amazing woman and I am honored to know you. You inspire me. Thank you.

  31. shelley

    I saw your recent funny tweets about getting ready for BlogHer and out of curiousity clicked on your blog, which I’d never been to before. After laughing at your most recent post on BlogHer for the insecure, I went back in blog-post time, and found this post with your anniversary story. Your story and experience has both shaken and inspired me, particularly the reminder that we never do know the stories and experiences of those we meet on the street, or even of our co-workeres or friends oftentimes. I was inspired by your fight to do the things you love. Thanks for sharing

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