Tomorrow is the four year anniversary of my car accident.
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."
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