On caregivers, faith, family, and writing…

Published in the Rains County Leader on September 4, 2018:

Physical therapy 2I tried to think of a topic other than my health for my column this week, but there’s little else going on in my life right now. I’m almost three weeks post-surgery, and the worst of the initial trauma has past. Over-the-counter pain meds and a gel cold pack take care of most of the pain, and physical therapy has settled into a manageable routine. It’s still painful and hard work, but I’m making progress, and I’ve cancelled the contract on my therapist. Still, I have almost four weeks until my next appointment with my doctor when he will hopefully release me from my sling, and the little inconveniences of having my dominant hand bound up are driving me crazy.

Have you ever tried to blow your nose with one hand? How about cleaning your glasses or cutting a pork chop or washing both sides of your hand? It’s also next to impossible for me to write legibly with my left hand, and since I had several books to sign, I asked Paul during our second therapy session about just how restricted I was. He said I could use my fingers and even bend my elbow as long as I didn’t make any unsupported movements with my shoulder or lift anything with that arm. With my new freedom, I have been able use a tissue or a bar of soap, and I can do a passable job of wiping my lenses. I still have trouble with a table knife, but I simply ask David for help or treat my entrée like finger food. As I’ve told several people who have commented on how well I manage to feed myself under the circumstances, my methods are effective but not always pretty. In spite of my successes, there are still obstacles to overcome – especially when it comes to getting dressed.

I knew beforehand that putting on jeans with one hand would be anywhere from difficult to mission impossible, so I went shopping and bought a couple of pairs of elastic waist pants at the Good Samaritan Thrift Store. Unfortunately, there is no fitting room, and when I tried them on at home, I discovered that the elastic was so strong that they were harder to pull up than my tightest pair of jeans, so I looked for alternatives. The first several days of my recovery, I wore sweat pants. I even wore them to the Senior Center and to the office a couple of times, but I wasn’t really comfortable. I dug through my closet and found a pair of elastic waist pants I had received as hand-me-downs that I had forgotten. Those worked for a couple of days, and then I turned my attention to my collection of jeans.

By using my right hand to hold one side of the waistband in place – with no pressure, of course – I managed to fasten them and thus become independent when it comes to dressing myself. However, performing the one-handed maneuver in my own bedroom where I know I have David as backup in case of problems is quite different from doing the same thing in a public restroom with a line outside the door. I am just grateful that I don’t tuck my shirts in so no one knows if that last button isn’t quite secure or the belt buckle is loose.

Speaking of buckles, I haven’t quite conquered the sling either. It’s a complicated piece of equipment with a “block” that rests against my diaphragm and is held in place by a strap that wraps around my back. The sling itself attaches to the front of the block with Velcro so the arm is held about four inches away from my body. It’s held in place by a strap that passes around the back of my injured shoulder and over the top of the other shoulder.

This model is apparently a one-size-fits-all, ranging from my size to double or more, so in order for it to fit snugly, the waist strap is completely doubled back on itself. By leaning at just the right angle, I can catch hold of the loose strap, pull it around my back, and clip it in place. The shoulder strap is a little easier to secure since it attaches higher up, but it is also a double strap with a double clip that fit with the two clips on the sling, one in front of my wrist and one behind. Even though it’s a little awkward, I can usually fasten those, too. The problem comes in when I lean back and feel a lump along the length of one strap or the other.

“David, I need help,” I’ll say. “I think I’m twisted.”

He usually has a smart comment about that, but since he always straightens it out for me, and since he’s always there when I need him, I let him get away with it.

There are lots of other little things that drive me crazy, but they say that what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. If that’s true, by the time this is over, I should be an Amazon. Besides, if it weren’t for all these inconveniences, what would I write about?




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