Monday, December 3, 2007

The Power of Touch

The brace has been off for a couple of weeks now, and I can see improvement every day. The one place on my back that gives me the most pain, as it has consistently since the accident, is not right in my spine as I would have expected. Instead, it's a few inches to the right, under my shoulder blade. It has been a stubborn and insistent kind of pain, not incapacitating but certainly annoying.

But a miracle worker has entered my life! Mary Lou Stanley, a Vancouver physiotherapist, has magic hands. At my Friday appointment she worked very gently on me, just giving light little pokes and prods to my back - I couldn't call it a massage, exactly. But after about 15 minutes of her touch, plus some breathing exercises, I sat up and could feel my back moving as I breathed. It was like that spot had been stuck all this time and had suddenly been freed!

Mary Lou is very experienced in the Feldenkrais method - a somewhat subtle and mysterious approach to movement. Whatever it is - it works! She also noticed some problems in my gait, and simply redirected me to walk from the hip - which is located more towards the centre of my body than the outside (who knew!!). Such a difference! I felt that I was moving with more fluidity and length, and could feel it right through my toes.

I have also been having cranio sacral treatments with Brenda Pulvermacher. I had experienced cranio a few times before my accident, and knew not to expect a lot of drama. Brenda's work is very subtle but surprisingly effective. Her aim is to help reduce the trauma to the tissues and bones. She has very warm hands, and simply (it seems to me) places them on various parts of my body and holds me for quite a long time. There is some breathing involved here too. What I realized the other day how much my body was responding to simply being held so gently and attentively.

It made me realize how abruptly I had been treated in the hospital. Of course the nurses face lots of pressure to be quick and deal with all their patients in an understaffed environment. But the best description of the way they handled me is efficient, not healing. Before the brace was put on I wasn't allowed to move at all, and required teams of nurses to turn me so I wouldn't get bedsores. It was like some sort of coordinated military manouever. The daily sponge baths felt like they were designed by some sort of efficiency expert - the fewest possible moves in the least amount of time. I remember my Mom held my hand quite a bit, which was very comforting. But comfort doesn't seem to be something the nurses have time to provide.

Aside from getting lots of positive touch, another element of my healing plan is taking Greens Plus. True, the experience of drinking it lives up to a description I heard the other day: "It's like licking the inside of a lawn mower." But it was suggested that I use it to help detoxify my poor liver that has been bombarded with medications of all kinds in the last three months. I was getting unaccountably irritable, just flying off the handle, and apparently that's one of the signs of a stressed liver. Anyways, B vitamins and milk thistle, here I come.

*Update* I've found the only way I can stomach the Greens Plus is in a smoothie with a banana and yogurt. It's just plain disgusting otherwise - cloyingly sweet. If it tasted like parsley I would be fine.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Getting Better All the Time (I Think...)

Last week the man of few words, Dr. C, said that I could take my brace off. Just like that! I asked if I should do it gradually, a few hours a day, and he said "No, just take it off. And you can do some physio if you want. Next!"

So the next day I took off the brace. The day after that I was so sore I put it back on. I did think that common sense would recognize that my muscles might be a little atrophied after 10 weeks in my glorified corset, but assumed that Dr. C., the great neurologist, might know what he was talking about. Oh well, I think he lost whatever interest he might have had in my case once it was clear that I was going to get better.

That's not to say I haven't been noticing some of the more subtle effects of the accident. My memory, for instance, has turned into a colander. I don't know if I can blame the medications, the bump on my head, or a possible case of early onset dementia! I know that stress and pain can affect memory as well, so I hope that it's just a matter of waiting a while longer.

Here's how bad it is: The other day I was dialing a phone number and, just for a second, I looked at the key pad to find the "-" that come after the area code. Arghhh! I laughed so much - what a blonde! But really, I can't remember names, words, why I walked into a room. I can do the New York Times crossword easily enough, so my long term memory is still there.

What I think is happening is that there's a threshold of information plus pain that I can handle. When one or the other gets to be too much, my brain shorts out. I'm still experiencing pain after walking or sitting for too long, or doing the vacuuming. It's not in my spine, like you might think, but on my right side. Interesting how pain works.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Travelling in a Brace

A weeek ago, I went to Austin, TX to attend the fantastic Maker Faire (more on that on the other blog.) Travelling in the brace is an interesting (and uncomfortable) experience. Just sitting down in general jams the chin support up onto my chin, even riding in a car is not too much fun.

So plane travel, with cramped seats and little legroom, wasn't looking too appealing. But what I was really worried about was getting through security without being stripsearched or tasered. I had read some pretty scary accounts of what has happened to people with a brace or prosthetic. Apparently regulations state that you can't be asked to remove an orthotic or prosthetic, but why would an underpaid, poorly trained security guard know or care?

It turned out that the staff in the Vancouver airport was baffled by the brace. I showed them a letter from my doctor, and the guard performed a pat down body search. Really wasn't too bad.

And the guard in Austin was lovely, very polite and respectful - she too gave me a complete pat down, but did tell me what she was doing as she went. So, my fears were unfounded.

The only snags were that I had requested an aisle seat and didn't get one except for the last leg of the return trip. The flight attendant suggested asking my fellow passengers if they would trade, but no one wanted to move. An older man who sat down next to me as I was squeezed into the middle seat said, "Gee that looks painful," but when I asked him if he wouldn't mind switching seats he said "Nah".

Oh well, I survived! And only a few weeks to go before the brace comes off - I am healing well!

Friday, October 12, 2007

No, Accidents Really Do Happen!

If you were to Google the title of this blog, the site that appears right above mine* is a quasi New Thought tract that suggests there are no such things as accidents, and that I caused my own fall due to some lapse of attention, lack of sleep or emotional disturbance. Sorry, guys, "The Secret" or not, I just don't believe in the "Laws of Attraction". If I had such powers I would have saved the planet by now.

I guess I'm one of those touchy sorts who takes offence at the suggestion that it was the powers of my mind that caused a cloth bag to suddenly thrust itself between the spokes of my front tire. But since I have the time to obsess over the details of the accident, I have considered why it happened when and where it did.

I didn't mention it before, but I have had one previous bike accident, a couple of years ago. I ended up with a Grade III separation of my right shoulder that has left me with some weakness, often resulting in fatigue and pain when I overwork the muscles. Now consider this - In this most recent accident, I was two blocks short of completing a ride that had taken me over the Second Narrows bridge and back again. I hate crossing that bridge - the path is narrow and traffic is disconcertingly close - so I focused and rode very carefully, gripping my handlebars tight. By the time I reached the intersection where I fell, my shoulder and back were aching. Perhaps it is possible that to relax the muscles I changed the position of my grip (the witness does say I seemed to swerve) causing the bag to tip into the wheel. Could the previous accident have been a factor in this much more serious one that just happened?

I have wondered why if people have been injured, they often have subsequent injuries in the same area of the body. If you were to subscribe to the wobbly thinking that suggests the powers of the mind attract what happens to us it might seem like we want to get hurt over and over again, but in this kind of case it is more likely that where there's a weakness, there's a greater chance of being re-injured in that same place.

*I won't link this, but the heading is Question of the Month.

Sunday, October 7, 2007

Putting Humpty Together Again

I now have a fake front tooth to fill the gap left by the one that was knocked out. No more hillbilly smiles! And new glasses as well, as the old pair broke in half in the accident. I even went and had my hair done, and in spite of being alarmingly blonde, received my step-daughter's seal of approval as looking younger and more stylish. Woo-hoo!

Still on the long and winding path of healing. A fair bit of anxiety and frustration - too much time to get philosophical. I had the thought that so many people say, upon hearing about the accident, that it could have been worse. Very true, but it occured to me that it could also have been better. I could have had a scraped knee, or injured nothing but my pride.

I mentioned this to my husband, who lost a leg in an accident when he was 15. (Yeah, what right do I have to moan about ANYTHING?) He agreed that he has spent many hours thinking about the fractions of a moment, or angle of movement, or inch one way or the other that could have made all the difference between the best and worst outcomes in his accident. I definitely have regrets, and blame myself for having the stupid bag on the handlebars. I need to forgive myself at some point.

I have flashbacks of the moment of falling, and the impact. They are not as disturbing now, but still make me wince. I use the technique of substituting a mental image of a "happy place" when the flashbacks happen - it helps me quite a bit. I am also working on breathing and meditation, but have found I need to loosen my brace for that, as it restricts my diaphragm so much. I had a massage last week, which was wonderful - relieved so much tension - and acupuncture this week. I am looking into cranio-scracral, which I have had in the past with some significant results, but the cost is quite steep, and not covered under Blue Cross.

And that's another worry. I am lucky to have extended health coverage through my husband's work, but it doesn't cover everything, and since I can't work myself, money is pretty tight. What on earth do people without extended health or disability plans do?

Practise gratitude, Heather. Practise gratitude.

P.S. I would like to mention my cat Britannia who has turmed out to be a good nurse through this healing thing. She regularly reminds me of the need for rest and and her warm and comforting presence enforces it if need be. It's no wonder that the many alien creatures on Doctor Who included a race of giant cats who were nurses.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

The Spinous Process (or The Long Slog)

Fast forward from Heather exiting the hospital 4 weeks ago to today. 4 weeks of rest, Demerol, good wishes from more friends than I knew I had (xox), a brace that is semi-excruciating, and enforced idleness. This last is hard to take - I, the lover of reading, knitting, sewing, etc. cannot bend my neck, and so am unable to do all these simple things that I never thought it took a neck to do. I have found that a kneeling position beside the bed, with a book or project propped up on the bed, allows me to read or knit for a half hour or so, until my knees get sore.

I am trying not too complain too much, but am probably crankier than usual just now because I have just returned from visiting the inscrutable Dr.C, who has informed me that I have kyphosis and scoliosis, it's probably not going to get much better from here, continue wearing the brace for another 2 months... next! (Now here I have to tell you that Dr.C's office is lavishly and eclectically decorated with every gift he has ever received from a grateful patient - ranging from Haida carvings to needlepoint to very nice oil paintings to a giant ball made with rubber bands. It certainly inspires awe if not confidence.)

I decided on the way home that I am going to ask my GP for a referral for a second opinion. I am not ready to accept that there's no more room for improvement. Unfortunately the waits to see an orthopedic specialist are up to six months long in this province.

Oh, and that spinous process bit. That's what broke in my neck, and in spite of a large gap between the broken off bit and the rest of the vertebra Dr. C says it's fine. Well, what do I know. I certainly have never received the princely gift of a giant ball of rubber bands for my healing abilities.

But I am having a massage later today, acupuncture next week, maybe I'll finally get the hang of the meditation thing... there's lots of good things I can do for myself still.

Friday, September 28, 2007


I think it was during the last week of August that I got my brace. I was quite excited because once I had the brace, mobility couldn't be far behind! The brace is a semi-benign torture devive. At first it was almost sexy in a X-Men superhero kind of way, but I soon tired of the sensation of a 40 lb Cheshire cat sleeping on my chest. But I complain too soon!

In all other provinces than B.C., orthotic braces are covered under the provincial health plan. In B.C., patients must purchase their own. My prescribed brace was $1400. Luckily, my husband has Extended Health coverage through work. I can't imagine what people who don't have the money do - maybe they have to spend 6-8 weeks of recovery time flat in bed with family members turning them every two hours. We may be getting the 2010 Winter Olympics but that does NOT mean we have a more highly evolved government. Who wants health care when you can have a party instead?

Anyways, after I was strapped in to the hard plastic corset that goes from hip to chin, a physiotherapist arrived to help me try walking. After lying flat for 2 weeks I was thrilled to try moving in a different plane. I practically fainted just coming to a sitting position. My first steps with the support of a walker and the therapist were quite panic inducing. I wobbled arond like a rag doll and gratefully returned to my bed after just a few steps. But Ian helped me try later in the afternoon, and I managed a few more steps, and after a couple of days was moving slowly, but confidently. Another big plus of this freedom was being able to use the toilet!

It appeared I had met the basic requirements for release! Able to walk, feed myself and perform basic bodily fuctions and I was ready for the world! I left the hospital for home on September 3.

(While writing this I thought I would look for an appropriate illustration and innocently Googled "neck and head brace". OMFG!! I had no idea that there are people out there who are into "recreational" uses of orthopedic braces! What a sheltered life I have led! Ohmygoodnessgollygosh!!) The picture I chose is by no means representative of what's out there.