True 21st Century Heroes

After having lived what, in hindsight, was an insanely healthy life across my first 61 years I was ill-prepared when aging finally caught up with me.  Sadly, I had come to take good health for granted and, as such, was not at all ready to deal with what was headed my way.  Oh sure, I dealt with the usual things like very infrequent bouts of flu, occasional food poisoning, sore/stiff muscles from overdoing efforts and similar but really I was very healthy.  Nothing every knocked me down for long; in fact, the worst physical health issues I endured were my annual bouts with hay fever.  I really struggled with these as a child and not until my 35th birthday did the affliction suddenly disappear; surprisingly, this coincided with the remission of what I came to understand had been chronic depression.  I can only speculate I must have undergone some biochemical shift at that time, probably age related, and whatever allowed me to ‘outgrow’ the hay fever also caused the depression to slowly disappear.

But, as followers of this blog know, March of 2015 brought about a silly accident which had a huge impact on my physical and mental states of existence.  Stuffing my boot laces into my boots rather than tying them caused me to manage to catch one short length of exposed lace on the left boot around an eyelet on the right and brought me crashing down upon the black top in front of the Talkeetna PO.  This resulted in a severely fractured left radius and ulna ultimately requiring orthopedic surgery and the equivalent of an artificial elbow along with a plate and six bone screws.  But I’ve blogged about this earlier on and is not why I’m writing this today.

Rather, I’m writing about my recent experience with having all four wisdom teeth removed.  Again, I’ve had almost no previous dental issues having inherited Mom’s incredibly hard teeth.  I’ve only dealt with six cavities across my life one of which required a root canal (my fault).  So when I started feeling some pain well back in my mouth in late August I at first ignored said pain.  It mainly appeared only briefly and then disappeared for weeks so I wasn’t worried.  Yet, by mid-October, the pain was becoming more noticeable and beginning to impact my eating so I scheduled an appointment at the Sunshine Clinic is early November.  There I learned my wisdom teeth needed to be extracted with the first two scheduled for December 28th which was the earliest opening.  Said appointment went fine and I was fully recovered within four days.  The next appointment for the last two was January 18th but ‘Mr. Murphy’ had other plans as I came down with a bad case of food poisoning the evening of January 17th and cancelled my next day appointment.  The next opening was March 8th and that almost seven week period was an incredibly long time to wait.  Both teeth gave me regular pain but the lower wisdom tooth was very temperature sensitive and forced me to eat and drink nothing cooler than maybe 80°F unless I wanted to deal with sharp stabbing pain.  It produced almost continual low grade pain which was with me day and night.

Come March 8th I was so ready for the procedure; once again, both teeth were removed with no issues and now – two days later – I am feeling no pain nor suffering any related issues to the removals.  But I have noticed something which still amazes me no end; I can hardly measure the joy I feel now that the wisdom teeth are history!  I awoke the morning of March 9th feeling better than I could ever remember feeling; at first I wondered why but very soon understood it was because I hadn’t slept – and awakened – with that same low grade dental pain I’d endured across the previous seven weeks!  This has carried over into today as I still feel so very good.  And, these realizations started me thinking regarding the human body and pain.

It still boggles my mind just how amazingly well the human body can manage pain!!  Granted, my dental based pain was hardly extreme – on the well-known pain scale of 0 to 10 I’d say it averaged maybe a 3 with infrequent jumps to maybe a 6 – but it was almost continuous.  In hindsight I believe I stopped being ‘aware’ of its continual nature a few weeks into that stage although when I accidentally bit down wrong the resultant pain would make me see stars.  Yet I continued to function about ‘normal’ for me with the exception of eating/drinking only ‘warm’ substances.  But now, with those nasty teeth gone for two days, I can start to appreciate just how wearing that continual pain must have been upon me.  I feel twenty years younger now and have a whole new, incredibly positive outlook on life!  That’s saying quite a lot given I’m still dealing with fallout from the aforementioned left elbow ‘incident’.

But it also made me ponder all those poor souls out there for whom daily pain that would make my dental issues seem like a walk in the park is their ‘norm’.  How do such brave beings find the strength, and more importantly, the perspective to get on with life?  Do their bodies manage to conceal or otherwise mitigate a large portion of their pain?  We’ve all known people who suffer from chronic pain; after enduring the tiny bit I did I cannot imagine how such noble souls can face each new day!  My brief experience highlighted just how wearing and grinding daily pain can be; it saps one’s energy, destroys one’s optimism and is always there with its slow, steady drumbeat of torment.  And I dealt with my meager pain for less than two months; what must it be like to endure such constant torture for years let alone a lifetime?  Even if their bodies are capable of greatly mitigating such misery how do they find the energy and the perspective to endure; let alone do so with dignity and grace?

These are questions I cannot answer and I recognize this is good because it means I’ve never experienced such circumstances.  But I also now understand such individuals are indeed heroes…heroes who walk among us daily.  Noble beings whom endure and, indeed, even aspire to greater heights despite being drained and crushed by daily torment.  In a time seemingly bereft of role models I believe such beings more than qualify for that title; they shine forth as amazing examples of the human will!  So the next time you cut your finger or wrench your back or struggle with a hacking cough and feel like you cannot handle it any longer remember those who live with intense misery day in and day out.  You know you will eventually heal but those amazing souls who live with daily pain have no such luxury yet they persevere and even rise above…  Truer heroes I cannot imagine!

With Age Comes Introspection…

Across the past few weeks I’ve had more than enough time on my hands as I continue to heal from my severely fractured left radius and ulna and restrain myself from undertaking much in terms of physical activities per my OT Jen. It has been almost ten weeks since that cloudy and cool March day when a smallest of motions changed my current existence and set me off on a voyage of discovery once the pain was managed. In hindsight I now recognize I went through a number of ‘phases’ with the severe injury: initially it was extreme pain and hoping the arm was just wrenched or similar, then western medicine intervened and I learned I had broken my left arm although determining the severity had to wait – along with a cast and pain meds – until I drove myself the 65 miles or so to the Mat Su Regional Health Clinic, then the long wait to schedule a visit to the orthopedic surgeon followed by the crushing news I would need full surgery followed by the actual surgery. 

At this point I began the healing process; initially I was in ‘La La Land’ thanks to the Percocets but soon I realized I did not need them regularly but rather once in a while and the opiate fog slowly lifted. From time to time a solid dose of ethyl alcohol was substituted but for the most part I was focused on learning to get by with just my right arm. This required weeks of learning interspersed with moments of frustration and some rage at my inability to just ‘function’. When the cast was finally removed I began another phase; recovery with a lot of occupational therapy which is where I am currently. Jen is thrilled with my progress to date and feels I should regain 90% of my former range of motion and flexibility if not more. I may only have another few weeks of required ‘office’ therapy before I enter into the much longer phase of continued ‘home’ work on stretching and strengthening my left arm. 

During the last few weeks I’ve noticed a lot of introspection on my part; some driven no doubt by being bored with respect to getting out and doing things but some of this is based much deeper.Having led an injury free life to this point I was ill-prepared for the immediate shock of such a serious fall; in this case the shock was good as it allowed me to get back home before I had an inkling of the severity of the damage to my left arm. After learning of the nature of the insult and understanding I would require serious surgery I developed a sense of fear regarding my balance even though what caused me to trip would’ve tripped anyone. I suffered nightmares about falling for many weeks and I couldn’t even consider jumping while on any infirm surface like ice or wet snow. Since that time I’ve found myself unwilling to climb ladders or do anything that might put me in a position to fall. Soon this came to frustrate me as while I do not want to repeat such an accident I sure as Hell do not want to live in fear of doing so! And so it is I find myself profoundly changed by this one perhaps 3 second occurrence. I am continuing to force myself to ‘get up, dust myself off and get back on the horse’ and I’m seeing some success. 

But this accident really delivered a perspective shift with respect to the perhaps too cavalier outlook I had on living alone. Of course I’ve considered the ramifications in the past but once again I knew them only from an intellectual level; this event brought in the emotional and now spiritual perspectives. And this has caused some deep introspection on my part. I cannot see any change to my existence and I really do not want any; I truly enjoy living solo with my canine companions and I love living in semi-rural south central Alaska! But because I’m a thoughtful being I cannot escape the need to reflect upon not just my situation but what I have missed out on in taking this path. It is almost as though the emotional and spiritual shock from the accident were initially buried as my body sought to come to terms with the injury and then heal it. But I could only bury these powerful motivations for so long and now they have exploded into my consciousness with the force of a moose bursting from a tree line. As such I have no choice but to indulge them regardless of where they take me. 

I’ve come to appreciate that life is tenuous; that it can be robust and full at one point yet changed forever in the blink of an eye. I really reinforced my slowly evolving outlook of the past decade that I am aging and with that age comes an awareness of one’s mortality both in remaining years but also in one’s physical condition. I have faced this realization and decided that I must heed to its basic premise but I must also push against its constraints but do so in a sensible and controlled fashion. In hindsight I should long ago have really learned that one instance can change one’s life; sometimes for the good but also sometimes for the bad. The real importance here is not the actual instance or event but rather how we choose to respond to said instance or event. Even at the older age of sixty one and two thirds years it is possible to take a very negative event (my accident) and experience the pain, the frustration, the desperation yet never lose sight of the positives. Sure, I will never regain the $48,000 that three second error in judgment cost me and my left arm will never fully recover; in addition I know I’ll have some psychic scarring which may or may not heal but the latter is up to me. 

And what positives can I glean from such a tumultuous event..? I learned I can tolerate extreme pain for more than a day yet still function. All of the health care professionals I met during this event marveled that I managed to go 28 hours without pain meds given the severity of the accident. I learned that I was ill-equipped to manage daily life on my own if I was crippled by some physical shortcoming. This led to me re-thinking some of my situation; I realized that if I had broken a leg or ankle I would be in deep kimchee because all the bedrooms are on the second floor and because my house is a renovated and ‘add on’ cabin the stairs are both narrow and very steep. A simple solution was the purchase of a portable inflatable bed for storage on the main floor. Should I ever manage to break a leg or ankle I’ll still have a place to sleep on the main floor and be able to forgo the steps for some time. But I believe the most important positives have come from my introspection’s regarding myself and my place in life. I’ve lost that ‘oh so common’ feeling that life is something that just happens and is ‘owed’ to we humans. Now I recognize the precious nature of life in general and my physical health in particular; I both suspect and hope I will never again take these for granted. In a way I now view my existence with clearer sight as I am no longer ‘clouded’ by the care free belief that I am invincible and the perception that hugely upsetting events cannot happen to me. 

I’d say my life is indeed now richer for this experience and I also view it as more precious and better understand its tenuous nature. Although I’d have not believed it prior to this situation the introduction of a monumentally negative event in my life has actually allowed me to better perceive life and appreciate it in all its fragility and wonder.