Tuesday, March 10, 2020


I saw my first red-winged blackbird of the season yesterday, a sure sign of spring!  "Our" pileated woodpecker has been back a couple of times, too.  We have not seen "our" deer in just over two weeks, although we have not been home often enough to really know what's in our yard.  There's been a fair amount of rain and the creek is high. 

The past two weeks have gone by in a blur.  On Monday, February 24, my brother Bill (the brother with the large (8.3 cm) aneurysm) decided that he would pick up some pastry from a good bakery there in Grayling and drive down to see me and to "help" during my recovery.   As always, I asked him not to drive the 100 miles; he will be 80 in a month or so, and is not in good health, so I am not comfortable with his driving long distances.   (I'm inserting this background info because I need to tell it to SOMEone, and, as you will see, it would be rude to say "I told you so" to my brother, but there it is!)

Bill was nearly to my area when his car went off the road, across several lanes of two freeways and a medium, and wrecked his car.  There were no witnesses, but it is possible that he was going too fast, or that he blew a tire, since the body shop said his right front tire was "exploded."   The State Police thought speed was the more likely explanation, but they did not give him a ticket.  When the car finally came to rest, someone passing by called 911, and Bill called me.  He was taken to a hospital near our home where they discovered that he broke and shattered 3 vertebrae in his back, L3, L4 and T13.  (It took them nearly a week to figure out that he also had an aneurysm, which did not impress me much.)

I had been home for a few weeks by then, leaving only for one doctor's appointment, and resting much of each day.  And so my first post-surgical outing was to the local hospital, where I spent 12 hours a day for the next two weeks.   Jack spent nearly as much time as I did, so life got a little topsy turvy.  We never got those pastries.  :(

My brother is a stubborn old man, for sure, but he is also definitely a rock star.  He argued with the hospital staff, with me as his advocate, to bypass the usual brace and months-long healing period and to opt for a fairly new (around here) procedure where they inject glue into the vertebrae to harden them and skip much of the healing process that has to take place before they can order physical therapy.    The scheduled and then, just as he was to be wheeled down, cancelled the surgery, saying he was not stable enough and they were not convinced that he truly understood the level of risk he was facing.   He remained steadfast in his request and I argued for him, explaining that we actually understood the risk as well as the medical team since it had been over a year that he was told that he was unlikely to live another day.   He expained that his time line was not the same as the average person's, and that dying under anesthetic help no terror for him.  In his mind, it was a win-win situation, either the procedure would help, or else he would have a painless death.  The doctors took another week to have multiple teams come in and talk to him, but they finally performed the surgical procedure last Friday.   It involved full anesthesia, placing him on his stomach, and pounding hollow needles into each area that needed to be glued.    He not only survived, he was up and walking a couple of hours later.     He is not strong, he is not steady, he is not pain-free, but he is clearly not a quitter.

We moved him to a short term rehab facility this past weekend, the same day as the surgery, and he is working with therapists there.   We visit every day but no need to stay for the entire day anymore.  As soon as he is safe to walk around our house without another person acting as a spotter, and can use the bathroom himself, he will come home with us for additional out-patient physical therapy.  It is still his goal to return to his solitary life in a small town far from family or friends, but we will take that as it comes.  It will not surprise me a bit to see him reach his goal.    And, thank goodness, he has come to the conclusion on his own that he will not drive long distances again.

For my part, I was not really ready to be up all day with no chance to get comfortable, arguing with staff, hovering over my brother to be sure he had things (like water) that the staff sometimes neglected.  I was sore and cranky.   Ha, I AM sore and cranky.  But no ill effects as far as my physical healing is concerned.  

Yesterday I went to my surgeon's office for my 6 week follow up and was told that I can take the brace off and leave it off 24 hours a day -- if I want to.   Most people report that they  need to use the brace from time to time to rest the shoulder, and I am quickly seeing the wisdom of that.   It has been off for a day and a half and the burning is sometimes pretty fierce.  I will be starting my own physical therapy as soon as I can schedule it, and in the meantime, I am doing the exercises I used to do before the surgery.   My physician's assistant told me that I can now use my surgical arm to feed myself, to wash my hair, to take care of my basic needs -- except, of course, that I can't.    The arm is still swollen and very weak.   I can only move it in any direction a couple of inches.   It hurts more now, and I know that the hurt is going to get worse in therapy, but I also know that it will get better, little by little.  Still no weights, and I am not allowed to carry anything heavier than my cell phone; I don't get to work on strengthening my muscles for at least another month.

So there's all the  news.   Hopefully my brother and I will both continue to improve and be ready for new adventures by summer.   Bill has a goal of fly fishing at the end of May, and I certainly hope he  makes it.   My goal is perhaps simpler, just to be able to sleep comfortably in my own bed again.   We both need to be patient in the meantime.

Just as with every other year, this has seemed like a long winter.  But  I noticed just today that it was still bright outside at dinner time.  The days are getting a bit longer, and that helps to lift everyone's spirits.  And I saw my first peek at Spring right outside our front doorway.

We are hoping to continue with baby steps toward sunnier days.  There are always worries and challenges, and sometimes the pain seems to outweigh the joy, but life is good.   


Barbara said...

Oh my goodness. Well I’m really sorry about your brother’s accident. From your description, it sounds as if he’s lucky he wasn’t killed. Geez. That was the last thing you needed right now. I’m glad to hear your shoulder is coming along. Hard to be patient.

Marie Louise said...

What a turbulent few weeks you have had. Your brother may count his blessings with you as his help in this times.
I am sorry to hear that you still suffer so much discomfort after your operation.
Here we are looking forward to spring also, but it still feels like fall with all the wind and rain