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By on August 24, 2020 in Uncategorized with 0 Comments

The recovery

Susan makes her first outing to greet and groom her horse Stella, who’s  been furloughed from her accustomed trail rides for the summer. Photos by Mike Irwin

Finding meaning as the healing begins

By Susan Lagsdin

(In the August issue, I described how on a perfect day for a horseback ride in the Methow, I was kicked by my horse while clearing a trail. After on-the-spot treatment for several injures by first aid professionals, I was flown down to Wenatchee in a medical evacuation helicopter. In this second part of my story, I navigate the route to recovery.)

First came the fixes, two long operations over 11 hours at Central Washington Hospital. 

Surgery on the right thigh’s two breaks yielded a titanium rod down the center of the femur and a metal plate to bolster it. Surgery on the right shoulder gave me an elaborate screw-and-strap system to reconnect three scapula parts. Broken ribs? Cracked fibula? “They’ll heal on their own.” Torn left knee ligaments? “We’ll wait and see.” 

My memory of those five days was of long hallway ceilings en route to imaging facilities and operating rooms and being blissfully cocooned in bed with what I recall as profound — and as yet irretrievable — thoughts. With medication and state-of-the-art comfort care I felt no pain and suffering at all. 

It was then that I firmed my resolve in two ways. 

First, I have always considered myself somewhat of a dilettante: passably creative, passably smart, an OK rider, an OK writer, a dabbler in history, a teller of jokes, a sketcher, a Jeopardy quick-draw. Here, I thought, is my time to shine! A project I can do really well! I’ll put all my time and energy into regaining mobility. I will become an expert in learning to move again. 

And I realized that this time in my life needed to have meaning. If I didn’t come out of this with something useful for myself or others, then it was pointless, and I don’t do pointless with the universe. (Thank you to anyone who resisted the urge to say, “This must have been part of some greater plan…”) 

The accident was too bad, the trade-offs too large, the rehabilitation time too difficult, and I’m unlikely to regain my prior agility or strength for a year, so I’d better discover or create some value. 

Surgery and recovery in the hospital was a blur. Rehabilitation at Regency Wenatchee Rehabilitation and Nursing Center was a long, slow slog. Starting at what I’ll call Ground Zero, all busted up and no place to go but up, the small daily breakthroughs over the next seven weeks were too numerous to write about. 

I went from prone to walking, from staples and bandages to healed skin, from immobile to scooting around, each progression applauded by my caregivers. And, in the course of my first-time-ever experience with hospitalization, I gave up three long-held attitudes: modesty, vanity and elder-care stereotypes.

Giving up modesty was humbling but never humiliating. For most of the time in recovery I was unable to walk or use my left shoulder and arm, but I frequently had to urinate. Excretion had become a vital issue and my mid-1950’s era modesty, from the first night at CWH, lasted about a minute. I was totally fine with external catheters, and later at Regency absorbent briefs — never called “diapers” — were managed by an ever-changing cast of cheerful caregivers. 

Wipe-ups at night often were done, for instance, by a bearded, linebacker-sized CNA (certified nursing assistant) with a soft voice and the efficiency of a NASCAR crewman. Another helper was a well-read, tall, lanky Lakota Sioux with gray ponytail and tattoos. I was totally in need of their tender care, attention I didn’t recognize as an infant but learned to value immensely.

For some, daily grooming is simple self-care, for some it’s the height of vanity. 

Hiking trips and sick days excepted, pre-accident I probably ranged within the norm. What I discovered in my seven weeks of confinement, with no visitors and an aversion to Zoom conferencing, was a refreshing lack of concern for my appearance. It. Just. Didn’t. Matter. 

A damp face cloth and a black plastic comb sufficed, my open-backed hospital gown was tres chic for weeks, and the occasional glimpse in a bathroom mirror from wheelchair height showed me the same unadorned Susan others saw all day every day. It was OK. Still is.

Granted, my bath aides did have some fun with a gift box of White Shoulders bath powder and a hair dryer toward the end of my stay. Eventually there was lipstick. OK, and toenail polish. But going 100 percent natural for all those weeks was affirming.

For me, the term “nursing home” has always been fraught with negative stereotypes. But I thrived at Regency. Lively conversations with caregivers, plenty of books to read, ubiquitous TV and my Kindle for movies and online Scrabble filled my days. 

I had a room with a view and nourishing meals, including memorable meatloaf and big crisp salads. Cards and calls were invaluable boosters. I luxuriated in not one but three naps a day. 

Granted, my positive report comes from being on an upswing (in therapy) rather than on a downglide (permanent residency). The long-term residents were presumably fighting other battles. 

But in the future I will look differently at people who have been invisible to me through my own ignorance or discomfort, at any white-haired woman dozing in a wheelchair or struggling to propel clumsy feet with a walker. She is me. Old Lives Matter.

Because our building, and each hallway, was on strict COVID quarantine, I could only leave my 16 by 20-foot room in transit to the therapy gym. 

State restrictions meant complete isolation from loved ones or any other residents. Friends sympathized, “Oh, you must be so lonely and bored.” Quite the contrary. I was deeply engrossed in my ongoing self-improvement project and I relished every indulgent hour of that solitude. 

Solo walks in her East Wenatchee neighborhood provide Susan a daily workout and complement several prescribed exercises from BioSports.

I was sent home from Regency after seven weeks when I was officially deemed able to bathe and dress myself and walk unassisted. The former went from extremely awkward to pretty easy in two days, the latter was thwarted by a surprisingly difficult disconnect — not just knowing but believing that my healed legs could bear weight.

My husband, Mike Irwin, rearranged furniture in our two-story house to create a cozy downstairs studio apartment for the two of us and our big poodle, and a builder put vertical grab bars in the bathroom (don’t go past 50 without ’em). We’ll live there until I can easily negotiate the staircase to the second-floor office, TV room, deck with hammock, better mattress. 

It’s a good incentive to move on from the halting half-step-with-help I use at this writing. 

The fractures of femur and shoulder were resolved by surgeons. Physical and occupational therapists got me upright and mobile. 

The third phase, my thrice-weekly outpatient therapy at Biosports, is even more serious business; Lyle and Carmen (shoulder team) and Joe and Emily (hydrotherapy for legs) are my final professionals before I’m on my own, and they are tough. 

But I’ve never been tested with adversity of any kind, so I’m intrigued by the challenge of gaining full mobility and range of motion. I’m all in. 100 percent. Bring it on.

Because I have plans. 

First small goals? Making my own ponytail (sounds simple; try it one-handed). I’d like to actually pull the weeds, not just point them out to Mike. I’d like to rise casually from a chair with no breathy “Umph!” I’d like to take the car to meet a friend, me in the driver’s seat.

It gets better, but maybe not ’til Spring: I want to ramble with the dog at the river, scrambling down dicey side paths. 

When I hear music, I want to move freely to it, partner or no, dance floor or no. 

And most of all (after thinking it through every which way, juggling passion and caution, countering cons with pros) I want once again to saddle up my good mare and ride unafraid down a familiar trail.

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