Trauma adds to trauma; resiliency is more challenging, messy, but possible with acceptance
(NOTE - I'm typing with a painful hand and some of these images may be disturbing and the grammar may be pathetic - but it's my blog :)
First teaching with one arm, 2 weeks 5 days post 5 hour surgery, 3 weeks post 1 hour surgery - 2 metal plates, wires, box of screws, ulnar nerve entrapment, 3 nights in a hospital. Rushing to move aside my little one on an overcrowded ski mountain - landing on cement snow. Arm disconnected - phantom arm. Face down, no movement of fingers - not connected - arm completely disconnected and held by skin. Henry - littlest - crying. Mommy - immobile yelling "HELP ME, HELP ME, HELP ME" at the same time saying "It's okay, mommy's okay Henry." Surreal horror. 10 minutes Ben, Ruby, and Jack arrived, ski instructor who could not help, ambassador who radioed ski patrol. 15 minutes for one ski patrol to come to the bunny hill - feeling of death. That same glossed over white blurriness I've felt in other near death shock traumas. Fight or flight - this was it.
Trying to splint my arm - "No, it's dislocated - it's broken..." "How do you know?" "I'm a physician, and it was at one point my arm, trust me." Ski patrol attempting to move arm, trying to splint it - "NO!!!!!! stop moving the arm - stabilize it in the place that it is in (ski patrol 101 from Williams College 2002 :). "HELP ME!!!!!!!!" The pain - excruciating.
"Can I hold your dangling arm while you get yourself up in your ski boots (on the icy, treacherous hill - she didn't say that) and walk to the snowmobile? Mind you - toboggan was with the snowmobile and a much more stabilizing method of transport (ski patrol 101 - Williams College :). No checking of spinal possible injuries, brief feeling of the neck (c-spine) and the shoulders. "Okay, but my arm - how do I hold on to the snowmobile?). There's just a driver and me - no one can hold me from behind."
"Place your dangling arm on your leg and hold the snowmobile with your good hand after hoisting yourself up onto the snowmobile while in shock and in ski boots on an icy mountain (that part is my exaggeration."
Fight or flight - need to get off the mountain - I'm not safe here - no one is here to help. I need to get off the mountain. Bumpy ride, bumpy, screaming in agony probably as more of distal humerus crumbled into pieces and became a further comminuted fracture. Finally ski patrol hut. Walk in. "I'm so hot, I'm so hot; I need these clothes off; I'm so thirsty, "owwwwww!" The room was getting blurry, foggy, that light - that death light I've experienced. Then the yelling "Amy, Amy, stay with me." "I'm so thirsty, I'm so hot." Clothes cut off me. More patrols involved at this point. An IV started, but no pain meds. "HELP ME!!!!!!! I can't feel my elbow, arm, I have no fingers, I'm losing my arm, I'm dying, help, where is help?" Vulnerability in front of your children - their scared eyes and protective anger at those who were not able to help.
EMS - pain meds (finally) - but even max dose of fentanyl 200ug and ketamine still in complete shock, in so much pain - no arm - no feeling - it's gone. There is much more to this story of the developments of the next 3 days including the one hour closed reduction surgery, pain management, and the 5 hour open reduction, internal fixation of the supracondylar distal humerus complete comminuted fracture. Long road. Bionic arm. 39 years old - 8 surgeries, multiple scars. I've learned over the years multiple coping skills and techniques - active exercising, nature walks, and more inactive hobbies such as knitting, painting, writing all with dominant left hand. A challenge, a loss, the permanence of knowing I would never be able to extend my arm fully again, the tingly feeling in the fingers and clear nerve entrapment praying it goes away, the feeling of the palm on fire the entire night and inability to sleep, the sheer pain of having titanium in your arm.
"Mommy - you'll heal - you'll get better - your arm will be better." There is no way to tell young children that sometimes things don't always get better and that change and adaptation is inevitable, challenging, and nearly paralyzing at times. "Yes, honey, mommy will be fine." "No, I'm not fine." The denial of the trauma, the grief of the injury, the pain of the injury, the impact on my life as a fervent yogi and left-handed dominant artist and knitter. The work to get to some normalcy. Flashing before me the months and months of bedrest with pregnancies, the near death experiences being pregnant with 5 children and losing them all - 2 little girls born living, then hemorrhaging twice nearly dying. The raging infection and illness after having Henry, the grief and loss of a uterus and the realization that my abdominal wall abnormally adhered to my bladder, uterus and that I was full of scar tissue. The grief of dealing with doctors who dismissed my ailments as part of PTSD trauma from a history of childhood sexual trauma and other traumas. Clearly everything is in the head, "look at the medications she's on. Just take some more Ativan." The months of regaining strength through surgeries, grief, but the cultivating of a support system and network of coping skills that I made work and that was individualized to each injury, each assault, each grievance, and each necessary adaptation.
This last trauma, the difficulty of seeing my children seeing their mother in pain and not being helped, my little sleep because of pain, and difficulty slowing down and accepting yet again another obstacle and set back, when this isn't a setback - this is a reality - this may require more surgeries, more pain, more interferences.
After all of this, I tried to envision how I could possibly teach a class just 3 weeks after major surgery and inability to put any weight or really move my left arm well, on "Being Whole: homeostasis through meditation, mindfulness, and yoga." I had been so thrown, traumatized physically and emotionally. A yogi - with a bionic arm. My love for inversions - to have the benefits to the parasympathetic system through these inversions. My love for arm balances - the careful breakdown of each yoga pose, the balance, and the strength has always helped me to heal and work through trauma - empowerment/balance/stability.I'm not going to lie - I'm struggling - left handed dominant (left hand is the shattered bionic arm) - coping skills lying in yoga poses, stability, balance, art - painting, drawing and repetitive movements such as knitting. This injury is a super challenge. The strong mom of three young children falling apart and vulnerability to so many. The struggle to get past the moments of seeing my phantom arm detached from my body and the shock. But, now, the hard part (typing for one - siri is hard to get used to in my generation!), the pain, the immobility, the finding skills and tools to make me whole and to restore homeostasis. I'm psyched to teach this winter study, and feel even more capable of identifying ways to be resilient and to cope and to accept. Self-compassion and self-acceptance.
My body needs a break from the fight or flight, survival, shock state driven strictly by an overpowered sympathetic nervous system. I need to slow down, allow myself to heal and get back to a homeostatic balance within my nervous system. The question is how - and that is what I will need to discover as many of us find ourselves in similar positions.