One misstep can change your whole life. I found that out in a parking lot, where the distance between meter and tire stop was closer than I thought. I went to put my credit card into the meter, and lost my balance as I stepped on the edge of the berm, shattering my elbow and doing a face plant on the asphalt. My orthopedic surgeon told me I was in his top 5 of worst elbow injuries, and elbows are his specialty. I had surgery the following week: Repairing 8+ fractures with bone grafts, 20 titanium screws and a 4″ titanium plate. My resistance to and “coping” with the pain is exhausting. I’ve experienced pain before, but nothing like this. It is more intense than any pain I’ve ever felt. Medication helps, but it doesn’t take the pain away completely. My teacher and friend Steve James gave me practices to try for the pain, and I’ve been doing them for a few minutes at a time throughout the day.
- You can ride the contour of the sensation, verbally saying the word ‘flow’ as you pay attention to the shifting and changing nature of the sensation.
- You can notice the expansion and contraction of the sensation (felt often as pulsing/throbbing) and verbally say ‘expansion’ or ‘contraction’.
- You can taste the flavor of the sensation, paying attention to the raw feeling itself and verbally saying ‘touch’ or ‘feel’.
- You can also focus away from the pain by noticing any part of the body that is restful and verbally label it ‘rest’. This tends to create a sense of space in the experience, which reduces the pressing invasive nature of the pain.
When you are in a world of pain, you begin to notice and make distinctions. I noticed that the pain was not constant–it ebbed and flowed at different rates. During the most intense pain, the wavelength felt more rapid and uneven. Nor was the quality of the pain always the same. I began to notice some of the different ways pain revealed itself:
- Dull and achy in a deep bass note way
- Piercing and uneven like shards of glass
- Itchy and tingling
- Numbness (this seems like the antithesis of pain, but to me it was just a different quality)
- Pins and needles, as in many small pin-dots of pain
- Bitter, acrid–actually leaving bad taste in my mouth
- Crushing, breath robbing
The hardest practice for me has been noticing any part of the body that is restful. The constant barrage of thoughts and feelings about the accident, the surgery–including the pain, and its consequences, intrude and hijack my ability to find any restfulness. I felt betrayed by my body, which literally let me down and couldn’t keep me upright. I struggled with a deep sense of loss. Grief. Anger. So many plans for the year <poof> had to be cancelled. All kinds of feelings, thoughts, beliefs have come up since the accident, and have spawned a litany of inquiry.
- I’m not the same. Well, nothing’s ever the same, is it? No matter what I do, life keeps happening, differently. And even if it did happen always the same, I am not the person I was 2 years ago, two months ago, or even 2 hours ago.
- Nothing’s going to improve/change. Well, I don’t really know that, do I? Not yet. It’s been almost 6 weeks since my surgery, and I’ve counted the incremental changes. Some of them good. For example, when my sister Elisa came here to help me, we reconnected and renewed our relationship through honesty, kindness, caring, and generosity.
- I have limitations. Yes, I do. So what? Everything has limitations, even nature.
- I am not myself. Who do I think I am, anyway? And who is it that’s saying “I am not myself.”? I am here, I am happening right now. Can I be with that? Can I just rest in this place?
- I am less alive. Well, here I am so I am alive. It’s true my energy feels vaguely constrained, more inner directed than outwardly so. But guess what? Somebody’s doing that and that somebody is me.
- The big “so what” of my Art. The doctor tells me I likely won’t be throwing anything on the wheel in the foreseeable future. What does that mean for me? Shall I set up my studio to paint and give up on ceramics?
- I am closer to death. This is a big one. I’ve been wading into these waters since my parents died, and have different priorities now. How close am I? Why am I here? If I died tomorrow, would I be complete?
This, like all of life, is a work-in-progress. I expected to get better each day, but I have bad days or weeks. As my teacher and friend, Michaela, wisely told me, healing is nonlinear. I feel certain that more is unraveling in store for me. In the meantime, I focus on healing.