I can’t manage my back problems by myself anymore. My physical therapist stated the obvious as we were going through a pattern of exercises designed to stretch out my hip flexors and prevent them from over-rotating, which is one way my body compensates for its limited motion between my shoulders and my hips.
“You’ve done a fabulous job of staying fit and flexible,” he said, as he pushed his fingers around my hip bone and held the muscle in place while I slid my leg slowly up and down the table.
I turned on my left side and relaxed my right shoulder so he could reach under my shoulder blade and pin down the muscle under my scapula. I raised my arm from the elbow up and down, slowly, as if it were a new part of my anatomy I was testing. I started sweating as the muscle throbbed through the rotation.
“I’ve seen a lot of patients in much more pain who’ve had considerably less surgery. You’ve got a lot going on in that back, with all that hardware and the muscles that haven’t moved on their own for years. I think you’d benefit from being stretched out this way several times a week,” he said, burrowing his fist deeper into my shoulder. “You’re contracted across your upper back, and by having someone help you lengthen the muscles several times a week you can counteract that effect.”
I was silent, remembering the last time I had to rely on someone to help me with physical therapy. Before my first spine surgery, my mom and I got up early every morning to do a series of exercises intended to stave off the need for surgery. My mom handled it perfectly. She’d wake me up and we’d head to the den, with my mom clapping and singing all the way, like the only thing she had to do or wanted to do all day long was hold my feet and arms in various awkward positions while I twisted and turned, trying to strengthen the muscles on either side of my stubborn spine.
I’ve known this time would come. For the past several months I’ve had to lie down each afternoon to rest my burning muscles. At night it’s difficult to sleep when the nerves in my arms and legs tingle and my fingers and toes get numb. And I know it could be worse. I remember thinking before that second surgery that I’d be in a wheelchair by the time I was 40 if I didn’t do something drastic. The surgery was drastic, certainly, but since my recovery I’ve been able to resume most of my activities and Jazzercise without falling on my face or crying in agony. I’m much better off physically than I have any right to be.
All the same, it was a humbling afternoon when Jon, Bill and I met at therapy so Bill could learn how to work my hips and upper back. Jon stretched my left hip flexor, then showed Bill how to do it. Bill’s hands felt familiar, of course, but less certain than Jon’s.
I had to close my eyes and concentrate on the muscles Bill was holding, telling him to pin deeper, or higher, and I reminded myself that while I felt helpless, he was feeling the pressure to get it right. He had on his “Bucy face,” his look of greatest concentration. I named this look after a favorite, challenging law professor of ours twenty years ago. He wore that face every minute of her class, as if he thought that relaxing his jaw and eyebrows would make every bit of criminal law he’d retained magically disappear.
We’re embarking on a new era, one in which I’ll have to depend on him to help me manage this body, with all its frailties and kinks. Our plan is to try the exercises at night, and to look around for a massage table so that we won’t have to get on the floor to work out. I have a hard time getting up and down from the floor, and it’s easier for the therapist (or husband) to perform the maneuvers in a standing position.
I’ve talked with the boys and told them my back just isn’t as strong as it used to be. I might lie down more often in the afternoons, or need a bit more help around the house, particularly with lifting laundry and groceries. I explained to them that Daddy and I would be working on my back so I could stay strong, and that if they wanted to watch or to learn how to help with the exercises, I’d love it. I grew teary when I talked to them. I’m used to being the savior, not the saved.
Finn was sympathetic, hugging me, telling me it would be fine, pointing out all the activities I could do. Drew listened and reminded me that he loves to chop ingredients for dinner as long as he has a good knife. Porter assured me he’d still snuggle with me every morning while we listen to NPR.
And so this Flashback Friday, I’m looking back at our family as it was , and how we are now. And I’m wondering how the future will be. But I suppose that’s true for all of us.
Family Portrait 2000
Me and the guys, 2009
Me and my new therapist
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Well, I certainly had my share of pictures to choose from in addressing this week’s theme. In the end, I looked back at the year 1999 when it seemed like the boys were everywhere they weren’t supposed to be,
like playing in the potty. One minute Drew and Porter were fine, sitting on the floor eating dog food, and the next moment I heard a lot of flushing from the kitchen bathroom. Drew discovered the toilet first, then summoned Porter, who was reluctant to leave his snack. Once he and Blue Bunny ambled over, they agreed that the combination of swirly water and my hysterics were fine entertainment.
A couple of years later when we had our septic tank pumped, the Pickles (they have a monopoly on all the septic tank work around here) were amused to find not only the usual sludge, but also an assortment of Legos, dominoes and marbles in the tank. They also removed several pieces of heavy paper. I bet that if that hot Danny Messer from CSY:NY had been here to analyze those shards under the mass spec, he would have identified them as Finn’s missing baseball cards.
I like to take pictures that will remind me when I’m a grandmother (assuming the sex talk has been successful) that raising children was hard and messy. Here’s one of Porter.
I told Porter not to run down the driveway but toddlers ignore you– it’s to prepare you for when they are teenagers. His nose took ages to heal, but Blue Bunny was with him every moment.
I thought the bracelets added an especially stylish touch.
Thanks to all of you for your kind wishes about my back. As I told Finn earlier, I really shouldn’t complain. Anyone with this amount of hardware in her body ought to be hurting a lot more than I do, and I have far more good days than bad.
The MRI didn’t give us a clear diagnosis but I’ve been to physical therapy where Jon, who saw me through rehab after my 2004 surgery, attacked my problem with enthusiasm. He began by shoving his hand under my scapula and forcing me to turn my neck 270 degrees to the right,and followed that move with other contortions.
The session was quite successful in that it was so painful that I left feeling like maybe I didn’t hurt so bad after all, because Jon certainly proved that I could hurt much worse.
Additionally, it’s a sunny afternoon, we have about 24 hours before tornadoes come through, and I have a decent stock of Tanqueray, tonic and limes. I believe I’ll pull out an unbroken wedding glass and toast the rest of my body for hanging in there.
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I got a magic set for Christmas in1977. I adored it, and practiced making a red furry ball disappear into a yellow cup until I was ready to present my act to the family. It was a huge hit, too. No one could guess where the ball had gone. Years later my mom pointed out that no one was watching the actual tricks; they were watching to see when my mustache would fall off.
When I first found this picture I laughed at the mustache, too. Then I looked more closely and saw several items that I took for granted back then, but which have since attained special meaning.
My mom brought the two black cocktail tables back from Korea. The tops are a swirly design constructed of Korean coins. When we were small Aunt Su and I would turn the tables on their sides and pretend they were a space ship. Today those same tables are in my house, and my boys are just as fascinated my the foreign coins as I was.
You can see a tiny picture on the bookshelf above my hand. It’s a picture of me and my sisters. My mom was always dressing us up in pastel dresses and putting ribbons in our hair and taking us to get our pictures made.
As the years go by I’ll be wearing a dress in one picture, and Su will wear it in one taken a couple of years later, and Lulu would wear it yet again. Riding to Olan Mills studio without getting wrinkled was a nuisance at the time. Once we ran out of gas on the way back and my sisters and I cried in the back seat of the pea-green Chrysler while my mom flagged down a good Samaritan.
Today my sisters and I have these pictures displayed prominently in our homes, a reminder of our shared past and the solidarity we’ve built over the years, especially since my mom passed away.
The chair in the background has been recovered many times, most recently in a cream chenille with tan spots. If I’d done it it would have turned out Elvis-jungle-room wild. My mom chose the fabric, though, so it’s tasteful.
The night before my mom went to the hospital to have her cancer surgery, I took Drew and Porter to her house and we hung out with Mom and Lulu, who had flown into town. Mom always sat in that chair, and she did so that night. We talked and watched the twins play. Although the doctor had drained a lot of fluid from her abdomen the previous Friday, by Monday night she was swollen again and sat sideways in the chair, obviously uncomfortable, yet happy to be surrounded by her family.
I’ve always believed that she knew she wasn’t going to make it out of the hospital.
It’s odd how you can take a glimpse into your past and see clues to your future– a picture, a chair– but you have to live those moments to understand the clues and their meaning. There’s no magic set to help you skip the process of living the tragic parts. Fortunately, you must live the happy moments as well.
That Monday night was a little bit of both.
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I was trying to explain Alabama to someone recently, and I told her, “In lots of places, it’s harder to find a snowflake than it is a Democrat.”
With few exceptions I leave politics out of this blog, so suffice it to say that while I shiver when it’s below 70 degrees inside or out, I love some snow and spend much of January through March praying for just a bit. A little or none is what we usually get down here.
I come by my love of snow honestly. I have a faint recollection of it snowing when I was about five, and my mom dragging me outside to teach me a few things. First she patted out a snowman. We had barely an inch of snow on the ground. My mom shaped the snow into two tiny balls and placed one on top of the other, but there were so many pine needles sticking every which way out of the snow that it looked more like a porcupine. My mom was really proud of it and got out the Polaroid and I would kill to have a picture of that porcupine snowman today.
(I don’t tell this part of the story out loud very often because I say “porky-pine” and Bill feels compelled to interrupt and say it’s “por-cue-pine,” and a beautiful childhood memory inevitably ends in marital discord.)
My mom wasn’t through. Next she showed me how to make two flavors of snow ice cream: the lemon kind where you got a bowl of snow and squeezed a lemon and sprinkled some sugar on top, and the syrup kind, where you mixed snow and syrup. They were both delicious and I thought we should serve them at my birthday party.
Surely there was another snow or two in my childhood, but the next one I can document for sure occurred in 1990 or so in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. Bill and I were in law school. I’d arrived at law school with long hair, but when Bill and I broke up one time I drove to Birmingham and got it cut short. Compared to today’s styles it doesn’t look very short (in fact it looks quite bouffant) but it was oh so daring at the time. More importantly, either the haircut or my sparkling personality lured Bill back.
I got the gold hoop earrings in Turkey and a friend of a friend stole them. I sure would like them back– they’re real gold and I bargained for them myself at the Grand Bazaar.
This picture serves two purposes. It proves the presence of snow in Tuscaloosa, and it establishes that the 80’s actually extended well into the 90’s, at least as far as fashion was concerned.
Few events have been as exciting as The Blizzard of ’93. It was a Friday in March, and there were rumors of a winter storm, but we were skeptical. I went to the store and purchased wine, fresh Parmesan and rosemary, and rum. Late that evening the sky turned green and it thundered and lightninged and started to snow. The power went out. The next morning, we woke to over a foot of snow.
It was days before anyone could get around, and the temperature hovered around 25 degrees. We tacked sheets over the window and doors and hunkered down in the den by the fireplace, our sole source of heat. Bill cut down a tree in the back yard and we hauled it into the basement so it could dry out a bit. Then he sawed it into logs which we brought upstairs so we could cook and stay warm.
We made grits for breakfast, cheese grits for lunch, and grits topped with garlic, Parmesan and rosemary for dinner.
After a day and a half we’d burned the tree and all the sticks we were able to find beneath the snow. The previous occupants had left some ugly furniture in the basement and Bill cut that into firewood. I have a sexy picture of him wearing only long underwear, sawing a chest into pieces, but I’m trying to respect his boundaries so I’m posting this picture instead.
We had to wait a long time before we saw any more snow, and then it was fleeting. In 2000 we got about half an inch. All three boys had come along. Ever optimistic, I’d bought sleds one August so I’d be super prepared.
I realize no one looks very happy in this picture (you do know you can click on most of these pictures to make them larger, don’t you?), but the reality was even worse. Both Porter (clutching Naked Baby) and Drew were gushing snot and were not interested at all in the snow. Finn rode the sled with Bill a few times, then came inside and fell to the floor crying from exhaustion. I put everyone in bed for a nap and watched the snow melt. I cried, too, because I hadn’t gotten the chance to make the boys any snow ice cream and I was afraid that what with global warming and all I had missed my chance.
Last year we got a decent half day of snow when we were down in Gold Hill, and I wrote about it here. We did it up- snowballs, ice cream, the whole shebang.
And then last weekend, we got my favorite kind of snow. No weather people hinted about it days in advance, only to dash our hopes with two flakes and a grocery store fresh out of milk.
This snow crept up on us all of a sudden, and we woke Sunday morning to covered ground and big fat snowflakes and a good five inches of outdoor fun.
It was exactly what I needed, and now I’m ready for spring.
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