Dying My Way
The Day After the U.S. Midterm Election

A TGB READER STORY: Practicing Patience

By Jane Seskin

I met up with a stroller in the lobby of a building, caught my foot on a wheel, twirled to stay erect, then fell to the floor.

My side a week later was a muted rainbow. I fractured a bone in my right wrist, was put in a cast ending below my elbow which hugged my thumb. I was told my hand would be immobilized for six to 10 weeks.

I didn’t realize in the moment the cast was applied to my dominant hand it would upend my life. Early on I knew I would need to inhale some of the skills I nurtured in others as a psychotherapist. My litany: be patient, acknowledge your feelings, allow yourself to be vulnerable, ask for help, practice self-compassion.

As an independent, type A senior single woman, I didn’t understand I would have to learn those lessons over and over again.

For the first week, I carry my arm around in a white sling. I’m apprehensive on the street. Feel vulnerable in crowds and by people walking toward me looking down at their screens. I’m nervous someone will bump into me and frequently call out: “Heads Up!”

A friend observes as we leave a movie that I’m listing to the right. At night I’m thinking pasta. I’m thinking sourdough bread and butter. Carbs - always a bad sign.

I cannot hold the ancient but still usable receiver from my landline, drink from a cup or mug (In restaurants: “May I please have my coffee in a takeout container?”), eat with a fork and knife, peel an orange or a hardboiled egg, apply lipstick, wash my face, brush my hair, carry a pocketbook, an umbrella, use my wallet or write with a pen.

I struggle to put my key in the door and then turn it to open. My everyday life has been compromised. I’m on leave from my Senior Aerobics class that has weekly energized me. My patience sits on a swing on a windy day and I am frequently seconds away from tears.

I’m frustrated opening a plastic bag of salad, cutting vegetables, unscrewing a jar of marinara sauce. I’m angry at my helplessness, tired from the efforts and sad to have to acknowledge - I am incapacitated.

In the third week I stop fighting the situation. Stopped being so angry with myself for feeling out of control. For being slow. I return to the scene of the accident, a large bustling lobby in a crowded shopping center. I pace up and down the marble floor where I fell. I’m grateful I didn’t crack open my head when I went down.

What I was living was my present experience. My moment in time. I began to answer “having a hard day,” if I was, when someone asked, “How’s it going?”

I have fleeting desires. I want to shop. I want to buy new clothes. I can’t get my arm through long-sleeve tee shirts and jackets. Putting on a coat requires major breathing and a little dance step. Can’t pull things over my head. I’m now wearing a diet of button down, snap-close shirts.

It takes additional time to get dressed in the morning. I often stop, just stand still. Count backwards from 100. Running shoes gone in favor of clogs and boots that have no laces to tie. The days are cold. My fingers chilled. I wear a sock on my hand and feel I will break into puppetry at the sight of a child.

Five weeks. I’m not in pain. There is an occasional feeling of heaviness in the hand, of throbbing in the wrist. I take no meds. Perhaps a cinnamon raisin walnut scone some afternoons with a cup of espresso.

To blunt the tedium I read murder mysteries and poetry, listen to Keith Jarrett, practice meditation and do my work which is engaging and stimulating. (This is an exploration for me and with clients on what it means to be hurt, to feel dependent, to ask for help. I reassure someone: “My arm is injured. My brain is intact.”)

Nine weeks. My cast comes off! I’m keenly aware this has been a transitory injury, a taste, a forewarning of frailties to come. I acknowledge the minefields in my day and will continue to make adjustments. I learn to practice patience.

* * *

[EDITORIAL NOTE: This feature, TGB Readers' Stories, appears every Tuesday. Anyone age 50 and older is welcome to submit a story. You can do that by clicking the “Contact” link at the top of every TGB page or at the Guidelines/Submissions page.

Please be sure to read and follow the guidelines before submitting a story. It will save me a lot of time.
]



Comments

Isn't it amazing how vital each part of the body is? We don't really appreciate that until we have to function without it.

Your time of patience was not wasted, Jane. If you are fortunate to live as long as I have you will need that virtue as the aging body starts to fail. I find that I am constantly having to compensate for another chore that my body refuses to accomplish on its own.

You would laugh if you saw how I have to pull on slacks now. It is a Mack Sennet comedy as I lay them on the floor and lift the reasonably good leg to insert into the opening; then comes the struggle of the leg that won't raise itself more than a couple of inches off the floor. As for socks - forget it. Without help, I go barefoot.

I empathized with your difficulties and you told it well. I especially liked the sock on your hand that makes you feel like you might break into puppetry. Good humor added t0 your litany of woes.

Good story about acceptance, adapting, waiting, getting through. PS If you are the same JS who wrote Young Widow, this fellow New Yorker sent you a note in the late 70s saying your heartfelt story inspired me to become a writer. You sent the loveliest note back. I've never forgotten your encouragement, thank you! (And if you're not the same JS, I still like your TGB story!)

Great read. Quite the ordeal, although the injury could have been so much worse. Relieved it wasn't. I'd be hard pressed to practice the necessary patience, since mine seems to be disappearing as I get older.

Your story : A wonderful teach/learning moment. May I add one more item? - Typing on the computer with one hand...

Thank you for so eloquently sharing your/my experience with being one-handed. And for sharing your positive self-talk points.

Your story is wise and moving and scary. When I was in my mid-20s I couldn't use my right hand for a week because of an infection, and found it terribly frustrating. The loss of various physical functions is the thing I find hardest about aging. I admire how you dealt with your temporary incapacity and will remember it when or if something like happens to me!

I too smiled at the puppet imagery. I can sympathize with your situation. Lost the use of my dominant shoulder due to a torn rotator cuff tear and you are right. It turns your world upside down. Getting dressed was my biggest pain. Hope you are brand new when the cast comes off. You will really appreciate all those simple things you were denied during recovery.

Thank you for this honest and profound exploration. Yes, a practice, patience under intense and in this case, lengthy circumstance.
In working with clay for thirty some years, there were a number of body issues, especially with my hands. At one point I was in a wrist/arm brace, unable to work for between 2 and 3 months. Having started meditation and psychotherapy, I was fortunate to at least know of some skills. Still, I wavered between self pity, anger, fear and frustration. My whole way of life was threatened! One day, feeling terribly low, I was walking with my dogs over the fields in a wet, dreary mist under dark skies. I stopped to watch a hawk low flying out of the woods. Not an uncommon occurrence, but something was triggered deep in me and I felt an incredibly strong lightening, a huge relief. Now, I know, this might sound la la, corny, whatever, but the hawk's flight, the whole day seemed to be giving me the knowing that I was here for far more than work, however creative and passionate and remunerative. An epiphany perhaps.

Can appreciate your personal encounter with practicing patience as you describe the challenges so well. I, too, often found needing to stress practicing patience a key recovery component for those I was providing rehab therapy. Then, circumstances resulted in my discovering first hand a need to “practice what I preach” — often “easier said than done”.

Of course my dominant right arm/hand was temporarily affected. Isn’t the dominant one, right or left, always the one incapacitated! I was reminded how I had sometimes kibitzed with friends that we should all develop bilateral skills — just in case we ever had need to use our opposite less-experienced hand. I, too, soon discovered my wardrobe’s inconvenience with mostly only pull-over tops, necessitated my acquiring a variety of shirts opening in the front.

I think the most awkward annoying problem I encountered was meeting my personal care bathroom needs. I wished a few years earlier, when I needed to install a new commode, that in addition to the tall one I purchased I had also chosen a bidet.

I understand Bill Gates has proposed reinventing the toilet to address sanitation concerns, so maybe he could incorporate, also, the height feature along with some sort of bidet for just such circumstances as we’ve encountered.

Whew-boy, what a struggle you had, and one which you capably wrote here that helped me follow right along with your emotions while performing various tasks or everyday needs-to-do.

Thanks for the feelings of frustration and revealing how humor was close at hand (no pun intended).

So glad you are able to write this up. I sent it to a friend who's been wearing a sling because of shoulder surgery. I know she'll be shaking her head Yes!

I shared your story on my Facebook page. I have three people who are near and dear to me, all undergoing some sort of recovery, and their feelings mirror your own.

Great story! I have often fleetingly thought how very difficult life would be with exactly that injury. Whew!
Question: Hair--washing, combing, styling? Very difficult, I would think.

I broke my right wrist in 1999(age 47) falling from a bicycle. The emergency room doctor made sure it was not domestic violence. I broke my left wrist in 2007, and the cast was removed after 6 weeks.
On a side note, my step mom wearing one inch high heels slipped on ice walking outside when she was in her seventies. She was visiting my brother and SIL at the time. Her dominant arm broke and fractured like cookie crumbs, she endured two surgeries. My SIL complained she had to wipe her MIL’s ass even though they have a live in housekeeper. My step mom gained 60% usage of her arm, she is 90 and hadn’t broken anything since her broken arm.

Eye opening & perceptive narration of your compromising injury. I enjoyed it, as well as all the comments. Thank you for relating your tale!

It's amazing to think about the things we need both hands to accomplish quickly. But more so to think of how we adapt to the challenges that such an injury places before us. I"m glad you are doing well now. Thank you for sharing this slice of your journey.

Thank you so much for your post - I know my comment is late - for a number of reasons including a dominant hand in splint ( tendonitis) with continual pain- have been told it may take 9 months!!! I have turned from a TAN person (Ronnis post today) to a filthy bad tempered basically nasty person to be around who bursts into tears at the drop of a hat! So it was so good to realise that i am still normal and if i practice patience and meditate it will improve - hopefully !
Patience having never been my strong point i obviously have a lot of work to do - again - many thanks - Jeanette Campbell

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