Tuesday, November 25, 2014

What grief and a torn rotator cuff have in common...

Side plank with the right arm, finally!

In February of 2014, I - in all my gracefulness - took a hard fall on the ice (note to self: cowboy boots are not appropriate footwear for slick surfaces), landing directly on my right shoulder as my feet reached toward the sky. Think a "no-hands" headstand.

Yes. Ouch.

And there we were. Me and pain.

For a few weeks, I walked around in a state of denial. Maybe if I ignore the pain long enough, if I pretend it isn't there, it'll just ~~**~~ p o o f ~~**~~ go away. Like magic.

Only, it didn't work.

Three months later, my entire arm was immobilized. My yoga practice ceased. I was unable to complete the tasks I'd once done with such ease. I couldn't use my computer, at least not as easily. I was not me.

And my frustration and fear were building, culminating in a visit to the most wonderful doc in Sedona (Steven Johnson, M.D., the most amazing and compassionate PCP I've ever known!).

He checked my range of motion.

"Let's get an MRI," he gently suggested, knowing full-well I would resist.

"Uggggggghhhh," I groaned.  Predictable me.  "I don't have time," I grumbled.

"Umm," he paused, "you are preferring the alternative?"

Fast forward two weeks, when I could finally get in for the MRI.

When the report was released, the news was grim. Significant tear and plenty of other damage I'd done not properly attending to the injury sooner.

Wonderful Dr Johnson called to deliver the bad news.

"... You're going to have to see a surgeon, you know?" he, again, reluctantly said, knowing, again, I'd resist.

It's a rare occasion when I obey, but my range of motion had declined significantly enough- and my quality of sleep was dreadfully impaired- that I acquiesced. Fast forward two more weeks...

"What are my options here... I have options, right? I said, firmly, to the surgeon. He explained that my torn rotator cuff was exacerbated by "frozen shoulder"... that is, I was so protective of the wound, that scar tissue, a capsule, formed around the injury that precluded any movement whatsoever.

I threw my head back and laughed out loud, immediately seeing the metaphor for grief.

"Of course, oh my gosh, of course!" I blurted loudly.

"What?" he asked, looking at me with furrowed, questioning brows.

"Nevermind," I said seriously, coming back to that moment.

Surgery - and the successive 4-6 month recovery - was clearly not an option for me, even if it meant I could circumvent some pain.

But by this point, literally, I could not lift my arm two inches. He did say that on occasion, these tears seem to be able to heal with physical therapy and time... now there's a thread of hope to which I can tie myself. And tie I did.

I left the surgeon's office frustrated and disappointed but with a gaunt taste of optimism. Time and some hard work. I knew the path.

Fast forward yet again. The first few sessions of physical therapy, I wanted to quit. I wanted to run straight into the operating room. The pain of every movement, every stretch... oh goodness, just thinking of it now brings back that acute pain. Had it not been for the compassion, patience, and support of a wonderful PT named Dave, I might not have made it.

But I trusted Dave. I trusted my body. And I trusted my capacity to hold the pain.

Slowly, slowly, slowly - week after week - my body released itself to the pain. It surrendered. The muscles, once paralytic, were finally thawing. Dave would press into a muscle that was tight, gripping me. He'd hold  his fingers in the very deep place of the pain. Tears would fill my eyes. He'd remind me to breath. I'd say, "I can't. I can't." Yet, I did, I did. And then moments later, the muscle would release, relax, and let go.

Every week I went to therapy, I felt like I was in an intensive course about grief.

Fifteen weeks into physical therapy, I regained 90% of my range of motion. But it wasn't without a great deal of suffering.

Now, it's ten months post fall. Without surgical intervention, I've managed, somehow, to heal this broken shoulder. I'm back to all my old tricks- wheel, down dog, even side crow, headstands, and a four-minute plank, longer and better than before the injury! And I can use both hands to put away the dishes.

Beyond that reward, though, my sage body had given me the gift of insight, circumspect, and validation.

Pain, as Rumi said, is the great messenger, and it had sent the message. My body and my heart, the great receivers of the message, listened.

It took a long, long time to heal a simple injury, one that was purely physical.  How much longer, then, would it take to heal a shattered heart? The death our Beloved is an inviolable, hallowed injury. Yes, it is, and it is an existential wound that surely takes a lifetime and beyond...

"The healing from the pain is in the pain."  


Anonymous said...

Thank you, Joanne, for your insightful message and mostly for the reminder that it is walking into our pain that heals our bodies as well as our spirits and our grief. One of many tough lessons for me in this humongous loss (of Bill and our life) has been to really "be" in my pain and trust that being there is the only way to heal; i.e. to ignore society's sick messages and expectations about pain and loss and grief.

Six months after Bill died (Oct 2010), I fell and tore my rotator cuff and broke two fingers (ironically one of the fingers bears my wedding ring AND Bill's). I did the x-ray, the MRI, and like you it took me weeks to get help for the shoulder and I refused surgery. I did the PT thing and with work and time, sleepless nights and lots of pain, the pain in my shoulder subsided 18 months later as movement slowly returned during that time. I know my body was expressing the deep grief I was in having just lost Bill...and knew they were deeply related. I learned I had to walk into all my pain...body, soul, emotions.

When I began to ignore my grief and pain more than I "should" have last February (2014), somatizing it for sure, I once again injured the other shoulder shoveling snow that I knew was too heavy and wet for my body-an act of anger I believe. So for the past 9 months, I have been working to heal the right shoulder as I also walk with and sit in the pain of grief and loss when it calls to me. How many times must I learn to heed (and accept) its call?

Thank you, Joanne. I am so glad your shoulder is healing and movement and strength is yours again....and thank you for sharing the insight you gained about grief.

Peace and healing, Mary

Anonymous said...

mmmm...I have known grief and rotator cuff damage, and know all too well the pain of both....

My PT (who I also liked and trusted immensely) asked me one day "what would you say if I said to you that you wouldn't get any more range of motion than you have now without surgery?" Without hesitation I replied "I wouldn't believe you, because I wouldn't think that I had tried everything I could to heal myself." She laughed. We continued. And I have close of full-range of motion to this day.

And yes, the pain from losing both my parents in less than three years, and a wrenching in a long-held dear relationship....well, that takes a bit longer, doesn't it? And comes and goes. But I remind myself of what I am capable of doing, of enduring.

Thank you for this post. The timeliness on this Day of Thanks, is spot-on.

All best to you,


The soul still sings in the darkness telling of the beauty she found there; and daring us not to think that because she passed through such tortures of anguish, doubt, dread, and horror, as has been said, she ran any the more danger of being lost in the night. Nay, in the darkness did she, rather, find herself.

--St. John, Dark Night of the Soul

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