It was a moment of slow motion — I was watching it all happen, helpless to stop it. It’s a vision that I see many times over in my head. I was coming out of a store with a spring jacket I just bought and no longer like. I was holding it because I didn’t want to pay extra for a bag. I was looking at my husband sitting in the car, the passenger side with the door open. It was a sunny day, so he was wearing his sunglasses and he had a Joe Biden look. It made me smile and in those few seconds of distraction I felt my two feet collide and I was falling forward with no way to catch my balance. It all seemed to happen so fast and yet it was in slow motion at the same time. I was stunned to find myself on the sidewalk as two people ran to my aide. “Are you alright?” “Can you get up?”
The security guard from the store i just left wanted to know how I fell. Did I fall over something? The other person had a different focus: “Can you move?”
“I think I need to sit here for a moment to collect myself ” I answered.
“Can you move your legs?”
I moved them without a problem, thankfully, and she continued to ask about different body parts. Everything was ok until she got to my shoulders and when I tried to move, my first response was, “Oh Boy!” The bones in my left shoulder were moving in different directions and it hurt! She called 911 and shortly after, the ambulance was there, the workers got me off the sidewalk and into the ambulance and my helpful angel drifted away. My husband was stunned because everything happened so quickly. He was left alone with the car.
It turns out that I had a closed fracture which meant no surgery needed, so they put my arm in a sling, gave me pain pills and instructions to follow up with my orthopedist. For the next 3 weeks I slept in the recliner because it was easier to get up — with a click of a button like a James Bond ejector seat. It was also like being in a cocoon because I couldn’t move, which was a good pain free position for my arm.
It’s not that I was afraid of pain, it was more like I was afraid of doing more damage. After all the changes my body went through with cancer, treatment, and a variety of side effects, I’ve been very absorbed with my body functions, malfunctions, and vulnerabilities. I feel fragile and became frightened whenever there was a shooting pain. I was terrified that something else would break, but my physical therapist assured me that unless I did something drastic, nothing terrible will happen so I went with that and took it one day at a time.
I realized that there is a big difference between coming out of cancer treatment and healing from a fracture. Both made me feel helpless, but I learned different things from each. I learned about trust and surrender with cancer and treatment. It gave me an opportunity to learn to trust that I was in good hands. I learned how to surrender— to the doctors and to the treatment that they prescribed. It was a groundbreaking lesson that eased the tension of being a cancer patient. I followed their recommendations, spoke about my symptoms to an attentive staff, and responded to the needs of my body. Sometimes I was so tired and achy that all I can do is lie on my sofa surrounded by the decorative pillows I bought from my world travels. I remember the bliss I felt lying back in my cocoon, feeling my muscles go limp and loving the soft cushiony support around me. After treatment, as my hair slowly grew back, so did my energy level and I felt relieved to be emerging from the cloud of illness.
Physical therapy is a totally different experience. When I first found out that my fall ended up with a shoulder fracture, I was filled with disbelief that I will now have to cancel my trip to Aruba for a second time. I was consumed with self-attacks, “I’m so clumsy.”
When I started physical therapy, I felt demoralized because I could hardly accomplish any of the exercises and I felt lots of pain. The fragility that I felt made me move about slowly, and I was terrified of having another fall. Eventually, however, as I let go of fear and self-criticism, I made room for healing. I am always diligent about my exercises and eventually I began to move my arm in different directions. There is a tremendous excitement at not only witnessing the process of healing but also having a part to play in it. When the swelling went down and my hand looked less like it was from a monster movie and more like what I remember it to be, I became giddy beyond words. My self-blame became transformed into determination, and I am now able to use two hands for most everything and sometimes I reach to do something with my left hand before I remember I can’t do that yet.
It is empowering to have an active role to play in my healing. When a physician assistant told me I won’t be able to raise my arm as high as I am used to, the first thought was, ”Oh no, how will I ever be able to get another pet scan?” Now I am determined to prove him wrong. I love having a part to play in my recuperation. I feel empowered, which is life affirming as I see my arm and shoulder get stronger. It teaches me that determination and a goal is a powerful tool, especially when I was able to let go self-blame and judgement, and just do my best every day.
Cancer taught me about surrender while my shoulder fracture taught me about determination. Both experiences taught me about patience and trust — that the process of healing happens in its’ own time.
“Time heals all wounds” is a phrase we’ve heard countless times during mishaps in our lives, and even though it is, at times, difficult to be patient, being able to witness healing in small increments is all the assurance I need to know that it’s true.