Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

How a woman of leisure moves toward healing July 28, 2017

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The exercise my therapist terms “Woman of Leisure.” Pretend that’s a woman in the drawing.

 

HOW CAN I BE a woman of leisure when he expects me to wash windows and throw dirt over my head? It’s tough. But I’m up to the challenges issued by my physical therapist.

John has tagged several of my exercises to help me remember them and probably also to make me laugh. Humor helps when you’re stretching and strengthening muscles after a right shoulder break. It takes the edge off the pain.

This recovery takes time, effort and grit. I certainly don’t feel like a woman of leisure as I recline, hands behind head with elbows bent stretching muscles. That right elbow won’t flex down like my left. And I feel pain.

But I’m getting there. After days of washing windows—placing my hands on a hand towel and sliding them up a wall—and other exercises, John noted that I was “significantly better” than at our previous visit. Three sessions into physical therapy, that encouraged me.

 

Daily I am stretching and strengthening my right arm and shoulder muscles. Martin Eichinger of Portland, Oregon, created this graceful “Bird in the Hand” bronze sculpture valued at $14,500 and posed near the Mankato Civic Center. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2014.

 

So I’ll stick to my regiment of arm lifting and stretching. Not too little. Not too much. Just as John ordered.

I’m consciously also choosing to use my right appendage, even though my mind and body rebel. After nine weeks of guarding my injured right arm and shoulder, I am retraining my once dominant side. I instinctively do everything with my left hand/arm to avoid pain. I know now that if I am to fully recover, I have to push through the muscle soreness and use my right hand/arm/shoulder. So I am brushing my teeth, combing my hair, opening cupboard doors, washing countertops, closing curtains and more all with my right hand.

This week I caught myself pulling on a t-shirt just as I did pre-May 22 injury with head in neck hole first followed by arms in sleeves. To realize I had just done that boosted my confidence. I am healing.

 

This message on the window of a business in downtown Clear Lake, Iowa, resounds with me as I work toward healing. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo May 2015.

 

I am a woman determined. I have a granddaughter to lift, a camera to use, a life to live.

TELL ME: If you’ve ever had to recover from an illness or an injury, who and/or what motivated you?

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Busted July 21, 2017

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Effective immediatley, I can drink coffee using my left hand only.

 

DON’T LIFT. Not a laundry basket or a watering can or a dirty dish. Nothing. Not even a John Deere coffee mug.

That mandate came from my ortho doctor Wednesday afternoon after he asked, “What have you been doing with your arm?” He was referring to my right arm/shoulder, which I fractured 8 ½ weeks ago.

 

Thursday morning I stair-stepped a laundry basket up the basement stairs with my left hand, angled the basket onto my body and steered it out the door. Then, using only my left hand and mouth, I managed to clip towels onto the clothesline.

 

Not that he was accusing me of anything. But he knows me well enough to realize that I will push the limits. I confessed to all of the above. I was so busted. But, in my defense, I had surmised that if a specific movement/activity didn’t hurt, I could do it. Wrong. It’s a good thing I am not a doctor and that mine understands me as “a force of nature to be reckoned with” (his words, not mine).

I love my doctor, even if he tells me things I don’t want to hear. He is kind, compassionate, caring, funny, a great listener and a really good communicator. I always understand exactly what’s going on with my body and what’s expected of me when I leave his office. On this day, had I been a student in a classroom, I likely would have warranted after school detention for bad behavior.

 

This is a photo of an x-ray of my broken shoulder taken on May 22. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

But I got an imaginary gold star for healing. Pulling my May 22 and July 19 x-rays onto his computer screen, the good doctor compared the results. “Looks great,” he said. If I used exclamation marks in my writing, I would string a series of them after that assessment. I beamed. He showed me how the top of my shoulder had settled, rounding back toward to its normal curve rather than jutting like two misplaced puzzle pieces. Then he traced his finger down the screen, along a white line indicating healing in the length of my shoulder.

After delivering that good news, my doctor issued the lifting ban for two weeks, longer if necessary. By 12 weeks the bone should be healed. I’ve learned, though, that directives can change. I intend to obey rather than risk a setback. “If I have to go in there and do surgery now, it will be a mess,” my doctor warned. So my husband will be washing the dishes again.

Today I return for my second physical therapy session. I have the OK now to start active (rather than passive) range of motion exercises to rebuild and strengthen my muscles. I can expect muscle soreness for up to a year. Ditto for the swelling that stretches from the top of my shoulder to my fingertips. Sigh.

 

For the first time in 8 1/2 weeks, I don’t have to wear this arm sling while sleeping.

 

But I can ditch my arm sling. I stopped wearing it during the day several weeks ago. I can also sleep on my side, including on either arm, as long as it doesn’t hurt. I tried sleeping on my left side Wednesday night. My arm hurt. I’m back to sleeping on my back. So much for sleeping freedom.

 

My blood donation card.

 

Then I asked one final question of the doctor: “Can I donate blood?”

“I don’t see any reason you can’t unless there’s something I don’t know about you,” he replied.

So I am scheduled today to donate blood, some 8 ½ weeks after I missed a step, fell and broke my right shoulder while on my way to donate blood at the local hospital.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Homemade pizza is back on the menu July 13, 2017

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FOR THE FIRST TIME in seven weeks, I made homemade pizza. But this was not your ordinary pizza. This pizza represented something much more than food to fill the belly on a Saturday evening. The pizza I crafted signifies healing.

I have reached the point in recovery from a broken right shoulder that I no longer feel the need to clamp my arm protectively to my side. I am reaching, pulling, even eating with my right hand. I am free of my arm sling except to sleep and to use in crowded public places.

I figure if moving my arm doesn’t hurt, then I’m OK doing whatever. So far, so good. I’m doing laundry, washing dishes and making pizza, with some assistance from the husband.

This Friday I start physical therapy. I am ready and could have begun 10 days ago had an opening been available. My goal is to lift 21 lbs, 10 oz., the current weight of my 15-month-old granddaughter, ASAP. I miss cuddling Izzy. Realistically, I expect I won’t be holding Isabelle for quite some time without supervision. But I need a goal, right?

My short term goal is to pull a t-shirt over my head, to dress my upper body by myself. I’d also like to use my Canon DSLR camera soon. I am passionate about photography and really miss that creative outlet. Sure I’ve been using my smartphone. But even that is challenging and the results not nearly as good as those of a DSLR.

 

Up until my fall and resulting broken shoulder, I crafted homemade pizza every Friday evening, always served with mugs of icy beer.

 

When I consider how much I’ve improved since May 22, the day I missed a step on a hospital stairway and fell while on my way to donate blood, I am amazed. My post injury exhaustion and need for daily naps have vanished. Sore muscles have replaced pain. My once purple, yellow and green arm is now almost free of bruises. I am healing. I can feel it in the handles of a rolling pin as I work dough across a floured board. And I can taste it in a bite of fresh pizza spread with homemade pizza sauce and sprinkled with Italian sausage, mushrooms, mozzarella and slips of fresh basil and oregano clipped from plants potted in my backyard.

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SORT OF RELATED, because I fell on my way to donate blood…please consider donating blood to the Red Cross if you are able. The current shortage of blood is termed critical. I’ve been bombarded with emails requesting that I donate. I need to check with my doctor whether I can resume donating. By giving blood, you may save a life. Blood transfusions saved my mom’s life about a decade ago. I am grateful to those many many donors.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

I’ve never been so happy to hang laundry on the line June 30, 2017

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I KNOW THIS PHOTO is not particularly creative, interesting or exciting. I snapped it with my cell phone because I am unable to use my much heavier and bulkier Canon DSLR due to a right shoulder fracture.

But to me this image represents healing, recovery, progress, accomplishment. For the first time in nearly six weeks, I hung laundry on the line yesterday. To do this again gives me joy. Yes, I am a hanging-laundry-on-the-line fanatic.

But how did I manage one-armed and especially with my laundry room down a flight of stairs in the basement? Planning.

The husband provided some start-up assistance by taking the dirty towels and sheets to the basement before leaving for work. Once the first load was done, I continued with my plan.

I strategically placed an empty laundry basket on the rag rug just inside the kitchen door then headed downstairs. As I pulled bedding from the washing machine, I placed the sheets and pillowcases on the edge of the appliance. I then carried them upstairs in the crook of my left arm. Yes, I took the steps slow and steady because the last thing I want is to reinjure my healing right humerus by falling.

Once in the kitchen, I dumped the wet bedding into the laundry basket, propped open the exterior door and used my hip, left side and left arm to wrangle the basket onto the back steps. The movable clothesline stretches across the patio just out the back door.

Then with some careful draping and clothespins in hands and mouth, I managed to secure the sheets to the line.

Since my May 22 fall and resulting bone break, I’ve been unable to do many basic household tasks. Everything in general requires much more time and effort. It’s exhausting. Preparing a simple salad for lunch, for example, takes upwards to a half hour. I wash and slice with a left hand that has not adapted well to being the dominant appendage. It’s rather comical at times to watch myself.

I am frustrated by the difficulty or impossibility of doing simple things—opening a stubborn plastic clamshell, pulling apart bunched bananas, opening a can of food, closing a storm window, clipping my toenails, shaving my underarms, shutting a car door, tightening my belt, putting in my earrings, slipping on a shirt…

These tasks/movements are so routine that you never think about them until you can’t do them. But my disability is only temporary and I am getting better. For many others, their disabilities are permanent and there will be no “better.” I get that and I have no reason to complain.

With permission now granted to have my arm out of the protective sling while at home (but with still restricted movement), I feel myself regaining muscle strength. I still experience pain and frustration. But that’s to be expected. Next week I hope to start physical therapy beyond the exercises I am doing at home.

And I plan to continue hanging laundry on the line. Unless rain is in the forecast.

TELL ME: Have you ever dealt with a temporary or permanent disability and how did you adapt? What frustrated you?

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

On target with my recovery, go gentle on the hugs & other thoughts June 23, 2017

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I’m not good at taking selfies. So I turned the camera on my mirrored image. I took this image a week ago, about 3 1/2 weeks into my recovery.

 

A MONTH AND FOUR DAYS (yes, I’m counting days) into recovery from a broken right shoulder, I am healing on schedule. That’s according to my orthopedic doctor who was all smiles when he saw me Wednesday afternoon.

I was relieved by the good report given I’ve experienced recent shifting and incidences of severe pain in the break area. That’s normal, he said, explaining that I’m feeling muscle and nerve pain related to the injury. Whew. I thought perhaps the crack in my bone had widened.

I’m continuing with two home exercises—elbow flexing and the pendulum swing—with professional physical therapy likely starting the week of July Fourth. And bonus, when I’m in a secure environment at home, I can remove my body hugging arm sling. But I still basically need to keep my arm tight to my side. No reaching to my right.

Mentally, I keep reminding myself that this disability is only temporary and that others deal with far worse injuries. I have a wonderfully supportive husband who helps me with basic caregiving needs and who also is keeping everything up (mostly) on the homefront.

 

This is a photo of an x-ray of my broken shoulder from several weeks ago. To the untrained non medical professional, it’s difficult to see the fracture. It’s there in the humerus.

 

I’m not a particularly patient person, but I’m learning. There is always something to be learned in whatever situations we face in life. Good health is not something any of us should assume will always be ours. I never expected to miss a step, fall and end up with a broken shoulder. Just like I never expected to get osteoarthritis and undergo total hip replacement some 10 years ago. And I never expected to spend an entire summer battling whooping cough.

From all of these health issues, I’ve learned empathy, deeper compassion and an appreciation for others. As a woman of faith, I’ve also drawn closer to God. I’ve never asked, “Why me?” I’m not going to tell you it’s always been easy; it hasn’t. I get frustrated and just want to be able to do everyday tasks. Professionally, I’ve had to limit computer usage (thus writing time) due to pain and I can’t take photos with my Canon DSLR. This is prime season for photography.

 

A month after my fall, I continue to receive get well cards. This ongoing support for someone with a lengthy recovery is so appreciated.

 

I’ve appreciated the ongoing encouragement via conversations/emails/texts and in cards sent. Do not underestimate the value of a get well card. My personal experiences are useful now as I pen greeting card verses for Warner Press with an end of July deadline.

There are two things, though, that people should note related to my injury. Do not ask, in jest, if Randy pushed me. There is nothing, absolutely nothing, funny about domestic violence. I have written tirelessly on the subject here and have zero tolerance for domestic abuse and violence. I fell; my husband did not abuse me and to suggest such in humor diminishes the crime of domestic violence.

Also, be gentle on the hugs. I am extremely protective of my right side. I’ve had to stop about a half dozen people as they reached out to touch me on my right arm. There is a reason I am wearing a sling.

Last week I simplified one aspect of my life by getting my hair cut super short. I am grateful to the stylist at Sunset Salon who understood my needs. I love my new style which requires only my fingers and mousse to shape it. Randy is appreciative, too.

I am grateful to all of you also for your continuing encouragement and readership of this blog.

Please take what you’ve read here today and do something positive. Reach out with kindness to a stranger or to a friend/family member. Send a card/text/email. Make a phone call. Visit someone in recovery. Prepare a meal. Offer a ride. Hold a door. Offer praise and empathy and support. In these days when we witness so much violence and hatred in the world, it is more important than ever to express compassion and care. We need each other. We really do.

 

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

On the road to recovery, an update June 9, 2017

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“I DON’T LIKE YOU,” I told him.

“Most people don’t,” he answered.

And we both laughed. Laughed because I really did like him and he wasn’t to blame for the bad news he shared. As a former journalist, I understand well the habit readers have of blaming the messenger. And now I was doing that to a medical professional.

 

The bruising on my injured right arm has decreased considerably on the front with the bruising (not shown here) shifting to the back of my elbow.

 

What could I do except joke and laugh when my ortho doctor on Wednesday afternoon revealed that total healing and recovery time from my broken shoulder could stretch up to 16 weeks? That’s four more than he told me during our initial visit two weeks ago. Sigh.

And then, as we chatted about the elbow flexing and pendulum exercises I am now doing at home, I found myself in a bit of trouble. I had been doing more than three flex sessions and arm swings daily. “More is not better,” he said, noting that he had me pegged as someone who would do just that. More. Busted.

I like my doctor. He has a great sense of humor, empathy and a personality that is down-to-earth approachable and friendly. I never feel rushed with him. He listens and he answers. And I’m trying to abide by his admonition to “stop when it hurts.” I’m trying, like he says, to rest. I don’t want my bone break, which widened a bit to 2.8 millimeters, to crack wider. Shoulders apparently take a long time to heal.

After that bit of news yesterday, I felt a tad discouraged. But then, because I can choose to be positive, I remembered his words of “everything looks good” upon viewing my latest x-rays. Good is good.

Good is also the continuing encouragement of family and friends. My eldest daughter sends me photos of my granddaughter nearly daily and that makes me happy. I used Google Hang-outs for the first time the other day and that was great, to see and hear darling Isabelle.

 

My friend Kathleen sent a lovely vintage card along with the sweetest message. The thing about the card is the specific selection just for me. Kathleen knows I have chosen hope as a focus word in my life. Long before this accident. She remembered.

 

 

And then Thursday afternoon, I received a bouquet of sunny yellow and white daisies from my sister Lanae and her husband, my niece Tara and her husband and their baby and the couples’ cats.

 

 

And recently I received a handcrafted metal cross from my artist friend Steve, who in his own quiet and creative way offers such encouragement and support.

We all have our burdens to bear in life. That’s a given. I don’t care who you are. But we are not alone. It is in times like this that I fully realize the importance of being there for each other—whether through a card sent, a word spoken, a gift given, a bouquet of flowers sent, prayers offered, well wishes written.

Thank you, dear readers, for being here for me. I will continue to update you occasionally on my recovery.

Have a wonderful weekend and take the time today to encourage someone inside or outside your circle who is going through a difficult time.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Warning: Skip this story if you’re squeamish May 31, 2017

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Forty-eight hours after I broke my right shoulder, there was considerable swelling.

 

AT 6:20 p.m. Monday, his cell phone timer pinged. “Time to raise a toast,” he said, or something like that.

 

The arm is broken at the top of the shoulder (where it rounds). But the bruising is on the inside and spreading down my arm.

 

“I don’t want to,” I replied. But I should have humored him. At the marked time, exactly one week after I fell and broke my right shoulder, my husband wanted to celebrate a week of recovery with only 11 more to go (maximum).

 

A selfie of my arm on May 25.

 

But it was my eldest daughter who made me laugh after I texted her a current photo of my arm, morphing from a deep purple bruise to yellow and green. “Hope you’re not turning into the Grinch!” she replied.

 

Four days later, on Memorial Day.

 

Well, yes, I was feeling a bit Grinchy and very much looking the part on my right arm.

I’ve retold my missed-a-step-and-fell story a zillion times already; that’s OK, I appreciate that friends care. I’ve also stopped two friends from tapping me on the right shoulder as they naturally reached out to comfort me. I’ve dodged kids not watching where they were semi-running inside Walmart. I’ve evaded too many distracted shoppers at the grocery store and avoided crowds at public events.

I am overly protective of my right arm and ever so careful when I walk. My orthopedic doctor’s words of you won’t need surgery unless you fall or make your break worse replay warnings in my brain. I do not want surgery. I will listen. Mostly.

He probably should not have told me I can use my computer—if I move only the fingers on my right hand. He demonstrated on his computer mouse, not the keyboard,  in the exam room. Uh, yeah, I am a writer. The single finger pecking method with my left hand is way too slow for me.

But I learned the hard way that I cannot overdo it or the pain will increase. My pain is mostly minimal and handled with Tylenol, although immediately after the fall, I was crying from the pain.

What surprises me most is my fatigue. I feel tired nearly all the time. A friend reminded me my body has experienced trauma. She is right. Plus, my sleep is often fitful with part of the night spent lying on my back in bed and the remainder sleeping mostly upright in a recliner. I nap nearly daily and I am not a person who typically naps.

Along with fatigue comes the frustration typical for anyone dealing with a temporary disability or health challenge. I need assistance with showering and dressing, etc., and even cutting my thick Iowa pork chop. Everything takes longer. That gets exhausting.

I couldn’t do any of this without Randy. He’s been incredibly caring, loving and helpful, patient even when I’m not. We’ve fallen into a rhythm of movement. Even though he arrives home after a long, physically demanding work day, he still does what needs to be done around the house and also cares for me.

My eldest daughter, Amber, and her husband drove down on Saturday with meals and to help Randy plant flowers. I am so so grateful for their assistance and the visit from my one-year-old granddaughter whom I can no longer lift or hold. Sigh. But she still can make Grandma smile.

 

 

I am thankful to everyone who has expressed well wishes and offered prayers for my healing. From the comments here to the phone calls, cards, texts and emails, each word has uplifted me. In the scheme of possible injuries, mine is minor. I fully understand that. Yet, as I advised a friend who has endured many health issues and is currently on kidney dialysis, the challenges we each face should not be diminished by challenges others face.

In 11 more weeks (or less), I should be able to swipe antiperspirant/deodorant under my arms, blow dry my hair, hang laundry on the line, wash dishes, make a salad in 10 minutes instead of 30, use my Canon DSLR, hold my granddaughter…cut my own pork chop….

Until then, I may resemble the Grinch with my green right arm. But I don’t have to act like him.

TELL ME: If you’ve dealt with a health issue, how have you managed to get through it? How were family and/or friends especially helpful to you?

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling