Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

I’ve graduated August 28, 2017

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LYING WITH MY HANDS behind my head, elbows bent, I studied the photo of rock climbers strategically positioned at the end of the therapy table to offer motivation. Funny thing, I’d never noticed the over-sized image on prior visits, 11 total. But on this, my last day of physical therapy, I did.

 

This is a photo of an x-ray of my broken shoulder. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo May 2017.

 

And my thoughts were this: I’ll never climb a rock wall. I couldn’t before the May 22 fall that left me with a broken right shoulder and I have no intention of ever doing so. But I feel as if I’ve scaled a precipice to get to where I am today. I once again have a nearly fully functional right arm that for too long hugged my body in a sling as it healed. Muscle strength and range of motion vanish quickly in a constricted appendage.

 

I’m using this shoulder pulley at home twice a day for three minutes each time to stretch my muscles.

 

But you do what you must to heal and then recover. It takes a certain amount of discipline, fortitude and willpower to work through the pain, to push yourself, to move forward. I couldn’t have done it alone. My physical therapist, John, provided the tools, the know how and the extra spark of motivation. I didn’t want to let him, or myself, down. When I would grimace in pain, John would look at me and ask, “Who’s in charge?” I wanted to say, “you are,” but that answer would have been wrong. I was always in charge of my body.

 

I hold this elastic band in my hands and pull opposite directions to stretch and strengthen my muscles.

 

When I walked into therapy on August 24, I looked at John and asked if I could graduate. I was so ready to be done. Not that I didn’t like John or therapy. I simply felt as if I had reached my potential in supervised therapy and the rest would come naturally with increased activity. John agreed.

 

The weight of the dumbbells I could lift started at 1.5 pounds, then advanced to the 3, 5 and 8 pound weights shown here. The eight-pounder is still a challenge.

 

And so, as I passed my final tests and rated my pain at one, I felt a sense of relief that I’d come this far. Just weeks ago I couldn’t lift five pounds, couldn’t reach to slide a plate into the cupboard, couldn’t hook my bra. I had even attempted to mow the lawn the evening before my final therapy session, but found that still too difficult especially given the too tall grass and the too heavy lawnmower. John typed “no mowing lawn” into my records, but gave me permission to lift my 21-pound granddaughter if I rely primarily on my left arm. Then I shared that I’d already picked her up the day prior. He smiled.

 

During the past six weeks or so, I’ve done the exercises shown here and more to first regain range of motion and then to rebuild muscle strength.

 

As I lay on the therapy table waiting for John’s final instructions, I focused on that photo of the rock climber. I had scaled a steep and sometimes rocky wall to regain use of my right arm. I felt good and thankful for the grace of healing.

Now if only John had programmed the theme song to Rocky or perhaps Pomp and Circumstance into the sound system to mark my graduation day, a goal I had been striving toward for three months and two days. That would have marked the pinnacle of reaching the recovery summit.

© Copyright 2017 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