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

 

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

 

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

 

I planned to give blood, but… May 24, 2017

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THE BEST LAID plans don’t always work out. Case in point.

Monday evening my husband and I arrived at the local hospital to donate blood to the Red Cross. My rare AB positive blood is in high demand and I’m always willing to give when I can, the operative words being “when I can.”

With my Rapid Pass in hand, I was prepared to breeze through the check-in process and get down to the task of donating blood.

As we headed down the stairs toward the basement donation room, I observed how shiny and clean the stairs. This was a hospital, so I wouldn’t expect otherwise. And then it happened. I felt my legs stepping into air as I missed the final step on the stairway. I pitched forward toward the floor, door and concrete wall, apparently breaking my fall with my right shoulder. I lay there, stunned and hurting, until Randy helped me up.

At that point, I still thought I would be donating blood. But by the time we reached the donation site just down the hall, my pain was intensifying. I needed to see a doctor. Opting for the less expensive walk-in clinic rather than the ER, we headed next door. By then, the pain was so severe that I was crying.

You’ve likely determined by now that this story does not end well. X-rays showed a broken right shoulder.  As I’ve repeated my this is how this happened story to medical staff a half dozen times in the past few days, I consider how unbelievable that I would fall while at the hospital. This story is even better than fiction.

But this is reality, my reality of 8 -12 weeks of healing and physical therapy, when my body is ready. I’m currently in resting mode with my arm in a sling and instructions to ice as needed and to take Tylenol for pain. I’m starting a basic flex your elbow exercise today and will advance to the pendulum swing in 10 days. I am learning, adjusting and relying heavily on my husband for personal help and help with household tasks I typically do. He’s a great caregiver. He’s been through this with me before when I had my right hip replaced about 10 year ago.

I am not good at resting. I want to write and do photography and more. The photography won’t happen. I can’t hold my arm in the position needed to take photos. And this is prime photo season. Today is my first attempt at using my desktop computer. Typing with my right hand is a challenge. My blogging and other writing likely will be limited. Time will tell what I can and can’t do. I appreciate your understanding and hope you will remain in my readership.

When I start feeling sorry for myself, I consider how much worse my injuries could have been. I could have slammed my head into the concrete wall and suffered a concussion. I could have face-planted and broken by neck. I could have broken other bones that would have required surgery. My orthopedic doctor told me it I had to break a bone, I chose a good one to break. I’ll trust him on that.

So, dear readers, this is the situation I am in now. I am determined to do what I am told or risk additional injury and surgery. I don’t have to like that I am suffering this painful, limiting injury. But I will deal with it. There is no choice.

Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

 

 

 

He smashed his thumb November 30, 2010

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MY HUSBAND CALLED late yesterday afternoon. “I’m at the clinic.” Those are words a wife does not want to hear.

“What did you do?” The question popped automatically out of my mouth.

“Smashed my thumb with a hammer.”

This did not sound good, not good at all.

“They’re going to do an x-ray and I may need stitches.”

For my automotive machinist spouse, his hands are his tools, so these types of injuries always concern me.

My husband at work with a hammer, a tool he uses often as an automotive machinist.

I hung up, then worried and fretted and worried some more while waiting for a follow-up phone call. Forty-five minutes later he called from the Northfield clinic to say he was on his way home to Faribault.

“I got three stitches.”

The injured, and stitched, left thumb. My husband says I will gross you out with this image. To abate his concerns, I've down-sized the photo.

“What’s the prognosis?”

“It’s not broken, but they found bone fragments floating around. They think it might be from a previous injury, maybe not, and want me to come back in a week for another x-ray.”

He claims he didn’t injure the thumb prior to yesterday.

I doubt that statement. Throughout our 28 ½ years of marriage, he’s hit his thumbs more than once with a hammer at work, although certainly not this severely.

Here's proof of a previous injury. Note the semi-circle scar on the right thumb, the telltale mark of stitches from an earlier injury.

This time he delivered a glancing blow to his left thumb with a two-pound hammer while pounding universal joints out of a drive shaft. Ouch.

He’s off to work this morning, despite the doctor’s instructions that he stay home.

He told her he couldn’t. Too much work and he wasn’t going to let an injury like this keep him down. He possesses a strong work ethic and a degree of German stubbornness.

The physician conceded, told him to keep the thumb clean and dry. I’m uncertain how he will manage that given the nature of his job gets his hands dirty and greasy.

My husband at work in the automotive machine shop where he is employed.

This morning he struggled to button his shirt. How will he operate machinery, deal with heavy and grimy automotive parts? But, he’s determined. My concern, a few stitches, a clumsy splint, swelling and a little pain aren’t going to stop him from working.

© Copyright 2010 Audrey Kletscher Helbling