Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Finally, I’ve graduated September 19, 2018

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The Art of Recovery (soft yellow putty, medium green putty and firm blue putty).

 

THREE MONTHS AND TWO DAYS after suffering a closed colles fracture of the left radius followed by open reduction with internal fixation of the fracture, I am done with medical appointments.

Now, let me write that in an understandable language. Three months and two days after I broke my left wrist followed by surgery to implant a titanium plate with 10 screws, I am done with medical appointments.

Yes!

But that doesn’t mean I am fully recovered. After twisting on my wrist (yes, it was painful) during my final therapy session on Tuesday, my occupational therapist sent me home with several new exercises, a container of firm putty and instructions to continue my strengthening efforts. I tested several weights before Annie decided I should work with a 3-pound weight. That’s up from the pound I have been lifting. Prior to my injury, I was lifting a 10-pound weight.

Recovery takes time, hard work and lots of patience. And a great medical team.

Following therapy, I had my final evaluation with my orthopedic surgeon. He cleared me to slowly resume normal activities with a specific example of what not to do yet. “Don’t go pulling a gallon of milk out of the refrigerator,” he said.

But he said I could use my camera. “I already am,” I said, noting that I nearly pitched forward and fell the other day while pursuing a photo at the Valley Grove Country Social. He gave me a look. We agreed that I should try to stay out of his office for awhile. A year ago I was recovering from a broken right shoulder. As much as I like Dr. Armitage, it is my intent to keep my bones intact.

To all of you who have supported and encouraged me during this three-month recovery process, thank you. I am grateful for your kind words. And I am grateful for my loving husband who helped me through this lengthy process of healing and recovery with personal care assistance and taking on extra responsibilities at home. I am blessed. Even in challenges, there are reasons to be thankful.

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

My first photo shoot after breaking my wrist September 11, 2018

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MY PASSION FOR PHOTOGRAPHY runs deep. Like my love of words. Together they comprise this blog. Take away one and balance vanishes. My photos illustrate my words and my words my images.

But this summer, after slipping on rain-slicked steps and breaking my left wrist in early June, I could no longer use my camera. It takes two hands to operate my DSLR—one to hold the camera and click the shutter button and the other to support and manipulate the lens.

 

 

I knew my blogging would be intermittent without the ability to gather new content with my camera. But I had no choice except to post less often and to snap the occasional passable photo with my smartphone.

 

 

Given my orthopedic doctor’s initial timetable for my recovery, I expected the camera ban to last until the end of September. But as healing and therapy progressed, he gave me an early out, freeing me from my splint in late August and approving photography—with the admonition not to do “anything silly.” Whatever that means.

 

 

Upon my return home after that medical appointment, I grabbed my camera and stepped into the backyard to try my hand at photography. These are my first images post bone break and implant surgery. I quickly learned that I could not manipulate my telephoto lens. I simply did not have the strength. I have since exchanged that long and heavy lens for a regular lens. That I can twist.

I’m easing back into photography, realizing that if I push my passion too much, I risk slowing my recovery. It feels great to have my hands back on my camera.

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Nearing graduation day September 7, 2018

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Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo, May 2016.

 

THE WORD GRADUATION SLIPPED into the conversation between me and my therapist. Just like that after I excelled on a weekly skills test. If I continue to do well, I expect to graduate within a few weeks.

That would be graduation from occupational therapy which began two months ago. It takes a long time to recover from a wrist fracture and subsequent surgery to implant a 4-inch plate. Not only have I gone to twice-weekly therapy, but I’ve worked hard at home doing exercises two to three times daily in half-hour sessions. I’m determined. And my efforts are showing in increased usage and strength of my healing left wrist/hand.

Every week my therapist checks my progress, measuring my range of motion and testing my strength. This week my grip strength showed incredible improvement, increasing from 17 to 30 pounds in six days. I might have shrieked in delight upon hearing that number. But then my excitement deflated a bit when I asked what my grip strength should be for my non-dominant left hand. Sixty-five. Oh, well. I’m half-way there.

But every day I’m noticing improvement as I use my left hand more and more. The other day I picked up a detergent bottle with my left hand, not even thinking. Thankfully, though the bottle was nearly full, I felt no pain.

I’m using my camera, short lens only.

I’m carrying a laundry basket.

I’m cooking.

I’m cleaning.

Life is returning to normal. There were days when I felt like I would never get there, when I felt impatient and frustrated. But I’m on the other side of that doubt now, pushing toward my goal of graduating soon.

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Oh, happy day August 23, 2018

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A selfie taken shortly after going splint-free. You can see the scar on my wrist from the incision to implant a metal plate on June 25.

 

NEARLY 10 WEEKS OUT from shattering a bone in my left wrist which required an implant with 10 screws, I got the news I’ve been wanting. I can ditch my splint. My hand, my wrist, are now free of any supportive locking device. And I am one happy person/photographer/writer.

 

After two months in this splint, I no longer need to wear it.

 

I did not expect this news from my cautious orthopedic doctor during a routine check on my healing bone Wednesday morning. During a previous visit, he’d given me a splint time-frame that would have taken me to almost the end of September.

 

This is a photo snapped with a cellphone of an x-ray of the implant in my wrist. Ten screws (count them) hold the metal plate in place. The broken bone, my ortho doctor said, “looked like gravel’ following my June 16 fall.

 

But after reviewing my current and past x-rays and asking me to pass some range of motion tests, he told me I don’t need to wear the splint anymore. I asked him to repeat what he’d just said, not believing this could possibly be true.

He qualified. “I don’t want you doing anything silly.” He knows me well, that I wanted to be doing whatever yesterday. Yet, he apparently trusts that I will recognize my limitations and not push my weak wrist. I asked about using my Canon DSLR camera. He okayed that usage after I explained that I support the lens with my left hand. I don’t expect to do extensive photo shoots but slowly ease back into photography.

Upon arriving home from my medical appointment and occupational therapy, I tested my left hand while putting away dishes. Much to my dismay, I didn’t have the strength to pull open a cupboard door or to lift a small bowl. But I could lift a small rectangular plastic food storage container. It’s not much, but something.

 

Me, several hours after my June 25 surgery to repair my broken left wrist with a metal plate. The splint and wrap in this photo were replaced a week later by a removable (only for showering and therapy) Velcro wrist splint, the one I now no longer need to wear.

 

I expect to start strengthening exercises at my next therapy session on Friday. Up until now I’ve done only range of motion exercises. I’ll work hard to strengthen and regain use of my hand and wrist. It’s a slow process that requires time and much patience. I’m determined. And that’s a good thing. Determination and tenacity coupled with prayer and the support of a really great medical team and a loving and caring husband equal recovery.

 

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

An update: Stories while recovering from a broken wrist August 15, 2018

My newest exercise tool, therapy putty.

 

WHEN YOU’RE RECOVERING from a broken bone and subsequent surgery, little things hold significance. Like Play-Doh. I was so excited Tuesday morning when, at the end of my occupational therapy session, my therapist handed me a container of therapy putty. Play-Doh to me. Annie instructed me to, twice daily, lightly squeeze the putty with my left fingers and thumb. “Lightly,” she repeated, as she observed me manipulating the blob of yellow gunk.

 

Look on the right side of my wrist to see the plate, shaped like an ice scraper, and held in place by 10 screws. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

So why is this such a big deal? It’s just putty, for gosh sakes. It’s a big deal because every added exercise signals progress to me. Now, nearly nine weeks out from the fall that resulted in a severely broken left wrist requiring surgical implantation of a metal plate, I continue to regain my range of motion. Strengthening exercises have not even begun. Yes, this is a slow process requiring every ounce of patience I don’t possess.

 

Site of my bone break and surgery. And, yes, my hand, fingers and wrist remain swollen.

 

But I dutifully do my 10 exercises three times daily. Because I want to use my left hand again. I am itching to wrap my hand around my Canon DSLR camera, to cook solo, to carry my two-year-old granddaughter… I know, realistically, those goals are still a long ways from being achieved. But it’s good to have goals.

 

I am thankful for any time out of my wrist splint.

 

Two weeks ago I was much less positive as I developed a severe itchy rash on my wrist. I’d show you a photo, but I don’t want to gross you out. Picture a really bad case of poison ivy. Efforts to treat the surface skin problem with an antibiotic failed. Hydrocortisone cream solved the problem as did airing my arm while resting. You can only imagine my joy at releasing my arm from the trap of a splint for more than just exercising and showering. That made me one happy camper.

 

On this bill, the $4,661 is the insurance discount. The $0.00 is the amount of the insurance payment on the (incorrect) bill.

 

I was anything but happy, though, when I received a nearly $15,000 hospital bill last week for my surgery. More than a few bad words flew from my mouth as I cried. And then cried some more. I pay $1,000/month in health insurance premiums with a $3,600 deductible. I’d already paid my deductible and now the insurance provider was refusing to pay. Are you kidding me?

I was livid and way too upset to call either the hospital or the insurance company the day I got that bill. But then a hospital employee phoned several hours later to verify my address and I broke down sobbing and eventually was connected to the billing department. The insurance company, the hospital staffer said, made a “processing error.” She advised me to burn the $15K bill. The claim is being reprocessed. I hope it’s correct this time as I don’t want another financial scare. This never should have happened. The incorrect billing caused me a great deal of unnecessary stress.

 

If you look closely, you can see faint remnants of my rash. The lines are imprints from the “sock” I wear under my splint.

 

If only I’d had that therapy putty last week to work out my frustration and anger…

 

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

I’ve never been so happy to make mac & cheese August 3, 2018

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The mac and cheese I make from scratch. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

I PREPARED HOMEMADE macaroni and cheese for supper Wednesday evening.

That’s a big deal for me as I recover from a broken left wrist with a currently unusable hand. I managed one-handed, without assistance, to boil and strain the macaroni, make a cheese sauce, combine both and then slide the glass casserole into the oven.

When Randy arrived home from work, the dish needed an additional 15 minutes of baking time. I should have started prep earlier given the slowed pace of cooking with only one hand.

Even something as simple as choosing kettles required thought. I couldn’t use the usual two-handled pot for boiling the macaroni. And when I opened the package of cheddar cheese, I cut it with a scissor. I can’t separate the sides of a ziploc bag. Thankfully I could punch the top of the evaporated milk can and pour the liquid through that hole.

Eventually I got the mac and cheese ready and in the oven.

I’ve learned much since the June 16 fall resulting in a broken left wrist followed by surgery to implant a plate held in place by 10 screws. I’ve learned the value of patience, the importance of two hands and that I really don’t dislike cooking as much as I’ve always claimed. Now I wish I could cook regularly. But my cooking has been sparse given so much done in the kitchen requires the use of two hands. I dislike constantly asking Randy to help when he already has enough on his plate (pun intended). Can you open this can? Can you open this jar? Can you open this bag? Can you, can you, can you? My frustration grows.

So far he’s been patient and helpful and does nearly all of the cooking after a long, hard day of physical labor at his job. But I haven’t asked him yet to deal with an aging head of cauliflower, hoping he will notice the vegetable on the top shelf of the fridge…

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Learning patience as I start occupational therapy July 16, 2018

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I got this smaller removable splint about two weeks ago. It stays on 24/7 except when showering and for therapeutic exercises. The thumb lock bugs me the most. Many times I’ve just wanted to rip the splint off my arm. My fingers and the top of my hand are still noticeably swollen.

 

FEW WOULD LIKELY TAG the virtue of patience to me. I am not particularly patient. That is evidenced by my response to a question about my goal for occupational therapy, which I started last Thursday. On the questionnaire, I wrote: To regain use of my left hand ASAP.

 

Look on the right side of my wrist to see the surgically implanted plate, shaped like an ice scraper, in my opinion. How Minnesotan is that observation? The x-ray was taken through layers of bandages wrapped around my arm/hand.

 

Exactly the type of response you would expect from someone like me who wanted my broken left wrist healed yesterday. It’s been four weeks since I slipped on rain and moss-slicked wooden steps, fell, broke my radius and underwent subsequent surgery to insert a plate held in place by 10 screws.

After meeting with my therapist for the first time, I realized just how much muscle strength and range of motion I’ve lost. A lot. That should come as no surprise given last summer I had a broken right shoulder and weeks of physical therapy. The success of that therapy confirms that eventually I will have a healthy left hand/wrist that works like it should.

 

Four of my first exercises. If you think I can do these with any ease, you would be wrong. The “making an o” exercise and wrist circles are especially difficult. I can barely touch my thumb and pointer and index fingers. Forget the other fingers. My circles resemble minimal wrist movement nothing like circles. 

 

I am determined to get there. But on my therapist and ortho doctor’s timetable, not mine. Last summer I got in trouble for doing too much too soon. Now I need to check myself, to do only those exercises assigned to me at the mandated frequency. Patience.

My therapist approved typing with my left hand. But not for two hours, she qualified. Ah, she’s already got me pegged. It felt wonderful to have both hands back on the keyboard. For maybe 10 minutes. My body told me to stop and return to the solo finger pecking method.

After two summers recovering from broken bones, I’m learning patience. Maybe.

TELL ME about something in your life which taught you patience.

Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Healing & hospital humor, Part II June 26, 2018

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Me, the day before surgery, with my hair cut easy-care short. The praying woman oil painting behind me was done by my friend Rhody Yule (now deceased) and hangs on my living room wall.

 

SURGERY DONE. CHECK.

Healing and recovery. In progress.

With a plate screwed into my broken left wrist during surgery Monday morning at District One Hospital Allina Health, Faribault, I am now moving toward mending the bone I broke after falling on rain-slicked wooden steps at a friends’ house 10 days ago.

This marks my second simultaneous summer with a broken bone In late May 2017, I missed the bottom step on a hospital stairway, plunged into the concrete floor and broke my right shoulder. And, yes, that would be the very same hospital where I underwent surgery yesterday morning. That May evening a year ago, I was on my way to donate blood. Yesterday a nurse asked if I would accept a transfusion if needed. I didn’t require one. But the nurse wondered aloud if you get free units of blood if you’re a donor. Nope, not that I know.

 

 

Her comment sparked from a document I created on my computer and brought to the hospital for my surgeon yesterday. Dr. Bryan Armitage has a great sense of humor or I wouldn’t have crafted the Frequent Flyer Discount card I handed to him. He was ready with a quick suggestion to submit my “one free surgery after 10 visits” card to the billing department given he just does the surgery. I persuaded him to accept the card, which he intends to hang above his office desk.

You have to find humor in a serious situation. And, believe me, I needed laughter yesterday prior to surgery.

On a serious note, I am grateful for the skills, compassion and care of my entire medical team. Seasoned nurse Kris and about to graduate nurse Shelby provided excellent pre op and post op care. And there’s that I just do the surgery orthopedic surgeon who worked his magic. I am grateful to all the reassuring (no, you won’t be awake during surgery, I promise) staff who cared for me during my six-hour outpatient hospital stay.

And I am grateful to my husband, Randy, for his attentive and loving care. He’s the best.

Likewise, I appreciate the many prayers and well wishes; cards, gifts and food sent and delivered (thanks, especially, to my niece Amber for the meals); and for the flowers from my wonderful husband. I feel so loved.

 

Me, several hours after surgery. I’m so happy to have more of my fingers exposed.

Other than being overly tired and experiencing some pain, swelling and tingling, I am doing remarkably well. Given my dislike of pain meds, I am taking only the minimum dosage paired with icing and elevating. That plan is working thus far.

That’s the latest from here as I continue in recovery mode.

One more thing: I weighed 20 pounds less on the hospital surgery scale than I did on the ER scale nine days prior. Vindicated for the third time. Read all about that miraculous weight loss by clicking here.

© copyright 2018 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