Posts Tagged ‘rehab’

Progress Not Perfection

May 1, 2011

Every day I feel like I haven’t accomplished much, yet I’m always busy. I know that this is a mental-habit perception rather than reality. In the five months since I bought this house, I’ve completed an enormous amount of work …

Just to list the major accomplishments: I’ve moved all my belongings into the house almost single-handedly (two objects required assistance), painted the interior (1500 sq ft, 10ft ceilings), built shelves on every wall of the garage (5 units), refinished three bookshelves and one coffee table, installed a sink in the garage, built two worktables for the garage, devised and built a way to hang my kayak, sealed all outdoor wood timbers, assembled five industrial shelf units, refinished a floor, dug 20 holes for trees and a 5 x 10 x 1ft deep foundation for rainwater storage tanks, set up and fired a new kiln.

As soon as I finish a project, it is dismissed from my perception. Wouldn’t it be better to give attention to the finished project, taking the time to admire it and myself for the accomplishment? Instead I focus on the long list still to be done: build earthbag terrace walls, put rip-rap on the driveway extension, gravel the driveway, plant the 20 trees and as many bushes, install the rainwater collection tanks, make and fire clay half-pipes to direct water from one tree to the next … the list is long.

Progress not perfection.

The journey matters.

I’m trying to re-teach myself that generosity. 

In Iraq I moved full-speed sixteen or eighteen hours a day. Rolling around in my brain were between twenty and sixty projects, each with their uniquely bizarre problems to be solved yesterday. Being untrained in the tasks, I had to work twice as hard as everyone else just to be half as good at the job.

Then I got blown up, and as soon as I was conscious again the same sort of dedication and concentration was required in recovery. I was always doing something: stretching this, moving that, controlling pain, tracking government paperwork (try that when you’re looped out of Perc – yeesh), pushing my body, training my mind for new expectations and adaptions.

Habits have always been hard for me to break, and this one – a tornado brain – is proving tenacious. The mental chatter is not constant, but it constantly returns. Being alert in a war zone pays. Whether at work in an office (alert for incoming), riding the roads (alert for IEDs, SAF, etc), static at a site (alert for SAF, RPGs, coordinated attacks, etc), the background is a constant if sliding scale of adrenaline. Add handling a near-panic level learning curve and high speed problem-solving in a strange and violent land, … is it any wonder that breaking these habits takes time?

Before going to Iraq I’d traveled extensively, living for months in different countries and in various intense, microcosmic, small-group situations. Culture shock had become familiar to me. When I returned from Iraq that experience paid off, as I was more patient with myself during re-entry than many friends were with themselves.  I knew that many of the symptoms would gradually fade without effort.

War zones, though, produce unique intensities of persistent culture shock and thought patterns.I know other vets who feel the same way. Habits learned in a war zone are deeply seated. Reinforcement tends to be strong when you immerse yourself in a world for a year and half, and extreme behavior and thought patterns are seated profoundly in the body’s nerve system. It is said we learn best if more than one sense is engaged, the spoken word accompanied by pictures, for instance. A war zone teaches through engaging every sense, and with extremes (explosions, blood & guts, 130F heat, guns, bad food, constant problem solving). By a person’s senses entirely, actions and thoughts and emotions become tuned to a high level and rooted in the very cells of the body.

My most useful tool in quieting the hyper-aware chatter of the mind, slowing time in order to notice and congratulate myself on accomplishments, and letting go of the goal-oriented ticking off of tasks (lists – the organizational nerve system of my life!) has been the use of meditation. In particular, I find that the Monroe Institute cd’s (www.monroeinstitute.org) are especially useful.

Hemi-synch, the use of binaural beats to put a person into deep meditative states, often short-circuits the hyperactivity of my mind, quieting the chatter. The instant release of dropping into deep meditative states is making it easier and easier to remember during the rest of the day to take one moment at a time, and helps me to find the beauty and ease available in just being alive in this strange world.

Today I ordered sandbags to build the earthbag terrace walls. A contractor is working up an estimate for the rip-rap and driveway gravel (I’ve decided I don’t have to do it all myself). I’ve got culvert and gravel on the way for the rainwater collection tanks, and tomorrow I’ll get the pvc pipe that I’ll need for their plumbing. Saturday a friend will join me for a tree shopping spree.

There is still so much work to do.

It’s not work that needs to be done right now though. Right now I’m going to go sit on the back patio and watch the daylight fade and the stars appear, quieting my mind.

Progress, not perfection.

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I Am My Own Science Experiment

December 18, 2010

Today the whole world smells to me  like my small world at Walter Reed Army Medical Center did in December 2007.

Since being blown up, my sense of smell has been quirky. For months after I was released from the hospital, all raw meat smelled rotten, salmon smelled like polluted earth; I was unable to tell if milk had gone off; the clean, fresh scent of lemon made me nauseous. I couldn’t smell smoke; some of the finest perfumes smelled like cheap drugstore scents; and coffee smelled like burned toast.  The day that I was able to discern the delicious scent of coffee as coffee is supposed to smell was one landmark day in my recovery!

Now my sense of smell has what appear to be permanent gaps, and about once a month or so I’ll have a few days of persistent strangeness. Many perfumes and – oddly and perhaps luckily – sewage type odors almost never register as accurate. I’ve become accustomed to that. It’s the days of unexpected scents that stand out. One day everything will smell like raw meat. Yesterday scented soaps smelled like alcohol, and the day before that the desert smelled like talcum powder. Today, as I’ve said, everything smelled like Walter Reed, a distinctive lightly sweet, slightly waxy, barely medicinal odor that wouldn’t be unpleasant if it weren’t associated with the hospital.

In the excellent book The Emporer of Scent, Chandler Burr describes Luca Turin’s scientific investigations of the sense of smell. Turin is convinced that we discern scents through the vibration of molecules, the molecules seating themselves in sensors in the nasal system. In contrast, the leading scientific theory states that we perceive odors by sensors reading the shape of molecules, so in the course of his investigations and conclusions, Luca Turin ran head first into the entrenched scientists of shape theory. When scientists have invested many years in a particular theory, they don’t necessarily follow the basic precepts of science by keep their minds open to deviations from that norm and alternative explanations for gaps in the original theory. Luca Turin’s theory explains the gaps in shape theory, and overall he makes a convincing argument for vibration. Although I will remain willing to be convinced otherwise, since I’ve read only one popular-science book about the subject, I am currently a proponent of Turin’s vibration theory.

One of the stories Chandler Burr recounts in the book describes a woman in Scotland who suddenly perceived everything as smelling like feces. After consulting with many experts, her physician heard about and contacted Luca Turin, hoping he could help this woman. Being convinced that smell is based on the body reading the vibration of molecules, he suspected that this woman’s body was misreading the vibrations, which he postulated might be alleviated by medicines for epilepsy. I wish I remembered the details of why he came to that conclusion, but I don’t, probably because it made sense to me intuitively.

I think about this when my own sense of smell goes haywire. I had a massive concussion, a fractured skull, shrapnel in my frontal sinus – that’s still there – and that frontal sinus was ultimately isolated by being plugged. Perhaps there are sensors in that frontal sinus that no longer allow me to smell certain odors at all. Maybe my brain had enough jarring that some connections were permanently altered. Or perhaps my brain sustained some scarring that affects the way information is transmitted or received.

It’s also possible that environment affects my body’s energy vibration in such a way as to disrupt the scent sensors. I’ve noticed that when I eat sugar my sense of smell will be “off” the next day. If I eat more sugar the next day, the deviations are exacerbated. If I eat vegetables and simple meats, and exercise regularly, my sense of smell gets more acute and accurate.

Physics has found that what appears to be solid is not really solid. A chair is just an organization of molecules, which are in turn smaller particles with spaces between, which are in turn smaller particles with spaces between … and on and on to smaller and smaller and smaller particles, down to perhaps no particles at all – just energy. Vibration.

It makes sense to me, in these contexts, that what I put into my body or do with my body or surround my body with will affect all my senses. All the “particles” that make up my body are my own unique energy, and create or emanate my own unique energy. That energy interacts with all that it encounters.

So on days that my sense of smell is screwy, I look at what’s affecting my energy: food, exercise, stress, chemicals, drugs, sleep habits …

I am my own science experiment.

Counting My Blessings In No Particular Order – 5

November 5, 2010

 

  1. art deco
  2. felted wool
  3. anticipation
  4. camping on Lake Michigan
  5. The Grand Canyon
  6. Texas Canyon
  7. oreos
  8. bank balances that keep going up
  9. pale green
  10. moonlight
  11. the number 7
  12. narrowboats in England
  13. intricate mosaics
  14. velvety black
  15. matte glazes
  16. fire dancers
  17. huge animal sculptures atop buildings in small towns
  18. finger puppets
  19. pit fires
  20. gentle loveliness

Counting My Blessings In No Particular Order 4

August 13, 2010
  1. Meteor showers
  2. The sound of rain on leaves
  3. A good book
  4. All the Sue’s that I know
  5. Pigs
  6. Tree frogs singing at night
  7. Cobblestone streets
  8. Cathedrals
  9. Bonfires
  10. Singing with friends
  11. Puppies and the word “puppies” which is fun to say
  12. Three year old children
  13. Elegant shapes
  14. Unconscious graceful movements
  15. Small acts of kindness done for strangers
  16. Baseball games
  17. Potato chips! (ruffles!)
  18. iPod
  19. Jack o’lanterns
  20. York, England

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Heartbreak 01

August 9, 2010

March-April 2007

One of the nurses who took good care of me while I was laid out on the fifth floor for a month has recognized me. She sits down to share a smoke.

 I’m perched on a park bench on the quad in front of Walter Reed. I’m between my three appointments for the day, killing time. A tree shades me from the weak spring sun, which I would do something about but I’m still poling along on a cane. I’d like to stand in the sun, but my balance is poor and my wrist, shoulder and ankle are stiff. With only one working eye, I never feel as if I’m seeing all there is to see. I’m anxious moving about in the world, though no longer fearful. So here I sit, cautious in the shade on the bench nearest the door, tentatively enjoying the small speckles of sun passing through new leaves.

 “I’m having a bad week,” my nurse admits heavily when her cigarette is lit. “A lot of kids have come in. We’re full.”

 A lot of kids from Iraq and Afghanistan. Soldiers. Wounded young men and women. I know what she’s talking about. The wounded are the only ones who “come in” to our world. I came in four months ago. I make a neutral sound, remember lying in my room studying the ceiling with one eye wondering if one eye was the shape of my world to come.

 “A boy came in yesterday,” the nurse tells me. She pauses for a puff off the cigarette, her other hand lying dead on her lap, looking abandoned and exhausted. “He’s blind. They didn’t tell him. They kept him drugged until he got here, so he didn’t know it.”

 I suck in my breath with fear. I hold it, paralyzed with horror. I want her to stop talking now. Now. I stare at air in front of my face, willing her to stop talking.

 “When he woke up in the ward and realized he was blind,” she tells me, ignoring my mental plea, “he went crazy. He was throwing everything he could get his hands on, beating on walls … “

Overwhelmed with the horror of the moment that boy discovered he was blind, I want to scream. On the bench in front of Walter Reed, I hold my breath. I can see the ward the boy is in, the shape of the room, the placement of bed, the color of the chair, the wood grain on the cupboards, the metal trays, the plastic bag drips, the colors and feel the shape of every detail of every loose object that boy can’t see and so is throwing around the room in his unfathomable fear.

I sit still as a stone to keep from disintegrating, while my mind screams, Don’t tell me this. Don’t! Don’t tell me this right now! Oh someone, help that boy!

 I want to disappear. If I could, I would die to avoid this boy’s fear. If I could, I would die right now in trade for this boy to have his sight back. 

I’m still raw. I’m still new at this, still avoiding thinking about the possibilities of somehow losing sight in my other eye. I’m still raw, still worrying about the driver of our truck, whom I haven’t seen since the air evac and don’t know … I don’t know if he’s alright. I’m still raw, still melting with sadness – what is the word strong enough for gut-dissolving grief and frustration? I’m still disintegrating with grief for the handsome, angry boy in a wheelchair in physical therapy, for the boy in the bed in the elevator whose jaw was missing. Now I’m disintegrating with grief for this boy who woke blind.

I’m still raw, pumped full of Percocet, emotions flowing like spring water, no wellhead, no catchment, no filter. Oh please, don’t tell me this right now, this strong boy who is blind and all his friends are in the desert and all he can stand to do is throw things around his room. I don’t know what to do with this terrible love and horror that I feel for this boy! Stop talking to me!

 I look up at the sky, out onto the quad that I can’t see at all for the tears standing in my one good eye, my one blessed eye, refusing to fall. “I can’t stand it …” I whisper, frightened to death for this boy, this poor boy, oh god … my body bends forward, hands holding my stomach. Sit up! I scream to myself. Don’t think! I sit up, try to breathe.

 The nurse puts her cigarette out and forces a smile for me. “I’m so glad to see you walking around, honey,” she says to me as she stands to leave. She pats my arm.

 All I can do is shake my head and whisper, “Thank you.”

 I mean, thank you for taking care of the boy. Please take care of that boy. Please. Please take care of that boy.

I don’t know how to help these people. I don’t know how to help, and it feels shameful and shoddy and mean.