2014 Journal

A Series of Unfortunate Events

July 2014


My garden-in-pots is at the height of its lush, overflowing summer extravagance: roses and dahlias blooming in rainbow colors; lavenders, sages, lantana, lily of the Nile, platycodon, basil, verbena, freeway daises and petunias in all shades of purple; nasturtiums, marigolds, kangaroo paws and basket flowers in mixtures of yellow and orange; Shasta daises, jasmine and lisanthus in white; the abundant greenery of succulents, oreganos, rosemary, mints, kales, lettuces, Persian cucumbers, mustard greens and arugula; the reds of ripening cherry, grape and beefsteak tomatoes.


In the cool of the early morning, after doing Reiki and setting up my daily vitamins and tinctures, I meander among the pots – grooming and deadheading, picking salad and steaming greens for the day and sweeping up leaf and bird seed detritus from the patio before sitting down to my first cup of tea.  After several months of only a small community of hummingbirds visiting each day (the population uptick in April was short-lived), the hordes have, to my delight, once again descended. They buzz and chitter overhead, their magical presence my company as I sip.


Washing and refilling nine sugar-water feeders, one oriole feeder (with three gallons of the mixture) and a high-hanging birdbath every three to four days become part of my tending-the-temple rituals. In deference to my aging body’s vulnerability, I wear a cordless phone tucked/sealed into a passport pouch around my neck as I carefully climb the ladder to rehang the filled feeders, both of sugar water and those with seed mix (for the sparrows, house finch, tufted titmouse, hooded grosbeak, ground-feeding doves and wily blue jays that visit here daily).


Monitoring each of four irrigation stations, vacuuming leaf litter, walk-on bark and birdseed tracked into the house by my kitties, tending their litter boxes, cleaning up the latest deposits of cat hair left on their various in-house roosts and on the carpets – all make up the rest of my daily morning rituals (I like thinking of them this way, instead of as chores). I feel blessed that my life is simple and un-busy enough that these doings nourish me as, unhurried, I amble through them.


The meadow has a carpet of wild morning glory, a patch of purple artichoke-thistles and some random bachelor buttons. Both apple trees are heavy with baby apples. The Meyer lemon has very few new fruits: a casualty of revamping the irrigation plan while planting the new mini-orchard. I didn’t get enough water to it while its blossoms were setting fruit. I’ll miss a season of Meyer lemonade, sigh. Lots of tiny persimmons coming along, though, as well as a small crop of limes, tangelos and even some blueberries in the mini-orchard.


Around town the jacaranda trees are resplendent with their annual purple flounces while dinner-plate sized white flowers festoon all the neighborhood magnolia trees. In back and front yards, and along my twilight fire road trail, citrus, avocado and stone fruit trees are heavy with ripening fruit. This is Ojai’s season of plenty (as well as of really hot days).


Hawks cavort and serenade daily above the meadow (they have a nest in a tree two backyards down) and, after a long quiet spell, the coyotes at this end of town had a howling fest last night rather than their more typical yipping fest.


It’s been a strange time for me, these eleven or so weeks since last I wrote. It began with hiring an incredible landscape/tree person who, with his crew of two other fellows and a wonderful aesthetic, tended to all the trees in and around the meadow. Pruning out dead branches, shaping and opening up tree-hearts to create space for healthy new growth, these guys did an amazing job of reconfiguring the meadow and its trees, revealing all sorts of magical spaciousness and beauty that was previously obscured by dead overgrowth.  (It seemed metaphoric!)


Then, a delightful, newly discovered handyman came and replaced several of the nine-year old, decaying posts that support the privacy fence around the perimeter of the meadow. He also added another twelve feet of fencing to recreate some of the privacy lost when the trees (that had provided a green-fence) were reshaped and pruned back.


While all this was unfolding, and weaving the tasks leisurely between long hours of aimlessly lolling about (resting on my laurels) and reading in my hammock, I did spring cleaning in the cottage and fertilized and replenished the garden. All of it together felt like a clearing of the decks/making space, as it were, for whatever might want to come into this next season of my life. 


What came was (in the words of Lemony Snickett) a series of unfortunate events – a number of physical challenges of one sort or another – some interconnected, none really serious, incapacitating or life threatening, most not even painful. Periodically, I’ve felt overwhelmed or cranky or frustrated with it all. Yet, most of the time, I’ve just been dealing with each thing that’s come up. And, at this point, there’s something laughably absurd about the tale of the whole extraordinary sequence and the high level of maintenance involved in coping with it.


As things piled up, I did at first wonder what it was all about, what might be the message to be taken from these odd events involving the left side of my body. Given the pace of my life at this moment, it clearly wasn’t about needing to slow down. When no sense of its significance came spontaneously, I seemed not to need (as I often have in the past) to weave a story to create meaning for or a message from the series of issues. It’s been enough, so far, to simply be present to each of them and my self in the middle of them as just what’s on my plate right now. Perhaps more will be revealed as time goes by. But, then again, maybe not. I don’t seem to care either way although I’m certainly ready for the siege to be over!


The saga began in late March when I developed a random, unexplained aching discomfort along the inner edge of my left heel. This continued into late April when it erupted into a full-blown episode of plantar fasciitis with a good deal of deep and constant dull pain in my left sole (hmmm…sole/soul?). With Google for my guide (how did we live without this resource?) I found a boot to sleep with (to keep my foot flexed at a 90 degree angle throughout the night) and details of a series of calf stretches to do several times a day. Broke out my trusty TENS unit and electrodes to use for 30 – 50 minutes two and three times a day so that the micro current would help with pain reduction. Slathered Traumeel cream and sprayed arnica on frequently. Took homeopathic arnica several times a day. Rolled my foot over a frozen bottle of water for 15 minutes several times a day (a tip from Google) and put heel cushions designed to relieve plantar pain in all my shoes. In two weeks, the intensity dropped back to just the random edge of the heel aching. (It continues at this level, still.)


On the first day that it looked as if the worst of the plantar fasciitis was passing, I woke up with my left forearm and elbow quite swollen (though not painful) for no apparent reason. When the swelling continued and increased the next day, I went to the Ojai ER (nothing like any ER anywhere else: usually only one other person there, no blood or mayhem or chaos, ever!). The doc there (my regular alternative MD was out of town) diagnosed cellulitis and bursitis and, of course, prescribed heavy-duty antibiotics.  Since I prefer not to do pharmaceuticals unless absolutely necessary, I went back to Google to research cellulitis (a potentially quite serious inflammation/infection) and to find Chinese, herbal and homeopathic antibiotic/anti-inflammatory alternatives. My herbalist and masseuse provided some of these and my masseuse taught me lymphatic drainage techniques to help reduce the swelling/inflammation.


Now, during each of the times I had the TENS unit electrodes on my foot, I had my arm wrapped in an ice pack and propped on pillows so it would be above my heart (to allow for the lymph/edema drainage). It was quite a scene. I added a pillow to prop a book on my chest so I could read while all of this was going on. Life was getting curiouser and curiouser!


Educated about the potential dangers of cellulitis, I committed to seeing my own doctor on his return if the swelling wasn’t significantly reduced by these alternative approaches. And, as well, to being willing then to do whatever pharmaceuticals he might advise. The swelling, heat and skin flush in my arm had all but disappeared by the time, a week later, that I saw him. Unfortunately, there was still a mushy golf ball sized pocket extending out from my elbow (apparently classic olecranon bursitis though, oddly, without the typical associated pain or restriction in range of motion). At his recommendation, I began a 7-day course of generic Keflex that, at the end of the week, we extended to 10 days.


On a walk that Tuesday evening after seeing him and beginning the antibiotic, I had my first fall since the one that had, two years ago, caused a hairline fracture of the trochanter/hip knob of my right leg. It was startling since I never experienced the tripping: one minute I was upright and the next, sprawled as if on a two-handed slide into home base.  The good news: no broken skin or bones and the terrain was of the sort that’s always been trip-worthy for me – uneven pavement.  It was disconcerting, though not particularly distressing. Then, two days later on Thursday, I had the same sort of up-one-minute on-the-ground-the-next fall; again no warning, on uneven pavement, in closed walking shoes and with no consequent broken skin or bones – another swan dive/slide with arms outstretched and body trailing behind.


This time, I felt shaken: two falls in three days was distressing even though I hadn’t gotten hurt.  I found my self feeling very vincible, realizing I’d need now to focus more than usual on where I put my feet each moment.


When I fell yet again on Saturday, the third up-one-minute, on-the-ground-the next fall in five days, this time painfully jamming my hand in the dive/sprawl, I felt completely overwhelmed and fragile.  I sat on the broken up asphalt, less than a half block from home, cradling my rapidly swelling wrist and weeping.


The falls I’d had two and three years ago (broken elbow, then cracked trochanter) had put an end first to my hiking the front country trails alone and then to my walking alone on my evening trail after dark. The pile up of these three falls in less than a week left me wondering if I’d ever again feel safe/confident to walk anywhere – even in broad daylight on local streets.  It was a wretched moment.


Though I had good mobility despite the swelling in my wrist, I opted to drive the two miles, once again, to the Ojai Hospital ER to have an x-ray and make sure I hadn’t broken anything. I hadn’t. Still the swelling and pain from certain movements added something further to my new high-maintenance self-care regimen. At the same time, it made much of my yoga/free-weight and Pilates routine moot for a time.


It took a few days to calm down from the fear about walking. It helped enormously when I realized that the falls were likely the consequence of the plantar heel cushions impairing the proprioception from my feet. This feedback is what normally helps me anticipate and correct for tripping. Since the heel inserts actually extended under my arches, they created rigidity where there’s ordinarily flexibility and therefore, feedback. I pitched all three pairs of inserts as soon as I had that insight. Immediately I felt more grounded when I walked.


One of the things about living in an aging body is how much longer injuries take to heal. Still, day-by-day with icing and compression, I had more and more pain-free wrist and hand mobility.  Things were progressing well.


Then, because the antibiotic regimen and compression advised by my alternative MD brought no appreciable change in the swelling in the bursa, the next step was a visit to my friendly orthopedist to have him drain the fluid (15 cc) that wasn’t going anywhere by any other means.  The procedure was uneventful, essentially painless after the numbing shot that preceded the draining. The irritating news was that my elbow needed to be casted to immobilize it for two weeks to help discourage the bursa from filling up again. I thought we’d agreed to cast it at a 90 degree angle but wound up with him arranging it at about 98 degrees, – just enough off to make several chores no longer doable two-handed. This uncomfortable angle left the cast frequently banging into either my mid-upper arm or at its other end, just a couple of inches above my wrist. It was hard to find a position I could hold comfortably without the banging/bruising, sigh! I was NOT a happy camper.


Since the cast caused a good deal of swelling in my wrist and hand, a twice-daily propped-up ice-wrap continued as part of my TENS-and-icing routine.  Amazingly, I found comfortable ways to sleep with the cast on my left arm and the rigid boot on my left calf/ankle/foot. It was hard to imagine how, if I led a more typical, busy life, I’d have been able to find the patience, space and time for all these now necessary self-ministrations.


Needless to say, the swelling and wrist strains caused by the cast created a whole new layer of injury needing time to heal once the cast came off (almost two weeks ago). And, adding, as it were, insult to injury, once the cast came off, the bursa swelled up again, albeit not as much as originally. So, now as my forearm and wrist are recuperating, I’m working with my acupuncturist both on those injuries and on seeing if we can get the new swelling down in the bursa, sigh! At the moment, the acupuncture treatments appear to be working on both fronts. (And, some work with an osteopathic physical therapist is helping both my wrist and my foot in their healing processes.)


If the acupuncture doesn’t clear the swelling, the conventional medical option would be to surgically remove the swollen bursa (a healthy one should grow back within six months) and be casted again during the recovery from that surgery.  Since there is no danger in living with an uninfected swollen bursa that is causing no pain, I’d clearly choose to let it be rather than subject my self to general anesthesia, surgery and casting my arm again.


Are you exhausted reading the saga? Living it has been quite trying, especially since with the cast on for two weeks, I chose not to walk lest, with the cast, another fall might open me to breaking my arm or shoulder!  At the moment, my forearm, wrist and heel are gradually moving toward normal, my bursa swelling may be diminishing, I’m back to my usual exercise regimen (though with lighter free weights for my arms) and feeling grounded in my walking.


The most amazing part of this seemingly endless siege of physical issues is that I’ve mostly been able to go on with my usual life in fairly good spirits, sort of shaking my head at the absurdity of it all. (Though while casted, I did enlist my landlord’s house sitter to do the ladder climbing to hang the hummingbird feeders for me.) What few meltdowns I’ve had have passed through fairly quickly as I surrendered into each of them for as long as it lasted. No insight/story about or message to take from this accumulation of challenges has yet emerged. That’s not being a problem for the me I am these days. I do suspect, even while none of these challenges has felt particularly age-related, that dealing with them has been good practice for whatever trials might lie ahead living in an aging body.


No matter, the garden, the birds, the kitties, this magical cottage and meadow, the paradise of Ojai, endless hours of reading in the hammock and listening to books on CD in the house and the car – these continue daily to bring me much joy and peace in the middle of whatever’s going on.  It’s been an inward time with no inclination to be around people or, till now, to stop and write. Once I started writing, I needed to tell the whole saga. So there you have it – perhaps in more detail than you might care for, sigh.


I’m curious to see where from here.