Jane noticed it first, a sort of a knob on the elbow. A watery knob, to put a finer point on it. Elbows being inherently knobby, a knob on top of a knob. It may have been Jane who looked looked up the matter on the web. Bursitis. A guess heartily reinforced by Perry, PT assistant, who arrived the next morning for the usual bout of stretching and kneading, a.k.a., range of motion.
Your doctor may want to stick a needle in that, he observed, drain it…the very thought of which drained me. And it’s not as though I am a medical virgin. It’s just that I want no more of medical intervention. The intrusion of needles being a prime example. And, I acknowledge, this is not the most reasonable of demands to place on life, at age 66. Still, so much has gone wrong, and there is so much more to go wrong, it is certain…in terms of my body. And yet there it is, firm evidence to the contrary. No, not firm, but watery and jiggly. Bursitis.
I phoned my sister. She knows all about it, assures me that this is what the condition is, a protrusion of fluid at a joint. Which puts me out of joint, this news. Nothing routine about joint swelling. I have only one functional arm, and it had better work. That’s my position. A completely untenable one. But I’m sticking to it. And no doctor is sticking needles into it, not on my watch, at least not today. See if it goes down overnight, Perry advised. Try to keep it elevated, above your heart.
Do all disabled people get this sort of advice? Consider Perry’s recommendation. Take the one functioning limb left me, raise it above my head and, presumably, keep it there for some length of time…while I do what? The latter getting to the heart of the matter. That there is not much any person can do, disabled or perfectly fit, with one arm over their head. Either arm, to be absolutely clear. Arms and the man. You need them, both of them, and with one above the head, all you can do is convalesce.
Which strains my patience. Do I look convalescent? Yet this is the thing about life, disabled or otherwise, that one must accept. Which I really have been trying to do. I spent much of yesterday, Sunday, lying around. I even thought hard, very hard, about how one might read and have one’s hand elevated. One’s one hand, that is. And I failed to solve this problem. And yet might have to. After all, there are audio-books. There are times, really are times when health requires slowing down. Which feels a lot like throwing in the towel, so I am monitoring this situation, this basic attitudinal problem. The wisdom of giving in….
Matched with the wisdom of paying attention. The truth is that throughout my trip to the UK I had pain in my left arm. Truth be told, I always have some pain in this arm. There’s a set of exercises for the arm that should be done every day. And the arm did seem to feel better when I did them. But not enough. And when I think about it, this arm pain did not follow the usual pattern. There was something different about it. Hard to say what, but also hard to just pay attention. Because tuning into this arm pain would have been disquieting. It wasn’t occurring in the usual places, and although exercise might have seemed to help…well, it wasn’t helping in quite the usual way. Which would have meant acknowledging and facing my big chronic fear: that the whole thing, the entire neuromuscular package, is falling apart.
Still a new day dawns, this one with the same news as yesterday, that my elbow fluid is undiminished. I thank Jane and do what must be done. I notify both my doctor and my physical therapist. Throughout the day, no word comes from either. Still, it is often at day’s end that medical professionals catch up on calls. So when the phone rings at 5:30, I hustle. Actually, I rush at considerable risk. For the laws of the universe being what they are, the phone rings while I am about to pee. Never mind, compromised bladder or not, the phone must be answered. I blast from bathroom to office…and catch one of my wheelchair’s protruding lights on the door frame. It shatters hopelessly. The phone call turns out to be from a fence company. Fence, I ask incredulous. Yes, that’s right. Someone is rebuilding the back fence at this apartment complex tomorrow. Right, I say, hanging up.
I think that the broken shards from the clear lens on my wheelchair light do not pose an immense threat. They are plastic, after all. But they are also sharp. My sensation isn’t. So I spend the next 20 minutes picking up shattered pieces of clear plastic. The very transparency of which poses obvious problems. Several pieces have inevitably come loose in the bathroom, and I frantically look about the tile. Not a good idea stepping on this stuff, even if it isn’t glass. Worse, the front-facing headlight is now twisted to the right, adding a good two or three additional inches to the width of the wheelchair. Everywhere I go now I will have to proceed with care.
But I already proceed with care. Never enough, that is the thing. But the big thing, the somewhat new and definitely improved thing, is that I have not berated myself, at least not to excess, for this exercise in light shattering. I hate these lights. That is the other truth. Better that they are the objects of hatred than myself. You can’t stop progress.