Not Gonna Be a Wimp!

Losing independence is tough stuff. It can happen to the best of us at any stage of life, and we fight it. I half-remember a cartoon in which I think Linus (or was it Sally Brown?) said, “I can tie my own” (looks down) “two shoes!”

Well, right now I can’t. But hey, it’s way better than a couple of months ago when I couldn’t wash my own face.

That was after surgery on my left hand to get back some pain-free functioning in three fingers that couldn’t hold a book or knit a mitten without cramping. But you have to give some up to get some back. For more than a month, I showered with a plastic bag over the cast, and I paid helpers to bathe and dress me. I’d had plenty of time to plan ahead–I borrowed bigger shirts and sweaters from my sister to make it easier to pull clothes on over the plaster and then the fiberglass cast, and I baked bread, cooked soup and meat, and froze good things to eat.

Little by little, I got bits of my life back. After several weeks of therapy, I’m not done yet, but I can do many of the things I could before.

Like type. Last spring I blogged here about “Persevering with the Dragon,” and by this year I knew that voice-recognition software well enough to dictate all my writing for a couple of months. I even did mailing labels for the postcards I sent out to announce my new mystery, and other kinds of labels for the postcards I’m using as handouts for the library book signing and sending to mystery conferences.

BrothersKeeper cover for blogAnd I sent a longish email to people I thought might possibly give a hoot about Her Brother’s Keeper or the ebooks that are now all up on my website. Dragon NaturallySpeaking wrote that email and the many I sent every week for a volunteer job, but while still wrestling my cut-and-pasted tendons back into usefulness, I’m actually typing this blog.

I’m bragging, both ways.

I’ve kneaded my first batch of bread but still can’t tie my shoes. Or pull up the fiercely tight compression hose I’ve needed for years. I’m told now that pulling up my knee socks may be what damaged the tendons in the first place. But after training a bunch of women helpers to do that time-gobbling job, I’ve taught my husband how, and taught myself just barely enough patience to see us both through the frustrating process. Pulling up socks and tying shoes aren’t enough to justify hiring expensive help. Not easy, but I can do this if he can. Not gonna be a wimp.

* * * * *

Fast forward a few weeks. Another batch of sourdough oatmeal bread is rising in my old wooden bowl–good wrist therapy, that. My hand is getting stronger, and I now finally have a new plastic sock aid (the kind I’d tried before was useless) that works well enough to help me get the darned things on in a couple of tries. Not if you follow the written directions, mind you, but with some common sense, it’s possible. And I’m stubborn enough. The good news is that it should help prevent future damage to the just-healing tendons and my other ones, too. And my husband’s.

I hope that hand soon will be better than before the surgery. That was the whole idea. Bluntly, it’s a whole lot harder to exercise the patience than the hand. I knew that ahead of time–that’s why I hired the helpers. It’s easier not to grouch at a stranger than someone close to you. And if I slipped up, the hired helper wouldn’t have to put up with me for long. The plastic puller-upper I’m using from now on can’t even hear what I mutter if the socks go on crooked and I have to start over to keep them from pinching my feet.

Going through this kind of thing reminds you that only lucky people get to hang onto their independence their whole lives. Most of us will have to give up bigger or smaller chunks of it at some point. Not easy to do. Hard even to think about.

So I’m working on it. Toughing out pain is one thing. Losing abilities can be harder, except for the unrelenting kind of pain we all hope to be spared. Losing all choice is hardest of all. You can plan ahead and control your life only so far. After that, you have to hope the people who start making your choices will leave you enough of them that you won’t mind needing to have your face and other spots washed, and things done their way that you’d rather do your way. And that they’ll guess right what matters to you if they have to guess. Even advance-care directives can’t spell out everything.

I can practice not taking choices away from other people myself. The bossy know-it-all in me is doing better about back-seat driving, and not just in the car. Not easy. But I’m not gonna be a wimp.

And for now, at least, I can tie my own two shoes again.