Thursday, March 10, 2016

One Year Later -- when my life fell apart

Today marks the one year anniversary of me falling through the floor.

Last April I wrote a blog post about my fall, and I thought that would be the end of it. After surgery and some physical therapy, I assumed that my life would return to normal and it would all be nothing more than a crazy mission story to tell. I was wrong though. You see, after I fell through the floor... my life fell apart.

How naive I was to think that God had finished working with me and that my problems would be over. Though this is a blog of my mission stories, I truly believe that the trials I experienced after my fall were an extension of my mission. And so to mark this anniversary, here is the rest of my story.

The first words my mom said when she saw me in the airport was, "She's walking!!" I was still so beat up from the accident that I was pushed around the airport in a wheelchair, but I managed to limp out to my sweet family waiting for me.

I went to an orthopedic surgeon immediately after getting home. They took my giant plaster cast off, re-splinted it, and scheduled my surgery for the next week.

This is me trying really hard not to pass out. Can you tell where my arm is broken??

I can't really remember how I spent that week before my surgery. I was nervous, but I had been told that after the surgery and a few weeks of physical therapy, everything would be fine. I knew nothing of what was truly to come.

I woke up from surgery in SO much pain. They kept me away from my family because the pain wasn't in control, and kept giving me more doses of pain meds. Nothing was helping though, so they finally gave me a nerve block. That numbed my entire left arm and was supposed to last for 24 hours. They told me to expect intense pain for the next 2-3 days, and then normal pain after that.

honestly I'm really surprised I could even smile in this picture

I was nauseous and dazed, but I insisted on seeing what they had just done to my arm.

I managed the first day home from the hospital fine, since I couldn't feel any part of my left arm because of the nerve block. My ribs still hurt too much to lay down though, so my dad made me a makeshift hospital bed.

The next day was the worst day of my life. When the nerve block wore off, the pain came and it didn't go away. I was supposed to take my pain medication every 4-6 hours as needed, but it only barely took the edge off of the pain for the first 2 hours. The rest of the time I laid in bed sobbing and literally begging my parents to let me take more narcotics. It's hard to describe how painful it was. Because of the severe trauma of the fall, the travel, and then the surgery, my arm was hypersensitive to the pain. It was an intense, sharp throbbing, a horrible, deep ache where the metal had been drilled into the bone, and the entire length of the incision site burned. Honestly, my elbow hurts right now just thinking about it. 

My poor parents didn't know what to do with me. They knew they couldn't give me the drugs I was begging for, so they tried everything to distract me. They painted my toenails, talked to me, and asked me about mission stories. Sweet friends sent me fruit, food, and cookies. But all I did was cry. All day. The next day was only a little more tolerable. The day after that was bearable. 

A dear friend returned from his mission a few days after my surgery and that helped to cheer my spirits. We planned it so that I would take pain meds right before seeing him. That way I could actually carry on a pleasant conversation instead of just crying. :) 

I look happy in the pictures, but around this time my heart started to crumble. The reality of my situation sunk in. I tried to have faith, but I was upset. 

THIS was how I was supposed to return home from my mission? 

I had been completely independent, and proud of it. I had been serving God and giving Him my all. I was happy that way. Now I was completely helpless. I felt pathetic, calling my parents from the room next door and begging for the next dose of pain medication in the middle of the night. I couldn't sit up from bed without help. My mother had to bathe me, her 20-year old, return-missionary daughter. She helped me get dressed and did my hair. My parents were the most loving caretakers possible, but I hated how helpless I felt. 

After a few weeks of waiting for the bone to heal, the cast was finally taken off. I couldn't bend my elbow at all, but I still managed to be optimistic as I started physical therapy. Just a few weeks of work, and my arm should be back to normal, right? I wanted this all to be over.

I started out making a little progress. My arm slowly moved a few degrees more each time I went. This is how much it moved after about two weeks. 

I was terrified that I would stop making progress though, and around this time that's pretty much what happened. I kept going to physical therapy three times a week and faithfully doing my exercises, but it never voluntarily moved more than a tiny bit on its own. My therapist was phenomenal, and she worked SO hard to help me. She did literally everything she and other specialists could think of to help my arm move again. Things would work for a few seconds and then my arm would go right back to where it liked to be. My surgeon didn't understand why my arm had become so stiff. The x-rays looked fine, the surgery had gone well, and no one's arm had ever frozen up as much as mine had. Someone suggested that they put me in a textbook.

my arm never moved from this crooked position

Each physical therapy session was excruciating. I did exercises to move it back and forth and strengthen the muscles. These were painful, but tolerable. All physical therapy is painful, as anyone who has ever done it knows. But elbows are apparently the hardest and most painful joints to re-mobilize after an injury. Because of their anatomy they get stiff really fast and are a pain to move again. And I mean literally, a PAIN. The worst thing was stretching it.

At the end of every session I laid down on a table and my therapist, whom I loved and trusted, pulled my arm out as far as it could go. She held it there for as long as I could stand, over and over again. Then she pushed it in towards me and held that for as long as I could stand. Not only did I have to let her do that to me, but I had to learn how to actually RELAX while she did, so that my muscles wouldn't contract and fight against her. I had to let her hurt me.

I have thought for a long time about how to accurately describe the pain that I felt during those stretches. I decided on this: Imagine that your entire arm was soaked in glue that someone let harden. Like when you use a paintbrush and forget to wash it out so the bristles all get stuck together and are rock hard. Picture that everything down to the bone is soaked in this glue. The skin is glued to the muscles, each little muscle is glued to another and to the bone, the bones are all stuck together as well, and it's all at a nice 90 degree angle. Now imagine that someone forcefully pulls your arm open and holds it there until it's unbearable. They stop and do it again. And then again. Then they push it in and hold that again and again.
If your eyes just rolled back into your head thinking about that sort of pain, then you've imagined it about right.

This is a device they gave me to stretch my arm out and hold it for hours on end. We named it "Hank the Crank."

My PT told me she was surprised I never passed out, that this usually made grown men cry, that childbirth would be a piece of cake for me, and that she wouldn't wish an elbow fracture on her worst enemy. I just laid there and whimpered. I took to listening to music while she stretched me to try and distract myself from the pain. Deeper (Paul Cardall), By Your Side (Tenth Avenue North) and Consider the Lilies (Mormon Tabernacle Choir) were my go-to physical therapy songs.

I laid there and thought about my Savior. Though I know that the excruciating pain I felt was only a fraction of the pain that He felt in the Garden of Gethsemane, in some small way I came to understand him better. I learned about submission. Christ knelt there in the garden and willing submitted to the pain of the entire world. "He... fell on his face, and prayed, saying, O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me." Christ didn't want to hurt that much. "...nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt" (Matt. 26:39).

Through the intense physical pain, I came to know Jesus Christ more. I gained a greater love and appreciation for the suffering that He felt. I knew that He was the only one to truly understand the pain that I was feeling. Physical pain was not the only thing He suffered though; he also experienced our sadness, grief, and heartbreak.

At this point in the summer I was seriously dating someone. We were high school sweethearts and had been dating for 5 years. We had dated through high school, college, good times, bad times, and 2 years away on missions. After waiting so long, we were finally together again and we were planning on getting married. Unexpectedly though, he ended our relationship and walked away from me.

Often I have felt the need to downplay this part of my story. I don't know, maybe it's not as socially acceptable to admit heartbreak as it is a broken bone, but the reality of it is that I was now as emotionally broken as I was physically.

I was depressed and confused. I was angry with God. He was the one who had let this all happen. People don't just fall through floors! I knew my life wouldn't be perfect after the mission, but THIS was too much. I was discouraged and upset by the lack of progress with my arm. I was terrified that it would never move again. I was devastated by the loss of someone that I had loved so much and for so long. My family was moving across country and we were leaving our beloved home of 20 years. Honestly, I didn't really see the point of continuing life like this -- with everything falling apart. My prayers were desperate and painful cries for help and for healing.

I distinctly remember the day I broke down. It had been a particularly hard morning at physical therapy, with no progress and lots of pain. I called in sick to work and laid on my bed sobbing for hours. I was so afraid. What if it were the Lord's will that my arm never move again? I couldn't do it. I didn't want to. It all hurt too much.

That day something snapped in my heart. I gave up fighting. In a good way though -- I gave up fighting God. I gave up kicking my heels and stomping my feet and telling him that it wasn't fair. I was too tired to be stubborn anymore.
What if it was His will that my arm never move again? Could I still be a good person with one and a half arms? Could I still help and serve others and testify about Christ? Could I still be happy?

I prayed and I managed to tell God that I could. I told him that if he didn't want my arm to move again, I would be okay with it. You see, I still hadn't finished learning about submission. I had to physically submit to pain to heal my arm, but my soul could not be healed until I submitted that to him too. When we give our hearts to him, we give up fighting against His plan for us. That sometimes means that we allow ourselves to be hurt along the way, but we trust Him enough to know that it will all work out for good. We allow ourselves to be molded in his hands, even if it is a painful process.

"Have thy own way Lord, have thy own way.
Thou art the potter -- I am the clay."

"Here's my heart, oh take and seal it --
seal it for thy courts above."

The process started that day for me. It didn't all get immediately better, but my heart was in a better place. As I continued to open my heart and cry to Him, the anger at my circumstances gradually subsided to acceptance and then to gratitude. I am grateful that my life fell into pieces -- because God took those pieces and put them back together into a better me.

To be continued.