Friday, September 2, 2011

Dealing With a Much Constrained World

I've often wondered what the life of a prisoner would be like. Having to have every aspect of your life regimented, totally focused on a tiny area, with the most minimal of movements possible, perhaps to go to the washroom being the big movement of any given day. That's exactly the world I have to live with right now. Since my leg break and the subsequent surgery, I've had to come to grips with the fact that my wide moves, broad brush strokes and unlimited amounts of energy are severely curtailed right now.

I'll confess the lack of movement didn't come as much of a surprise. I knew that I'd be severely limited after I got confirmation of a broken bone, and especially after news of the need for surgery. What I wasn't prepared for was just how much energy would be consumed by having to do the most simple things. I don't mean to be gross or nasty with any of this but this is my reality each day, and much as I hope it will fade into memory soon, right now it's very real and very apparent.

First, I have access to my bed, where honestly i have spent 23 of 24 hours the past 4 days (I've calculated that I've been in a prone position for 95% of the time since 08/29/2011 at 6:15 PM). First it was a hospital bed, hooked up to a morphine drip that I decided I couldn't stand after the first day (If I have to choose between discomfort and nausea, discomfort wins every time). Having thrown up all of my food from the morning and afternoon on Tuesday, I decided it was best to just not deal with the pain meds unless I just couldn't take it any more. There were plenty of moments, to be sure, when the button won the battle of wills, but by Thursday morning, I had mostly weaned myself off of the morphine. The fact that they were giving me Percocet pills certainly helped matters, but even then I tried my best to not have them give me too much. I spent a lot of time sleeping/dozing, because literally every movement felt like an Olympic event. Short bouts with physical therapy were utterly exhausting. We joke about on crutches when we are fine, but boy is it a different matter when you really, positively cannot put weight on a limb, and if you do, LOOK OUT, because that pain is going to be INTENSE.  Thus, the bed becomes the comforter and the prison all in one.

The next boundary, honestly, is the bathroom. That's about the farthest in the house I'm willing to travel right now, and it's an adventure in and of itself. In the hospital, you are given a jug to relieve yourself; if you can make the trip to the bathroom, by all means do so, but truthfully, the amount of energy required to do that just had me grab the jug and be done with it (add to the fact that a continuous IV adds a lot of water to your system, and yes, you go... a lot!). Here at home, I know that each trip is going to be about 8 minutes round trip, and that's if I'm quick and focused. Most of the time, it's a matter of noticing you have to go, slowly lowering your foot to the floor without jerking it, running twinges of pain throughout your body, grabbing the walker, hobbling on your good foot to get to the  washroom, settling down to take care of things, then preparing with all your strength to stand up on your good foot, walk back to your bed, and pull your leg back up onto its elevated position ("leg must be elevated 22.5 hours a day, elevated meaning the broken portion must be higher than my heart").

From there, I have my time back again. This is something that, honestly, I never gave a thought to before. Now, every possible nuance that can save me a grunt here, a step there, a huff of energy someplace else, I'm going to figure it out. My bathroom breaks have become a clinic in the art of performance testing and efficiency (LOL!).

Ergonomics takes on a whole new meaning when you have to be prone and your leg has to be elevated above your heart. You tax muscles in ways you never taxed them before. My lower back is bearing a lot of strain. My right knee is getting stress by having to elevate and compensate for a section of "dead weight" leg that, if jostled in just the "right" way, makes for a solid grimace if not an outright grunt or moan. Gang, I love to play tough any chance I can get, but really, this taxes you like nobody's business. It's just plain tiring to do even the most basic of movements. It's amazing, I gave my lower right leg not one minute of thought before Monday evening. Now I can't stop thinking about it, and that in and of itself is an immense emotional labor strain.

So are there any good points to all of this? For me the answer is yes. The Internet and communicating via it is a saving grace right now. It's funny, so much has been said about the power of the Internet and the tools and services we used, but really, it all comes down to two things; the ability to communicate with people we care about and the ability to learn something new. Both of those are helping me now like never before. The outpouring of love and support by friends, family and co-workers has been astounding and really heartfelt. What's more, I've had the chance to sit down and examine things in ways I hadn't considered, or with time I otherwise would have gone off to do something else. There's nothing incidental in such a confined world. For me, everything I do has intense purpose right now, because everything I invest my time in, no matter how small or big, has a larger than average energy cost. My body and my existence has become a "gas guzzler" of a life, and in some ways, for way too little MPG, because the biggest lesson of all is this...

I am stuck with a finite amount of energy any given day, and really, it goes very quickly right now!

I may want to do a whole bunch of things, I may want to learn more about ruby and cucumber and agile testing methodologies, but no matter how much desire I have, or how much focus or attention, there's this thing called "energy" and once it's gone, you can't just will it to stick around. It's gone. This, gang, is a very new experience for me. I've always had a deep well to pull from in the past, and maybe I still do, but this week, that well has run dry a lot. When that happens, I've been known to nod off in mid sentence, in the middle of an application, and wake up an hour later thinking "OK, where am I and what was I just doing?!" This is horribly distracting, and it's frustrating, too. I'm hoping that as time goes on, I'll be doing this less and less, but really, I could do without this little side effect any day now (LOL!).

So there it is, life inside my tiny bubble at the moment. Overall, I'm upbeat, even if it may not seem like it. There's new challenges to face every day, and new ways of looking at the world that I've taken for granted. New paradigms promote new ways of thinking about things, and thus develop new paradigms as well. Why knows, this may be just the period of time that I need to really learn ruby, or to really get into the nuts and bolts of web design with CSS3, or any number of things. I may be able to work through and finish the stack of books that has been growing and waiting for me to have "the time" to read them. Well, I have no excuse about "the time" any longer. The energy? that remains to be seen. Worry not, friends, I pride myself on being chipper, and these days are no different than others I've passed. They're a little more confined, to be sure, but that's no reason for me to get all down on life. Sometimes the best ways to make a "break-through" is to make a "break with" (please pardon the pun).  I've got a new chance to really do and learn some interesting and amazing things, and honestly no excuse not to do them (well, there's always an excuse, but I have quite a lot fewer of them at the moment ;) ). In some ways, I'm interested in learning more about myself in the coming weeks. I hope that what I learn will be positive and uplifting. I hope you'll let me know as well :).


Lisa said...

This brings back recent painful memories for me! At first when I broke my ankle, I thought, "Well, at least I will have time to catch up on some things I never normally get to do." Only, it took so long to do EVERYthing, even the most mundane things, I didn't really have any free time!

I'm so impressed how much you are blogging and still helping with WTA! My break was not nearly as bad as yours and I didn't need surgery, and even so, I sure didn't blog about it! I was able to keep working, I worked from bed for the first week (and mostly stayed in bed for the first 8 days - I was lucky and had a holiday weekend in there). All those unanticipated problems like what happens to your back when all you can do is lie on it in bed with your legs stacked up on pillows - I had no idea!

Looking at this from the other side now, doing the rehab and finally having my leg feel somewhat functional, I can tell you that the time will pass more quickly than you think and your leg will get better, however slowly! Meanwhile, I bet lots of people are taking good care of you, just let them do that.

Here is a pro tip for when you get your cast off: 1. Take crutches or a cane with you, you still won't be able to walk (though maybe with pins, it is different), 2. Order some shoes that are a half size bigger because your foot will be so swollen. I got a very sore toe and blackened toenail from it being shoved to the front of the shoe. 3. Set up a physical therapy appointment for the SAME DAY that you get your cast off, because the orthopedist is no help in learning how to walk again.

Michael Larsen said...

@Lisa, thanks for the comments and thanks for the advice. I plan to follow it to the letter :). Yes, I agree with how much energy it takes, but the worst feeling in the pressure in my leg when I have to move from point A to point B. The upright position and movement intensifies the pressure to the point where I want to curl in a ball and whimper after about 30 seconds, so there's that "dread" feeling I get every time I have to move, coupled with near sprint level speed :).

I'm a week down, so I'm 25% through my "bed rest"... just three more weeks to go... Ugh (LOL!).