Monday, October 08, 2012

A Day-In-The-Life-Of someone with a shoulder injury who also happens to be a wheelchair user

This post is meant to be a reminder for me when I am well-recovered from my shoulder injury - to appreciate what I have - and also as a way to help individuals who are not in a similar situation to gain some insight into the experience. For those in health professions, this may help you get a picture of what some of your clients go through.

On September 27, 2012, I had a shoulder injury at work. As part of my condition, my bones break easily so fractures are always a concern. Any time I have a fall or a near-fall, I tense up a lot and sometimes have muscle pain for a while. This time, the pain did not subside quickly. By day 2, I knew something was wrong.

Thankfully, X Rays showed no fractures, and it appears the injury is a strain / sprain to the rotator cuff. That being said, from what I hear, fractures heal quicker and cleaner than sprains and strains to that area. I have had a lot of improvement in a week's time. Still, the pain persists and my functioning is still impacted.

The day-in-the-life of will begin at bed-time, a day after the injury...

I am wiped. Exhausted. My day was spent sleeping, for the most part. Part of that might have been the fact I took Robaxacet regularly, as indicated on the bottle. The other part is most likely due to the fact my body is trying to heal. Undressing is painful, but certainly easier than dressing was earlier that morning. Fortunately, for me, I have learned how to do things one-handed so many times in my life that certain tasks like brushing my teeth, and tearing toilet paper from the roll don't phase me. This is a good thing, because the next day holds much frustration and feelings of being overwhelmed.

I sleep well - when I'm sleeping. Thing is, every time I want to change positions, I wake up fully. In the back of my mind, I know that I cannot change positions without being very, very careful. Despite the frequent waking, I've had a decent night's sleep (not so for every night since then, but overall this has been ok). 

In the morning, I wake up. I know I need to see a doctor. My arm is no better. I am frustrated. Overwhelmed. I think about what the day has in store for me. I still cannot prepare any food. I can't use my microwave because it is set up higher and I need a hand to balance when I get up on my knees on my chair to reach the microwave at the best of times. I cannot do this as putting weight through my arm is painful. I can't chop food. I can't cut up any meat. Pouring milk is challenging - this is a 2-handed task for the most part. My counters are high in the kitchen, so even washing my hands is difficult. I also wake up to remembering the pile of laundry I had planned to do on the weekend. Now, I can't do this. My groceries are low - at least with respects to food I can prepare. As in, food that does not require preparation. Sure, I have some fruit and vegetables. But I can't chop it to be able to eat. Normally, I slice apples and cut oranges into wedges so I can eat them. It was looking like yet another day of eating peanut butter. I began to cry, feeling overwhelmed with all I take for granted each day. All that I can do normally that I am now not able to do. I live alone. I feared showering. I always hang on to the sides with both hands getting in and out of the shower. I knew, though, that I've learned quite well how to wash my hair one handed. That, I knew, I could do. [On a side note, a friend commiserated with me on this - isn't it sad I've actually had to learn how to do this so well?]. Then I put myself together and took my shower. I was surprised how well that went, and how good that hot water felt on my injured shoulder. The trouble came when trying to wrap a towel around me. Try it for yourself! It's a two-handed task unless you've got lots of practice! Dressing was also painful. I have only a couple pair of pants that are easy to pull up, and I need to look for a shirt that is lose fitting. Never mind the bra. That is too painful today.

Then, on to seeing the doctor. I can't drive. Driving gives me independence. Once again, it hit me. I can't wheel my wheelchair. I can't drive. I even tried - and I couldn't move the steering wheel and I couldn't put the vehicle in gear. I use hand controls so I have no choice - I use the acceleration / braking lever with the left hand and steer with my right hand. I'm fully dependent on others to get around once again. I call a taxi. The cab driver was not willing to come up to my unit where most cabs go - he figures this is a walkway. I had told the cab company I have a disability and very specifically asked the cab company to instruct the driver to come up the walk. This message was not passed on. When he realized my situation, he willingly came over to me. Still, it was one more frustration. He was very helpful after this. I got into the doctor's office very quickly. He didn't say much. When he heard my medical history, he simply said x rays would be necessary and prescribed a Voltaryn gel for inflammation and pain. Again, I needed a ride from the doctor's office to the x ray clinic. I was able to arrange a ride to the x ray clinic, and a different ride from there back to home. It's such a process! So complicated. I guess the good thing is I'm not wearing out any one particular friend.

Another friend came over later to bring me Timmies and to bring some fresh fruit. She helped by cutting up some fruit and vegetables so I can eat and putting in a small load of laundry so I'd have something to wear in the next few days.

I was so exhausted by the end of the day. I arranged a ride to church the next day. Then went to sleep.

Fast forward a few days and here are some of my experiences:
- not being able to return to work for a few days - I'm not even able to wheel my chair, much less lift heavy charts for charting.
- the hoards of paperwork required - for WCB, for injury reporting, for getting Access Calgary lined up.
- the hours on the phone required to get the paperwork lined up.
- returning to work mid-week and losing (or having it stolen - not sure which) my nice cell phone the first day. I was so wiped out by 4 pm already. The meeting went until 5 pm. And I hadn't even done anything physically taxing at work. But, when I lost my phone, I had to come back to find it. And I STILL didn't find it.

A week and a bit later, and my shoulder doesn't have as much pain. I am able to drive to and from work if I avoid heavy traffic. Turns are still painful but do-able. I can do some basic food prep. I can put a few clothes into the laundry. (I guess the laundry pile will sit for a while longer. But, really, that's ok for now). I can sleep mostly through the night.  I can use 2 hands for washing my hair now. I still can't use my wheelchair. I still can't go grocery shopping or do full loads of laundry. Walking stairs is difficult because I need to lean on railings for safety - and that doesn't work well yet. I've started physio. The exercises are still painful. Maybe they're helping, I don't know. And many different people, from different parts of my life, have helped out in one way or another, whether that was giving me rides, bringing me some food, helping with laundry, buying groceries for me, inviting me out for a movie, giving me a massage, or just calling to talk.

For all of you who helped me out during this time, Thank you, Thank you, Thank you!

Things I've learned through this process that I hope others will learn too by reading this entry:
- People do want to help, for the most part. They just don't know what's needed. It is important to ask specifically. Others can't read my mind. It's OK to ask for help! And if they know exactly what you need, it is less frustrating for them!
- The paperwork and processes required for injuries are horrendous. Please bear with any clients or friends you may have who complain about this and be of any assistance possible.
- Things that are typically easy to do are very draining when there is an injury or illness present. Be understanding! Some tasks may require a higher priority and others will just not get done or I will need help so I don't wear myself out.
- Independence is important; it is a big hit to lose independence - even temporarily. It is hard for people like me, who desire to be as independent as possible, to ask for help. I don't want to be seen as someone who is 'needy'. That is one of my greatest fears.
- It is important for me to remember that, even though I need help with some things (at any time of my life as a result of my disability), I give to others and help out where I can so I am not just 'taking'. I pray that I am a blessing to those I come in contact with.
- Taking time to relax and recup is a good thing. Maybe these injuries and illnesses I've experienced in the last few months are a way to teach me to slow down and take care of myself.
- It can feel lonely being at home all day, particularly when each task is a struggle. This is especially impacted when lines of communication are lost (in my case, the loss of my cell phone, which also is the main number people know).
-  Although sometimes I don't realize it or think about it, I have lots of people in my life who care about me. And what's neat about it is that these people are not just from church (as has been the case in the past). Coworkers, colleagues, friends from music jams, friends from my previous work, friends from a small group bible study (outside my regular church), friends from church, and even a neighbour or 2 have offered assistance or been there for me.
- This journey of healing may still take another month to two months. I may still need help from others. I need to not let myself get discouraged. And I need to not let myself get too frustrated with myself if I can't do what I want to do. And if I do and you hear me complaining or expressing frustration, offer encouragement and support.

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