Healing Hurts

“You’re a tight ass!” Sarah shrieked with a laugh as she dug her elbow into the middle of my fanny.

Lying face down on a massageknee table, the face port paper crinkled in my ears though I could hear Sarah quite clearly.  The first of my physical therapy sessions had begun.  It was akin to torture.  Therapy sounds happy and pleasant.  Add the “physical” into it and it quickly became a series of muscle manipulations that well, hurt.  Sarah, the physical therapist, tried to allay my concerns, telling me that many clients with extraordinarily tight muscles had come before me.  “You’ve had this injury for a year and a half.  Your muscles have completely tightened around the injury to stop the pain.  It’s not that unusual,” she said.

Unusual or not, it hurt.  Plus, I hated being one of many.

“Every week, I’d like to see you and work these muscles out,” she said.  “It’s something you really cannot do yourself because you are so tight.”   Did she really have to mention that “tight” stuff again?

That said, she consulted my file and gave me several instruction sheets with exercises to do everyday.

It was like I was three years old all over, learning to walk again as I had when I burned my leg.

“It’s going to take some time, bear with it.”

I’d hear this before many, many years ago.

It was like coming full circle.

I glanced at the file she held in her hand.

“Could you do me a favor and update my name.  It’s no longer hyphenated.   Just Gallagher, “I paused.

“Actually, it’s always been Gallagher.  I never changed it.”

Sarah laughed.  “You’ve been a client since 2004,” she said as she peeled off the hyphenated name.

“2004?  That’s when my now-ex began stealing from me,” I said quietly, as much under my breath as I could.  It was hard to even admit.  “Or at least when I think he began stealing from me.”  I had to breathe now.  Deeply.

This healing thing was a little more complicated than I anticipated.  It was as much emotional as it was physical.

That’s when I remembered the conversation I had with my mentor, Mr. B.

“Annie,” he said in his gruff voice, as he picked me up at 5:45 am for a trip to Detroit.  “I think your blog has played out this burned leg thing.

“You should really start writing about what’s going on with you now.  There’s anger, there’s challenge….there’s good stuff,” he said, letting the “f’s” in stuff linger for emphasis.  Mr. B. knew.  Duplicity as we say in the trade is good stuff.  It’s interesting and creates a good story line.

“Let me think about that, Mr. B.  Let me think about that.”

“Just remember Annie, fire isn’t always the flames.  It it’s the emotions too.”

This was a whole different ball of wax.  Something that needed some thinking work.

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Pain, Pain Go Away……

X-Ray of the HipsThe day had arrived for my appointment with the pain specialist and it was, appropriately, gray and rainy.  As I thought about the appointment, my heart started beating faster.  I was in my 20s when I had the last appointment with the plastic surgeon for my leg and I’d forgotten the anxious feeling that always arrived with those appointments.  It was back.

I breathed deeply and tried to exhale the anxiety, which probably only made it worse.  I’d had maybe 20 plastic surgeries and debridement procedures for the burn.  When I had the last surgery at 18, I remember waking up in the middle of the procedure lying face down and gagging on the breathing tube.  Then the memory went back further.  I was maybe 3 years old and I couldn’t walk.  During the roughly three months in the hospital, I was kept immobile in a crib covered with netting so I couldn’t get out.   It took months of painful physical therapy to re-learn how to walk.

These memories swirled in my head as I sat in the waiting room, feeling increasingly light headed.  “Gallagher,” the receptionist called.  When the nurse walked me to the exam room and took my vitals, my blood pressure, normally 110/70, had inched up to 140/80.

Dr. F. walked in and immediately put me at ease.  “I read all your forms,” she said as she examined my burned leg and did a reflex check of both legs.  She asked again about the injury as she had me do a series of movements with my arms and legs.  “I’d like you to have x-rays taken but I think I know the source of your pain.  It’s an SI injury.  We can fix this.”

SI, or the sacroillac joints, connect the spine to the pelvis.  The most common symptom of SI joint dysfunction is pain, often experienced in the back of the hips, the thighs or in my case, the groin.  “How would I have done this?” I asked.  Apparently even stepping the wrong way can create this condition but any condition that alters the normal walking pattern can put stress on the SI joints.

Among other things, my prescription includes a series of manipulations to my pelvis to move it into alignment and six weeks of physical therapy.  Dr. F. offered me steroid injections as well to treat the inflammation and relieve the pain thought I’m not so sure how I feel about that.  I’m not partial to shots.

It’s nice to feel ‘fixable’ and even better that this really had nothing to do with my burned leg injury.

“We see injuries all the time,” Dr. F. noted when she did her exam.  “Nothing really surprises us any more.”

I should have known.

 

Chance Encounters

May is a uniquely busy month for parents with school-age children.  As the school year ends, there are celebrations galore – from the athletic banquet to the spring concert, the father-daughter dance, the girl scout bridging ceremony and the end of the basketball travel team league.  At a certain point, any sane adult simply starts going through the motions.  My mental state was precisely there as I joined the line cascading around the corner for entry to the Spring Show, the annual song-fest where each of eight grades and kindergarten sings a couple of numbers.

Directly behind me in line stood R and her daughter M, the teenage girl burned in a home accident just weeks before.  Thick white burn tape provided a necklace around her neck and her arm was tightly bandaged in the same special tape.  Before I knew it, I had re-introduced myself to R and told them I too was burned as a child.  As I said it, I like itching myself.  It seemed to come from my stomach, which turned itself slightly at the thought.  As we talked, M shared, “I itch all the time.  It’s constant.”  I remembered the feeling well.  Insatiable itching that seemed to crawl inside with no good way to relieve it.  M also said that her burns were second degree, which immediately relieved me and I told her how well she would heal.  It’s the 3rd degree burns that leave the nasty scars — 2nd degree can heal with nary a reminder.

When they asked what happened to me, I told them about my burn accident, then gently rolled up my pant leg to show them a little of the scars.  “Yours seems so much worse than mine,” M said and I immediately felt bad that she focused on my injury when hers was so recent and raw, itching as it healed.  Her mother R looked and me, her eyes brimming with wet and said, “See M, look at Anne.  She’s successful and pretty.  We can make it through this.  It didn’t stop her.”

Like me, M didn’t like it when people stared at her.  We talked about “to tell” or not to tell strategies, to make eye contact or not to.  M seemed remarkably mature for a teenager.  She had a presence.

“M, it may not feel like it right now, but your burns are a gift.  Look how they help you teach other people.”  I believed it as I said it.  It would not have been the gift I’d chosen for myself, but I always felt right with it.

The line began to disperse as we entered the school gym for the Spring Show.  R hugged me tightly whispering, “thank you” as they wandered off to their places.

As the 4th graders began “Getting to Know You,” from the Lion King, I wondered:  How much more difficult are these burns for a parent? R was there when M’s leaned over the gas stove and her scarf caught fire.  She choked up as she told me about it.  They are replacing the stove with a smooth-topped electric model.  I understand.

Many People Write About Burns

Cover of "The Burn Journals"

Cover of The Burn Journals

If you poke around, you’ll see (as I have) that many people write about burns. Recently I finished Burned: A Memoir (www.louisenayer.com), and was fascinated by this book because it describes the effect of a mother’s burn on her daughter. I contacted Louise to ask her some questions about why she wrote the book and we’ve developed a communication of sorts. Other books I need to explore include Burned But Not Broken (www.michaeljnolte.com), Nothing Left to Burn (www.jayvarner.com) and The Burn Journals (www.burnjournals.com).

I’m not sure if the world needs another burn memoir but I still want to publish mine and I realize even from this handful of books that my story is completely different than these. Every burn it seems is unique.

Have You Ever Been Burned?

Have you ever been burned by something in life?  Most of us have.  My burns were 3rd degree, which is severe but they didn’t get in the way of much that I wanted to do in life.  Yes, I was self-conscious and still am (my burns cover my legs, but mostly my right leg).  As I’ve grown up, I’ve realized that everyone has some “burn” — whether it be visible or not, they are there for all of us.  My goal in writing this blog is to tell the story of how resolution found me.  It was not something I was looking for or thought I needed.  Yet when it came it was a wonderful blessing and I want to tell the story.