Wow!  September’s here already!  Fall is about to begin and all the beautiful colors and cool, crisp days with it. It’s my favorite time of year, can you tell?

I hope you’ve all had a safe, yet enjoyable, summer.  We have.  But because of that surgery I had in June, our lives are still in a slightly more extreme state than many.  We’re still at the same level of quarantine as when the pandemic began in earnest last March.  Other than for follow-up appointments with my surgeon, I’m still house-bound.  While I recover, I’m still at a higher risk level.  But it’s not just for my health, but we’re still taking extra precautions because of my (soon to be) 82 year-old smoking, diabetic, wheelchair-bound father, who, as his doctor put it, if he becomes infected with Covid-19, that’s the end.

John Michael Thornton with a home made maskJohn is still the only member of our household who goes out semi-regularly and that’s just to do the shopping.  He’s our protector and hero.  And to try to help our hero, one day I jumped online and found out how to make masks.  So I cut up some old bed sheets and went to town.  Now’s he’s got quite a stylin’ look every time he goes someplace.  If you should run into him at the market, you won’t see his face, but you’ll know those kind and loving eyes.

Joe Thornton in a neck braceYou’ve all basically been with me on my surgical journey, so let me give you an idea of what’s going on and where we are now.  In case anyone needs it, here’s a recap.  I was diagnosed with a rare condition in my neck, which caused my spinal cord to be bent almost in half.  If untreated, I would most likely become paralyzed.  In June I had spinal surgery to correct the issues and they inserted two cadaver bones, a plate and six screws to fuse my vertebrae together.  Since then, I have been wearing a brace 24 x 7 (except when showering) and using an electro-magnetic bone growth stimulator four-hours every day.  However, in a couple of weeks I meet with the surgeon again for a status check.

So where are we now?  Right where we were when we started; still locked into this contraption and staying as immobilized as possible.  Still no bending, twisting, lifting, driving, etc.  

This kind of restricted movement, I believe, is difficult for everyone who’s had to experience it.  But before the surgery, I was told that this restriction of movement and the brace were only going to be for four-weeks.  I knew I could get through that… with some help from John and with some patience on my part.  However, we’re now approaching three-months of this.  I’m incredibly frustrated that I have to be this way so much longer than expected.  Personally, I believe setting realistic expectations is a good thing.  Unfortunately, that wasn’t done with me.  And while I’m being as patient as I can be, I don’t know if I’m patient enough.

In every situation and experience, we should learn something.  I know that what I’m meant to learn is this:

  • It’s okay to ask for help (which is really tough for me to do)
  • It’s okay that you’re not able to lend a hand and feel like you’re carrying your own weight (rather than feeling guilty that others have to do your share of the work… and believe me, it’s easy for me to feel guilty about things like that)
  • Patience.I need to learn to be more patient.

Three foundling pups lounging on the sofaSo, how am I doing with my lessons?  To be quite honest, I’m getting much, much better at asking for help.  I still apologize, but I am better at asking.  Besides, in a lot of situations, if I don’t ask for help, I’m stuck!

As for as letting other’s do your share of the work, well, that’s probably been the easiest since I’m just physically unable to do so many things.  I don’t like the fact that John has to do the chores that I normally do, but I simply have to accept it and be sure to show extra appreciation to John.  And I am truly grateful.

            That leads us back to the biggest lesson I’m learning:  Patience.  We all know patience is a virtue.  But I’m not so sure I’m doing as well as I’d like in the virtue department.  Don’t get me wrong, I am truly trying and trying hard every day!  But this is a tough lesson for me.  I love instant results.  Having patience means that you’re the tortoise not the hare.  It means you can wait and all in its time.  

I can be patient and calm, or I can be impatient and frustrated.  Patient, impatient.  Calm, frustrated.  To be or not to be.  

Some days I’m feeling rather virtuously patient.  Some days I’m not feeling all that virtuous.  

I find some days to be very frustrating.  I get frustrated with the situation, frustrated I can’t do the things I want to do and mostly frustrated with myself for getting frustrated.

I’d like to be able to sleep in my own bed, but the brace and the angle at which I need to sleep plus the fact that I sleep very little while being all trussed up like this, I would keep the dogs but John awake all night with me.  Not good. Instead, for the past three-months I’ve moved into our living room full-time.

Puppy Leia is looking at you quizzically I miss the little things in life, too.  Things like getting down on the floor and playing with our three puppies.  Even just feeding them.  I miss being able to help carry groceries into the house.  But alas, they are too heavy and I’m not allowed to lift them.  I would like to vacuum the living room, but that’s on the “too strenuous” list.  I would love to be able to mow the grass.  I actually love doing that; I find it soothing, very Zen.  

I know that everything will get back to normal.  It will.  But that’s where the whole patience thing comes into play.  

            My biggest lesson is patience.  

I can be patient and calm, or I can be impatient and frustrated.  

Patient, impatient.  

Calm, frustrated.  

To be virtuous or not to be virtuous.  

Happy be-lated Fourth of July!

            I hope you had a nice holiday and were able to safely celebrate.

JoeHospitalBed            I want to thank you all for being so kind and keeping me in your thoughts while I’ve been going through the “challenge” I wrote about last month.

            In case you either forgot or didn’t read the June newsletter, I had spinal surgery and a fusion of three vertebrae in my neck.  And basically I was anxiety ridden, so I vented in writing to you about it.

            As anticipated, my surgery went very well; the doctor was quite pleased.  And I was only in the hospital for 31-hours!  (Not that I was counting or anything.)  My surgery was scheduled for first of the day so we got to the hospital at 5:00 a.m. and within 40-minutes I was taken back for prep.  

Joe Neck BraceI’m not ashamed to tell you that my inner child I wrote about last month was really scared.  Actually he was freaking out.  Naturally I unsuccessfully hid my anxiety by overcompensating and being a blithering idiot talking my head off to the nurse.  Luckily for me she didn’t mind and we actually had a really nice conversation.  And that was actually what I was hoping for.  My little plan worked.  Make the nurse like me so she’d be as gentle as possible when putting the IV into me.  And she was very gentle. 

Once I was prepped for surgery they allowed John to come back and sit with me.  So his was the last face I remember seeing before I went to sleep.

Three PupsI’ll tell you a little secret.  After watching who knows how many TV shows that showed operations and such, I’ve always been really curious about surgeries and operating rooms in real life.  So when they were wheeling me to the operating room, I was a little excited.  But the last thing I remember is staring at the ceiling as we went into a room and asking the nurse where we were.  She said it was the operating room and then there was nothing.  No sound.  No light.  Not a single thought.  I was unconscious that fast.  So I never got to see the equipment, the doctors and nurses in scrubs or anything.  I got gypped!

My next memory was being told I was in the recovery room then more of nothing.  Next I was being wheeled to my room and John was walking along with us.  Soon after, they gave me morphine and not much mattered after that.

HeloAfganSo now I’m three-weeks out from the surgery and, generally speaking, I’m doing okay.  I have to wear a hard brace on my neck that I can only remove for showers.  Plus for four-hours each day I have to wear a harness-like contraption that stimulates bone growth.  I look like I’m wearing a Star Wars Stormtrooper starter set!  

Stanley CatThe pain is still pretty intense at times.  Luckily the incision has never been a problem.  The pain is in the bones in my neck and because my spine is beginning to heal, the nerves in my right arm are working overtime.  The slightest touch or even just the weight of an afghan is so painful I think I see God.

Since I’m so restricted in my movement, these days I’m living on the couch.  I have the best caregiver.  John is there for anything and everything I need and appropriately gives me an earful when I do something I’m not allowed to be doing… like bending down to pick something up.  Plus I have four adorable dogs and a couple of cats surrounding me constantly.   

Now we just have  to be patient as I continue to heal.  And it’s going to take some time to heal and to grow new bone, too.  In hindsight, being patient is more difficult than getting through the surgery.

As for that inner child of mine that was so scared to be stuck with needles and cut open, well, as expected, he did pretty well, too.  He’s just still disappointed he didn’t get to see the cool operating room and all the neat stuff.

PupleDearNettleA few days ago while I was out for a quick run through the cemetery (very respectfully), I found myself trapped in a cycle of worry and fear over Joe’s upcoming surgery. I kept trying to jolt myself out of it, but I found myself thinking of worst case scenarios and trapped in the fear he was going to die. In that moment I felt like I tapped into a global well of pain and sadness so deep that my heart skipped.  Literally. I felt a sharp pain in my chest scary enough to jolt up my shields and bring me back to the present before I face planted on the pavement.

I immediately headed for home, but I couldn’t stop thinking about the well of pain I had felt.  Bigger and deeper than I could imagine or process.  When I got back to the house I wasn’t ready to go in yet, I didn’t want to take that energy back inside. So I decided to lean in, put on depressing music and cry a bit and wander the mostly abandoned back streets in our neighborhood. 

I couldn’t get the catharsis I was looking for, I just felt numb.  Then something caught my eye, a small patch of wildflowers growing out of a rotting stump. I know these flowers, they grew wild around my childhood home and they have most Metal name ever: Purple Dead Nettle also known as purple archangel.

I decided it was the omen I was looking for so I picked a small bouquet and took them home to Joe before looking up the symbolism:

Purple Dead Nettle ~ is associated with happiness, cheerfulness, determination and tenacity. It can grow just about anywhere, even when the soil is of poor quality or practically non-existent.

Grow everywhere with happiness, cheerfulness, determination and tenacity.

The Summer Solstice is fast approaching!  We’ve had such an odd year that it almost seems as though we didn’t get a Spring this year.  To be fair, with the weather we’ve had, we really didn’t have much of a winter either, it practically went from Autumn straight to Spring.  And now Summer’s here.

            This year has already brought us all some major challenges, but there’s a new challenge that John and I are about to face.  To be quite honest with you, while the adult in me knows it’s gonna be fine and everything will turn out well, the inner child in me is pretty scared of this challenge.  Okay, so is the adult in me.

            FinnPoeOn the 17th of June, I’m scheduled to have spinal surgery.  I have severe cervical stenosis with myelomalacia.  What it boils down to is that between three of my vertebrae in my neck (C5 & C6 and C6 & C7 – if that matters to you) the disks have become severely compressed and are pushing against my spinal cord.  According to my doctors, it’s somewhat unusual to have the kind of impingement I have and it can be quite serious. 

            After being referred to and meeting with a neurologist, rather than rushing into surgery, I was referred to a pain management specialist as a first go-round.  The usual procedure is to inject some kind of fluid into the spinal fluid where the spinal cord is being compressed.  However, when I met with that doctor, she refused to give me the injection stating that since the impingement is so severe, she felt there was a strong possibility that the addition of more fluid could lead to paralysis from the neck down.

            Needless to say, that’s not an outcome I could get behind.

            So back to the surgeon I went. 

            Originally surgery was scheduled for this past April, but for obvious reasons, it was postponed and has now been rescheduled.

HeloOnCouch            The procedure is pretty straight forward.  They go in through the front of my neck, remove the two bulging disks, replace them with cadaver bone, which in time will fuse together, and attach a plate and screws to the three vertebrae involved.  It only involves one night in the hospital (if it had been only one disk, it would have been out-patient surgery).

            See?  Simple and straight forward.

            But here’s the catch.  I’ve never had a surgery of any kind and have only been in the hospital to visit someone.  So I’m kinda scared.  Plus there’s that whole anesthesia and slicing into my neck thing.  Oh, and the plate and screws.  

            Here’s an additional fear that I have to face: I am severely allergic to metal.  While the overall use of titanium plates and screws is safe, even in people with metal allergies, it’s still freaky to know I’ll have metal inside my body.  However, there’s always a chance I could have an adverse reaction.  And yes, we did ask the surgeon that, should – God forbid – I have some sort of reaction to the metal, could it be removed.  The answer was yes, because it’s really only in there to just hold the vertebrae motionless while the bones fuse together.  But who wants a second neck surgery?

            Yet another factor is that I’ll have to go through the whole surgery/hospital stay alone.  Because of the pandemic, new rules have gone into place at hospitals.  Only one family member can be there during the surgery but only until the doctor goes out to tell them the surgery is over and that it, presumably, went well.  Then that family member has to go home and not come back until it’s time for the patient to go home, too.  No visitors of any kind.  

That inner child inside me is wanting to be comforted.  No one to hold his (my) hand.  No one to smile at him (me) and say it’s okay.  No one there that loves him (me).  Boo hoo for him (me).

            PuppyPileI’ll be laid up until the end of July.  After the surgery I have to be as still as I can be for four-weeks.  I’ll be in a fitted brace and not be allowed to drive.  I can live with that okay.  Buy I also won’t be allowed to bend or to twist or to pick-up anything over ten-pounds.  Do you have any idea how tough that’s gonna be on a dog-lover like me who has a wonderful 80-lb dog and three very active, playful and big puppies?  It’ll be murder, I tell ya!

            So, there you have it.  My big drama and it’s leaving me a bundle of nerves.

            But like I said, I know it’s all going to be fine.  I know it’ll be over in the blink of an eye.  Everything’s going to turn out swell.  

            My head knows that.  My inner child is wanting his mommy.

            So keep a good thought for me on June 17th, will you please?  Any and all energy, prayers, love, good thoughts and kindness will be greatly appreciated.

            And please send some to John, too.  Afterall, he has to play nursemaid to me and do everything around the house that I would normally do.  He’s gonna have his hands full!

With the pandemic, we’ve all certainly had to make some major adjustments in our lives.  And we continue to do so.  One of the things we at Great Conjunction are doing is moving to a more virtual setting.Rachel Hollander fill 227x300

What does that boil down to?  We, too have had to adjust how we can all get together and learn from one another.  We decided to jump on the “online bandwagon”, as it were.  So, now we’re doing workshops in space.  

I was twelve years old when The Muppet Show premiered (yes, I am dating myself) and all I can hear is that deep voice echoing the title of a recurring muppet skit called “Pigs In Spaaaace”!  And now we need that announcer’s voice for our workshops!

In May we hosted our first online workshop with much success!  Rev. Rachel Hollander’s workshop, “Who Booked This Trip?” was wonderful… thank you again to everyone who joined us and to Rev. Rachel. There were quite a few people who wanted to attend but were unable to do so.  But since we met on camera, we were able to record the entire workshop and we’ll have it posted on our website for anyone who still would like to experience it.

Erin CommendatoreWe’re really excited to continue on the virtual plane.  Our next virtual workshop will be held Tuesday, June 16th from 7:00 pm to 9:00 pm eastern time.  All you have to do is go to our website and register for the workshop.  This is going to be a fascinating evening learning about “Healing Through Nature” with Erin Commendatore, M.AEd/CN, ERYT.

I’d like share with you a few factors I’m happy about with these virtual workshops.  To begin with, we don’t have the same kind of cost overhead as before in renting space large enough to accommodate attendees and presenters for the workshops.  And that makes a direct savings for you!  We’ve been able to lower the cost of attending these interesting experiences dramatically.  

The second great aspect of these online events is that we can record them.  So after the actual live event is over, we’ll be posting these to our website and anyone who was unable to be with us “live” can still “attend” the workshop to learn from our amazing presenters.

There’s one other factor to these virtual workshops that I’m most excited about:  anyone from any part of the country, and even the world, can attend!  We’ve many friends in other states and in other countries who’ve wanted to participate in Great Conjunction events and now it’s possible.

Ain’t technology amazing?

So, be sure to join us for our monthly virtual workshops, and when you can’t, you can catch ‘em a little later.  

See you in cyberspace!