Thursday, December 18, 2008

A Life of Whiplash, written over time 12-07 through 12-29

Whiplash is not a pleasant injury. Insipid and creeping, it does not show up until the fifth day after impact. The impact itself is bad--I hope never to live through something like that again--although, it does beat the alternative.

In the first few days, I lived in a pleasant state of drug-induced numbness and accident-related shock. As the shock wore off, and I scaled back on the pharmaceuticals, mobility returned and life began to normalize--or so I thought. It was at this moment that whiplash hit. Those supple muscle lying along-side my spine seized up, turning into knotted cement blocks. Trying to move with this new musculature produces a kind of torment. A slight bend sends shocks of pain. These unpleasant nerve-bursts are not limited to where I thought I had been injured in the crash. They are indiscriminate, involving whatever muscles and vertebrae seem to take their fancy.

Ironically, the correction for such an injury is to move, very slowly, very gingerly, and to stop before actual pain. In fact, the orthopaedic pediatric specialist looking at my daughter's x-ray said the best thing for us all would be to do Yoga. Fortunately, I have been practising Yoga since I was six years old, my daughter she since before she was born. In fact, we have all done Yoga throughout our lives. Yoga was how my husband and I first met. Now, how funny, it is to be our cure--once again. We practise within a very narrow margin, cautiously, listening, moving as softly as we may, and the two with the fractured vertebrae are the most subtle practitioners of all.

The bones are healing by now, with three weeks gone, knitting themselves together, solidifying. The ligaments and tendons will take 8 to 12 weeks to grip with any kind of real strength. From now to my Birthday in early March, we will all tread gently, treating our spines with careful respect.

This in not my first healing experience, though it is my first car accident. I have learned healing is something you allow, not something you make happen. With the right food, exercise, sleep, and kindness, our bodies will have the best chances of healing. Though, people tell me we will never be completely healed. A 95% recovery is considered the best we can hope for and, even then, we will live with the evidence of this event in our spines for as long as we are here. I am not worried. What experience have I had that is not still with me lodged somewhere in the bone and blood structures of my physical form? Why would this be any different than a hundred other moments that have made their mark on me? Why would the spine be spared when the psyche is not?

I have also learned that every experience in my life, no matter how seemingly insignificant or insufferably painful, has added to all the rest to make me into who I am. This accident is not special in this way. It brought with it difficult physical pain, but now I have slowed down, and am taking care--I have to in order to survive. It also did not merely lash the spine, and rattle my brain, but it made its mark on my mind. Not with any kind of fan-fairing dramaticism, just a deep, subtle shift, like the sands of the ocean floor drifting from the force of a wave and never going back again. I learned something about the nature of life, how fragile it is, how there are no guarantees, how much useless time I have spent worrying over things that may never occur.

We are all here on borrowed time. Everyone I love, and all of those who love me, we only have each other on loan. How can I worry about what will happen tomorrow, next week, next year? There is no promise that any of that agonized-over future will even exist.

Right now, I kiss my loved ones, I stand with my feet square on the earth and bask in the bright light of the sun, I count the stars that dot the sky, and sit quietly when I can, resting peaceful, because today I am alive.

Alive and Slowly Moving,


el poquito said...

Hi Lakshmi,

Well, I thought I had left you a note last night here, but evidently i sent it out into the ethers instead. Can't remember too clearly what I wrote, but one thing that struck me was:

"Though, people tell me we will never be completely healed. A 95% recovery is considered the best we can hope for..."

It reminded me of something I had written, also about healing and the # 95%:

All the best, ed

lakshmi said...

Hi Ed, I read your post on your blog. Your prose is beautiful, poignant, and honest, looking point-blank at the reality we generally hide from ourselves. It’s that mad duality again, learning to live because we know we are dying.

This is my second trip with an 'incurable' situation. My first one was not so deadly as cancer, but still difficult to comprehend. It can't kill me directly, it would take a curious series of circumstances. But, that could happen any day at any moment, anyway, so I don't worry about it too much.

My troubles make living difficult.

During my early career as a painting contractor, I was ‘chemically injured’ on the job and developed an auto-immune response to certain classes of chemicals. So, now, I am, in essence, allergic to modern life. Because those same chemical classes are in the average bed mattress, in the couch cushions, in carpet, perfume, cologne, deodorant, cigarette smoke, gasoline fumes, household cleaners etc. etc. etc.

I was injured in 1994, but not properly diagnosed until 2000 by the UVA allergy and immunology department. That specialist told me my entire life would have to change in order to survive, I was in a downward spiral—end game—death—as my immune system wore itself out fighting ghosts. My knees were swollen to the size of grapefruits, my joints hurt so badly I couldn’t lift a pencil, I had itching hives all over the place, I had been diagnosed with Chronic Fatigue syndrome, Irritable Bowel syndrome, and Fibromyaligia. I was not well.

So, I changed my whole life. What else was I going to do? If I didn’t, the common cold could kill me. I have a normal-seeming, strange, strange life. My house is ‘clean’ with naturally finished wood floors, tile, no cleaners, perfumes or deodorants anywhere. Even my kids have to follow these guidelines so I don’t become ill. Because we are rigid about my environment, I am able to go out into the world somewhat unscathed. When I got my job, they bought me an industrial air-filter to keep me well-ish in my office.

Unfortunately, things have progressed recently and not in a good way. I am now taking allergy medicine daily and my knees are swelling again. I will be going to see the immunologist soon to see what, if anything, can be done. But, you know, it's not curable.

I really, really loved this one with the 95%. I think about these things. It's good to know I'm not the only one. Like you, I am hesitant to discuss my troubles. You said once, you didn't wish to be referred to by your illness. I feel the same--but, with you, I feel a kinship, through a few different doorways.

Thanks for sending me the link. I enjoy my forages to your blog--when I get them.

Love and Blessings,

el poquito said...

Hey Lakshmi!

tweet -- tweet -- tweet.... What's that sound? That's the sound of another canary in the mine. I'll explain in a minute.

Sorry to hear of all this sensitivity to the modern world and all you've been through with it. But thank you for sharing the info. Having a body is a trip sometimes, sometimes a pleasant trip, sometimes, well -- not so much so. I've also always been fairly sensitive and allergic - the ordinary kind. Post-chemotherapy I now have superpowers! Among them is super olfactory power. If I were a bloodhound perhaps this would be handy. Mostly it's a hassle. I smell things no one else can. along with that I'm super sensitive to toxic odors. My body is not very forgiving of anything potentially damaging i.e. the modern world. My most recent event being trying to do some errands at Target. I don't do that sort of thing often because within about 10 minutes i was feeling ill, dizzy, incoherent, anxious -- you know the drill. At one point I was near the TV's which were outgassing heavily; the odor of heated plastic was intense. Then on the multiple screens comes a Target ad with all the red circles flashing and swirling! Yikes!!! Get me outta here before I melt down. by the time I made it to the door my nostrils were inflaming along with my eustachian tubes and I felt crazy.

The form of cancer I live with is a type of non-Hodgkins lymphoma. It is one form of cancer that they admit has direct environmental sources. (A piece I will write someday is about the river I used to play and swim in as a kid. The section we would visit was this really weird part where there was hot orange water pouring down from the hillside. Today, this is cordoned off by the EPA as 'brown ground', unusable for anything. In all likelihood there is a direct connection between the benzenes and other toxic chemical I swam in, my young DNA and then many years later, lymphoma. In fact, one strange night I ran into a kid I used to know many years ago who swam in the same watering hole. i ran into him at Lymphoma support group. Freaked me out as my 'crazy theory' started to look all to real.

So I consider myself a canary in the mine: a harbinger. We are becoming more an more common. It's too late for me to turn back the clock, but not for my kids. I talk about this. I've revamped our lives, questioning all needless chemicals in food, water, and environment. My kids have a keen awareness and despite the invincibility of youth, they are very aware that this stuff that we consider a part of modern day convenience may later be very inconvenient.

I don't like being a canary in the mine, but if that's one of my roles and stations in life I'm not really going to tweet all that softly. I make more of a racket like those crows! At least I hope so. Gotta make the best out of the situation, and the best is if my kids and your kids don't have to be touched by all this the way we've been.

And besides, i love a good sweat or sauna, which is what I try to do regularly to get it outta me, and if nothing else, well, it's a relaxing, prayerful time.

All the best Lakshmi. It's a pleasure to be getting to know you, one canary to another!

keep taking care, Ed

lakshmi said...

Hi Ed,

I know all about the canaries. There is an actual Multiple Chemical Sensitivity site called "" that has canaries as the wallpaper.

Ironically, I now work at a mine, with my 24-pounds-of-activated-charcol-filter to keep me "safe."

I grew up 4 miles from Rocky flats--not that that could have anything to do with my later development of an autoimmune disorder. The rest, I did to myself by un-safe painting practices. Sure, it said "may produce brain damage" on the label, but it didn't tell me my body would eventually, through repeated exposure, begin to define those chemicals as pathogens and then fight the invisible ghosts to the death. My death, that would be.

There were things you said in various posts that made me think you would know what I was talking about. I don’t know what they were, even, just little clues, I guess.

Superpowers, indeed! My nose is my greatest defense. I can smell cigarette smoke from a passing car. I can walk into any environment and quickly determine if I need to turn-tail and leave. I often do. Any shopping is dreadful, but Target, Walmart, Bestbuy etc. are lethal. I only go in if accompanied by a responsible adult who can keep an eye on me. The internet is my friend--so long as I air out the packages once they arrive.

Because of all the shopping and gift-giving, Christmas has its own, unique challenges. January is my recovery period, where nothing and no one enters my domain unless clean. It’s a bit harder to do this, now, though, with my job.

My kids are also great about this. They often act as my personal blood-hounds. They’ll warm me not to stand next to someone in a crowd, or not to enter a certain shop. Even their friends know not to wear deodorant, perfume, hairspray, or cologne when they come to visit.

I can’t be “clean” all of the time, but I try to do my best. If my body is busy fighting these mythical invaders, then it doesn’t have the T-cells to fight off real pathogens. I have been sitting at my table at 6:00pm eating dinner, feeling a little run down, and in then in an ambulance at 9:00pm because a bacterial infection went systemic—not common in your average individual—and I was so violently ill, I kept tripping the machines in the bus as my vitals plunged. So, the disorder won’t itself do me in, it just sets me up for other things to do the job.

Oh, well. No one lives forever.

Now, they tell me I am developing asthma. I haven’t digested that piece of news, yet. I am still in stage one: Denial.

I also wish to write about this one day. I feel strongly about it and it drives me crazy that the medical community has not caught up. We early harbingers need to speak out and bring awareness to a fast-growing problem. Maybe we could work on something together?

It’s good to talk to a fellow canary who knows. I have a hot-tub, which I can go in as I only use bromine and I love to sauna as well.

Auntie Lala ‘>

el poquito said...

Hey La,


or "krrraaah - krrraaah," shout the crows.

There's so much you said and revealed. thank you. I know that's not easy. I 'get' so many aspects of what you're saying: everything from the selective outings, to limiting exposure to the 'outgassing of christmas presents'. Yeah, new packages arrive, they get opened and have to sit on the porch for a month 'breathing' so I can also breathe. Our lifestyles are similar, although it sounds like you do a much better job of keeping a clean house.

Mine though isn't as much life threatening, or perhaps I have a really low bar! I tend to these days, just sort of self-adjusting...

Next --

Roll with what's next. It is what it is. <-- a common saying many cancer survivors eventually arrive at.

It is what it is.

Doesn't necessarily make any of it easier. Just helps sometimes to stop pushing that rock up that hill for a moment.

At first I think, well, you have a really tenuous situation there, where it can all unravel in a moment without warning. And then I remember, heh, me too. And then there are those who would say, and do say, and I would recommend never saying to anyone, "well any of us could be hit by a bus tomorrow. None of us knows." True that. Not comforting really. Beside I know someone who has both had cancer AND been hit by a bus as a pedestrian. Her first-hand observation is: cancer was worse. Most folks who've been hit by a bus don't then have to grapple with unreasonable levels of anxiety, fear or worry about busses in their near or distant future.

Is that rumble a bus I can't see that's stalking me???

As I'm sure you well know, there's lots of rumbling.

There's a down side and an up side.

Down side, obvious: crazymaking!

Up side: Makes a fire burn in yer belly.

Throw another log on dear. You're starting to burn brightly. Remember that whole "light under a bushel' metaphor'?

This little light o' mine,
I'm gonna let it shine.

May be trite. May be cliché. Still true.

Shine on sister!