New Path

It should come as no surprise, to those who know me, that I have applied to yet another training program today, exactly 4 years and 2 months since I (unwillingly, through disability) left my career as a sign language interpreter.

I write this with a great heaviness in my heart and gut because today there was a shooting in an Oregon HS; the 74th school shooting since the Newtown massacre 18 months ago. I have cried and ranted and been so distressed today that I’ve almost made myself sick. I know – that’s not helping anything. It’s the mom heart in me that cries for the 2,800 kids who had to march out of school today with their hands over their heads amidst SWAT teams. And yes, I cry for the kid who went so wrong (and certainly the kid’s parents) who felt their only way to deal with something was through violence.

There are no easy answers to this and I will forgo any political/gun talk. But I think many people will agree that something has *drastically* changed…changed from the time I went to school when the worst offense was getting caught chewing gum. If the “climate” can change for the bad, it can change for the good. Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Mother Teresa and countless others are all testament to that.

So – I have applied to an online program to become a Certified Clinical Musician. CCMs play soothing music to distressed people; to those facing surgery (I know a bit about that!) or other medical procedures, to hospice patients etc. It is one on one, live, soothing music tailored to that person’s needs. While people are somewhat familiar with Music Therapists (Gabby Gifford had one after her near fatal gunshot wound), the focus is a bit different with being a therapeutic musician.

I will have to blaze a bold new path because being paid – if even minimally for part-time work – is not a standard yet nor is it in the consciousness of hiring parties. I’m already providing something similar in the hospitals through the Children’s Cancer Association but if they can get the musicians as volunteers – and I certainly advocate being a volunteer  – then it’s harder to make even a slight subsistence from my training. But alas – I must keep the faith.

Here’s to changing the world for the better, one distressed person at a time. Today, I need to start with myself.

 

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Acceptance

Trying to accept with grace and poise

Despite the racket of my mental noise

Friends are working long hours, they say

And wouldn’t they love to have my kind of day?

But I just turned down my last terping* request

Pain prevents me, I gave it my best

Can’t keep wallowing in what was “taken” from me

Can’t live in limbo as to what will be

Acceptance is daily

Neither welcomed nor easy

The past is over

The “now” is up to me

But f* the platitudes

I wail when I must

This too shall pass

Onwards or bust

(Terping – an affectionate, at least to me, slang word for being an American Sign Language interpreter. I was relatively kick-ass good at it for 11 years until 2 car accidents and 2 spinal surgeries knocked me out of the field for good. Have been trying to reinvent myself for the last 4 years. Do I feel left out when friends tell me how hard they are working and I wish I could? Sure. But I just have to keep the faith that good is on the way.

Happy Dance

I volunteer interpreted tonight for the first time since Thanksgiving. Before that gig, it had been over 3.5 years since I last interpreted due to injuries, surgeries and general life poopiness that consumed me. (Consumed by poop? Ewwww)

Something magical happened tonight. I WAS NEEDED!! I had a schedule. I had a purpose. There were people around me. I used a skill that required a lot of hard work over many years to acquire. I used my brain. I, hopefully, made a difference.

While I love crocheting and practicing musical instruments, I’m a PEOPLE PERSON. I don’t do well hanging out at home, mostly alone, even if it means pursuing fun stuff. 

For many reasons, I can’t go back to interpreting – not much of it, anyway, and not paid, at the moment. I do occasionally play music at the hospitals and I am starting to host house concerts soon. But alas – just putting the intention out there that I really want to be doing something meaningful, with and for people, that works with my occasional bouts of pain and fatigue. C’mon Universe – I’ve been wilting away at home long enough and the traditional employment routes are a no-go. Remaining hopeful….open to guidance…

Go THIS way!

Go THIS way!

The War Zone

We frequently hear the adage, “I am writing for myself”. In this case, dear readers, it is true. The following post is not so much a public announcement as it is a making sense and order out of the chaos I have experienced in the last 4+ years.

In the past 53 months, I have experienced:

2 car accidents, 2 spinal surgeries within 6 weeks, 2 other major surgeries – one which required 9 days of around the clock Vicodin, career loss at 48, new career at 51, 2nd career loss at almost 52, the loss of many friends and a support network, countless blood draws and x-rays, steroid injections, steroid treatments which made me insanely ravenous and aggressive, 7 MRIs, 2 EKGs, came close to a full on anaphylactic shock, an EVIL painful test on my vertebral disc, an EVIL painful biopsy, vertigo, loss of balance, difficulty processing information, loss of memory, migraines, tinnitus, a 55 dB hearing loss in one ear which resolved after many weeks (a sign language interpreter who can’t hear is a really bad thing), massive narcotics, fasting and 2X bowel cleanses before surgeries, being intubated 4 times, massive chronic pain and nerve tingling, 1 trip to the ER and 3 cancer scares.

In that time, I have had dealings with: a sports medicine Dr, spinal specialists, a nasty neurologist, a fabulous orthopedic surgeon, 3 attorneys, countless nurses, front desk people and insurance folks who ranged from stellar to nasty, a Mt Everest of paperwork, an internist, endocrinologist, otolaryngologist, oncologist, radiologist, dermatologist, gastroenterologist, gynecological surgeon, immunologist, audiologist, a stellar physical therapist and a stellar psychologist.

I would gladly repeat all that if I could UN-DO the worst:

Having to call the police in another state to find my brother’s dead body

Spending 14 hours on the phone informing and consoling relatives around the planet

Flying 10 hours solo cross-country wanting to scream and cry but having to stifle that in public.

You would think the grand conclusion would be obvious but I finally formulated it this week. The most effective torture with prisoners is pain, fear, isolation and massive uncertainty. Obvious things, like getting one’s neck sliced open, are NOT the challenge. The grandest soul-crusher is despair; the daily grinding down through “death by a thousand flea bites”, as Pete famously says.

The grand conclusion is that I just came back from my own war zone; with all due respect to the military, my own Vietnam or Afghanistan. Methinks it’s time to throw myself a ticker tape parade! *Looking for my tiara and practicing my parade wave. Time to trade in the camouflage outfit for my LONG lost sparkly gown.*

The “Challenging Years”

As a late bloomer, I am finally joining the world of Facebook. Several folks, with whom I have not chatted in ages, have asked me what I’ve been up to in the last few years. Here’s a (hopefully) quick synopsis. It is also meant as an outreach to anyone who is at the end of their rope. I’m not in that space anymore, but I’d like to tell you – I understand!!! If you need words of encouragement, let me know.

I worked as a sign language interpreter from June, 1999 until April, 2010. One year prior to my leaving my career, I had a life-altering car accident in April, 2009. From April, 2009 until April, 2010, I had massive, chronic pain, nerve tingling, vertigo, language processing problems, balance problems and memory problems. And those were on the good days. I finally was no longer able to do my work and had to leave the field altogether. Months of despair and feeling lost ensued until June – when things got worse.

June, 2010, I was in another car accident – with my daughter this time. (In both of my accidents, it was the other driver’s fault). The June accident totalled my van. We were hit with such an impact, from the rear, that the CDs in the front of the van were thrown all the way to the back. That’s a long way! The back fold-down seat, which is quite a ways in from the rear trunk lid, was so damaged it had to be replaced.

The very lowest point came when the totalled van was in the shop for 6 weeks, being rebuilt (yes, rebuilt!!). My husband was away on business travel often. On some days, my only social contact was watching the mailman drive up and down our street. I know that folks say “let me know if there’s anything I can do” but realistically, they have busy lives. This was the lowest point of hell where the daily pain, fear and isolation were so great that I often didn’t think I would make it through that.

I finally had a disc replacement surgery in October, 2010. The surgeon said that nerves are normally gray but mine were bright RED from having been smashed between vertebrae for 18 months. The surgery gave me instant relief from all the pain and tingling. I was on the road to recovery until…

The disc “failed”. One out of 100 of these surgeries fail and I was the lucky winner. My vertabrae had had keel channels drilled into them and the disc replacement had been literally hammered into place. When the prostethic fell out, it was stabbing me in the esophagus. It could have punctured that. It also theoretically could have gone backwards and sliced into my spinal cord. (So in other words, this metal prosthetic was not anchored between vertebrae anymore. It was “hanging loose” in my neck and could have caused huge damage.)

I was shocked and terrified to have to return to emergency surgery 6 weeks after the first one. Fortunately, I didn’t know what danger I was in by having that loose prosthetic in my neck for 3 days (over a weekend, of course). So, the surgeon once again cut all the way through my neck, from the front, to operate on the spine. There’s too much bone in the way to go in through the back. Do you have any idea how thick a neck is? That’s alot of territory to slice through.

Fast forward through a full year of what felt like very slow recovery. I was a marathoner in the past, so working my way up to 5 minute walks and then having to rest for the afternoon was excruciating on the patience front. On December 7th, 2011, Pete, Teresa and I (now very recovered) hiked a 4 hour, strenuous, muddy trail on the Napali coast in Kauai. I thought I had finally made it!!! Five days later, on December 12th, 2011, my oldest brother unexpectedly died (of natural causes).

Pete was out of town when Chris died. I was on the phone for 14 hours with family and friends all over the planet. I flew to Alabama solo, stifling crying between 2 strangers for the 10 hour trip home, and finally keeled over after having been up for 36 hours straight. My niece and I pulled the whole funeral together in 2 days and I was even crazy enough to play the flute at my brother’s funeral.

That Christmas and many months after were a total blur. I think I took on my first job, as an assistant to students with disabilities at the community college, 3 or 4 weeks after Chris died, but that too was a blur. I was finally so seized up in pain again that I had to once again leave THAT job, as a disabled person, in April, 2012.

More discouragement and restlessness and wondering if I would ever be well and a productive employee again ensued. I was also 50 at the time so I wasn’t holding out hope to even be a barista. Fast forward to the summer when my ENT doc said my tonsils looked “suspicious” (for possible cancer) and needed to come out. Holy cow. Never get your tonsils taken out if you are over the age of 10! That surgery was MUCH worse than the 2 neck surgeries. I was on Vicodin every 4 hours for 9 days straight.

The good news is that I finally, after many decades, am getting some sense of smell back. Apparently, those inflammed tonsils (and other sinus issues) blocked my sense of smell.

Since September, 2012, I *finally* have started getting my life back. Because of my age, occasional pain, and the sheer lack of use of my ASL/interpreting skills for 3 years, I had to make the difficult decision to not return to my work as a sign language interpreter. I am in the final stages of training now to become a Kindermusik teacher. (Update as of 04/2014 – this plan fell through because of some nasty dealings on the part of the company. Enough said. After a year of training, I had let go of this dream as well. As of October, 2013, my chronic pain finally came to an end. I still have flare-ups but the horrific 24/7 stuff is over – alleluia!!)

I am currently pursuing many different, mostly folk, instruments. I am a hallway musician at the local children’s hospitals. I play soothing flute music in the hospital lobby and then I am placed on one of the units with the sick children and their families. If my music brightens even one person’s day, that makes my heart sing.

Finally, I am crocheting for charity, attempting to write in my spare time, promoting my mom’s TWO books, and training for a half marathon that will take place on Oct. 5th, 2014.

Life is good. Recovery is (still) happening. Being once again engaged with the world in meaningful activities is absolutely priceless.