Tuesday, October 8, 2013

On Grief, Joy and Gratitude

Tom and I sat in the sun streamed cafeteria at Spaulding Rehab's new facility in Charlestown this morning waiting for our Aquatics Therapy class that focuses on Joint Integrity. A woman sporting a Spaulding badge and a warm smile said, "Good morning" and walked by us. She was wearing a navy blue skirt with a zipper in the back.

I turned to Tom and said, "That's the same skirt I wore when I worked at the VA," and I got choked up and cried. Tom was wonderful and said, "You still miss it, huh?"

I nodded as tears streamed down my face. I was somewhat taken aback by my reaction.

I had a rush of awareness and clarity of what happened to me and what I have experienced during my seven year healing odyssey.

On October 6, 2006, I had an EMG to determine if there was damage from the polio virus in my upper body which would guide the team at Spaulding Rehab's International Center for Polio and Post Polio in my rehab program. I had an appointment for mid-October at the clinic after having found my courage to pick up the phone and call the Center asking for help with a myriad of disabling symptoms that I had presumed and the medical community would concur were related to the polio virus I contracted at the age of 5. That was only the beginning....There was so much more to be understood and healed about what had happened to me.

As I write my memoir, "Coming Home:A Memoir of Healing, Hope and Possibility," I become keenly aware of the pain and losses in the journey. I left my award winning career at the VA Outpatient Clinic. It was more than a job for me. It was a passion of mine to be a fierce advocate for our nation's veterans. I was good at what I did. But there came a time for me to heal the untended wounds of paralytic polio and trauma and to find my way home to myself after giving to so many for so long unaware of how I needed to care for myself, mind, body and Spirit. Now that I am feeling healthy and whole, I can experience the grief of having to leave my career knowing that everything happened as only it could.

But side by side with the sense of grief and sadness, I am also deeply aware and grateful for the healing that I have and continue to experience in my life.

After the Boston Marathon Bombings, Tom and I took a tour of the new Spaulding Rehab Facility. We saw the new Aquatics Therapy Center and were told about outpatient community classes that would be starting up soon. I had a feeling that this was going to be exactly what I needed in this next phase of my healing journey to complement running and bodywork sessions.

This morning we had a very small class. I mentioned to Abbey Turner who was teaching the class for our regular teacher Karis, that my left hamstring and IT band were feeling tight. She said that she would definitely work in some good stretches and exercises to work out the tightness into the class. I still cannot believe that the class is only $10/class and I receive the benefits of aquatic therapy in a 90 degree heated pool with a trained physical therapist to assist me in continuing to heal and move forward from the ravages of paralytic polio and trauma.

This morning Abbey got in the pool with us to have a closer look at the way we were doing our exercises as well as to demonstrate the exercises in the water. There was one challenging exercise for a full body stretch in which we moved opposite hand and opposite leg. I told myself to not think about it and just move. Abbey is so supportive and encouraging. If anything is too challenging, she modifies it so that everyone can experience success in finding their strength at their own level.

Abbey had music on in the background from Pandora which got me pumped when we were doing upper body strengthening with the dumb bells. I said to her and she agreed that it is a lot more pleasant to do this strength training in the pool than with the machines they had at the old hospital on Nashua Street. As Abbey led us through our cool down stretches, she offered a new calf stretch that got deep into my calves, especially on my left leg where it is so hard for me to access a calf stretch.

Before class, I was experiencing a fair amount of joint pain in part because of the 1.2 mile hill that Tom and I incorporated into our training last Saturday. And rather then take off Sunday, I decided that since it was raining and couldn't go on a recovery walk, I would try out our recumbent bike. After 10 minutes I realized this was not a good idea.

How amazing to do a 45 minute workout in the warm water to work everything out as Abbey phrased it and I'll be ready to get out there tomorrow morning to continue my training for the Feaster Five on Thanksgiving morning. The tightness and pain are gone! I experience such joy and freedom in movement in the water being able to work in a way that I cannot on land. The water also nourishes me mind, body and soul. The design of the aquatics room gives us a panoramic view of Boston Harbor and the warmth of the sun bathes us absorbing the heat from the glass in the window. The new Spaulding is a LEED Gold facility.

Seven years ago, I walked into Spaulding Rehab's Outpatient Clinic in Framingham for treatment of post polio syndrome. Based on the severity of the symptoms I experienced and the prognosis, I wasn't sure if I'd be around seven years later. I can honestly say that I feel better, more hopeful, happier, more joy and vibrant and healthier than I have ever been in my life. That's a pretty wonderful way to enter my decade of the sixties in just a little over two months!

Learning to Dance from the soon to be released A Celebration of Life. My books of inspirational poetry are available on Amazon

It’s never too late
you’re never too old
to learn to dance
paralyzed from polio
paralyzed with fear
frozen in time

awkward and unsure
shame and confusion
I fell into the trap of ego
my leg snared in the jaws of agony and defeat

saved by grace
my rescuer nursed my wounds
tentative steps
stiff and clumsy
painstaking movement
fueled by thoughts of days gone by
the match is lit
no match for darkness
the music of my heart’s desire
moved me to try once again
step by step
the dance of my life
the way I was always meant to dance

yes wrinkles mark the passage of time
I burn brightly

until my dance is done.

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