healing week: the nerve

This week at PAIL, each of the contributing editors is writing about what healing looks like for her, in this moment. As I tend to repeat ad nauseum, healing is a non-linear process and will look different for each person at any given time. Resolving my physical infertility did not magically resolve my emotional infertility, a continuum on which I slide depending on various external factors.

I wrote the first part of this post last April for RESOLVE’s NIAW Bloggers Unite challenge. I was just coming out of the oppressive fog of a severe bout of PPD and felt that I needed to communicate why I wasn’t “over it” to the people in my life. Now, a year later, I reflect at the bottom about how my wound is healing, and what is keeping it open.

*****

When I was 14, my family spent Christmas at my grandparents’ house in Florida. My brother and I were playing catch with his new football when, not surprisingly, it sailed over the fence into the neighbour’s yard. The “closer to you” rule was enacted and over the fence I went. I threw it back, and as I climbed up to jump back I was met with a chorus of “Go through the gate!” from the adults on the porch. Being smarter than all of them combined, I jumped down from the fence. Unfortunately, my t-shirt got caught and acted as a slingshot, aiming me straight at the ground. I attempted to defy physics with my left arm with predictable results.

Actual X-ray of SRB’s arm.

My forearm had essentially snapped in half like a green twig. Because my arm could not be put in a cast due to massive swelling, I was strapped into a series of splints. The possibility of surgery was floated. My mother (a nurse of many years) decided that if surgery was happening, it would be happening back in Toronto, thank you very much. We spent several days driving back to Canada; every bump in the road excruciating. Upon arrival in Toronto, it was decided that as the bones had been healing for a few days, surgery would not be prudent. Instead, it was decided that they would simply re-break the arm and ‘set it properly’.

I was in a series of casts for three months. I complained constantly of numbness in my hand, which was attributed to swelling, healing, my imagination and everything in between. At the same time, even feeling the air on the skin of my fingers was unbearable. When the cast finally came off, I could not feel my index and middle fingers. I could not feel my thumb. I could not move it. Something was wrong.

I underwent a series of very painful tests to diagnose the problem. It was determined that I had severed the median nerve when I broke my arm. In order to restore any level of function to my hand, I would require surgery. When they went in, they could not find the nerve ends where they expected to. They had to open up the entirety of my forearm to find them. It was then discovered that they would not be able to reattach the ends, and so a length of nerve was removed from my ankle and grafted into my arm. I had to miss the rest of the school year to heal.

The recovery process was long, arduous, and incredibly painful. Not only did I have two massive incisions, but I was trying to ‘grow back’ a major nerve. For months there would be waves of unrelenting sensations that felt like an electrical fire pulsing down my arm. Slowly, over time, the waves subsided giving way to something of a burning itch under my skin that no amount of scratching or rubbing could ease. I have rubbed my skin raw trying. I have spent years learning how to use my hand again.

Actual scar, 19 years later.

If you spend a little time with me, you will notice the scars. They are hard to miss. They were red, angry, and took years to fade. I will tell you the story, and you will gasp, and then we will laugh. Because I have learned to use my hand again – I have adapted. It is not perfect, and it never will be. It is what it is, and I am very lucky. Some of the feeling has even returned, little by little, year by year. It is slowly healing over time. Still. But every once and a while, without warning, an electrical fire burns; an itch I cannot scratch returns.

This is what infertility and loss feels like to me. It should have been like hopping a fence for the thousandth time. Instead, it was a broken arm. It was a severed nerve. It was nerve endings that could not be found, that had to be patched up. It was a medical problem that required medical interventions. It was a nerve graft that somehow stuck on the third try. It was an electrical fire, and every so often the pain flares up without warning. It is a burning itch that no amount of scratching, only time, can soothe.

You cannot see these scars – they are (literally and figuratively) on the inside. Right now they are red, angry, and will take years to fade. But they will fade, and someday I hope to hardly notice them. HGB is my nerve graft – he is teaching me to use my hand again so that I can hold his.

Don’t ignore the scars of infertility and loss. Some wounds heal more quickly than others. There are many ways to stitch up the wounds, but every cut leaves a scar.

*****

Now what? In the last year, I have had a surprise natural conception, easy pregnancy, and amazing homebirth experience. I have the two children I always wanted. And for a little while, this was an elixir that made me feel as though my wounds had really, truly, finally healed. But as the weeks keeping passing, I find that glow slowly ebbing. So what is my problem?

I still struggle nearly daily with the injury of infertility and loss. Yes, my family building is complete. That part is over and has done wonders for where I am today versus 5 years ago. But how my husband and I were treated during and after those struggles and how we related to each other because of them are wounds that feel like they will never heal.

There are rifts between us because of it that we struggle to gap. Things it seems we will never see eye to eye on. I don’t know how to heal that.

There has been irreparable damage to other relationships because of it that impact our extended and immediate family. That impact our children. I don’t know how to heal that.

There is this feeling in my chest, in the pit of my stomach… this heaviness about our infertility and losses that I still think so much about. I don’t know how to heal that.

I worry that I don’t know how to talk about this. That I cannot abide by “just be grateful” in the same way that “just relax” is intolerable. That a person can be grateful beyond measure for what she has, for having everything she ever wanted, and yet still have so much pain etched into her heart and soul. But I worry more that by not talking about it, it will never heal. I worry that this wound will fester, will stay infected. I worry that this scar will never fade. Can you be grateful and sad at the same time?

Other days, I feel so very free of it all. That it is finally “behind me” and now I can “move forward” and get on with life. It’s over, I think. It’s done – you beat it. And honestly, when I catch myself thinking this way, I feel guilty. Guilty for moving on, for needing to move on. For moving away from this place. These scars will never fade away to nothing – I will never forget. But I do need to stop hurting. And so I do feel myself moving away from here, but I don’t have the nerve to do it just yet.

Because I’m not done. I’m not done hurting.

*****

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SRBSarah is a former high school teacher, turned medical writer, turned SAHM to two boys. She enjoys beer, knitting, gardening, and cheese, and is striving to raise boys who can will do their own laundry and cooking. This urban mama parents with an ever-evolving mix of natural, attachment and RIE principles with a dash of by-the-seat-of-her-pants for good measure. She blogs about her life at a sausage party at Little Chicken Nuggets.

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