September 20, 2020--Fires, Rain, and Clearing the Undergrowth
It finally rained.
Was it 11 days of smoke? Something like that. Day after day, the world was hazy and brittle, and the air felt poisonous. On Labor Day and immediately after, when that sinister east wind set the Cascades ablaze, it felt like the smallest spark from plugging in a vacuum cleaner or starting up a car could ignite the house or the crackling walnut leaves on the driveway.
Then, thankfully, the temperature dropped and the humidity rose. The resulting fog mixed with smoke was a trial to drive through, but it helped to slow down the existing fires and reduced the danger of more. Still, the air remained harsh and hazardous, and even remaining indoors wasn't enough to protect us from raw throats and coughing.
This past Tuesday, Paul had an important appointment with the neurosurgeon. That morning, I had noticed on the air quality map that among dozens of "hazardous" numbers there was one little green rectangle indicating healthy air quality. It was in the town of Florence, at the coast. So after the appointment we threw our things together, booked a cheap motel, and took off. We used all the lessons we'd learned after the first attempt at this, most notably making sure we were on the ground floor.
So we had a few days of air with oxygen in it, which is a wonderful ingredient that Oregon people won't take for granted for a long time, and then it rained at home with a great thunderstorm--unusual for Oregon--and we came home to a fresh world.
The consultation with the doctor on Tuesday was both encouraging and not. To our relief, she told Paul he can wean himself off the back and neck braces, alternating two hours off and on. She said his head would feel odd and floppy because the muscles in the neck are so unused. That hasn't been true for him, but he's had a bit of trouble with vertigo when he turns his head to one side or the other. He keeps the brace off for a lot longer than the doctor suggested, but I'm quite sure it's fine for him to trust his own comfort level in this.
We're both happy with how much more normal life seems with that bulky apparatus off. For the first time in two months, Paul can hug me and it doesn't feel like I'm hugging a robot with a rigid plastic armor. Also, we took clippers to the dense undergrowth that sprouted inside the neck brace, and that also helped him look and feel more normal.
The unfortunate news from the doctor was that Paul needs surgery on his neck. Apparently he has always had a very narrow channel where the spinal cord passes through the C-5-6-7 vertebrae, so narrow that there's very little spinal fluid, and the bone touches the spinal cord. Spinal fluid acts as a cushion, so this makes him very susceptible to further paralysis if he ever has another whiplash, whether from a fall, car accident or anything else. The surgeon would grind out some of the bone to make a bigger tunnel.
Unfortunately, this probably wouldn't help his arm recover. It would only be a precaution.
Surgery would involve 2-3 days in the hospital and of course another recovery period. I had really hoped to get rid of all our medical equipment and never need it again, so this takes a re-adjusting of the timeline and a refilling of the courage jar.
The doctor thought we should book the surgery this fall, before Christmas, but the therapist thinks Paul should be further along with the use of his arm before surgery inevitably sets him back.
That arm is the one stubborn holdout. The broken bones have all healed, the gash is only a pink scar, and the brain injury seldom shows itself. Paul walks well and hardly ever even uses a cane. But the left arm is still largely useless. It's also persistently swollen, which makes it harder to exercise the parts that have sensation, such as the fingers and wrist. The doctor suspected a blood clot in the upper arm, so we went in for an ultrasound. No blood clot, and no easy answers. Paul continues to elevate, exercise, and massage.
We stake our hopes on God's healing touch and the therapist's insistence that there are tiny twitchings in the bicep that were not there before.
"Life can turn on a dime," someone told me yesterday at a baby shower, possibly quoting Stephen King. So now that our life has turned, we pray about what the new normal should look like. Paul is eager to be productive. This week, he wants to try taking on more housework and outside work so I have more time to write. That sounds like a fine arrangement to me.
Even though the weeks of forest fires were terrifying, they are a natural phenomenon, says our son Ben, who is due to earn a Ph.D. in forest fire combustion science from Oregon State University next year. Done right, a fire clears out the accumulation of undergrowth and improves the health of the forest.
Maybe that's a good way to look at this fire that's swept through our lives. Someone asked me yesterday if I'm busy again--or still--with everything I was doing before Paul fell. I laughed and said absolutely not. Paul's fall gave me a guilt-free reason to say No to everything. And now I can carefully choose which plants are going to grow in this forest--so to speak--what I say Yes to, what I want to nurture and keep. And what I don't.
We thank you for all of your prayers in the past two months, and we are awed at what God has done. We would very much appreciate your continued prayers for complete recovery and a clear path before us.