Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Wordless Wednesday: Regrowing Backbone

Dianthus superbus.
Cow Parsnip, Heracleum maximum.
Cow Parsnip, Heracleum maximum, as "whisk".
Stylophorum lasiocarpum.
Campanula punctata.
The willow arbor gets a serious makeover. 
Where's the fire? Smoke tree, Cotinus, with Lychnis coronaria.
Centaurea montana
Yucca filamentosa.
Still working on the backbone of the garden. 

Sunday, June 15, 2014

The Fragile Spine: The Gardener's Nemesis

I'm baaaaack and feeling better than the last time I was here. Who knew that what this girl needed was a quick back surgery?

I certainly didn't see that one coming!

It all started just after I walked to see my ill friend in my last post. I'd seen my doctor the day before and she'd scheduled an MRI for me. That Friday I went in, had the scan done, and then we waited until Monday. At the worst, I was expecting a cortisone shot or some pain medications and rest. But then she called and told me I needed to see a neurosurgeon. Wha!?! She explained that the scan showed some bulging and other irregularities and she hoped I could get in to see the specialist soon.

I waited through another long weekend. I'd made an appointment for early Monday morning and honestly I was curious about what was going on. By then I was experiencing constant pain, numbness and a pins and needles sensation in my left arm. The pain was making me miserable so I stayed away from blogging. Instead, I worked on the garden even though I was hurting so badly. It kept me busy and I did see some great results. (More on that in another post.) Maybe it wasn't the wisest decision, but it helped with my worry too.
Dranunculus vulgaris looking lovely this year. 
Now, all gardeners know back pain, am I right? It's just what happens to us after hauling, digging, and sifting through the dirt. The pain is our Badge of Courage. We're proud of our backs.

My back has been a wreck for a long time and I honestly cannot recall when it all began. What I can say is that it's been getting worse and worse for the past few years and working outside has been exhausting for me.

The pain begins and I'm simply spent. I retreat indoors in defeat.
The front garden is partially a riot of color right now and I'm sort of in love with it. 
Since my relationship with pain is rather complicated I didn't really know if what I was going through was a problem or not. I blamed my swelling disease. I blamed falling down the stairs. I nursed it as best as I could but I just decided at some point that sometimes my back hurt—a lot.
I found this Magnolia grandiflora 'Bracken's Brown Beauty' bloom in my garden the day of my surgery. It's my first and I'm a proud Mama.

I also have high pain tolerance and that's become detrimental, hence, back surgery. This past year I've been more regularly declaring my back issues to my doctor and she seemed to agree that as long as I walked and stayed active it would cause less pain. I thought I'd been keeping it honest so-to-speak but I guess I still didn't describe my experience as accurately as I could have but I didn't stay silent either. I tried. I honestly tried.

Even when I did these preventative measure though, they didn't work. Or, I should say, over time they stopped working for me altogether. Things just kept feeling worse. 
Lovely Begonia leaf.
Pain is already part of my chronic illness condition. Swelling causes pain. I know that type of pain though and it's lessened a lot since I was prescribed my new medication several years ago.

The back pain I felt—especially after returning from Italy—was different. I could barely stand up and I just wanted to cry. It was excruciating. Thinking things through, this sort of explained the urgency, but I still didn't really understand what was wrong with me and how it had happened.
Lovely Bletilla striata about to open. 
On Monday the neurosurgeon examined me, then we looked at my scans together. When I saw my spinal cord being pinched by a collapsed spinal canal, I nearly jumped out of my seat. It was clear that my spinal cord wasn't happy and the herniation caused by the narrowing in the spinal column explained the pinching pain when I moved my head. And of course, the pressure from this was pinching my nerve.

Ok, I got it. So I looked at him and said, "What do we do about it?"
Lathyrus sativus azureus. 
"Well, I recommend surgery," he said.

I'd expected a cortisone shot and this far exceeded my expectations. I was surprisingly both shocked and thrilled. Then I wondered how much longer I'd have to wait. I've never heard of anyone getting back surgery quickly. I just did not think it was possible. 

"How soon will this happen?" I asked. 

"Right away," he said and we walked down the hall to make the appointment at the front desk.

I was ecstatic when I found out I'd only have to wait 7 more days. 
The front garden on the day of surgery. John and I both laughed at the lone orange lily in the boxwood hedge. 
Well it's true, "Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition."

I had one week to prepare for 1 month of little to no upper body physical activity. For a gardener in the month of June this isn't exactly easy when you're the primary gardener in the household. I'm working hard to recover quickly though. I can begin going on nice walks again soon and I'll focus on that first.

Many of my garden plans for this summer had to be folded up and put away but I didn't mind. I've never been so desperate to feel better and I was truly at the end of my rope.
Flowers John bought from Quinn in the City Flowers. These were just what I needed during my overnight stay in the hospital. 
It's not completely clear to me when the debilitating pain began, but I suspect that when I fell down the stairs in the front of my house nearly 3 years ago I seriously hurt my back. At the time I was more concerned about my swollen ankle. Weeks later I discovered after the Fling in Seattle I'd broken two fingers too but I continued to believe that my back pain was only temporary and I chose not to have it examined.

The injury lingered and remained consistent throughout the divorce and remarriage. While working as a caregiver, it made my job impossible at times. I ended up quitting because of it.
 A box of trial plants from Terra Nova Nurseries arrived the day I came home from the hospital. It felt a bit like Christmas.
Ok, so what's the takeaway? 

Honestly, I just want everyone to take care of themselves and to use caution when they're walking. I might be a klutz, but all it takes is some uneven ground and an unsteady gait. What I've also learned from this is that when I fell and broke my tailbone and two vertebrae many years ago, it's likely I caused light nerve damage in my legs and feet. This is likely how my balance has worsened along with my gait. 
This is what a Posterior Cervical Laminectomy looks like a week after surgery. 
I'm fully committed now to returning to the gym to improve my life. I can't keep this up. I don't want to live like this anymore. 
My nurse often sleeps on the job but he's been with me 24/7 this past week. 
There is no nerve pain currently in my left arm and my fingers are no longer numb. I can tip my head back to look at the ceiling and there's no stabbing pain from the pinched herniation. I've been dealing with that sensation for years and I won't miss it at all. 
My view from bed could be worse. 
These things take time to heal, and seeds of change must be planted, so as I lie here in bed, I'm just reading gardening and plant books. This is a nice time to reflect on the past and while moving forward to a healthier and brighter future.

I'm so excited.

My life just keeps getting better and better. I'm so thankful. I just cannot say that enough.
St. Expeditus. 
A good friend of mine returned home for a visit to New Orleans before we knew about the surgery and she didn't return to Portland until after it had happened. So, she bought me this statue of St. Expeditus while she was there as a souvenir. Seeing as he's the patron saint of emergencies and expeditious solutions he's more than welcome to look over my garden and I until I'm well again.

So far, I think he's doing a great job, don't you?

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Wordless Wednesday: Walking to See an Ill Friend

Iris pallida 'Variegata'. 
Rosa 'Sombreuil'.
Aegopodium podagraria 'Variegatum'.
Lavandula stoechas.  
Papaver orientale.
Tetrapanax papyrifer.
Cytisus battandieri. (Thanks Danger Garden for the ID.)

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Wordless Wednesday: Before the current heat wave it was still springtime...

Paeonia tenuifolia. 
Unknown Syringa
Iberis sermpervirens. 
Clematis montana var. rubens superba.
Vaccinium ovatum.
Unknown Iris.
Dutch Iris. 
Clematis 'Josephine'.
The confused Christmas Cactus. 
Rosa 'Golden Showers'.

Friday, May 9, 2014

24 Hours in Rome (Viva Roma!)

Stone pines, Pinus pinea.  
The first thing I noticed during our one day in Rome—other than the crushing push of other tourists and the really annoying street vendors—was the pine trees.

They're emblematic of Italian landscapes so it was refreshing to my mind's eye when they finally made their grand appearance.

[The beauty of the trees inspired the symphonic poem Pines of Rome (Pini di Roma) by Ottorino Respighi nearly 100 years ago (1924). The piece depicts different pine trees in Rome during different times of the day. I have to admit I'm rather fond of the work and if you're familiar with the Disney film Fantasia 2000 you've already heard one of the movements.]
One side of Il Monumento Nazionale a Vittorio Emanuele II. (Note the lovely pine tree.)
One of my husband's favorite buildings is considered a controversial eyesore to many other Italians. I thought it was pretty, but I didn't have many other pieces of architecture to compare it to since I really only saw it and a few other sites on our way to the Vatican. At that time, I didn't fully understand its context, but I do now.

Considering that this is the building built and dedicated to honor Victor Emmanuel II and the unification (Risorgimento) of Italy, I understand the issues involved after having really thought about it. I won't go into detail, but the building is really fascinating. There are so many angles to analyze it from and that's honestly what I ended up taking away from it. Being complicated and controversial is honestly kind of a good thing in Italy so I say let the building do what it does best.
Walking alongside the Tiber River. 
We'd flown into Rome early that day, and had taken the train into the city from the airport. After dropping off our bags at our hotel we started our walk. I think it was around 11am. This did not leave us much time. I was still not well from the food poisoning and I think between the two of us we'd only had 8 hours of sleep the night before. 

Originally we'd planned to have 2 days in Rome but our flight from Palermo had been cancelled and we couldn't reschedule for the same day so we had to settle on this arrangement. It wasn't ideal, but I'm glad I had a few moments there. 
Inside St. Peter's Basilica. The gold ceiling reminded me of home and the arm popping out of the wall added some drama. It was beautiful. I'll give it that.
Though I'm not a practicing or even a confirmed Catholic, my life is Catholic-by-culture. My father is very devout and so is my mother-in-law so it was fun for John and I to be naughty Catholic school kids together. (They both expect that from us at this point.)

Once we were there I was uncomfortable amongst the tourists and found all of their pushing in line, cameras, talking loudly, and chatting on their phones (though you're not supposed to be doing so) incredibly disrespectful.

It felt a lot like a zoo that day but I guess it was the beginning of Easter week.
It was Good Friday when we visited and these were real palm fronds out front on St Peter's columns. 

If I'd wanted to be around piety, I could have gone to Mass, but that was highly unlikely. 

(I thankfully had other quiet moments in other churches during the trip. I even saw what's left of the body of my favorite female saint. I had no idea I'd get that opportunity and it was a very exciting surprise for me.)

At least John and I tried on some 'tough guy' faces while loitering at the entrance.
Overall, the Vatican kind of underwhelmed me—and yes, of course I feel guilty now.

I knew I should have picked the botanical garden. (**Just joking!**)
The view from our hotel room. The rooftop garden in the distance had a tomato jungle growing in it.
Our walk back to the hotel from Vatican City was a physically painful one for me. (I guess I could have taken a taxi, but I was trying to save money.) My feet and legs had exploded by this point and my swelling disease was throwing a serious fit. Oops!

I was hoping Pope Francis would cruise past us in his Ford Focus and we'd catch a ride with him to our hotel because he'd taken pity on me—but no dice.

To make the time pass I had fun spinning old religious yarns in my head about pilgrims. Despite the pain, that walk was good for me because I was in Rome after all and in the moment. It was a space in life, and in this world, I'd never really lived in and that felt really good. I think I grew a bit more as a person during that short-lived day despite the difficulties—or maybe because of them. That's so often the case now isn't it?

• • •

Later, after resting, we had an amazing dinner, and of course I didn't take photos. My mind was yet a bit wild.

I wanted to add though that the art deco era Atlantico Hotel (just a block or so from the train station) was a great place to stay and I highly recommend it. The rooftop restaurant of its sister hotel (Hotel Mediterraneo) was more than outstanding. After a long day it was such a treat to eat dinner while overlooking the Vatican and the Colosseum.

Thoughts of Fellini filled my head—but not for long. I'd look over at John and he was clearly having a difficult time containing himself.

In the morning we'd leave for Venice and this was exciting for my husband. He could not wait to show me the region of his people. I was nervous about this, but curious. I was also terrified of more tourists. (If this trip taught me anything, it's that I'm not fond of the masses. I just get rattled. This never used to happen, but I think years of illness have really made it worse. That was a difficult realization. I'd changed and not noticed.)

It saddened me to have seen such a tiny sliver of Rome, but I hope to return to it someday.

But Venice, we'll it's just a different creature all together...
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