Light Therapy

Diary 1/20/20 Light Therapy

Over the weekend we finally experienced wintry weather. We didn’t have a lot of snow and the few inches we had were immediately drenched with rain. But overnight the temperature dropped hard and fast, and what snow is left remains frozen. It felt like this matched my inner weather for the last few weeks which has been still, with a quiet blank, white slate. After the busyness of the holidays and the excitement of my grandbaby arriving safely into the world, I felt very quiet. I am still very much in a physical healing mode with days when I feel more active and mobile and days when I am reading a lot lying down with my very weak and tired back. I am certainly in much less pain and in that sense I feel the surgery was quite successful. How my nervous system will ultimately respond in furthering communication with neuronal firing to my muscles is very much a work in progress. I still have a few weeks to go before the surgeon’s declaration of my post-operative muscular healing is official. The nervous system is on its own schedule altogether.

I am currently trying LED red light therapy, which is known to penetrate deep into the cells, affecting the mitochondria which I think of as little engines for cellular activity. There is chemical interaction involved but I am not that informed to be more specific. In less than a week of ten-minute sessions two-three times a day, I believe I see a glimpse of something new- a steadier accrual of both sensation and strength in my low back and into my legs. It is early days yet, so I remain open and observant. I shine the light directly on the affected areas of my first operation in my neck and in my lumbar region. Yes, I am “shining light into dark places”.

I have also taken to shining it on my face and I have to say, given the lack of sunshine in general in northwest Ohio, it feels like I am immediately relaxing on a beach somewhere. I do not think I am someone affected by SAD (a lack of full spectrum light that causes depression in some folks) but that jolt of green after images behind my closed eyelids as the red light bathes me, has been a lovely experience that makes me happy every time. Today I was inspired to walk outside on cleared asphalt paths to stand in the last 20 minutes of light from the actual setting sun in a nearly clear sky. That in itself is something I have not been inspired to do in a long time. It was a balmy 27 degrees and the fresh crisp air was delicious.

I have also been aware of holding the unfettered joy of loving 7-week-old (today!) Max, and the grief of an ever-unraveling political scene in our country and around the world. I sense the need to open my heart wider and wider to embrace it all. My small life, my sense of loss for the planet’s woes, and the fear-generated violence and greed as we further disconnect from cause and effect on the worldwide stage, makes me feel very vulnerable. Staying open-hearted is the only way I know to keep shining the light of all spectrums into dark places.

New Year

Whatever your plans or non plans for this liminal space between the out breath of 2019 and the in breath of 2020, I hope this transition brings new hope and blessings for you. Personally I am amazed to find I have had two major surgeries this year and am in recovery as a grandmother with a marvelous grandson. Further, I am continuing to find love and healing in this unique community of Kendal at Oberlin and have so much gratitude for this unexpected life gift.

(The poem ends with a quote from Julian of Norwich, 1342- c. 1416)

Year’s End

                        Judi Bachrach

Solar radiation lights up

the comet’s streaming tail

an arc of ice and dust

a year strewn with

garbage and creation

wounds and healing

grief and joy

fragility and strength

to paint the world around

with exquisite experience

embracing our humanity

enduring life to shine light

no matter the source

we are called to celebrate

what was, what is, and what will be in equal measure

may your year bear fruition

of all your yet unknown dreams

“…and all manner of things shall be well.”

Joyful Inspirations

Diary 12/9/19

Today is my grandson Max’s one-week birthday. Already he has accomplished so much; he is learning how to take in nourishment and to digest, survive the (so far) extreme displeasure of being gently bathed, to experience the undifferentiated onslaught of smell, taste, hearing, sound and touch, with only the foggiest of visual input. At 8-12 inches away, babies can only see in black, white and grays to being with. They may come to recognize their caregiver’s faces from that distance as early as two weeks. By two months, their eyes muscles can hold a steady focus. By three to four months they can begin to discern colors on small objects. Max’s eyes are wide open from time to time, but it is hard for me to imagine what it is he is actually perceiving.

I remember the weight of holding my babies very well, but I cannot actually remember them ever being this tiny and light. The wisp of a fingernail, the slightest dimple of a finger knuckle, and the cupid bow of tiny lips are amazing to behold. It is no wonder I cannot remember this stage accurately. Babies change so much, so fast, and new mothers are as overwhelmed in their own way as their small charges the first month or so. I do remember well the piercing cry of infant distress- mothers are directly targeted by that particular wailing. I have on occasion heard that same cry from an adult therapy client during a session when they tapped into their previously unconscious early mother losses. That sound goes directly to the heart and demands immediate action on the baby’s behalf. Not all babes are as lucky as my grandchild in having a warm and safe nurturing environment for their entrance into this world.

I watch my daughter and son-in-law surrender to the full-on care, delight, and exhaustion of their son’s presence and I am glad to be the grandmother. I empathize and resonate with their adventure and am happy (need) to receive daily picture by picture updates (how did distant grandparents handle life before cyber communication?). I am also clear it is their life and am so glad to see their active network of other young parents and friends they have to support them. What a gift it is to love and participate in my new role.

While I write, I am listening to sacred music of medieval Spain. I discovered this site when I was still going through rehab and was so touched by the rhythmic joyful expressions of love of the Divine Maria. I was plugged into my earphones so as not to disturb my neighbors and felt that much more inspired to move through my post-operative pain and get moving. I highly recommend a listen if you’d like to hear a superb professional young choral performance with wonderful genuine medieval instrumental accompaniment. For all the darkness we associate with the Spanish Church of this period, here is a counterpoint of vibrant celebration. I love some of the pieces so much that I keep thinking I will directly swipe one of the melodies and rhythms to create a songful celebration of my own. “Imitation is the highest form of flattery…” Oscar Wilde

May we all find our own joyful inspirations in this turbulent period of our country and our world.

Grandma Judi

Diary 12/5/19

I am a grandmother to Max Atlas Stojakovic (Stow-yahk-oh-vitch), all 7.4 lbs. and 19 inches of him as of 10:11 on 12/2/19. Since he has developed chipmunk nursing cheeks, he may weigh more already. He is, of course, perfect, and he is truly a cute one, grandmother prejudice aside. It was a normal first birth in terms of length and hard work, but my daughter was a super athlete, as birthing moms are, and her husband a loving, stalwart, and supportive partner all through the long night and into the next morning. They just spent their first night in their own home as a family and my heart is full of what all grandparents say is that particular quality of love as your children become parents of the next generation. It is an everyday miracle.

I am grateful that my surgery occurred when it did so that I could get to the birthing center and walk into my daughter and son-in-law’s room to hold my grandbaby 7 hours after his birth. I was given a ride there by friends at Kendal who made it happen to support this momentous event in my life. I have joined the club of grandparents who were happy to help. I am so delighted to be a new member, and to rejoice at every step of this new family’s adventure.

Some of my new Kendal friends have never married nor wanted to, traveling the world, working hard in one profession or another, some have recently celebrated their 65th wedding anniversary, some are skyping with their great grandchildren- I am content with how my path unfurled before me as I took each step. I have been on the lookout for sorrow that Richard is not here to witness his grandson. The man he was would have been thrilled to love another male child in his family. Truthfully, he is here, ubiquitous in the steady warmth of his love, like the ever-present sun, even behind the gray winter clouds of Ohio. His presence is not only in his DNA, but simply here. I am sure I may know pangs of recognition and loss as Max becomes his own person without his grandfather. But for now, I experience that all is just as it should be.

I wish you much love and light inspired by this new star in my firmament to shine for you now and throughout the New Year.

Gratitude

Diary 11/25/19

I can hardly believe it is Thanksgiving week. Of course, I have been in surgery and recovery mode which took a chunk out of the days passing as anything but usual. Now that my head is emerging above the water, I shake the drops out of my eyes and look around to see it is fully late November. Warmish days, sunny days, cold, gray days, snow piles from the plow melting in the corners of the parking lots- all of it speaks of November. Outside my windows, the grounds people here have been busy planting new shrubs and trees to fill around the skimpy garden I tried to start last spring. This spring, Kendal will provide more perennials that I helped to choose, and my small patch will blend in with this whole side of the building that holds our six-year-old wing of assisted living. It was never properly landscaped before this and now I will be able to observe it come to fullness along with my own growth.

I am delighted to be back in my own room. Being inside my room makes it clear that I have a way to go to undertake the hundreds of small activities I did more easily before. I can stand up without holding on for a minute at a time before I get a still unhealed nerve zing that weakens my leg muscle and have to reach out to hold on. First thing in the morning I am at my strongest. The other day I got up and took an unaided normal step or two before I noticed and quickly had to grab the handles of my rollator. If I have to walk more than twenty feet, I wear my sturdy new back brace and my old foot/ankle orthotic from the time MS had caused bad foot drop on my left side. That condition has returned due to my disrupted nervous system. I work on that every day on my own and I am back to twice-a-week PT sessions now that I am out of rehab when I worked with PT and an OT every day.

My weak back can just handle sitting up for an hour for my meditation groups and the Sunday Quaker meetings, and I hope to get back to my committee meetings and writing groups after this week. Of course, I am mostly focused on the coming grandchild. My lovely waddling daughter is a happily expectant mom, still teaching her classes on the Oberlin campus last week and this. There were indications that her babe may arrive earlier than the December 20th due date, but now it is up to the mysteries to decide when another particular human being will appear in our turbulent world. After this week he is considered full term. As my younger daughter is taking the train here and back from NY state for Thanksgiving, we can hope he waits until after all the plans are fulfilled, a family meal and reunion is concluded, and the activity runway is cleared for his safe and healthy landing. May your own Thanksgiving be full of less obligations and full of more opportunities for gratitude.

This is a love poem for my pregnant daughter and her babe.

Message

You are swimming

in the dark belly of the mothership

the ocean that bore us all

silently awaiting cell by cell

powerful waves of mystery

wave after wave after wave

will launch you towards our bright shore

Love to love

and you will inhale

your First Breath alone

your latest message from Home

will touch many hearts

all the years of your life

“Gather all the Kindling”

When the light around lessens
And your thoughts darken until
Your body feels fear turn
Cold as a stone inside,


When you find yourself bereft
Of any belief in yourself
And all you unknowingly
Leaned on has fallen,

When one voice commands
Your whole heart,
And it is raven dark,

Steady yourself and see
That it is your own thinking
That darkens your world.

Search and you will find
A diamond-thought of light,

Know that you are not alone,
And that this darkness has purpose;
Gradually it will school your eyes,
To find the one gift your life requires
Hidden within this night-corner.

Invoke the learning
Of every suffering
You have suffered.

Close your eyes.
Gather all the kindling
About your heart
To create one spark
That is all you need
To nourish the flame
That will cleanse the dark
Of its weight of festered fear.

A new confidence will come alive
To urge you towards higher ground
Where your imagination
will learn to engage difficulty
As its most rewarding threshold!

                                    John O’Donohue

John O’Donohue says it best. What schools my eyes today is the innate resilience of my body that has been lurking under chronic pain for so long. I am slowly healing. Through this healing time, I am in less and less nerve pain, and the pain from the surgery itself is not hard to handle. Connecting nerves to muscles is an ongoing lesson plan. With the help of a wonderful back brace and my old left foot/ankle orthotic from when my MS was much worse, I am walking longer and farther every day. I must be very careful because sudden nerve spasms can fell me if I am not holding on carefully to my rollator. I cannot twist around my low back and can lean forward only with great care. Otherwise I am becoming more self-sufficient and expect I will be able to leave the rehab area of the Care Center and return to my own room next Thursday. I look forward to having my own space and no longer having to be checked for levels of various body functions at all times of the day as is necessary for skilled nursing care.

To be on a healing path with the obstacles removed and my spine revamped is a true joy. Boredom, fatigue, and irritation are small passing squalls that do not temper the underlying momentum of healing that my beleaguered body has shown during my days here. I know I will be stronger after I recover, and I will return to my life with renewed gratitude.

“A new confidence will come alive
To urge you towards higher ground
Where your imagination
will learn to engage difficulty
As its most rewarding threshold!”

Home

11/9/19

I am back at Kendal in the rehab area of the nursing center that encompasses my own room in the Assisted Living wing. The surgery went well. Four and a half days in a small local hospital was hard, and I experienced the worst physical suffering of my life for two of those nights. Off the chart post-surgical pain, nausea, and a pounding headache created a harsh mix of sensation. Drugs both helped and didn’t help, but it is what I had to work with. After my last surgery, a Kendal friend of mine who used to be a nurse gave me a get-well card that said, “People who say that laughter is the best medicine have never tried morphine.” I say, first the morphine, and then the laughter.

There is something very pure and clarifying about undergoing intense pain. The urge to disassociate from my body was strong. It was not a “near death” experience, because my pain was not signifying life or death. Nonetheless, I had to summon something that insists on life not usually called upon from deep within. It happens during childbirth, on the battlefield, extreme athletics, or at any time the body is threatened at that level. I kept breathing, and the pain receded by degrees. I know I went through an ordeal, but the body memory fades it from view as soon as it passes. I remember sobbing on the toilet (sitting up at all was hard) with a nurse calmly standing by without judgement as I wailed, “I can’t take this anymore.”

My pride was in shreds. I wanted her to know that this is not my usual reaction to pain, that I am very strong, that I am not some flaky wimp. I calmed down and staggered back to bed with my rollator. I was glad she held neutral ground. My pain meds were adjusted, and then I could laugh at the picture of helplessness of me weeping all exposed in that hospital bathroom. That reassertion to live is a gift and, I begin to realize, so is the pain that precedes it. I have worked on embracing chronic pain for many years. Though I never would call it my favorite teacher, I see now that it is, in fact, a gifted teacher. Pain is an immediate humbler of the ego. It is paint stripper to the personality, creating an opportunity to see what else you are made of beneath the carefully cultivated images we strive to maintain.

At Kendal, the nurses here know me, and I know them as well. They know me as a person, not just a patient. We work together as a team and exchange helpful dialogue where my personal perspective counts as much if not more than theirs. That atmosphere in and of itself is healing. I do not need to push for self-advocacy. We all need to be truly heard and seen. It is Love in action. Hospitals are filled with professional strangers and do not provide a nurturing environment. Nurses run from room to room filling out endless paperwork, running meds, checking stats and have little time to give compassionate care. For the last three nights in a row I asked my three different new young night nurses how they liked working at Kendal. All three gushed that they loved it. Here they get to care for patients as people. I am beyond lucky to be here.

I learned something else. In my humbled vulnerability while waiting for the ambulance to transport me, I couldn’t wait to come HOME. I hadn’t realized how significant that thought was until I was back in my rehab bedroom. Once I was settled down, people kept dropping in to see for themselves that I was back. Some were friends, some were members of the community I know only a little, but everybody knew that I had been gone and had now returned. I hadn’t been wishing to go to back to my former house and home. I wanted to be here at Kendal with my community. These people are my home now. The transition from my former life has already happened. Home is not a particular room or a house, or a specific time of your life. It is the interactions of the heart cultivated with others around you. Corny, but true- home is where the flexible, spacious heart is. Home is not a static location. It includes all friends and family, the beloved old ones, and the shiny new ones still to come.