I wish I understood the beauty
in leaves falling. To whom
are we beautiful
as we go?
~ David Ignatow, “Three in Transition”
In Hip Rehab Land, this has been a week of benchmarks to celebrate. Yet I’m feeling the melancholy of the opening lines of David Ignatow’s poem. On Monday, one day shy of the four-week anniversary of my hip surgery, I graduated to a hardware-free life. My post-op physical therapist said that I could march forth without my crutch and brace. At the two-week mark, I had stepped down (or up) to one crutch and daytime-only brace-wearing. This week, my therapist also said that I could try driving for short distances. Freedom! Right?
“Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.” ~ Ferris Bueller
On Tuesday, 28 days after the procedure, I went for my first apparatus-free, unaccompanied outdoor walk. I took a pair of my husband’s shorts that needed mending to the cleaners just up the street from our house (#urbanliving is awesome). I wended my way home by way of Main Street, soaking up the warm, sunny fall weather that I’d been watching mostly from my bedroom window, and taking in downtown Clayton sights I hadn’t seen on foot for a month. I walked for a happily pokey 40 minutes. When I got home, I went for my first post-op drive, fairly ceremoniously to the yoga studio where I teach. It’s half a mile from my house. Normally, at least in decent weather, I walk. I returned the containers that had held the special deliveries of food that students and fellow teachers at Purna Yoga East had given Matthew and me in the first few weeks after my arthroscopic adventure. I also did my first post-op hang from the yoga wall, tractioning my upper spine in the “parachute” pose. Sweet, stretchy, crackling goodness ensued. (I don’t have a visual for that. But it was good.)
“Life is so short, we must move very slowly.” ~ Thai proverb
I was grateful to walk and drive without pain, of course, apart from some compensatory and normal, lingering post-op aches. My right thigh is still partially numb, and my legs aren’t on the same planet yet. Mars, meet Venus. As far as I can tell, the surgery was a “success,” and my hip joint feels great if still limited in its range of motion. I’m okay with that. After having torn cartilage repaired with sutures and anchors and having the head of my femur shaved by way of two tiny holes in my upper thigh, this is hardly surprising. It will be some time before my body or the rest of me is ready to resume teaching. I miss my students and the community that has been my anchor for the past few years, but I know I’ll be back. This blip is temporary and necessary. On Monday, as part of my morning physical therapy routine, I did my first post-op supta padangusthasana, aka the big-toe stretch, aka a powerful hamstring opener. It told me a lot about how far I still have to go, with tightness in my inner right thigh (the surgical side) and left hamstrings, but Tuesday’s more even-keeled version reminded me that progress is possible. The journey is the destination, and all that.
“It takes time to slow down.” ~ Leslie Waugh
Other post-op firsts:
Day 12, Oct. 8: Went up and down the stairs in the house (using both crutches). Twice!
Day 17, Oct. 13: Got down onto the floor (and back up!). Shaved my legs (no blood!).
Day 26, Oct. 22: Took a bath in an actual tub.
“If you ain’t first, you’re last.” ~ Ricky Bobby
I’m not obsessed with keeping score, but I’ve wanted to document my recovery, at least for myself. My physical therapist has said all along that I’m “doing great” and that everything is on track ~ but recovery from surgery for a torn labrum and femoroacetabular impingement is a marathon, not a sprint, much like pronouncing “femoroacetabular.” As grateful as I am to be moving about more freely, I find myself missing the permission that the early stages of my recovery, complete with the props, had given me to slow down ~ even while I was trying to make the most of my down time. I was on forced rest, and, to a degree, I still am. My husband, bless him, helped me do things that I haven’t need help with since I was in diapers. In the first week or so after the procedure, he helped me dress and put my socks and shoes on. He covered my bandages in plastic wrap when I took showers. He set up the ice-water machine time and time again. He cooked and took over doing the laundry. I’ve truly been spoiled by all the help I’ve received. Moral of that story: Self-sufficiency is highly overrated. Accepting help is an act of grace.
“Yer gonna make me lonesome when you go.” ~ Bob Dylan
So without the hardware, do I have to speed back up? How can I justify lolling around on my bed, reading or writing or napping, enjoying a breeze through the open windows while I rest my hip flexors? Why do I feel like I need an excuse to pull over and rest once in a while? What about just Being, and Not-Doing? (More on that later. Maybe. Probably.) There’s a wistfulness in the temporality of small moments, as in watching a leaf fall, or in longer moments, such as autumn itself. As the seasons change, the light changes. Colors change. Leaves, in their deciduous poignancy, flame out from green into blazes of red, orange and yellow. The beauty and the grief mix in what a Japanese scholar called “mono no aware,” the sadness that comes from the awareness of impermanence. I have felt this as I’ve watched my nephew grow up way too quickly. Where will his joy and innocence go?
“The trouble is, you think you have time.” ~ Jack Kornfield
In yoga, that awareness of impermanence, often described as a fear, is called abhinevesha. It is the final of the five klesha, or obstacles, on the yogic path. It is often translated as the fear of death, but I feel it as the fear of not living fully, of not realizing one’s full potential or dharma ~ in part, of not seizing the “marrow” out life, as Henry David Thoreau said of his retreat to the woods and wish to “live deliberately.” It’s about the desire we all have to be seen and heard ~ and, from time to time, to be quiet. To be of service ~ and, from time to time, to be beholden to no one. To feel connected to something larger than ourselves ~ and, from time to time, to relish in solitude. The Heartfull™ Meditation techniques of Purna Yoga have helped me dive into both the universal purpose that we all share ~ to live from love ~ and into my own individual dharma. But on the yogic path, it’s said that people with the strongest attachments (the klesha of raga) and aversions (dvesha) are those who struggle the most with abhinevesha. Both involve rigidity and the fear of change. Resisting change is as futile as trying to control the weather or stop summer from sliding into fall. In a way, more than learning how to live, we are here on Earth not just live but to learn how to cope with loss.
“In a minute there is time
For decisions and revisions which a minute will reverse.”
~ T.S. Eliot, “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock”
Life is nothing if not constant change, a flow of gains and losses. Purna Yoga has helped me cope with many vagaries of life, and I’m applying my practice to my hip rehab, as I did to my prehab. I’m fortunate that I can financially take a break from teaching, which is physically (and in every other way) demanding, and from my copy-editing job, which is also demanding but, at the opposite end of the physical spectrum, sedentary. I can’t move or sit the way I used to just yet, or do any one physical thing for any great length of time, and I don’t know what my new normal will be. I’m in an in-between state, in the pause, yet everything is still happening. My surgeon and I expect that I’ll regain full range of motion. I will be grateful to just be out of the pre-op pain that lingered for so long. Chronic pain can make you nuts. (More on that later, too. Maybe. Probably.)
“True yoga is not about the shape of your body,
but the shape of your life.”
~ Aadil Palkhivala, co-founder of Purna Yoga
I miss the stability that the hip brace gave me. It reminded me to move slowly and carefully. But, as with all props, I remember how it felt, so on my walk to town on Tuesday, I embodied the feeling of security as I took each step deliberately. I used the new samskara, or pattern, of support to guide me. I wasn’t in a hurry to get anywhere. The walking was the doing. However, I don’t miss the brace’s too-wide Velcro girdle of a waistband, which was uncomfortable after a meal or while sitting and as an unwelcome boob shelf. (Speaking of which, I won’t miss not having to wear a bra. Ladies, amiright?) I miss the support I received from the crutches, but I don’t miss the wrist strain that came from using just one crutch. The booster seats are still on the two downstairs toilets. I don’t know if I’ll miss those, because when I sit on them my feet don’t touch the floor. But in my extended healing story, these weird little griefs are part of a practice in adaptability and learning how to cope with new presences ~ and new absences ~ whether temporary or permanent. With larger losses, past and unmet. With the certainty of change.
If You Should Go
By Countee Cullen
Love, leave me like the light,
The gently passing day;
We would not know, but for the night,
When it has slipped away.
Go quietly; a dream,
When done, should leave no trace
That it has lived, except a gleam
Across the dreamer’s face.