Sitting reading, my attention is drawn away by the distinctive cry of a warbler bird, nested in the trees at the base of the MacDonnell ranges, I am aware of a great sense of contentment.  I awoke without the blare of an alarm and could make a pot of coffee and breakfast at leisure.  I have had time and opportunity to meditate, reflect and do some gently stretching exercise.  My time is my own and as long as I heed the signals of my head and body, taking the right pill at the right time, resting and applying ice as necessary, I have begun to have days of little debilitating pain.  Delightful days where my thoughts are clearer, my ability to cook and more importantly to bake is restored and I can see clearly the progress I have made on my pathway to recovery.

I no longer count the weeks since my surgery, always a sign that the emotional trauma is being released and healed.  I still have many limitations but sitting at my kitchen counter near the open back door, feeling the cool morning breeze dance around me, I am happy and am feeling, not lucky but perhaps, fortunate.  I have survived the worst of this experience and will continue to heal, become pain-free and have my function restored in those parts where it is missing.  I know this because I have done most of it before and because I have people who love me and continue to hold me up as I put myself back tougher again.  My contentment this day comes in part from the knowledge of that love and support.  My husband is a marvel and I truly do not know how I would weather the storms of life without him.  He understands me even when I do not, he holds my hand and passes tissues at those moments where tears are the only way left for me to express how I feel and he gets up early to the blaring of an alarm and despite his own tiredness and concerns, goes to work every day to earn the money that pays for me to be able to sleep, meditate, exercise and take the time I need to recover.

Love Quote

Learning Through Pain

I woke this morning with a headache, a seemingly innocuous event in itself except I have not woken with pain in my head for nearly two weeks now.  The first few days without pain as the first thing to register in my early morning grogginess, were treated with a wary suspicion, “Will it last?” I’d ask myself. But the glorious pain-free awakenings continued and soon became the welcomed next stage of recovery.  Oh the relief of waking, stretching and sighing as no pain haunted my skull first thing.  After close to four months of constant headaches, this was a much-appreciated respite.

This morning though, I woke with pain in my head but I still took a moment to stretch and give the darn thing a chance to leave. Propped on the edge of the bed the pain increased and extended into the bones around my right eye.  As soon as this happened, I realised I haven’t had bad pain around my eye for a little while either.  It still aches some days and I cannot tolerate any pressure in the area, but it has been improving.   In order to recognise this subtle improvement though, I needed perspective and this is what this morning’s strong pain gave me.

I medicate myself appropriately and begin attending to the important activities of the morning namely opening up the house to capture the beautiful desert morning air and making coffee.  As I move about these tasks, I ponder the pain.  I am no stranger to pain particularly after my spinal injuries and rehab where I was treated by a pain specialist and undertook pain management lessons to learn how to live with debilitating nerve pain.  The pain I have had post brain surgery has persisted for longer than I thought it would and at an intensity that has surprised me.  A bad headache debilitates my capacity to think as well as move, prevents me from reading, watching television or even listening to music and can with persistence leave me lying upon the bed with ice packs fore and aft.   I recall reading that it takes most people up to a year to feel they are returned to their pre-op ‘normal’ and that many people continue to have headaches well up to six months.  I had forgotten this and listened when my surgeon told me the headaches would last only days or weeks.  Surgeons!  I know better than to listen to surgeons about recovery! They are about as reliable as used cars sales people when it comes to recovery time.

As I think about this morning’s pain, I use the mindfulness approach to tune into and distinguish differences in sensation. In using this approach to pain the goal is to observe it, take a breath when it strikes but not react emotionally nor even physically. The goal is to distance oneself from the pain and what we tell ourselves about it and to recognise pain simply as sensation.  Through this we also acknowledge that pain is there for a reason and it is important when recovering from serious surgery or injury, that we learn when to heed the call for rest and when it is ok to work through it.  This is an exceptionally fine line and in order to navigate it, we must be tuned in to our bodies and understand the message the pain in sending.  This helps prevent one becoming distressed by and merely reacting to pain. It takes practice but it helps enormously, when you remember to do it. I have been reconnecting with this practice (thanks to a reminder from a friend) so this morning whilst I took the appropriated pain medication; I also explored the sensations and refrained from telling myself negative things about it.

I have over the past weeks clearly identified the variety of headaches I get and learnt some of the triggers for them, enabling me to better manage or even delay them. I still have the pain and it still causes me to modify my behavior when it strikes hard but I don’t worry about what it might mean, don’t feel sad or down about it. I’ll admit to occasionally still feeling frustrated that I can’t just do what I wish to without planning around this companion but largely, I accept that it is a part of this journey and for the time being, me.






Lessons From My Akubra

Heading outside laundry basket under one arm I realise how hot it is.  I retreat back to the house and pick up my trusty Akubra.  Slipping it upon my head, it catches painfully on the screw in my forehead.  A moment of disappointment ensues, “I can’t wear my favourite bush hat thanks to these stupid screws!”  I pull it off and ponder.  Eventually remembering I have removable padding wedged into the band to help it fit, I remove it and try again.  Perfect.  No catching, it simply slides into place without discomfort.  That’s when it occurs to me that my scar has caused no discomfit with the donning of my hat, no pain at all.  It would seem that at three and a half months post-op, my scar has lost a good deal of its sensitivity to touch.  Uplifted and excited I head to the phone.  With such information, I simply cannot wait.  I call and the phone is answered, I blurt out my name and that I would like to book to have my hair cut and coloured.  I mean, come on, it’s been three and a half months since I had it done!

V & Her Akubra

Pity Party For One

I wander about feeling almost normal, fewer and less severe headaches to remind me of what I have been through. Every now and again though, the thought, ‘I had brain surgery’ looms so large in my mind, it casts a shadow over all else. When this happens, I am struck dumb momentarily.  As I begin to think upon this ridiculous pronouncement from my own mind, disbelief and sadness course through me like sludgy rivers on a path to nowhere. Despite the evidence to the contrary, I cannot reconcile this; I mean really, it does seem a little ridiculous, does it not?

There begins my very own pity party, a come-as-you-are affair of limited value.  I begin thinking just how darn unfair it is, after all I have been through, to have this happen. Useless. Unhelpful. Waste of time. Thoughts. Nonetheless, there they are, circling my mind, triggering feelings of loss, sadness and even anger.

I try when this happens to reign in these useless thoughts. It might seem ok to feel this way occasionally but I know that if I allow myself to indulge in this type of thinking, I could be buried alive by the resulting avalanche of negative emotions, memories and thoughts. My life has been difficult at times, downright depressing at others. I choose to not dwell upon all of that as it leads me nowhere. I prefer to look to the future and focus upon all the good, wonderful things in my life, which in truth, vastly outweigh the bad.

After allowing myself to think of the terrible injustice of it all, I can equally quickly remember that I am lucky to be alive. Without surgery, the aneurysm would have killed me, probably within one short year.  Without the stroke in 2007, I may never have had the aneurysm identified and without that, would never had known of the lethal threat it posed me.  Rational Veraina knows and deeply appreciates this but every now and again, it is hard to feel grateful for having a stroke and brain surgery.  Just every now and again.

Pirates Need Groceries Too

My mum came to stay and help out for a little while, enabling Jase to return to work and catch up on his projects. He joked with someone the other day that he only ever takes sick leave because of me, to which I quipped, “If he would stop moving me around on postings, I might have a chance to accrue some leave.”

Anyhow, my mum was in town to help out and we had an outing one day into town. We were dropped off by the taxi outside one of the two shopping centres in town (Alice Springs has a population of 30,000 so we don’t have loads of shops). As we wandered along, browsing in the window of the chemist and shoe store, I commented on the ‘weirdness’ of window-shopping in Alice. Usually if I go shopping, I know exactly what I want and go to the one store in town that is likely to have it. Despite this we pass a pleasant hour browsing and amused ourselves in the home wares store, commenting judgmentally on some of the ridiculous kitchen utensils now available, you know, banana cases, avocado slicers, specialty garlic peelers, juicers and many other things most commonly done by hand without much effort at all.

I digress.

After our gawking we stopped for a snack and coffee and chatted until I began to feel a bit fatigued. We then ventured into the supermarket for a swift raid and it was here that my brain decided it was done with the outing.  Thursday afternoons can be busy enough, as it’s often payday for many people, add tourist season and the supermarket late afternoon, is chaotic.

I told mum I couldn’t stay, as I felt completely overwhelmed by the noise and colours.  She valiantly offered to do the shopping, telling me to go find a seat until she was done. I did as instructed, finding a seat outside the checkouts so I could find her easily. As I waited, I noticed that every child walking past turned to look at me. Initially I was curious as to why but slowly it dawned on me that it must be the eye patch.

Then one kid, maybe eight years old, caught my attention as his head nearly spun off as he did the double take to stare at me.  Not long later he approached again with his dad and younger sibling.  As they reached the seat, he let go of his dad’s hand and stopped right in front of me, smiled nervously, waved at me and shyly said hello.  I said hello back and he then added, “You look like a pirate.” “Is that so?” says I.  He grins and takes off to re-join his family and I noted he spoke rapidly to the younger boy and pointed in my direction. They both took another look at the Pirate before disappearing from sight.  He was very cute and quite brave as well, I thought.  Although, I admit to myself that I wish I had thought faster and answered him in a gravelling ‘pirate’ voice and scared the life out of him, but alas, a missed moment of hilarity.

Fortunately for my rapidly fading self, Jason was able to pick us up and drive us home.  In the car, I was telling mum about the boy who spoke to me and we were having a laugh about it when Jason indignantly interjected. “So it’s ok for a boy to call you a pirate but when grown men talk about it, its not. Just what exactly is the age where it goes from being funny to not?” I looked at him considering a number of responses (no, not all of them polite), mum jumped in with an answer, “The age when they should know better.”  It may not be right but it feels very different when a child, almost reverently, thinks I might be a pirate to when adult men, deliberately call me out about wearing a patch for the purpose of making fun of me.  That said, I’m thinking of hiring myself out to entertain at kid’s parties – I could make a fortune.


Have You Seen My Motivation?

It’s usually so easy for me to find. I wonder where it might have gone or why it left me behind. Within oceans of pain and injury, my motivation is an island of determination upon which I usually cling. How can I move forward without it? My mind seems numb in its absence?

Have you seen my motivation?

The Joys of Family

There’s nothing quite like family to help out when times get tough.  There’s nothing quite like my family.

Upon discovering that I do, indeed, have screws in my skull holding in the bone flap removed during surgery, Jason, my beloved husband began looking for his magnetic Bucky Balls to see if they would stick to the metal in my forehead.

Yesterday during a conversation, my mum joked that I may literally “have a screw loose”, and fell about laughing.

Yep, there’s nothing quite like family.