Friday, February 19, 2016

Pile on

For the last several months, our coffee table, which displays Zachary's photo album and a book of sympathies C.T. received from his friends after his brother died, has been largely overtaken by therapy apparatus.  On the top of the table sits a tub of cream and a tool called a gua sha, which I use regularly to scrape at the scar tissue that has built up in my heels and in the arches of my feet.  Every morning, I bring one of my night splints to use on the couch, during the daytime, and I have to nudge and rearrange Zachary's books so that the splint, or one of my other therapy tools, doesn't sit on top of, and desecrate his memorials.  Beside and underneath the table is a towel for wrapping the ice packs which I use several times a day on both feet, various therapy balls for seated arch rolling, a walking boot, at least two pairs of orthotics and shoes which I switch out to use on an hourly basis, as my pain inflames and my ability to get around fluctuates.    

I have been living with chronic, often debilitating, physical pain for more than nine months, on top of the emotional trauma and grief that has been with us for over two years now since Zachary died.  What began as a troublesome case of plantar fasciitis in my feet in early May 2015 has morphed into plantar fasciosis ("osis" suggests that my tissue is beyond the acute inflammatory stage and has progressed to tissue degeneration and deterioration, in other words "failed healing") in both feet, and tarsal tunnel in my left foot.  The tarsal tunnel is even more difficult to treat and cure than the chronic plantar problem, though both can be extremely stubborn and persistent, if not permanent quality of life conditions. 

If I am weight bearing, I am in pain.   When I'm at rest, the pain continues in the form of throbbing, numbness and aching.  Every single day.  I haven't had a (physically) pain free day, or a day where I've been able to get around normally, in almost ten months.  It is a daily battle to simply walk. 

I stopped running in June 2015 because the pain was too severe.  Then, I also stopped walking with a fellow bereaved friend (who I'd been walking with twice a week) because I found I needed to limit my daily steps in order to take care of C.T. and to do a decent job of managing the household.  As the summer went on, my feet worsened and I found I could no longer stand to water Zachary and B.W.'s memorial garden.  I began sitting on a chair, full time, to watch C.T. with his friends, and resorted to a walkie-talkie system when their play led them away from our yard.  I began preparing meals and washing dishes on a stool so that I was further limiting my weight-bearing minutes.  I started asking B and C.T. for help in doing things I'd formerly taken care of with ease.  And although I finally, a year and a half after Zachary's death, had enough scraps of emotional strength to get out and do some things with C.T., I literally couldn't stand or walk long enough to do them. 

I resigned myself to long bike rides with C.T. by mid-summer.  And while it was depressing to feel so physically unable to walk, I was proud of myself for occasionally rising above the apathy of my grief, and what I hoped would be temporary physical limitations, to do things with and for my sole surviving child. 

My feet only worsened when B's dad began hospice care in the fall of 2015.  We fought hard to submerge our own Zachary-grief, and what were becoming chronic pain and mobility issues for me, for the sake of supporting and spending time with him in his last days.  By the middle of October, we had purchased a chair for the shower because I could no longer stand for the length of time it takes to get ready in the morning.  I could no longer walk C.T. to school or run an errand that would require more than ten minutes on my feet.  In November, I sat in a wheelchair while B pushed me around, for a shopping trip I knew would take a couple of hours.  When no one was around, I began to resort to crawling when my feet were particularly bad.  

My life has become a series of appointments with doctors and therapists, all of whom are supposedly trying to relieve my pain and get me on a road to healing.  I have been diagnosed to death with ultrasounds, two MRIs and a painful EMG/nerve conduction test.  I've stretched, iced, foam rolled, worn a night splint so much that I cannot imagine what life was like before I was forced to spend hours a day nursing my feet.  I had a month of physical therapy in September.  I've tried at least a dozen over the counter orthotics and then had a custom pair made in November.  I wore a walking boot, as prescribed by my doctor, for several weeks in the foot/ankle that is worse (although that seemed to only worsen the better foot).  I've been seeing two different chiropractors who have treated me with electric stimulation (sometimes submerged in water), ultrasound therapy, cold laser therapy, taping and acupuncture.  I've seen a massage therapist, for months, who has tried to work on trigger points that have been shown to link to (at least part of) this kind of chronic foot condition. 

On Monday of this week, the better of the podiatrists injected both of my heels where the plantar fascia inserts, using an ultrasound for guidance, with cortisone.  It was a move of desperation to get some incremental, temporary relief from the constant pain, even if we agree it's only masking the underlying and chronic conditions.  While the injections themselves were painful (all I could think about were the many heel sticks Zachary endured while his whole body suffered and convulsed in septic shock), he said I would be in more severe pain for the next three days while I heal from the shots.  And indeed, as I've literally crawled from the couch to the freezer to retrieve ice for the feet that feel like they've been hit with a sledgehammer, I was.  It is only today that I'm almost back to my normal level of pain in my feet..., and I guess that's not saying much. 

Nothing, to date, has made a dent in my pain or in my ability to stand or walk, and I am perpetually grimacing just to limp through each day.  It is all so demoralizing for none of this to be helping, to have no relief from the crippling pain, to not be able to walk freely, for so many months.  I am running out of non-surgical therapy options and the surgical route is fraught with risk and many stories of poor outcomes.      

I try to push through the physical pain every day, to just keep focused on coping with my grief, on using what little emotional energy I have to seek help for my feet, but I am in sobbing tears almost daily with the piling on of it all.  The pain in my feet hasn't abated in months and months.  I haven't been able to go anywhere with B and C.T. (other than to eat out where I can sit on my butt) because I simply can't walk or stand.  I must have 20 pieces of writing started, about Zachary, but the pain has me paralyzed, stunted, unable to focus and finish them.  I don't have it in me to respond thoughtfully (or at all) to emails and calls and texts.  And I have very little capacity to be there for others - not adequately for other bereaved parents, and certainly not for anyone dealing with the regular drudgeries of life. 

It feels like I am just barely hanging on.  Grieving and physically hurting is my every minute.  



  1. Gretchen,

    I am so sad to hear you are in such terrible pain.

    I myself have been thinking so much lately about how the grief of losing my daughter has aged me. When she was in the hospital I had an episode of chest pain so bad I thought for sure it was a heart attack. They checked me and said it was heartburn. I believe it was a piece of my heart being ripped out. For weeks after the funeral my neck ached me. I attributed it to the cowering posture of grief.

    I work in a nursing home with the elderly. Many of my patients have had terrible losses. They all have lost their parents. Almost all have lost their spouse. Some have lost all their siblings and have experienced the loss of a young or adult child or children. All are dealing with disease. One of my patients confided in me that her husband died of cancer and the week after the funeral her adult son shot himself. Six months later she had a massive stroke.

    The physical manifestations of grief are real. Broken heart syndrome is real. I have felt the stress hormones raging through me. I was never into yoga or meditation preferring a good run before Heidi died. Now, I have turned to these things to help me manage. I used to think they were silly. Now I rely on them. I do my shavasana and think about her DNA flowing through my blood still. I need to be in touch with something more spiritual ( and less religious) to feel close to her in a beautiful way. Does that make any sense? I also started taking a lot of antioxidants ( a lot!)

    It sounds like you are doing Everything to try to heal. But how can one's body heal when it's soul is so broken? How I wish we could raise the dead and cure it all. You simply should not have to bear any more pain physically or emotionally.

    I hope I didn't offend you in any way with this comment. I am not suggesting that yoga or meditation etc could cure your feet. I feel truly sad reading how much pain you are in and how it is limiting your interaction with CT. As a PT it is just my nature to want to fix it.


    1. Thank you so much, Kim. I too believe that trauma (and the PTSD that goes with it), grief and severe stress/anxiety can manifest themselves physically. I have seen and coped with quite a bit of it, since Zachary died, in many forms.

      My husband and I have wondered, tearfully, again and again, about the extent of the damage caused by guilt and regret. The very real suffering that Zachary experienced, which I was unable to alleviate or to get the professionals to alleviate, eats at me daily. Has been, for 25 months. I've wondered if part of my own non-healing is my body's refusal to heal, as atonement for the fact that Zachary never got a fair chance to heal. It's hard to think that could be true, because I really do want to be able to heal and walk and even run again..., but I also know how devastatingly horrible I feel about what he went through, that I couldn't prevent or alleviate. I've even thought about writing affirmations for myself, that I can say and repeat, again and again, even if my grieving self doesn't really believe them...

      You didn't cause his death.
      You did everything you could to get him help.
      You deserve to feel physically well again.

      I don't know. Maybe that sounds crazy, but I just know how shattered I feel and that is DOES affect everything about my life.

      Thank you for sharing your experience of using yoga and meditation, and coping in Heidi's absense. There is certainly some of both I could do without having to be weight-bearing.

      Thank you again, Kim, for such a thoughtful, supportive comment. It means a lot to me.

    2. Gretchen,
      Everything you said makes sense. I know we were not at fault for any of it , though I too have felt guilt for her suffering. Any mother would - even though we should not blame ourselves. If we can't believe it - perhaps we can just forgive ourselves. I know Heidi and Zacahry would. Kim

  2. I am so sorry to read that you are in such physical pain, on top of your very real psychological suffering. You have done nothing to deserve to suffer so, and you are not alone. Physical manifestation of grief is real. Your body mimics the suffering of your soul. I will hold you and your whole family in my heart. I know it's cold comfort when you are in pain but it does mean something.

    1. Thank you so much, Emily. It helps to know I am not alone.

  3. Gretchen,
    I have been thinking of you this weekend, thinking of how hard it must be to deal with this physical pain on top of the emotional grief, wondering what i could write to you... I don't have any advice (i don't think that's what you are looking for anyways) but please know that you are in my thoughts. And so is your beautiful Zachary.

    I am sorry he suffered, I am sorry you are suffering. And to add to the affirmations you are evoking in a previous comment : You did everything so he wouldn't have to suffer. He didn't deserve to suffer and neither do you.

    I really hope you find your way to healing your feet if not your soul. Many many thoughts to you and your family.

  4. Gretchen, I have no answers or advice. For many weeks now you have been on my heart to pray for and so I have. In the morning, know that I am sitting in the quiet, abiding silently beside you in grief and praying for you to have peace and comfort.

  5. Dear Gretchen,

    I am so sorry that you have to endure such prolonged debilitating physical pain and agony, in addition to your immense grief.

    As you know, I too have had weird physical symptoms of grief, but not to the extent that you have. I sense that if Zachary and Daphne were here we would not be experiencing this pain. You have been through so much, and I hope and I pray that you will be relieved soon and feel some healing. With your permission, I will ask my prayer group to pray for you and your family. Despite what we have been through, I have to believe that there is a God out there and that he is suffering with you/us. My heart breaks for you, and you are in my daily thoughts and prayers.

    I wish I could take away your pain for a day to give you some relief.

    Hugs to you, my friend.
    Yvonne (Thomas and Daphne's Mom)

    1. BTW, I love your affirmations that you wrote above.

      You didn't cause his death.
      You did everything you could to get him help.
      You deserve to feel physically well again.


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