Life brings change to us at every moment

Steve Bucher

Life brings change to us at every moment, even if only a little.  Some moments, of course, bring us a lot of change.  A year ago on June 1, I had major back surgery…not sure if there is such a thing as minor back surgery, but even within the realm of back surgery, this was fairly significant:  6 hours in surgery, 4 days in hospital, 2 weeks in a skilled nursing facility, and 3 months off work.  I had been living with long term, continuous back pain for over 40 years from a combination of car accidents and a degenerative disc problem.  Back surgery, of course, was something that I had always viewed as only to be considered as a last resort, but by late 2010 I realized that my overall pain level had brought me to that last resort.  So, I scheduled surgery for the following June.  While I felt I was prepared for surgery and the significant levels of pain I would experience during immediate post-surgery recovery, I was not at all prepared for the slow path of recovery and the length of time I would need to spend on that path.  Throughout summer I had physical therapy twice weekly and took gradually longer walks daily to increase the strength and flexibility of my lower back muscles, and found my progress to be slow but continual.  Gradually, over the course of the summer, my level of pain and discomfort was reduced to the point where I no longer needed narcotic pain killers and valium, but could by with regular doses of Tylenol Extra Strength and a prescription muscle relaxer.
In general, the first six months of recovery for this surgery are the most critical, as that is the period required for completion of the bone grafting and spinal fusion process.  By the end of summer, my insurance carrier decided it would no longer cover the physical therapy I was getting.  So, I was given a series of daily stretching exercises to do by my therapists and advised to continue walking as many times per week as I could.  Throughout the fall, my walks became increasingly longer and stronger, but my general level of pain was not subsiding.  I was concerned that I needed to more to strengthen my core muscles, but didn’t know how to approach that and not damage the bone grafting process.  So, when the end of the year came and my surgeon confirmed that the bone grafting was now safely complete, I explained to him that I was not happy with my residual pain levels and asked whether he could recommend something I could do to strengthen my core beyond the stretching exercises and walking that I had been doing.  In response, he said a life changing thing to me, asking if I might consider taking a yoga class.

Like I said, some moments bring lots of change.  I Googled yoga classes in Warrenton and found White Flower.  I phoned and spoke with Liz, explained my problem, and Liz recommended Nicole’s Integral Yoga class and her own Embodi Flow class.  So, I signed up for both and began going twice weekly.  My first class was with Liz.  Liz did a great job of tailoring much of the class to my recovery needs, advising me when not to take a particular position she was giving the class, and how far to take other positions.  Even so, the class was challenging for me, to say the least.  There was much that I could not do and much that caused some level of discomfort.  I could not, for example, even pull my knees to my chest and rock, and lying down flat on my back for deep relaxation at the end was anything but relaxing.  So yes, the challenge of the rest of the class was significant.  At the end of the class, though, I felt great.  I had doubts as to whether I would be able to get out of bed in the morning, but I felt great right then.  When the next morning came, though, I felt much better than I normally did on waking.  After that, there was no looking back.  Both Liz and Nicole have done a spectacular job guiding me through the past 6 months of my recovery, helping me with significantly increased flexibility and core strength…and making my life more mindful along the way.  I am now nearly free of my meds, down to once a day in the morning, and hope to be free of medication by the end of summer.

In addition to yoga therapy, I also write poetry…which for me is also very therapeutic.  When I mentioned this once to Liz, she asked if I would be willing to share a poem.  At the end of last summer, once I had finally gotten off the heavy duty meds and could start thinking relatively clearly again, I thought it would be helpful for me to write a poem on pain.  Initially, I expected that this would be a reflection on suffering and the extraordinary physical and mental burden of shouldering continuous pain over time.  So, I was pretty surprised when I turned it around and wrote something redemptive of pain, making peace with an otherwise challenging element of my life.  Hope you all are able to find some worthwhile thoughts in this.

by Steve Bucher

Like a scent, delicate
Of Queen Ann’s Lace
Plucked fresh from the stem,
Casting off the first green musk of spring
She lingers deep within me
Like a childhood memory
Her smile is rich
With the bitter beauty
Of the first falling leaf
Seen late in August
And her eyes gaze long and intimately
With the painful blue
Of a June morning’s sky
Far out in the Virginia Piedmont
Speaking to me
Of the great joy to be found
In the last glint of afternoon sun
Off a spreading sycamore

The exquisite cornflower blue
Of deep pain,
That is always there,
Even after the first cry
Has faded
As a hard felt
And anguished sigh
Lasting long
Into an already lengthening night
Turning my gaze anew
To the sweet joys of simplicity
And offering a firm grip
To a mind in need
As an old friend
Always there
To take my arm
When my step falters