Nothing is certain in life and none of us know what is around the next corner. We all tend to have plans and expectations but life doesn’t always live up to these. Now and then the unexpected happens; sometimes in the form of pleasant surprises but all too often as what we consider ‘setbacks’. As a seriously disabled person I don’t dwell on the thought as to whether my lot in life may be harder than anyone else’s; maybe it is, maybe it isn’t. It’s definitely not an easy life and it makes you realise the primary importance of preserving good health, but we all have our struggles in one way or another. However, when it comes to the process of rebuilding a seriously damaged body, the ‘setbacks’ almost always lead to periods of physical debilitation resulting in disruption to the most basic aspects of everyday living.
At the beginning of the year a transformation of the pelvic structure led to nasty bout of pain and a period of weakness in the hips. This, though, was not too debilitating. I had to be careful with physical activity for a while and spend extra therapy time on the hip joints, but despite any discomfort my life proceeded fairly smoothly. Having worked through that episode to be stronger in the hips than ever, I was then confronted with the next problem. In March I suddenly found myself in real trouble with my shoulders. Again this was due to a positive structural transformation, but nonetheless resulted in physical difficulties even if only for a temporary period. Forgetting the fact that I had jobs to complete outside, just the act of moving myself around, on and off a wheelchair, became difficult and uncomfortable. My left shoulder in particular still troubles me and will do until we finish engineering more improvement in the upper region of the back, but by and large I have worked through the difficulties in that respect.
Having survived the pelvic transformation and then the shoulder episode without too much disruption to my everyday life, the year was progressing really well. I’ve been putting in thirty hours of therapy work most weeks and am enjoying the continued improvement in my physical condition. Life at my country cottage and smallholding continues to move forward. Every year there’s a little more infrastructure to complete and this year I had to improve the workshop with new structural timbers, a window and cladding on a sidewall. I also erected a new storage shed to free up workshop space. My voluntary work at the Secure Unit for Children has continued to grow and we even managed to organise a felting workshop using the wool from my Soay sheep, a few of which I keep at the kids’ home. I enjoy a full and active life and amongst many other jobs I was managing to keep the garden in pretty good shape and all in a manner peaceful and easy enough to be conducive to continued improvements in my physical body. Summer was drawing to a close and everything was looking set to be organised for the onset of winter, but then the unexpected happened and life was setback again. An old wound on my backside began to open up and before I knew it I had a rather dangerous sore.
Ten years ago I didn’t look after myself well. Too much thirst for life without enough appreciation of the risks led to a serious pressure sore on my bum, which to complicate matters got infected and was eating away at me. Luckily I was involved with ABR Therapy (Advanced Bio-Mechanical Rehabilitation) and so had the skills and techniques on hand to deal with the situation. It was in the early days of my ABR career and my body was still severely depleted in quality. My buttocks simply didn’t exist and I was nothing more than skin and bone from the waist down and so healing the breakdown of tissue with little underlying quality was a difficult task. What is more I didn’t, at the time, have the strength and ability to apply manual healing techniques to my own backside and so relied on my two therapists. The District Nurse was horrified by my approach; I refused to scrape dead tissue from the wound, refused to keep it covered with a dressing and refused to take antibiotics, unless of course it became life threatening which was a possibility considering the seriousness of the situation (this was almost more frightening than breaking my back). Three weeks later she was amazed at the healing taking place and had to appreciate that the ABR approach of manual healing techniques was paying off. It took four months of work to get the wound properly healed, but it must be noted that without the ABR work I would certainly have been looking at a year’s bed rest, plastic surgery and a backside that would never have been the same again. For ten years the wound didn’t trouble me, although I always knew there was deep scar tissue and an inherent weakness, and then recently the wound opened up again.
To start with I didn’t understand why this was happening. There weren’t the signs of tissue breakdown due to sustained pressure of sitting and why should there be when I now enjoy vastly improved pelvic quality and a certain amount of flesh on my buttocks. However, the skin was gone, the core was decaying and a hole opening up into my body. I then realised that however worrying this was, it was actually a new phase of deeper healing and that the channel had opened up again as an avenue for this healing. Increase in pelvic quality had created the potential for a level of healing that was not possible ten years ago. It’s always said that ‘old wounds come back to haunt us’, but hopefully with a new phase of healing there will be less chance of that in the future.
The trouble was I had lots to do. I rely on logs for my main source of heating and can’t really afford to buy them; I have to live cheaply in order to afford to pursue my therapy work. Log piles in the field needed cutting, chopping and stacking; I often get help but am always involved. Hedges needed trimming and a general tidying of the garden ready for winter. Lambs had to be slaughtered before they ate their way through too much of the winter grazing and all of this on top of the daily chores with sheep, geese and dogs. Sometimes I wonder why I take all this on, but then I remember that it’s not only the fulfilment of a dream that does wonders for my soul but also part and parcel of what ensures I live here for a token level of rent; that was the package when I took on a rundown cottage and overgrown land.
Being incapacitated with a wound on my bum was a real setback, or was it? A member of staff brought a kid up from the Children’s’ Unit and between them they chopped and stacked enough logs to tide me over. A friend down the road helped me get six lambs to the slaughterhouse. I had to sit for longer than I’d liked to have done that day, but he did all the hard work and I survived. The hedges will still be there next spring along with the overgrown corners and the weeds amongst the fruit bushes. The sheep look after themselves and only need checking on. Geese are no trouble and the dogs will put up with nothing more than three ten minute walks around the grounds each day. What we consider as setbacks are often what encourages us to re-evaluate and think about what is really important. Looking after land and animals is very important to me, as is the social responsibility I take on in volunteering at the Children’s’ Unit, but my therapy work is not only what is ensuring my own future health, it is pioneering work that I hope will help ensure the future health of mankind. It is my rehabilitation through ABR Therapy that is fundamental and must always take priority. Everything else is about building a life that is conducive to the therapeutic way.
Finally I’d like to consider this notion of ‘setbacks’ from a rehabilitation point of view. Through the slow process of rebuilding my body, each new stage often begins with the exposure of a weakness, which, although exposed through structural improvements, results in a temporary decline in physical ability due to the difficulty of dealing physically with the weakness. However, the weaknesses soon strengthen at which point the structural improvement becomes all too apparent and any notion of a setback is forgotten. This time it is slightly different from the hips and the shoulders, but what has caused me to be rather laid up these past two months is in fact due to underlying structural improvement. The original wound, ten years ago, was a breakdown of tissue and a serious setback, but this opening up has been driven by a dramatic increase in the intrinsic capacity of my pelvis. My pelvis has expanded and I have more meat on my buttocks than ever. Improvement is already noticeable in my ability to support myself in high kneeling, albeit still with a handhold. I also find that I can now lower myself backwards from high kneeling. Whereas before I would have to fall over sideways to stop myself from collapsing backwards and overstretching my knee joints, I now find I can lower my bum some way towards my feet in a controlled manner without fear of collapse. The pressure, volume and density of the pelvis has increased and in a conceptual sense the wound from the original pressure sore has opened up under the increase in pressure, but on the other hand it had to open up in order for that pressure to drive a new wave of healing from a deep level. What could be considered a ‘setback’ is in fact simply the next stage in the healing process. A difficult stage, but one that is now nearing completion.