Tiny Stories, Tiny Tales

Tradescantia Ohiensis or the Last Year and a Half of My Life

 


spiderwort

Tradescantia ohiensis is more commonly known as bluejacket or Ohio spiderwort. It grows to 1-3 feet and produces bright blue, 3-petalled blossoms in early June to mid-October.

 

Back in January ’14, I tore a tendon in my thumb. It was a freak accident that occurred while I was easing into parking spot at CVS.  A driver backing out off the next spot over didn’t see me. I tried to sound my car horn to let her know I was there. The horn was broken, unknown to me at the time, and I tried sounding it over and over in a panic, desperate to alert another driver of my presence while her car backed towards mine. My hand was at a strange angle with my thumb on the horn and other fingers on the steering wheel. My adrenalin surged, I pressed the horn as hard as I could, and it never sounded.  The driver saw me but only after she missed me by an inch.

 

Ohio spiderwort can be found in to dry to mesic prairies and savannas. It grows along trail sides, fencerows, and railroads. It prefers wet, humid conditions.

 

I went to the emergency room that evening when the pain became unbearable. The doctor told me I had completely severed my right thumb tendon and recommended me to a hand surgeon. A nurse wrapped my hand, wrist, and arm in a splint and I went home.

The hand surgeon saw me a few days after and told me I had not completely severed the tendon. A thumb tendon was torn and new blue splint was fitted my hand, wrist and upper arm. I was sent on my way to function as best as I could with an immobile right hand.

As long as I wore the splint, I felt no pain. It would take months for the tendon to repair (tendons take longer than broken bones to heal) but in the meanwhile, I learned to function with my non-dominate left hand and my husband, Jeff, helped me with everything that involved two hands. He opened containers and chopped up food for cooking. Not having my right hand was frustrating and maddening but not impossible. It would all be over in a few months.

 

The plant’s range covers Massachusetts to Nebraska, up north to Minnesota and down south to Texas and Florida. It is resistant to herbicides and attracts butterflies and bumblebees.

 

This is not what happened. My hand came out of the splint and within a few weeks, the ache was unbearable. I went back to the doctor and she discovered I had developed ECU tendonitis. Since my thumb was so weak, the outside of my hand (pinky finger to wrist) had compensated for thumb and now there were tears in the tendon running along the outside of my wrist. It would take a few months for a year to heal.

That was the tipping point. After that, I developed lateral epicondylitis (tendonitis on the outside of the elbow. Also known as tennis elbow)  in my right elbow. And then medial epicondylitis (tendinitis on the inside of the elbow, known as golfer’s elbow) in that same elbow. That occurred because I had been guarding my right hand by holding it against my body.

Then my left elbow developed the same injuries as the right elbow. That happened was because my left arm had become overloaded from doing everything without the right hand for so long.

Then the right outside of my foot became painful and I had tendinitis there too. That happened because I had been injured for over a year. My body had been thrown off for so long that it was mirroring itself.

 

The stamen of spiderwort changes from blue to pink when radiation is present.

 

I was barely able to function over the fall and winter months and there wasn’t a medication that put a dent in the constant pain I was in. The splint no longer helped. I tried physical therapy, massage, acupuncture, supplements, anything that might do something.

While I tried everything within my means to heal, the physical therapy for my foot tendinitis took a terrible turn. I developed a severe allergic reaction to spray adhesive for tape (tape is often used to relieve pain in feet and leg injuries) and my leg broke out in a weeping rash and swelled to three times its size during Christmas. I ended up in the hospital after a blood test came back with the probability I might have a blood clot.

I did not have a clot.  Instead, I sat on the sofa with my leg firmly wrapped in ace bandages and kept my right leg elevated for two weeks till all the swelling was gone.

Needless to say, Christmas was the lowest point of this whole debacle and things crept along for the better after that.

 

The plant is edible, especially when young and tender. The greens can be eaten raw, parboiled or fried. The flowers can be eaten or candied.

 

This spring, the pain greatly diminished. My hand therapist believed my laptop keyboard could the culprit, inflaming my wrist injuries. I hunted down an ergonomically correct one that helps people with my type of tendinitis. I’m typing now because of this keyboard. It has been a savior.

My massage therapist was another savior. She listened to what my body was saying about the pain and her work and conversations helped me keep my sanity.

And then there’s the care of my acupuncturist. He was deeply troubled over my condition and he too listened to what my body was saying. His help gave me pain free moments during very dark times.

Dear friends and family members provided much consolation and compassion. I thank all of you.

And last but not least is my wonderful husband Jeff. His continual willingness to help was a bright spots during this ordeal. His cheerful smile and wicked sense of humor helped me find reasons to get up in the morning. He is one of the greatest people I know and I am so lucky to have found him.

 

In the past, the Cherokee Nations have used a compound infusion of spiderwort for female ailments or kidney trouble. The roots were made into a poultice to treat cancer. The plant was also mashed and ground to treat insect bites.

 

And so I have good weeks that are free from pain. But I have bad ones too where the pain won’t let go. My healers and friends rejoice with me during the good weeks and help me through the bad ones. I am incredibly privileged to know these people and receive their aid.

I was forced to give up a lot this last year and a half. A lot. But to my shock, life continued and all survived. Pain became a doorway for me. It forced me to make choices about how I saw the world around me and how I would chose to participate with it.

It’s a bitter thing to lose a year and half of your life. But, if I turn the lens of perception just so, I see I did not lose part of my life. I changed with my life. I made important internal decisions whenever I could. The time became holy; so much nonsense was removed because I couldn’t physically move or do anything about it. I was alone with my pain.

And now I’ve come back to talk about that and other issues. My pain is greatly lessened and I can do more but the pain is not all gone and I am still learning the delicate balancing act of pain. This blog entry is my re-entry into the conversation I left off when my injuries overcame me. Sparrow Post will continue to be a place where I muse on art, spirituality, and nature.

 

The 3-petalled blossoms of spiderwort point to balance. Three is about opening the mind, letting go of binary thinking. The blue flowers are cheerful and exquisite yet only last for a day once they bloom. They last than less than a day in fact—once noon hits, the blooming flowers close and die.

Pollination must happen in the morning hours and so bumblebee tumbles from flower to flower in the early light. A few other types of bees and flies join in the pollination.

 

For this summer, I’m inserting native plants into each entry. Plants are our allies and they are at their zenith in these sunshine laden months. Native plants are hidden stories begging to be told, medicines waiting to be used.

Beautiful Dana of Wild & Magic gave plant medicine to me during some of my worst moments and now I’m ready to learn on my own and share what I can in return. I will not pick these native plants with my hands but use my camera instead. Since my hand is not fully healed, I will not be concocting teas or salves but I will be reading and sharing.

 

The color of spiderwort’s flowers, ranging from blue to purple to white, is a small part of its charm. Its true powers are hidden in its physical properties. The pleasant blooms rapidly pass away but the plant gives more than its beauty: it feeds the hungry and aids the suffering.

 

spiderwort1

 

Summer is here. Let us enjoy it.

 

Comments (4):

  1. Carolyn

    July 1, 2015 at 2:41 pm

    Thanks so much for writing this. It’s beautifully written. I’m so sorry that you’re going through this. I have severe tendon problems in a few places in my body and it has radically affected my life. I wasn’t sure, though, at the end, whether you meant that you are no longer in pain, or if you continue to be affected by your pain, but had eventually decided to view your life in a different way.

  2. Catherine

    July 1, 2015 at 3:07 pm

    Thank you, Carolyn. My heart goes out to you, fellow sufferer! It is such a long journey and I often wonder if there will ever be an end. I am still suffering from the tendinitis (I tweaked a sentence or two to make that more clear in the entry. thanks) though the severity is gradually lessening. I’ve had to look at my life differently to keep my sanity and be the kind of person I wish to be for myself and for the world. I don’t always succeed in looking at life differently but I like to think I’m a more peaceful and patient person on the whole than I was before. Maybe? Hopefully! It’s an ongoing journey as I’m sure you well know. Patience and Peace are so good to have but they certainly don’t come for free. I wish you all the best and plenty of love on this arduous journey. If you ever want to swap tendinitis tips that help or just to talk about it, feel free to drop me an email. catherine@viapositiva.net

  3. Danielle P.

    July 1, 2015 at 6:57 pm

    Well, welcome back! What a beautifully written and illustrated post with which to mark your return!
    Oh dear, I’m so sorry you’ve gone through this veritable avalanche of physical ailments… I couldn’t help but cringe as I read of the horrible pain you suffered and still experience even now. I sincerely hope that your recovery will continue apace!

  4. Catherine

    July 2, 2015 at 11:40 am

    Thank you, Danielle. What I’ve seen from this and from others’ stories about chronic pain is that when something physical goes wrong, it can set off an avalanche of body issues. Our bodies are balanced so carefully. finely tuned.

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The Light Changes: Books for the Autumn Equinox

Summer is coming to a close, as usual marked by heavy rain and fitful sunshine. I woke up to a downpour a few mornings ago. It took me awhile to fully wake due to the gloom-heavy atmosphere in the bedroom. When I finally got up and opened the bedroom door, the cats were waiting in the hallway, small triangle faces tilted and full of questions; they were unsure if it was breakfast time or not due to the strange murky light. It was so dim that even the street lamps were still on.

I padded with the cats out to the living room. Water was pouring down the western windows, giving the room a half-submerged effect as if it was about to give up and dissolve with the rain. The kitchen was a little better: I opened the eastern-facing window and a heavy, damp breeze rushed into the room, lifting napkins and papers and then setting them down again.

I set the kettle going and brewed a cup of green tea, sitting down at the kitchen table with the cat. She had gathered herself into the windowsill and we drank in the oxygen heavy air together. As the wind struck my face, the sensation of being sealed up alive in the house relented and I was able to breathe easier and drink the tea slowly, savoring the light, toasted flavor. The cat looked at me a few times as I drank but she inevitably returned to staring out the window, sniffing at smells I couldn’t detected but were utterly engrossing.

The loss of morning light in autumn makes the shortening days more noticeable. I love the night but hate early evenings and as sunrises comes later and the sunsets earlier, my fingers curl a little in my pockets. The long endless nights are coming. I’m not ready for summer to end but I attempt to reconcile myself by pulling out a few books.

As the light eases towards the darkness, I pull out the books that were once the spoken word, told during the long dark evenings to family members, friends, and the community; they’re usually called fairy tales or folk tales but “wonder tales” work just as well. I make a small pile: Franz Xaver von Schönwerth’s The Turnip Princess and Other Newly Discovered Tales, Zitkála-Šá’s American Indian Stories, Legends, and Other Writings, and Zora Neale Hurston’s Mules and Men.

Schönwerth collected fairy tales in the 1850’s when he traveled around his beloved Bavarian homeland, listening to fairy tales and writing them down. The Grimm Brothers were recording fairy tales at this time too, racing to preserve stories that were disappearing as print culture was erasing the need for verbal storytelling. In the centuries that followed, much of Schönwerth’s recordings was preserved but many stories were lost. In 2009, Erika Eichenseer found 500 previously lost fairytales of Schönwerth’s in the municipal building of Regensburg, Bavaria. She found a fairy tale treasure. The stories were recently translated from English to German and stand alongside The Brothers Grimm and Charles Perrault’s fairy tales.

Next to my copy of Schönwerth’s The Turnip Princess is Zitkála-Šá’s American Indian Stories, Legends, and Other Writings. Zitkála-Šá was born during the Battle of Big Horn and was educated at a boarding school that enforced assimilation of First Nations’ peoples. Despite the school’s attempts to flatten her mind, body and spirit, Zitkala-Ša (Lakota for the cardinal bird) went on to be a political activist, writer, editor, translator, educator, and musician. She recorded Dakota Sioux legends, saving them for posterity. Many of them center on the trickster Iktomi, a spider fairy. I’ve included the beginning of a legend below.

Next to Zitkála-Šá’s folk tales is Zora Neal Hurston’s Mules and Men. Around the same time Zitkála-Šá was writing, Hurston was recording African-American folk stories that were fast disappearing. She recorded the stories she heard in her home of Eatonville, Florida and other nearby communities and logging camps. These stories often center on John Henry cleverly outwitting everyone, sometimes even the devil. Alongside the folk tales, Hurston recorded her experience learning hoodoo in New Orleans. It is not for the faint of heart.

These three books and the deep histories they invoke make the evenings richer, more bearable and in closing, I leave you with this opening of Zitkála-Šá’s retelling of “Iktomi and the Muskrat”:

Beside a white lake, beneath a large grown willow tree, sat Iktomi on the bare ground. The heap of smoldering ashes told of a recent open fire.  With ankles crossed together around a pot of soup, Iktomi bent over some delicious boiled fish.

Fast he dipped his black horn spoon into the soup,, for he was ravenous. Iktomi had no regular meal times.  Often when he was hungry he went without food.

Well hid between the lake and the wild rice, he looked nowhere save into the pot of fish.  Not knowing when the next meal would be, me meant to eat to enough now to last some time.

“How, how, my friend!” said a voice out of the wild rice. Iktomi started.  He almost choked with his soup.  He peered through the long reeds from where he sat with his long horn spoon in mid-air.

“How my friend!” said the voice again, this time close at his side. Iktomi turned and there stood a dripping muskrat who had just come out of the lake.

“Oh, it is my friend who startled me.  I wondered if among the wild rice some spirit voice was talking.  How, how, my friend!” said Iktomi.  The muskrat stood smiling.  On his lips hung a ready “Yes, my friend,” when Iktomi would ask, “My friend, will you sit down beside me and share my food?”

That was the custom of the plains people.  Yet Iktomi sat silent. He hummed an old dance-song and beat gently on the edge of the pot with his buffalo-horn spoon.  The muskrat began to feel awkward before such lack of hospitality and wished himself under the water.

The rest can be read in Zitkála-Šá’s American Indian Stories, Legends and Other Writings.

Please feel free to share your favorite fairy tale or folk tales in the comments section.

The Delicate Balance of a Crescent Moon

Spring is turning towards summer now. It began so delicately with a soft green — the hue of a tender rumor murmured only in off moments — but then the green rumor became bold, became the truth, and over the course of seemingly a night the grass is long, the trees are full, and the peonies are about to bloom. Every night I smell smoke and charcoal, my neighbors busy with their grills. They mow their lawns, weed their flower beds, dump their mulch, and then go to their backyards to cook up dinner.

I do none of these things. The rhythms of suburbia are pleasing to watch with their precise, ticking movements but they are less pleasing to indulge in. There’s a deep pressure to conform, and so I recede to the sanctuary of my old deck, watching the birds and bumblebees pass through my yard.

I’ve been toying with the idea of sinking a spade into the ground, ridding one area of hideous orange daylilies and planting a few tiny bits of bleeding heart and bluebell, gifts from a friend. It’s been years since I’ve played in the dirt, dug around, sorted things out, grimaced at the grubs and bugs that emerge from the dirt. Intolerable joint pain cut off many activities, and gardening was the first to go. But this year, after so many years of pursuing healing and wellness, I am feeling better and I think it might be time to poke and prod at the earth again. To see what I can do about weeds and debris.

But then again, this might not happen. The doctor told me yesterday that my body was “currently struggling with inflammation due to increased activity,” that I need to take it slower, that I needed to continue working on a low-inflammation diet.

Dreams of gardening haze in and out. It might happen this weekend, but it might not until later. Depression surges forward and I struggle with it. Life is hard with fibromyalgia and chronic pain, and there are always so many small, difficult choices to make. I chose to increase my exercises by a small amount last week; my body responded with intense shoulder pain and a flare up of inflammation throughout my system — primarily in my hands, shoulders, back, feet. It is just this way and I walk slowly through it, sometimes crying but mostly not, because life has been like this for years now and slowly, as time passes, the tears dry up.

Pain makes us discard some goals and pick others up.

There is a waning crescent moon in the sky, a thin sliver that sets in midafternoon and rises in early morning. It will soon be a new moon and then we will pass into summer.