It is so easy to take things for granted. In particular to take things to be relatively stable. And then something happens, and in a few moments things change in a way we hadn’t foreseen. These shifts, of course, are going on all the times in minor ways but we usually fail to see their significance. Within a few minutes the hot coffee I’m drinking becomes cold. If I sit without moving for an hour some parts of my body stiffen and then there is a desire to move. We take these everyday changes for granted and it often takes something out of the ordinary for us to pay attention and tune in to what is different.
Just recently I had one of those unexpected happenings. I was out cycling in the Shropshire country lanes with my partner one quiet Sunday. The previous day we had been stuck in a coach for eight hours and spent another seven hours on a political march (read ‘shuffle’) with one million others. It had been a great day, but I was ready for some exercise!
About seven miles out of town I fell off the bike. I’d got distracted by the local flying club whose miniature motorised planes loomed noisily above. As I glanced up I veered towards my partner causing both of us to lose our balance. He went into the roadside hedge and I crashed onto the road.
As I lay on the road yelling distressed apologies to him, completely unable to get up, I realised I was very aware of what was happening. The pain in various parts of my body but focused around my right shoulder was intense and although I knew it was important to get out of the road all I could do was lie there and know what was happening.
Fast forward through the rescue-by-camper van by one sister in law and medical examination and subsequent drive to hospital by GP sister in law. The following day saw the appointment at the fracture clinic with instructions to rest the shoulder (broken collar bone),wear the sling and come back in six weeks.
The following day I spent at two different appointments an hour from home. By the time I’d taken the train followed by the bus, I’d realised it was a bit too soon to do this sort of trip. I had not quite caught up with the new conditions the mind and body were working under.
The pain was one thing and although my arm was in a sling it felt vulnerable to people pushing past or bumping into me. The minds protective instincts created additional tightening and stress. I was also still working out what movements were OK in this ‘new’ environment outside the safety of home. I found it amazing how quickly the mind created new habits around certain movements, how quickly it learned to protect the body from further pain and damage.
Particularly clear were the seeing of intentions in the mind; I would notice an image, for example, of moving the damaged shoulder/arm beyond a certain range of motion and the mind would close down around that as if to say ‘we’re not going to do that, in fact, we’re not even going to think about that’!
Another issue was the disorientation caused by trying to do things in the same old way but with only one working arm. Putting my train ticket through the ticket barrier machine while holding a handbag; buying a drink and sandwich for my journey and working out how to carry them. The mind felt turgid and slow as perception having approached a habitual task in the usual way now tried to work out an alternate way. Could I put the lid on my coffee cup myself or did I need to ask for help?
At times the consequences of the discombobulated mind still in some degree of shock and dissociation had the quality of slap stick comedy. Relieved to be seated on the train I realized I’d forgotten to pick up a straw in the cafe. The blended ice coffee drink was thick and unmelting so I removed the lid and every now and again took hopeful sips of the small amount of sweet liquid released from the ice.
Part way through my journey an avalanche occurred. Half the contents of the cup threw themselves over my face managing to get up my nose, on my clothes and sling, and the Transport for Wales seat covers. I sat there stunned – and then just did what needed to be done. There was a sort of disbelief but no drama or complaining. With my good arm I found one scrap of tissue in my coat pocket, and then another in the sandwich bag, and a third one in my hand bag. Slowly I wiped away the goo though I could do nothing about the sticky coating everywhere.
I could see the conditions that had led to this incident; usually I’d bring a drink from home, but getting ready to go out had taken longer, and I couldn’t carry the extra weight. And then the slowed down mind was focusing all its attention on getting the drink and sandwich and had overlooked the need for a straw. The slowed down mind trying to drink the drink differently also hadn’t had the mental bandwidth to take in the flaws in my method of drinking, and had forgotten about the law of gravity!
So there has been much to be aware of during the 11 days since the accident. The daily small changes in decreasing pain and increasing mobility during the healing process (typing with more than 1 finger is an especially welcome development) are noticed, and so is the fading of a certain mental and emotional freshness. For days after the accident the mind felt bright, open and calm but gradually habits of occasional grumpiness or impatience have reappeared. With continued noticing these habits themselves are now subject to being known in awareness.