Range of Motion

It was completely dark in the bedroom, I’d pulled the shades down to keep the afternoon sun from coming in. My brain was on fire. It had started with a stiff neck, then nausea and then a full blown skull-cracking headache. A lost weekend. Fortunately Mac was in New Bern doing a 100 mile MS fundraiser so at least I could ride out the migraine by myself with no fuss.

The phone rang and I took the stairs gingerly, shielding my eyes from the light, and it was my husband. He was at the urge care. He’d hit the rider in front of him, fallen off his bike and broken his big toe. Oh, and he had a messed up shoulder.


I’m not proud to admit that my first reaction was here we go again. Along with and now I have to take care of him.

I wasn’t feeling like nursing him, I wanted him to take care of me. It wasn’t very loving, but that’s what I was thinking.

Later that evening his friend Pat brought him home and I met them at the car and dragged his bike up through the yard. I yanked it roughly so the chain came off and it caterpillared along, leaving an oily smear across the grass. Mac winced, not in pain, but because of the way I was handling it.

He told me to lift it up so I did. It felt so light like I could throw it across the lawn and I considered that fact. It would be an awesome Hulk-like display of frustration. But instead I wheeled it fake-tenderly into the dining room. I hated that bike.

Maybe hate was overstating it, but there was something negative seething inside me.

Even so, I did feel sorry for him. He had a saggy little sling and some ugly road rash on his arms and his shoulder was bandaged with thick gauze. But it was his toe that was causing him the most pain, so we headed to the garage and carefully pulled down his old ankle boot, the one he used after his knee fusion surgery four years ago. Neither one of us wanted to even cast our eyes on that ugly thing.

Why was I feeling so put out?

That night, back in our weekend positions propped in the recliners watching tv, we settled back into our familiar equilibrium.

And I felt sorry. I knew he was disappointed. He hadn’t finished the race, he’d have a setback for who knew how many weeks, and there he was (again) with an ice bag on his foot just waiting for the painkillers to kick in.

Later that night in bed, he had to lie in just the right position to keep comfortable on his side away from me. And I lay there and thought about my behavior earlier in the day.

I needed to do some damage control. I definitely hadn’t been a very supportive spouse. How much did he notice of my sighing and heavy footfalls climbing the stairs to fetch yet another thing?

I was relieved that at least my migraine was gone and that finally my brain had returned to normal size and had pretty much stopped throbbing.

But I still felt let down. I had needed him when I was struggling too and he hadn’t been there. He was snoring and I was feeling neglected. I was seriously selfish. And embarrassed about that fact too.

But I told myself that maybe it hadn’t showed. I’d still managed an okay job of soldiering on for him. I had driven to the pharmacy, fixed his pillows, checked his gauze. Maybe I’d give myself a B minus for attitude and performance.

So it’s been a week now and he’s doing great. The toe healed really fast and the abrasions are starting to scab over. Right now the main rotator movement that Mac’s struggling with is the horizontal reach – he can’t grab at anything straight in front of him.

But he’s been doing the little exercises his doctor gave him to keep his shoulder open and elastic so it doesn’t freeze up.

Apparently that’s the worst case scenario – something you really want to avoid. It’s all about keeping and increasing range of motion, because it’s actually possible to lose that permanently if you don’t keep the entire thing moving.

The shoulder seems to me to be complicated by a lot of hidden tendons and ligaments deeply woven around the muscles. And it’s remarkable that with all that bulk it can manage such a smooth arc. And I imagine the viscous synovial fluid that keeps the joint well oiled so that it can fit together snuggly and work like the smooth mechanism inside of a watch.

And it made me think of my own inability to go with the flow and be more flexible in my attitude towards Mac. How could I be so caught up in my own blocked head that I would close down when he really needed me?

But I reminded myself that I really did take care of him even when I had felt put out. Duty had trumped selfishness. That was something wasn’t it?

Maybe that’s just marriage: sometimes we have to do things by rote even when our hearts aren’t in it. Sometimes we have to perform those routine maneuvers over and over until the authentic emotion kicks in. And possibly those daily exercises will help us with our flexibility so that eventually we’ll regain the complete range of motion that will allow us to love more fully and generously.

And maybe the PT for marriage is something like for a torn tendon: at times you grit your teeth and tough it out and other times you take a rest and just let things heal. But you give yourself a break because you’re both doing the best you can.

Last night Mac was finally able to sleep on his other side. It was great, I didn’t feel like I had a trussed up goose lying next to me for the first time since his accident. And after I turned out the light just before finding sleep, I felt his fingers gently touching my back.

He’s getting it back, that forward reach. And with time and patience I hope that the ligaments will heal and he’ll find the old strength in his shoulder and he’ll be able to ride his bike to work again.

But for me, I simply want him to be able to reach out and pull me tight with all of his strength – and make me feel held and gently supported –  like he’s been able to do so many times before.

6 thoughts on “Range of Motion

  1. Beth, your openness and honesty continue to amaze me. It’s only through your honest assessment of life’s events that you can share your honest reflections in these writings, and in turn, these writings lead your readers to reflect on their own relationships. I love your conclusion, that “maybe the PT for marriage is like for a torn tendon”—something that I keep rolling over in my mind.


  2. It’s a good thing I know you have a WICKED sense of humor and all the grace that brings with it, because I’m pretty sure I’ve ever met anyone who gives herself more grief about being a bitch sometimes! The fact that you were able to step up to the plate at all and sleep beside the wounded and snoring Mac is unnecessarily heroic, if you ask me. My big brother has broken almost every bone in his body because of his love of riding motorcycles, but sometimes his lovely wife won’t give him the time of day after an accident.

    I loved your writing, of course; you write with a sensual mastery of minutiae that makes for delicious reading. But in all honesty, you will not cut yourself a break! I don’t think you really have to suffer that much for your craft. There’s a lot to be said for getting comfortable with your inner bitch, Beth. It’s there to help you, as much as tears and hugs. Maybe it comes from having an angel for a mother and a preacher for a father. This ordinary mundane behavior is no fun, but Mac’s not going to keel over and die from it! Whatever makes you feel you have to justify your anger is only making things worse. Deep calming breaths might help. Kisses.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I love the humanity you are able to fit into your pieces, deeply personal and profoundly universal. Thanks for sharing. Is this a good time to mention I have a shoulder problem as well? (smile) I didn’t crash my bike. Just overreached going for a glass of iced tea. Maybe I SHOULD be riding a bike. Thanks again, Beth. I also love the title and love the statue.


  4. This edition of ELK is a strikingly straightforward and honest personal confession about the complexities involved with caregiving and being cared for. You describe beautifully, I could say painfully, the conflict inherent in the ties that bind people together around giving help and receiving help. The necessity of taking care of oneself has its own way of battling against the need to be cared for. It’s an inevitable tension everyone lives with.

    When I am sick or in a state of emotional need, it is inevitable, even healthy, for me to say that I am responsible for my own health and welfare. At that moment, however, I am required to bump into the fact that I can’t do it by myself, without the guidance and support of those who love me. I need to be held by the person or people, family or community, vitally necessary for health. Interdependency, in our culture that over-values independence and freedom, is so often neglected. I prize interdependency but often find it not understood, or practiced, in the world around me. I have to live my own life, and die my own death, but I do not, or cannot, do it alone.

    I love the Episcopal wedding prayer, a plea, for a couple vowing their love toward one another. It always moves my heart. ” Give them wisdom and devotion in the ordering of their common life, that each may be to the other a strength in need, a counselor in perplexity, a comfort in sorrow, and a companion in joy.”

    Sent from my iPhone



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