How do you do it? — I mean writing with such creativity, humour and wisdom while being trapped in a collar-thingy that would stop me from moving, thinking or imagining anything beyond getting it off.

The quote above comes from a recent email; my good friend Michael fired this off to me on a day when that very question was all that filled my mind. Sore, frustrated, unable to move, think or imagine anything beyond this collar-thingy, I had spent most of the day trolling the net, trying to find out just exactly why I was trapped within it.

Now, it appears that when it comes to gathering information, the majority of humankind is actually looking for confirmation of an existing opinion. We think we’re out to learn something, but it’s actually rare for us to accept information that contradicts what we think we know – or want to continue to believe. In my case, although I did dig up a stray article that questioned the effectiveness of a cervical collar, the overwhelming bulk of evidence was in favour of carrying out the full sentence. Reluctantly then – two more weeks to go.

So for those of you like Michael trying to fathom how I do it: an exercise. Try this at home! A couple of pool noodle rings hot glued around your neck might give you the idea – or a really thick towel rolled and wedged under your chin maybe? You should not be able to move your head more than a few degrees to right or left or be able to tilt your head up or down. If you need to see your feet or spit when brushing your teeth, you must incline the whole upper body, not just your head. Reaching too far forward will hurt; it might seem that you can crouch rather than bend to pick up an object on the floor or the lower shelf of the refrigerator, but it will involve reaching, I warn you! You won’t be able to look down at the book or computer on your lap, so you will have to perch it on your knees or balance it on a pile of pillows – otherwise, you’ll find that your eyeballs are sore by the end of the day whenever you look up. Need relief? Recline, but the pillows will have to be adjusted so that shoulders and head are supported with no pressure forcing the collar into your neck – a tricky business, let me tell you. Fortunately, there are two collars – the softer one is for sleeping (and showering!) but you still have to arrange your pillows strategically. If, like me, you don’t normally sleep on your side, you will have to wedge yourself in with more pillows so you don’t roll over during the night.  Oh…and eating? Sit up straight and…hmmm…yes, reaching forward without looking down…well, never mind. The collar is great at collecting spills. And dribbles. Lots of dribbles. No worries, the collar is also washable. Too bad about your shirt.

Now for extra fun, walk about in public; taking note of all the double takes will provide amusement. Don’t trip, though – remember you can’t see your feet! It’s only for six weeks.

I find myself strangely sympathetic toward yoked animals these days. Oxen. Haltered horses. And those amusing pictures of pets wearing cones after surgery? Not funny.

cone dog

Novels, naps and Netflix


Optimist: someone who figures that taking a step backward after taking a step forward is not a disaster, it’s a cha-cha. ~Robert Brault

I’ve been reflecting on a possible change of sub-title, something that more accurately reflects my current circumstance. “Adventures in strategic pillow placement?” Sounds more like an interior decorators blog than a post-surgical quest for comfort. This too shall pass; I’d best leave things be for now.

It’s nearly two weeks since the surgery. My forearms are still bruised from the iv lines. It took most of a week to detect all the electrodes taped to my body and longer still to erase all the sticky left by surgical tape. I have to say though, I’m making progress! I’m awake most of the day and able to negotiate the house and basic tasks. Still no reaching, bending or lifting allowed; it’s surprising how much of daily life is curtailed with those simple restrictions. I’m strapped into a cervical collar 24/7; the more elaborate of the two inspires Darth Vadar sound effects when people first see it. My movements are circumscribed by these contraptions and the discomfort that arises from moving outside the prescribed ‘zone’. Life would seem very small if it weren’t for the array of friends and family looking in on me – in both real and virtual space.

Although I confess that I thought I might skip ahead, I’m exactly where i should be on the predicted path of a six week recovery. Fatigue is my main complaint; who knew how hard it would be for the this stalk of bone and muscle – my neck – to hold up the mass of bone and brain above it? I’ve never fully appreciated just how heavy my head was. Now I get half-way through a day and struggle to sink into my collar or re-arrange multitudinous pillows to achieve relief from carrying the weight. I’d been expecting to get some drawing done – but it’s not as easy as I imagined to work from a reclining position. Meanwhile I’m bingeing on novels, naps and Netflix – throwing in a TED talk whenever I feel that this isn’t enough to justify my existence. Now that my laptop has been rehabilitated, I’ll be re-adding blogging to my activities – there are tales to tell!

The good news – actually, the great news – is that I experienced the results of surgery almost from awakening! The fingertips that had been numb for months now have nuanced sensation – I can actually pinpoint the margins of the numbness to a relatively small area on the sides of my thumbs. The strength of my grip is restored – I can twist the top off a water bottle again! And open those annoying plastic packages with separate layers!  Peel back the seal on a tetra pack! The doors of modern life have re-opened. I’m still not sure about the large motor things – my gait and balance – because the cervical collar constrains my vision (of my feet, mostly) but I’m feeling solidly connected to the ground again. It seems that I go where I’m headed now, instead of drifting off in unintended directions.

So – all good for now and each day a little better.