Saturday, December 5, 2009

First Steps on the Road to Recovery

After her burn injuries, the medical team at the burn center started Andrea’s physical therapy even before she was out of intensive care—moving her arms, legs, fingers, trying to regain range of motion. Physical therapy is one of the most painful aspects of the recovery process, to minimize future disability. The grafted skin tends to shrink, and any formation of scar tissue also contracts, hindering mobility. The limbs must be forced to move, regaining range of motion little by little—a very painful process.
After nearly 6 weeks in the burn center, Andrea was finally able to get up and starting to walk. She was having intensive physical therapy several times a day by the time Lynn and I took little Emily to Salt Lake to visit mommy. Em was fascinated by the therapy exercises, especially the pulleys that Andrea used for stretching her arms and regaining shoulder motion. Em tried those, herself. And when the therapist helped Andrea walk down the hall, Em helped—holding Andrea’s hand to steady her on the other side.
Not long after that, Andrea was discharged from the hospital as an outpatient, but had to stay several more weeks in Salt Lake before coming home. She and Lynn stayed at the home of my cousin Ned Moser. Their days were full, and exhausting; Lynn was her “nurse”, doing bandage changes and scrubs, taking her to physical therapy every day, and back to the burn center for assessment of wound healing.
During that time, Emily and I continued to “hold the fort” at home. She went outside with me to do chores, except the times I quietly sneaked out very early to do the morning feeding before she woke up. On days I needed to ride range and move cattle, Emily stayed with friends and neighbors. Our son Michael, and daughter-in-law Carolyn and I did the range riding, often with the help of their two children. Little Heather was 9 that summer, and Nick was 7—and they were already good riders. Carolyn, Heather, Nick and I made some long hard rides moving cattle when Michael was busy haying.
It took several days to find and gather all the cattle on the middle range pasture and move them to the high range. On the fourth day, Carolyn, the kids and I rode for 9 hours to find and gather some of the last groups of cattle. At one point Nick and Heather took a bunch of cows more than a mile around the mountain all by themselves while Carolyn and I went over another hill to gather some others. We were very proud of our two young cowboys.

We also fixed fences. There were several places where trees had blown down and smashed the fence flat. We spliced the broken wires and put branches and small logs in the worst holes to make a temporary “fence” until someone had time to pack a chain saw in there to cut the trees off the fence and fix it properly.
It was a hot, dry summer and several springs and water troughs quit working. We had to continually check water sources and make some repairs, and sometimes move the cattle to different areas where there was more water.
Often the whole valley was filled with smoke from all the forest fires in our area. The Clear Creek fire burned more than 200,000 acres that summer and was uncontrolled until rain and cool weather put it out that fall. Wind currents brought ashes that drifted down and covered everything. Some mornings you could actually feel the heat from the fire—brought on a hot wind—like standing next to a campfire.
Emily and I were counting the days until Andrea and Grandpa could come home. We made a calendar and put it low on the wall where Em could mark off each day. She didn’t understand why she couldn’t just mark them off all at once! As the Big Day (September 2) approached, she helped me clean house and put up “Welcome Home” banners that friends made. We cooked a big, fancy dinner to celebrate. A special blessing was rain, the night before Lynn and Andrea drove home from Salt Lake. It cleared all the smoke from the air and left everything smelling fresh and new.
When Em and I went running outside to greet Andrea and Grandpa, the first thing Andrea did after she painfully got out of the car was to pick up Emily and hug her. Her goal—all through the 3 weeks of physical therapy as an outpatient—was to be able to pick up her child when she got home. And she did, very briefly, with her strongest (left) arm. Her right arm was more severely damaged and not yet strong enough.
For the first few weeks at home, Andrea and Em stayed at our house so we could assist with her daily wound care/scrub and bandage changes, and Lynn drove her to town for physical therapy 6 days a week. There were still many challenges to face, including a later regrafting of the skin over one elbow, but being home was a huge step in the journey.
NOTE: Fast forward 9 years and 3 months, to the present. “Recovery” is a relative term, for serious burn injuries, and is never complete. Andrea is now facing additional surgery to cut and release several contractions on her right hand and arm. The grafted skin has been pulling her little finger off to the side and impairing the use of her hand. Contractions on her upper arm are pulling her shoulder and spine, pulling her back out of line. She knew she’d have to eventually have surgery to correct this situation but has been putting it off, dreading more graft surgery and not wanting to be laid up for the amount of time it takes for healing (with her arm immobilized for awhile). But now the impairments have reached the point that she has no choice and must have them resolved. Her surgery is scheduled for December 15 in the burn center in Salt Lake, and she’ll probably remain there for about 5 days after the surgery. Her kids will be staying here on the ranch with Grandma and Grandpa. Please keep Andrea in your prayers as she goes through this stage of her journey.