Life Update

Jessica Jewett, 2016 A couple of weeks ago, I had my friend Brooke cut off almost a foot of my hair and then we dyed it almost black. I’d say that kind of drastic change to my appearance is symptomatic of the wild changes my life has undergone in the last year.

To say 2015 was a challenging year would be an understatement. We began the year with my mother recovering from hip replacement surgery and we ended the year with her going through a much worse revision surgery when the first procedure apparently failed. Many months of her surgical recovery meant I had to be homebound a lot more because she was no longer allowed to lift me into the wheelchair or the car. Going out was rare and accomplished with the blessing of friends who were willing to help. I learned a lot about the value of real, true friendship and who will be there when things get tough, not just when things are fun and exciting.

My mental health had a big upswing last year but I’m headed into a decline now. I’m self-aware enough to be able to say that. When you’ve coexisted with PTSD for all of your adult life, you can feel a bad period coming almost in the way old folks feel storms coming in their aching joints. I don’t cope well with abrupt changes and not knowing what to expect in my daily routine. I’ve cycled through about six or seven different home health workers this past year because the company has a big problem with not paying their CNAs on time. Don’t get paid? Quit working. It sounds like a small thing but constantly having different people in and out of your house when you have PTSD is extremely stressful. It doesn’t help that a lot of people don’t take mental health needs as seriously as physical health needs, or don’t seem to recognize PTSD in non-military personnel. My mental health has been an uphill battle this year. I’m considering the possibility now that I might need a change in medication too, which is a bit of a let down.

The actual x-ray of my foot.

The actual x-ray of my foot.

Mental health concerns led me to decide against clubfoot corrective surgery as well. I consulted with a number of surgeons, including the orthopedic surgeon who works with the dancers in the Atlanta Ballet who also worked with children in third world countries. My case is rather severe and features the added bonuses of completely fused ankles, osteoarthritis, and poor circulation just for the fun of it. Correcting my case would require doing it by what’s called the Ilizarov technique plus slicing out a wedge of bone from each foot. The Ilizarov technique means drilling a series of rods into the foot and ankle, then fitting a cage around those rods. Each day the mechanism is tightened and the goal is to move the bones two millimeters or so every day until the foot is straightened into the correct position. It meant wearing cages and having rods driven through open wounds for three months or so. Since I can’t care for my own wounds, I would have to be hospitalized. For months. And there was never a guarantee that the procedure would succeed because my bones are so brittle. I could have an oh so fun shattered ankle in the process. Have you ever tried jamming a titanium or steel rod through glass?

Then they started talking about voluntary amputation as an alternative option. It sent my family into a divided uproar. Some were for it and some were against it. Everybody had a very loud opinion about both the Ilizarov technique and voluntary amputation. I started having nightmares, I crawled into my shell, and I started to pretend like surgery discussions never happened. I don’t have the guts to go through either procedure. Maybe when I was a child and had no understanding of complications, sure.

Lois Jewett, Jessica Jewett's grandmotherMy grandmother died in July. The night she was taken to the hospital, we didn’t yet know it was something serious. My uncle had called me in the car – something unusual for him – and there was a minute for me to talk to my grandmother. The last thing I told her was feel better and she said she loved me but she wasn’t feeling well and couldn’t talk at that moment. I never told anybody else about that last call. Why I’m writing about it here now, I’m not sure. That last call haunts me in a way because I remember thinking at the time how strange it was that my uncle did it while driving her to the hospital. There were numerous hospital visits in the past that never came with a phone call. It felt slightly foreboding at the time but I pushed that feeling aside, choosing to remain hopeful instead. Did he know something I didn’t? I don’t think so. He was more startled and traumatized by the suddenness of her death than anyone else in the family. I’ll never know what circumstances led to the last phone call but I’m grateful for it.

I reunited with my father and the paternal side of my family that same week but I was never able to tell her about it. My parents got divorced when I was a little girl and I didn’t see my father for years at a time. He had problems that are his own to tell or not tell, but what’s important now is rebuilding our relationship over the last ten years. We finally got to spend a week together last summer and it was like no time passed. My daddy is my daddy, you know? Spending time together in the Wyoming wilderness completely cut off from technology was honestly the best way to reconnect with my family. I recommend it for everyone. You can’t make memories any other way than eliminating the distractions of computers, phones, television, etc. Going to Wyoming was seriously the high point of my year.

Jessica Jewett art

Mountains over the South Platte River in Wyoming. From my sketchbook.

Now I’m facing new health challenges. Around the time I was in Wyoming, I was sick (and so was my father). It got much worse when I came home and it turned out I had a very serious infection stretching from my respiratory system to my left ear. It took three rounds of antibiotics and six weeks to kill the infection. It’s almost March now and I still don’t have much of my hearing back in my left ear. My primary doctor can’t see anything wrong with it aside from the ear canal being misshapen, so I’m going to have to be checked out by an ear, nose, and throat doctor. Since the infection lasted so long and my family already has a major history of hearing loss from illnesses, it looks like my hearing might have been damaged. Don’t ignore infections. The longer it takes to kill them and the more severe they are, the higher chance you have of damaging your hearing. As if I need more ailments to contend with, now I have significant hearing loss in my left ear. Sigh.

Christmas Eve came and our neighborhood flooded. You might have heard about the widespread flooding around Georgia at that time. All the floors in my house had to be redone, which took almost a month counting all the packing, moving, cleaning, and unpacking. On top of that, my mom was only a month out of hip replacement revision surgery and that involved a bone graft from a cadaver.

Now you guys know why it takes me forever to answer emails sometimes. There’s always a bunch of stuff I have to overcome and I just don’t have the stamina to keep up like I should, or other people can.

But you know what? I’m still living. As long as there’s breath in my body, there’s always hope, courage, and the determination to keep moving forward. I have more family and friends now than I did a couple of years ago. The people in my life are rather understanding about my health problems if they get to know me and very rarely do those closest to me make me feel like a burden. People who don’t know me as well can sometimes be impatient but I can only do the best I can. Life has a way of sorting everything out.

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