The Fragile Spine: The Gardener’s Nemesis

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I’m baaaaack and feeling better than the last time I was here. Who knew that what this girl needed was a quick back surgery?

I certainly didn’t see that one coming!

It all started just after I walked to see my ill friend in my last post. I’d seen my doctor the day before and she’d scheduled an MRI for me. That Friday I went in, had the scan done, and then we waited until Monday. At the worst, I was expecting a cortisone shot or some pain medications and rest. But then she called and told me I needed to see a neurosurgeon. Wha!?! She explained that the scan showed some bulging and other irregularities and she hoped I could get in to see the specialist soon.

I waited through another long weekend. I’d made an appointment for early Monday morning and honestly I was curious about what was going on. By then I was experiencing constant pain, numbness and a pins and needles sensation in my left arm. The pain was making me miserable so I stayed away from blogging. Instead, I worked on the garden even though I was hurting so badly. It kept me busy and I did see some great results. (More on that in another post.) Maybe it wasn’t the wisest decision, but it helped with my worry too.

Dranunculus vulgaris looking lovely this year.

Now, all gardeners know back pain, am I right? It’s just what happens to us after hauling, digging, and sifting through the dirt. The pain is our Badge of Courage. We’re proud of our backs.

My back has been a wreck for a long time and I honestly cannot recall when it all began. What I can say is that it’s been getting worse and worse for the past few years and working outside has been exhausting for me.

The pain begins and I’m simply spent. I retreat indoors in defeat.

The front garden is partially a riot of color right now and I’m sort of in love with it.

Since my relationship with pain is rather complicated I didn’t really know if what I was going through was a problem or not. I blamed my swelling disease. I blamed falling down the stairs. I nursed it as best as I could but I just decided at some point that sometimes my back hurt—a lot.

I found this Magnolia grandiflora ‘Bracken’s Brown Beauty’ bloom in my garden the day of my surgery. It’s my first and I’m a proud Mama.
I also have high pain tolerance and that’s become detrimental, hence, back surgery. This past year I’ve been more regularly declaring my back issues to my doctor and she seemed to agree that as long as I walked and stayed active it would cause less pain. I thought I’d been keeping it honest so-to-speak but I guess I still didn’t describe my experience as accurately as I could have but I didn’t stay silent either. I tried. I honestly tried.
Even when I did these preventative measure though, they didn’t work. Or, I should say, over time they stopped working for me altogether. Things just kept feeling worse.
Lovely Begonia leaf.

Pain is already part of my chronic illness condition. Swelling causes pain. I know that type of pain though and it’s lessened a lot since I was prescribed my new medication several years ago.

The back pain I felt—especially after returning from Italy—was different. I could barely stand up and I just wanted to cry. It was excruciating. Thinking things through, this sort of explained the urgency, but I still didn’t really understand what was wrong with me and how it had happened.

Lovely Bletilla striata about to open.

On Monday the neurosurgeon examined me, then we looked at my scans together. When I saw my spinal cord being pinched by a collapsed spinal canal, I nearly jumped out of my seat. It was clear that my spinal cord wasn’t happy and the herniation caused by the narrowing in the spinal column explained the pinching pain when I moved my head. And of course, the pressure from this was pinching my nerve.

Ok, I got it. So I looked at him and said, “What do we do about it?

Lathyrus sativus azureus. 
Well, I recommend surgery,” he said.
I’d expected a cortisone shot and this far exceeded my expectations. I was surprisingly both shocked and thrilled. Then I wondered how much longer I’d have to wait. I’ve never heard of anyone getting back surgery quickly. I just did not think it was possible.
How soon will this happen?” I asked.
Right away,” he said and we walked down the hall to make the appointment at the front desk.
I was ecstatic when I found out I’d only have to wait 7 more days.
The front garden on the day of surgery. John and I both laughed at the lone orange lily in the boxwood hedge.

Well it’s true, “Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition.”

I had one week to prepare for 1 month of little to no upper body physical activity. For a gardener in the month of June this isn’t exactly easy when you’re the primary gardener in the household. I’m working hard to recover quickly though. I can begin going on nice walks again soon and I’ll focus on that first.

Many of my garden plans for this summer had to be folded up and put away but I didn’t mind. I’ve never been so desperate to feel better and I was truly at the end of my rope.

Flowers John bought from Quinn in the City Flowers. These were just what I needed during my overnight stay in the hospital.

It’s not completely clear to me when the debilitating pain began, but I suspect that when I fell down the stairs in the front of my house nearly 3 years ago I seriously hurt my back. At the time I was more concerned about my swollen ankle. Weeks later I discovered after the Fling in Seattle I’d broken two fingers too but I continued to believe that my back pain was only temporary and I chose not to have it examined.

The injury lingered and remained consistent throughout the divorce and remarriage. While working as a caregiver, it made my job impossible at times. I ended up quitting because of it.

 A box of trial plants from Terra Nova Nurseries arrived the day I came home from the hospital. It felt a bit like Christmas.
Ok, so what’s the takeaway?
Honestly, I just want everyone to take care of themselves and to use caution when they’re walking. I might be a klutz, but all it takes is some uneven ground and an unsteady gait. What I’ve also learned from this is that when I fell and broke my tailbone and two vertebrae many years ago, it’s likely I caused light nerve damage in my legs and feet. This is likely how my balance has worsened along with my gait.
This is what a Posterior Cervical Laminectomy looks like a week after surgery.
I’m fully committed now to returning to the gym to improve my life. I can’t keep this up. I don’t want to live like this anymore.
My nurse often sleeps on the job but he’s been with me 24/7 this past week.
There is no nerve pain currently in my left arm and my fingers are no longer numb. I can tip my head back to look at the ceiling and there’s no stabbing pain from the pinched herniation. I’ve been dealing with that sensation for years and I won’t miss it at all.
My view from bed could be worse.

These things take time to heal, and seeds of change must be planted, so as I lie here in bed, I’m just reading gardening and plant books. This is a nice time to reflect on the past and while moving forward to a healthier and brighter future.

I’m so excited.

My life just keeps getting better and better. I’m so thankful. I just cannot say that enough.

St. Expeditus.

A friend of mine returned home for a visit to New Orleans before we knew about the surgery and she didn’t return to Portland until after it had happened. So, she bought me this statue of St. Expeditus while she was there as a souvenir. Seeing as he’s the patron saint of emergencies and expeditious solutions he’s more than welcome to look over my garden and I until I’m well again.

So far, I think he’s doing a great job, don’t you?

The Amateur Bot-ann-ist Marries John in Her Garden

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My wedding bouquet made for great photo opportunities.
Four weeks ago today I married an amazing man in the back garden. And now—as I sit here writing this—it’s great to publicly admit that we met online and immediately knew we would marry.
Just 6 months after we met, we were married. There, I said it.
This happened because maturity and experience are great things. Middle-aged love is nothing to scoff at either—especially when it brings such joy and happiness.
And in my case, I can’t say enough about the lessons learned from my divorce. I know now that it took a divorce in order for me to truly understand how much marriage and commitment mean to me. Marriage means working together and being a team and I have that now for the first time. It’s what I’ve always wanted and hoped for and it’s such a great feeling knowing now that someone truly has my back and I can count on him to be there. I’m pretty sure he feels the same way too.
Maurice helping to roll out the garden carpet.

Getting ready for our noontime wedding was a lot of fun. Up until the last minute we’d planned to get married that day in a government office but then I realized we could just do it at home. Why not?

Planted topiary ball with Bromeliad and Ficus. Made to come indoors over the winter. Will keep you updated on how it holds up indoors as a houseplant planting.

Of course I tried to clean up the back garden as much as possible. I added a few pretty things to make it look better too, but overall, we didn’t really intend for it to be a big affair so not much was added. I did make this topiary though.

Two of the fur balls thinking all of the hub-bub was about them—since it usually is all about them.

The night before the ceremony I packed for Alaska and straightened the house.

Since John didn’t move in with me until after our honeymoon, that night, we both had a lot of time to think about our new life together and what it would be like in the future.

My mind was so busy thinking about packing I knew I just had to be me no matter what.

Oh why did I wait until the last minute?

That’s when I rushed out and bought some flowers to arrange at 9pm. That’s just the kind of thing that I do.

Having fun with my own selfie.

The morning of the wedding I had my hair and makeup done. It felt amazing and I’m so happy I did so.

When you plan a noontime wedding, that doesn’t mean you have a ton of time to get ready. I know that now. But of course, I pulled it all together.

John and I are oddballs. If you don’t know that about me yet, then you must be new to my blog or else you haven’t been paying attention.

John and I only invited a handful of important people. We hadn’t really thought a lot about wedding photography so many of these pictures were just shot by iPhone by my nieces.

Look! My head is exploding with flowers!

My flowers were designed by a dear friend who has an amazing touch. (Quinn in the City Flowers).

I had asked Quinn to go “over the top” and I’m pretty sure she nailed it.

Yes, I really do laugh loudly. Am I channeling Phyllis Diller? Maybe…
On my wedding day, I was very happy and we had a little secret too.
The look on my face terrifies me. I look a lot like my paternal great-grandmother who I take after in so many ways. I guess it makes sense.
My eldest niece, seen here on the left, was the minister of our ceremony. We kept that a secret from my family until after the ceremony. It was such a great idea and it made the event so much more meaningful.
That’s not to say that her younger sister (on the right) wasn’t involved too. She made sure we had lots of photos and provided plenty of laughs.
I love my girls.
Probably one of my favorite pictures from our special day. I know. I’m weird. I already told you I was though…

Afterwards, our little group met both of our mothers for a special dessert at one of my favorite restaurants in Portland.

Yes, we didn’t invite our moms to our wedding. They’ve been through it all before so we did things differently and they didn’t mind at all.

Trust me, it worked very well and they both loved seeing us all dressed up while we ate Boccone Dolce.

John looking at me thinking, “We pulled it off, our moms are both stuffed, now let’s get the heck out of here and head to Alaska!!”

And with that, we were off to Alaska!

Wordless Wednesday: Self-Portrait of a Gardener in Winter

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Rearranging houseplants.
Playing with nature.
Ripping out the carpet in the office. Making houseplants happy.
Making more ikebana for my other blog: A Year of Ikebana.
Eldest cat Macavity as she surveys the rearranging.
Our largest cat (about 20lbs.) Maurice sleeping with the glow of the LED lit tree—probably dreaming of summer.

Dianthus barbatus ‘Green Trick’

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Back at the Northwest Home and Garden Show we saw a plant in an ikebana display we had never seen before. It immediately attracted both my husband and I because we love green “blooms”. As we neared, I could see that the stem looked a lot like a Dianthus, and it was one, but not one we had ever heard of: Dianthus barbatus ‘Green Trick’.
It is only available to the floral trade but I imagine someday it will be made available to the home gardener. Like other green “blooms” it really is just a bloom without its petals. Instead, it simply has a lovely mass of sepals.

After we saw it at the show, it started to show up everywhere I looked! I know that means that it must be a popular and trendy plant, and I am sure that it is because a search of its name brings up all varieties of inquiries online.

You have all probably had these moments. You see a plant you have never seen before, and then you begin to see it everywhere. I don’t mind its popularity, because I think it is pretty special too. Don’t you?

Dianthus barbatus ‘Green Trick’ in the newest Anthropologie catalog.