The Healing Tree – First Steps to Recovery

They waited. They waited for me to open my eyes, to try and talk, to want to eat, to remember, to feel; to be the me they needed and remembered. What kind of special circle of hell that must have been for them.

(My name is Mary Beth Orr. I am a professional horn player and currently 3rd Horn in the Grand Rapids Symphony. The following is my story in hopes it may be a helpful resource.)

So, what are the nuts and bolts to what I was dealing with? If I’m honest…. The hospital recovery was… meh. Well, maybe not “meh” because if any of you have experienced “resting” in a hospital, you know it’s impossible. The sheets are uncomfortable, the bed and pillows are awful, and they wake you up every 2-4 hours to check your vitals. You also can’t really roll on your side if you’re a side sleeper with the ungodly number of needles and tubes coming out of you. But let’s just say it was passive. I wasn’t actively doing anything. To be frank, no one really was, outside of praying like crazy which is totally LEGIT and meant the world to me. There was nothing to actually do, really, but wait. They waited. They waited for me to open my eyes, to try and talk, to want to eat, to remember, to feel; to be the me they needed and remembered. What kind of special circle of hell that must have been for them.

Medically, I was in the process of healing a lacerated liver and kidney. Ok, I was told that but have no recollection of “feeling” anything regarding that. I had a collapsed lung. Well, by the time I woke up I couldn’t tell that had even happened. Then there was the bleeding spleen. Also, couldn’t really tell. As you’re beginning to pick up a pattern… I am not going to exaggerate any part of this to make it seem more dramatic or traumatic than it was. This whole project is to help others connect to their own journey to healing and me overblowing anything for attention is not the way. My promise to all reading and following this blog will be pure and unfiltered honesty. I truly believe my story isn’t special. It’s just mine.

The day after I got home from the hospital and got my retainer with a fake tooth. You can see the seat belt scar along my chest and the tens machine wire to help manage the pain. I really needed to show everyone that cared about me, that I was okay. Looks are deceiving sometimes…..

Now, what was a definite unpleasant reality…. The broken C6 and C7 vertebrae didn’t feel great. It mostly hurt in my right shoulder. A nagging, pointy pain that radiated across my collar bone, making sitting up straight uncomfortable. Then there was my lip. I bit completely through my bottom lip just right of center, only slightly past where my mouthpiece loves to rest. My tissue was healing so fast it was creating what they call a “mucus plug” around the sutures (lovely term huh) causing me to look like a tobacco chewing rodeo star. My tooth was missing. MOTHER FUCKER that is the absolute worst part. I know what this means. I can’t “plant medicine” my way out of this. I’m going to need a dental super hero. I didn’t have molds of my teeth…. so, this was going to be an adventure. My brain swelling. That is legit terrifying. I had no idea how permanent damage was going to be discovered. I improved quickly once I woke up but my memory was complete and total shit. No. Bueno. So, to summarize what we’re dealing with after leaving the hospital….

  1. Broken neck (Bummer)
  2. Brain Injury (Big Bummer) – see trauma section
  3. Severe lip trauma (Bigger Bummer)
  4. Missing front tooth aka, the “money maker” (BIGGEST BUMMER)

For the remainder of this post I will focus on the first steps toward healing in my cervical spine. I use the term cervical spine because I quickly learned (though I have been a frequent patient of chiropractic care) how even a small seemingly insignificant closed transverse fracture can radiate instability and pain all over your body. As I said before, I really felt it most in my collar bone and shoulder. I was extremely frustrated at having to wait for another MRI to receive chiropractic care. I get it, it makes sense, but I also knew my chiropractor was incredibly careful and diligent about knowing exactly what to do and when. (Love you Dr. Whitford). But, I was a good girl and waited, which was one of the few and only times I was patient throughout this journey back to ME. 

The breaking point was an agonizing 2 hr. drive to Grand Blanc to purchase another Honda to replace the one I’d destroyed. The level of aching pain see-sawing back and forth with sharp twinges prevented me from being able to sit up straight. The pervasiveness of nagging pain will make you absolutely crazy. Certifiable in fact. So as much as everyone said just to “wait” …. I said fuck it. I’m not feeling like this if I don’t have to. This is a recurring theme for me. I can only wait so long to move forward. I am TERMINALLY dissatisfied and impatient with unhappiness, obstacles, and immobility. 

IMMOBILITY. What a profound word for all of this. Immobility makes so much sense for what compelled me to push forward against the advice of the people and professionals that loved me the most. You see, no matter how much I loved, respected, and admired those that were supporting me, both personal and professional, I couldn’t stay immobile for them. A severe claustrophobia took over my physical and emotional place. So, if I have to move forward, if I have to push at my boundaries and circumstances, I at least tried to do it as smartly as I knew how. 

Step 1: Get that damn MRI to confirm I was in the clear. I did this about 10 days after leaving the hospital. Even being an “open” MRI was miserable. I thought I was going to jump out of my skin from not being able to move and keeping the claustrophobic panic at bay. I won’t sugar coat it… MRI’s suck. But, I was cleared! They couldn’t see the fracture anymore! So, Dr. Whitford here I come. 

Step 2: Chiropractic care from a qualified and conscientious professional was one of the best decisions I made. He requested the police report of the accident, Medical records from the accident, and took fresh x-rays. He took time to evaluate all of it and me before ANY TREATMENT. Once he decided how best to proceed, we did passive treatments with the activator method. It is a small hand held spring loaded instrument to provide accurate, quick, low force adjustments at very specific points. He also used red light therapy, or sometimes known as cold laser therapy. I will tell you…… I had ZERO pain after the first treatment. It was AMAZING. I believe we stayed with that type of gentle work 2 times per week for about 6 weeks before he moved to manual adjustments. Massage was also a huge factor in remaining pain free. I do not like pain medication and avoid it as much as possible. I needed none of the refills on the pain prescriptions from my primary. …. I advocate individuals evaluating everything for themselves. You are empowered to find the healthiest path for YOU. For me, staying with regular chiropractic and massage care kept my circulation moving and I believe helped my body do what it needed to. I describe it as giving my body an express lane without stop lights, traffic, or construction….for those living in MI … you know how we feel about shitty roads and construction.

Step 3: YOGA. This will come back in future posts but throwing it in the mix now. I actually ended up pursuing a 2ndyoga certification during this healing time. Through it, I re-harnessed my knowledge of anatomy, and how mindfulness of my movement can help the body heal from deep trauma. THE FASCIA NEVER FORGET! So, I dove into this with wild abandon! OK that was super dramatic…. but kind of true. I let my body and it’s needs guide me through the training in terms of inspiration, motivation, and focus.

A final adorable pic of my yoga mentor and fellow classmates at the end of my 2nd 200 hr yoga certification during the height of my healing process. Epic humans. I love my Redbloom family.

I have had different people scattered throughout my life and time since the accident make comments such as “How great you prioritize that luxury for yourself” …. Say WHA’???!!!!” UMMM NO. It is not a luxury to NEED to function in your life with a body that feels ready and eager to meet joy, adventure, AND challenges head on. It is the GOAL. Meeting your life as your best self is not a luxury. It is NECESSITY. 

Did I have to give up other things to sometimes afford it? Yep. Is it a privilege I could give up non-necessities to do so? Double yep. Because insurance views certain treatments as experimental (i.e.… big pharma can’t capitalize on it yet) we often find ourselves having to dig deep to fund more holistic and multi layered treatments. Some avenues around that, are finding a massage school near you. They always need volunteers for the student practicums. Chiropractic is a little bit more tricky but is now recognized by insurance as a legitimate treatment. Some chiropractors will also work with you based on your income. 

There will NEVER be a time in my life, I won’t need chiropractic care to function optimally. I have just accepted that. Same thing with massage, yoga too for that matter. I look forward to them in my schedule because it is tangible self-care that helps me now lead a vibrant life.  I have found, if you search hard enough…. And keep telling your story, the universe will bring your helpers. So, readers, in closing, prioritize YOUR physical and mental needs during recovery, and give space to possibility. YOUR healing is possible and waiting. Even if it is unconventional. Even if no one else in your life understands why you must do it the way your intuition is guiding you. 

See you next time for a riveting discussion on lip trauma! That……. may be a two part-err.

Until then, please be well. 

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