Turtling

I wish I could just roll out of bed and get ready for the day in fifteen minutes. Of course, this has been an impossibility for the better part of thirty years that I’ve had scleroderma. But for whatever reason, lately, I’ve been getting more impatient with the amount of time it takes me to get up in the morning.

box-turtle-1409099-640x480Maybe it’s the tease of spring in the air, or the fact that I’m so ready for longer days and shorter nights (at least Daylight Savings Time starts this Sunday).

Or maybe it’s the fact that I have seven digital ulcers right now, which drags out my morning routine.

In any case, there seems no way around the fact that I have to plan at least an-hour-and-a-half, and sometimes two hours, just to get ready for the day.

It starts when my alarm goes off. I don’t wake easily, no matter how well I’ve slept. So I have to plan for a half-hour from the time I set my alarm to the time I actually need to get out of bed, just to give my brain enough time to come to.

After the first of far too many trips to the bathroom (my internal plumbing needs time to wake up, too), I make the bed. It’s how I start moving and stretching and setting everything in order while I clear my mind for the day ahead.

Next I have to wash my tear ducts, first with warm water and then diluted baby shampoo. This is essential so my tears don’t get blocked during the day, a complication of Sjogren’s Syndrome, a secondary autoimmune disease that can accompany scleroderma. It always feels good, and washing my face with warm water followed by skin moisturizer also relaxes my facial skin. (I used to shower in the morning, but it added even more time onto my routine, so now I save that for evening.)

After my eyes are done comes the longest step—hand maintenance:

  1. Remove overnight bandages from my fingers and wash my hands and digital ulcers thoroughly.
  2. Wipe away any adhesive residue with baby oil and wash hands again.
  3. Swipe my fingers with an alcohol wipe. I also clean any mushy ulcers with a dab of hydrogen peroxide.
  4. Prepare all my bandages and cut pieces of absorbant calcium algenate silver dressing to size.
  5. Bandage fingers. Each ulcer takes three layers: Aquaphor ointment, dressing and bandage on top.

Sometimes I’ll do this in silence, as a meditation; other times, I’ll listen to music. Lately, I’ve been reading or listening to election coverage on my iPad while I take care of my fingers. The whole process of bandaging my ulcers takes about a half-hour.

Once I’ve cleaned up all the bandage wrappers and reordered the basket that holds my hand supplies, I take my medications and eye drops. Then I brush my teeth with prescription tartar control toothpaste, an hour before I eat (another maintenance step recommended by my dentist, related both to Sjogren’s issues and trying to hold onto my teeth as long as possible despite root resorption from scleroderma).

Then it’s time for a ten-minute series of stretches that help me to work out any kinks from the night and limber up for the day. Sometimes I’ll listen to music, sometimes not. I try to sit and meditate for a few minutes at the end of my routine, to get centered.

Now it’s finally time to get dressed and put on my makeup, comb my hair, clean my glasses and finish up. This includes using ammonium lactate cream on my feet before I put on socks, to protect my skin from abrasions. The amount of time involved depends on whether I’m just wearing relaxed clothes for work in my home office or dressing up to go to appointments. Skirts or dresses with stockings take longer to put on than a pair of pants and a top. Jewelry can be tricky, since it requires more coordination; I’ve become a scarf aficionado because scarves are easy to put on, colorful and warm.

Downstairs in the kitchen, while heating water for tea, I use a sinus rinse in the adjoining bathroom—another step in Sjogren’s maintenance. And after breakfast, I take my Ibuprofen, for managing joint pain, with some yogurt, which helps my GI tract function better.

It’s a lot to do, a lot to remember. I have my routine worked out as best I can. I wish it weren’t so complicated and often tedious. Sometimes I wonder how I’ll be able to manage all these tasks when I’m older and frailer and need help. Other times I wonder if I’d actually be able to save time if I had some help. But being able to take care of my own needs remains my priority for as long as possible.

So, I keep on plugging. Every morning, I feel like a turtle. Slow and steady, slow and steady.

Evelyn Herwitz blogs weekly about living fully with chronic disease, the inside of baseballs, turtles and frogs, J.S. Bach, the meaning of life and whatever else she happens to be thinking about at livingwithscleroderma.com.

Image Credit: Bill Sarver

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