On the Town

I did a lot of walking last week, through and beneath the streets of Manhattan. The first half of the trip was business, the second half, pleasure—spending time with my sister to celebrate our birthdays, which are three weeks apart. And celebrate, we did.

From dinner at Ellen’s Stardust Diner, where the waitstaff are all Broadway hopefuls who belt out show tunes, to a walking tour of SOHO, Little Italy and Chinatown; from a lovely stroll up the High Line to a gourmet dinner and an outstanding performance of To Kill a Mockingbird—we had a great time. The weather was beautiful, for the most part. Our hotel off Times Square was surprisingly quiet. We discovered an excellent diner for breakfast and another for some of the best apple strudel I’ve ever tasted. And we started brainstorming our next trip together.

I’m happy to report that my new sneakers worked out pretty well. My feet certainly got tired, but not as tired as they usually do, and without significant neuropathy. Also notable: as I schlepped through the subway, to and from commuter rail, New Yorkers helped to carry my carry-on up and down steep staircases. Without my ever having to ask. Angels are everywhere.

Along the way, I enjoyed wonderful art, on the street and at the Met. Here’s a sampling for your viewing pleasure:

Art Deco with words for our times at Rockefeller Center

Also seen at Rockefeller Center

In front of 30 Rock

Street art in SOHO

Artistic and delicious pastry at Ferrara in Little Italy

Statue of Chang Kai Shek in Chinatown

Street art across from the Whitney Museum entrance to the High Line

Gardening on the High Line

High Line mural

Art Deco murals and design at the Hotel Edison

The Beatle’s original instruments at the Met’s “Play It Loud” exhibit . . .

. . . and some very decorative guitars

Berlin artist Alicja Kwade’s “ParaPivot” rooftop installation at the Met . . .

. . . and a spectacular view of the NYC skyline beyond Central Park

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. Please view Privacy Policy here.

 

Back Home

Home from our summer travels for about a week-and-a-half, but already it seems like a long time ago that we were away. That’s the strange thing about vacations. You’re completely immersed in your environs while you’re there, but once you’re back, it’s almost as if you never left.

Which is why I keep a travel journal, and we take plenty of pictures (especially my dear husband). If a tourist walks in a city and leaves without a record, was she really there?

Yes, I was, with Al—in Prague, Bratislava, Vienna and Berlin. Sixteen days, four countries, a crash course in European history, spectacular scenery, wonderful art. This trip was also personal: the bookends of our itinerary were designed to honor the memory of my great grandparents, who were murdered in Eastern Europe during the Holocaust.

My mother’s father, a professor of engineering at the Technische Universität Berlin, saw the writing on the wall in 1935 when he lost his position because he was Jewish. In 1936, after five months of searching for work in the U.S., he was able to find a good job and make a new home for my grandmother and mother. But, despite a heroic effort, he was unable to convince his elderly parents, who loved their homeland, that they should emigrate, as well, until it was far too late for them to escape the Nazis. They were transported to what is now called Terezín, a concentration camp about an hour’s drive from Prague, in August of 1942, and died there in early winter of 1943.

No one in my family has ever gone to Terezín. So, with a private tour guide, we visited the camp and learned details of my great grandparents’ final months. We lit candles in their memory. Later, at the end of our journey, we joined friends in Berlin for the placement of two Stolpersteine, or “stumbling stones,” which are memorial cobblestones placed in the sidewalk next to the home where victims of the Shoah last lived of their own free will. These were powerful experiences for me, which I am only beginning to process and understand. It is one thing to know the history of World War II in the abstract, and quite another to confront such horrors in the lives of your own family.

We enjoyed uplifting experiences, as well: fairytale scenery in Prague, a day trip to Slovakia’s High Tatras amidst the Carpathian Mountains; a visit to a medieval silver mining town, also in Slovakia, one of several UNESCO World Heritage sites that we saw during our travels; extraordinary artwork by two of my favorite painters, Egon Schiele and Paul Klee, in Vienna and Berlin. And, oh, yes, some very delicious food. My hands held up, my feet wore out, but I’m so grateful that we were able to honor my great grandparents’ memory and have another overseas adventure, whatever the challenges—physical and emotional.

Here are a few highlights:

View of Prague Castle from the Charles Bridge

John Lennon Wall, Prague

Mucha stained glass window in St. Vitas’s Cathedral, Prague

Devin Castle ruins, Bratislava

High Tatras, Slovakia

Old Castle fortress, Banská Štiavnica, Slovakia

Belvedere Palace and Museum, Vienna

1936 Olympic champion Jesse Owens’ name carved in the wall of the Berlin Olympiastadion (top left column)

“Landschaft in Blau” (Landscape in Blue) by Paul Klee, 1917, Berggruen Museum, Berlin

The Stolpersteine honoring my great grandparents, Berlin

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. Please view Privacy Policy here.

Savory Summer

Look! the round-cheeked moon floats high,
In the glowing August sky,
Quenching all her neighbor stars,
Save the steady flame of Mars.
—Emma Lazarus, August Moon

Mid-August, and I can already sense fall’s vibrations. Not yet. No, not yet.

On so many recent sweltering nights, I’ve lain in bed with windows open and treasured the symphony of crickets and katydids. How lovely to leave the house without donning even a sweater. The sun still sets after supper, and the trees remain lush, even as a few wayward, scarlet leaves drift to the ground beneath the sugar maples on our street.

Before autumn’s busy-ness descends, it’s time for time off—from work and deadlines and responsibilities. It’s time for a break from blogging, too. I wish you, Dear Reader, a savory late summer. I’ll be back with weekly posts in mid-September.

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. Please view Privacy Policy here.

Image Credit: Aron

What Comes Next

This Friday marks the one year anniversary of my hands falling apart—literally. This is not easy to think about, even as I’ve been recording my experience and its aftermath these past twelve months. It makes me cringe.

At the same time, I’ve grown quite accustomed to my “revised” hands. I was noticing this the other day when I was working on a sewing project. I had no trouble negotiating my sewing machine, handling the fabric, moving my fingers around the needle and presser foot, winding the bobbin, pinning and unpinning. I still have to be mindful of how I position my hands, but mostly it’s become second nature.

Remembering how all this started, however, is scary. I had no idea what I was in for, and it was not only painful when my very severe ulcers lifted up to expose bone, but also revolting. I don’t think I fully allowed myself to acknowledge that at the time. Some kind of internal coping mechanism, combined with my writer’s indefatigable inquisitiveness, took over. (“Oh, wow, that’s what my knuckle bones look like!”)

Fortunately, in this case, curiosity did not kill the cat but enabled her to persevere. I didn’t let my deteriorating hands stop us from taking an extraordinary trip to Iceland and Norway; in fact, as I wrote at the time, it propelled me to seek out beauty to boost my courage for whatever lay ahead. I benefited greatly from my very supportive husband, without whom that trip would have been impossible.

August is just around the corner, and we are a few weeks out from another trip abroad. I am very grateful that my hands are in relatively good shape at present, with only two bandages, including one on my right thumb that is protecting an exposed clump of gray calcium that has yet to exit the finger pad. I am debating whether to ask my hand surgeon to remove it for me or just let nature take its course. My nose is healing from surgery two weeks ago. I am praying that we will avoid any health issues or other emergencies this year.

There is just no way to know what comes next. I can only hope that my well of resilience remains deep. I hope the same for you, Dear Reader, wherever your summer travels may take you.

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. Please view Privacy Policy here.

Image Credit: David Monje

48 Hours

It’s been nearly 30 years since I visited our nation’s capital. This past weekend, Al and I packed in a slew of sightseeing in Washington, D.C., around a family celebration in Virginia. In just over 48 hours, we visited the National Gallery, Lincoln Memorial at night, Vietnam Veterans Memorial (also at night), Supreme Court, Capitol grounds, Newseum, National Gallery Sculpture Garden, National Archives, Hirshhorn Museum and National Gallery East. On Saturday morning, in sweltering heat, we participated in the Families Belong Together protest rally in Lafayette Park, next to the White House.

I walked my feet off. It was worth it. The highlight of DC, for me, was seeing the original Declaration of Independence, U.S. Constitution and Bill of Rights at the National Archives. The parchment is huge, the writing faded, the signatures inscribed by human hands. The ideals endure. I was reminded by an exhibit about women’s suffrage at the National Archives and the chiseled words of Lincoln’s second inaugural address at the Lincoln Memorial of how much struggle and acrimony is embedded in our nation’s history. I felt the power and protection of the First Amendment in Lafayette Park.

Here are some of my favorite images from our trip:

The conclusion of Lincoln’s second inaugural address at the Lincoln Memorial

Lincoln Memorial at night

Seen in a garden on our way to Capitol Hill

Protesters outside the Supreme Court

Heading toward the U.S. Capitol Building

Section of the Berlin Wall at the Newseum

National Gallery Sculpture Garden

Families Belong Together protest in Lafayette Park

Calder sculptures at the National Gallery East

Saul Steinberg, Untitled (A Conversation), National Gallery East

Le Gourmet, Picasso, National Gallery East

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. Please view Privacy Policy here.

Time Out

Sometimes I feel as if my head is going to explode from our nation’s vicious politics. So it was a great pleasure and privilege to go with Al to one of our favorite getaways on Sunday, Block Island, just off the Rhode Island coast, for a relaxing Father’s Day. The weather was perfect; the sky, azure with wisps of clouds; the water, emerald and sapphire. I stayed away from my news feeds. Best of all—no crowds. Public school is not yet out, so it was the calm before tourist season begins

I read, watched Al brave 58°F water, walked the beach, took photos and collected stones and sea glass. I got my feet wet, too, even if my toes turned purple. (Added bonus: walking barefoot on wet sand helped me to remove a nasty corn from my left foot that had re-emerged shortly after my podiatrist took it out a couple of weeks ago, a huge relief and boost in my ability to walk without pain.) After supper and some shopping, we sailed back to the coast on the ferry’s upper deck, enjoying a beautiful sunset. Just what the doctor ordered.

Here’s a taste of our visit. Enjoy!

                    

 

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. Please view Privacy Policy here.

Wanderlust

So . . . we ended up with two feet of snow from Skylar last week, and now we’re expecting another five to ten inches from the next Nor’easter, Toby, on Wednesday night into Thursday morning. (Who comes up with these names, anyway?) Fortunately, we’ve had some melting in-between.

But I’m really getting tired of this weather pattern. And I’m starting to yearn for our next travel adventure to somewhere beautiful and warm in the summer. Which brings me to the topic of traveling with scleroderma, or any other disabling disease, for that matter.

Travel is strenuous when you’re healthy. All the more so, when you have to deal with all the possible complexities of this disease. But I’m determined to keep visiting new parts of the world (new to me) and discovering other cultures and viewpoints, as long as I’m able, one way or another. The benefits of always learning and growing far outweigh the fatigue factor. So I’ve gathered a few travel resources that address some of the biggest issues for those of us living with some form of disability, below.

Many of the resources out there focus on wheelchair accessibility. Some also address the broader issues of traveling with a disability that is less visible—and therefore more readily dismissed by people who should know better. I’ve selected a range, here, to help you get started on your own travel adventure:

Lonely Planet Accessible Travel Online Resource: This free PDF includes a wealth of information, from a huge list of online resources to tips for traveling with access issues. Lonely Planet guides are a favorite of mine, and the fact that they make this one a free download is a big plus.

Rick Steves’ Tips for Travelers with Disabilities: You may know Rick Steves from his PBS travel program. This blog post list basic, common-sense tips for planning ahead, especially if you need a wheelchair accessible hotel room or wonder how to find accessible bathrooms in a foreign country.

Society for Accessible Travel & Hospitality (SATH): Founded in 1976, SATH offers travel resources, information for travel agents, plus travel tips and access information for people living with a wide range of disabilities.

Travelling with SclerodermaThis PDF download from Scleroderma Australia provides a great summary of how to travel with oxygen if your lungs are compromised.

Disabled Traveler/ SmarterTravel: Another useful blogpost with a roundup of online resources.

“What We Get Right About Accessible Travel” from CNTraveler: From my favorite travel podcast, here’s an episode featuring Alysia Kezerian, founder of the Instagram account Wheelies Around the World, and Traveler contributor Julia Buckley, author of Heal Me: In Search of a Cure. Both women travel extensively; both have disabilities. Kezerian has relied on a wheelchair since a spinal cord injury in her twenties, and Buckley lives with a rare disease that causes joint dislocation. Well worth a listen, for practical advice and a lot of inspiration.

Happy trails!

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.

Between Storms

Last weekend’s Nor’easter was supposed to dump up to a foot of snow on our fair city, but we lucked out with only rain and wind and no loss of power in our area. Tomorrow, however, we are in for it—possibly a foot to 18 inches, if the forecast is to be believed for Central Massachusetts.

In the meantime, Al and I managed to escape for a visit with Emily, our younger daughter, in Philly, to see her apartment and meet her colleagues at work and take in some of the city’s many highlights. So it was on Monday that we went to the annual PHS Philadelphia Flower Show, which is the largest and longest running such event in the U.S. Sponsored by the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society, it certainly lived up to its reputation.

And so, Dear Reader, to help us all escape from winter storms and stressful news of late, here are some of my favorite images from our visit. Be sure to take a close look at the last one—it’s made entirely of pressed flowers.

 

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.

 

How’re Y’all Doin’?

Punxsutawney Phil may have seen his shadow last week, predicting six more weeks of winter (of course, technically, there are always about six more weeks of winter after Ground Hog Day). But Al and I took a break from freezing cold at home and headed south Wednesday night, landing in New Orleans for a long weekend. On Thursday, we were walking around without coats. Even when the weather dipped into the mid-50s, it was still welcome, compared to Massachusetts.

I’d been imagining this trip for several years as I worked on the first draft of my novel. Now that I’m starting revisions, I need to know more about my protagonist, who immigrates from France to New Orleans as a child in the 1870s. So the plan was to mix research and fun, to escape winter’s frigid clutches and celebrate my healed hands. And celebrate, we did.

NOLA is known for its incredible cuisine and did not disappoint. The jazz was great, the art provocative, the neighborhoods intriguing. Most people we met were welcoming and went out of their way to be helpful. Strangers looked us in the eyes and greeted us with a friendly “How’re y’all doin’?” as they passed us by. We caught Mardi Gras beads flung from parade floats (celebrations fill the month leading up to Fat Tuesday), noodled around stores and art galleries, walked and walked and walked. Our Lyft drivers told us about life in their home town and their experiences during and recovering from Katrina. On Sunday morning before we left, we strolled along the banks of the mighty Mississippi in Crescent Park and watched a sky blue freighter steam slowly past.

My research included an immersion in selected materials at the Historic New Orleans Collection, a walk through the Hebrew Rest Cemetery, a look at the city’s oldest hospital, rambles through the Garden District and Faubourg Marigny neighborhood to photograph the many and varied styles of housing. I thought about light and heat and immigrants and masks.

Saturday evening, we discovered a vintage costume shop, filled with bling. As Al shopped for the loudest tie he could find for Purim (a Jewish holiday with its own carnival vibe), I scanned the racks and discovered a beautiful beaded overblouse. I tried it on. Lovely. But when would I ever wear it? I left it on the rack, and we went to dinner across the street.

Good as the meal was—outstanding Middle Eastern food—I wondered. Why not? If the store was still open when we finished, I said to Al, I’d like to go back. As we walked up to the door, the owner and her clerks were about to lock up. But she welcomed me inside. “You need to make your own festivities,” she said as she wrapped the overblouse in white tissue paper and placed it in a purple plastic bag.

Even with the freezing temperatures here, I’m glad to be home. We packed a week’s worth of touring into three-and-a-half days, I was fighting a cold, and I’m tired. But it was well worth every minute. My hands held up. No infections. Many sights and ideas to mull. Make your own festivities, indeed.

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.

My Everest

Much has happened in the weeks since I last wrote. I had hoped to share a simple, upbeat travelogue about our wonderful August vacation to Iceland and Norway upon our return a week ago, Sunday. The trip was, indeed, magnificent. But life is not simple, especially with scleroderma. My severe ulcers that I have written about for months took a serious turn for the worse. As I write on Sunday afternoon, I am facing major hand surgery Monday morning. Here is what happened:

For more than three decades, I have been managing digital ulcers on multiple fingers. I have gone through infections requiring IV infusions, more rounds of antibiotics than I can remember, and months — sometimes years — of waiting for ulcers to heal. I have learned how to compensate and find creative solutions for handling daily tasks. I have learned to live with people’s reactions to my oddly shaped, bandaged fingers. But this spring, something went terribly wrong. My ulcers on five fingers formed large scabs, or escars. They were hard and thick and dark; when tapped, they felt like turtle shells.

As I have been documenting in this blog, for the past three months I’ve been trying to find a way to get them to heal. As the escars have receded, part of the natural healing process, I have sought out state-of-the-art wound dressings and consulted with wound specialists, with varying degrees of success. When I didn’t understand, however, was the real risk for the ulcers to work their way down to bone.

The Wednesday night before we were set to leave on our trip, I was changing my dressings as usual. But suddenly, the escar on my right pinky (the ulcer that had been infected a few months ago) lifted up to expose the knuckle bone beneath. I was terrified. We called the hospital’s Wound Center and spoke to a nurse practitioner who was covering for the night. She suggested that unless I started running a fever, it was safe to wait until morning to get medical attention. This was good advice, because the last thing I wanted to do was spend five hours in the ER.

On Thursday, Al came with me to see, first, a nurse practitioner in the Wound Center (no surgeons were on that day), and later in the afternoon, an excellent orthopedic hand surgeon/plastic surgeon. He looked at my pinky with its exposed knuckle bone and gave me the news straight up: because of my scleroderma, options such as skin grafts would not work, and the only solution was amputation.

I was in shock, as was Al. Never in my wildest dreams had I anticipated this path. He said the escars on my other fingers were “classic scleroderma,” and that they were covering dead skin. I do not know if there had ever been any hope for real healing once the damage had been done. I asked him if it was still possible to travel. He said yes, so long as I kept the wound clean, moist and protected, and was on appropriate antibiotics. It would not change the prognosis nor make things worse.

By the time we got home, I had made up my mind to take the risk and go ahead with the trip. Even though it was insured (this time, I had met the deadline for getting travel insurance that would cover us for pre-existing conditions), we had been planning this wonderful trip for months, and I just wanted to go. But then I changed my dressings that evening. Suddenly, the escar on my left index finger began to recede to expose the back of the knuckle. I was in hysterics. How could this be happening? I told Al that I couldn’t imagine traveling now. He said he would go with whatever I decided. He went to sleep, and I went downstairs to sit on the living room couch and try to think.

I emailed a couple of friends for help to sort it out. I realized after a few hours of agonizing that I was channeling my mother, who was a very anxious woman who never took risks.  She came to this country from Germany in 1936 at age 14, escaping the trauma of the Holocaust, but never free of what might have been. Her fears of danger kept me from exploring the world when I was young, with the exception of a two-week tour of Europe that my mother’s mother paid for when my sister and I were in college — my grandmother’s way of exposing us to the world that she missed so much.

Facing the inevitability of losing at least one finger and maybe more, I knew that I needed the inspiration of beautiful landscape in order to face what was to come. I wrote an email to the hand surgeon and asked him if the risk of exposed bone was additive with more fingers involved, and if the prognosis would change if we went ahead with the trip. I received a thoughtful email back in the morning that explained that each finger had to be considered independently, and that the risks and prognosis remained the same. I also checked with my ID specialist about antibiotics, and he said that what I had already planned to take with me was appropriate. I told Al that I wanted to go. He gave me a big thumbs-up and a big hug.

And so, we went, first to Reykjavík for two days, and then on to Norway. We spent five days in Bergen, on the southwest coast, home to some of the country’s most famous fjords, then took a scenic 7 1/2 hour train ride to Oslo, stayed overnight, and flew to Tromsø in the Arctic Circle. There we stayed for three days, and then wrapped up our trip in Oslo for our final weekend.

The scenery was everything I’d hoped for and so much more. Iceland is in constant formation, with active volcanoes, geysers, thundering waterfalls and visible tectonic plates. The mountains are sharp, craggy and snowcapped, a visible reminder of the earth’s power to force rock skyward. We saw puffins and glaciers, smelled the sulfur of hot springs, watched Icelandic horses and sheep cropping emerald grass, marveled at moss reclaiming lava fields.

In Norway, we immersed ourselves in beauty, from towering green and rock mountains bordering calm saltwater fjords to the art of Edvard Munch (MOOnk). We drove through the world’s longest tunnel (25 km) with its sapphire blue lighting, stared slack-jawed at thousand-foot waterfalls nearly everywhere we turned, rode the scenic Flam railroad up and down a mountain. Staying in wonderful Air B&B flats, we ate many of our meals at home to save some money (restaurants are very expensive in Norway), but treated ourselves to four exquisite dinners out.

For all this, however, travel was very strenuous for me. It took about two hours in the morning and the same at night to change my dressings. Our supplies included 700 cloth bandages, 32 sheets of silver alginate dressing, a cream I had discovered online that includes hyaluronic acid and is intended for radiation burns, lidocaine gel, Q-tips and more. Along the way, three more ulcers receded to expose bone. It was as if all my ulcers had hit a tipping point within the same week. Sometimes changing the dressings was so painful, it reduced me to tears — and I am not one who cries easily. Al was my rock, so attentive and supportive. He would read to me of Norse mythology as I went through the tedious process of tending to my fingers, help me get dressed, take my arm to make sure I didn’t fall, comfort me when fears overwhelmed me.

Throughout the first week, as my ulcers deteriorated, I agonized over whether I had made the wrong decision. Al said let’s take one day at a time. Even though we often didn’t get out until afternoon, we made the most of each day. New friends in Bergen gave us a grand tour of the fjords and invited us to their home for Shabbat dinner. When I dropped my wallet without realizing it, in the pouring rain as we were getting on a bus, a young man tapped me on the shoulder and returned it to me.

My self-doubts finally dissipated when we reached Tromsø. The idea to go there had been mine, a major challenge with my Reynaud’s. The Gulf Stream keeps temperatures in the 50s Fahrenheit in the summer — not the warmest climate for me, but still an opportunity to get as close as I ever will to the North Pole. Our first full day there, the rain that punctuated our entire trip cleared as we were riding a cable car to the top of a small mountain that overlooked the city, which is on an island. As I walked out on the top of the mountain, with its spectacular view of huge, jagged, snowcapped peaks in the distance, I was suddenly overwhelmed with emotion. I had made it, here to the Arctic Circle, with my aversion to cold and my crazy hands. This was my Everest. In that moment, I regained my courage. I knew I could face what was coming next.

The following day, the sun was bright and the temperatures in the 60s. We had signed up for a five-hour tour of a neighboring island, and with luck, ended up as the only passengers on the trip. Our tour guide, Pedro, who had come from Lisbon to Tromsø in search of the Northern Lights (only visible in late fall and winter), proved to be a wonderful companion and conversationalist. We covered everything from Norwegian geography to European views and fears of the Trump presidency. The highlight of our day was eating lunch on a cream-colored coral sand beach (there is a coral reef in the Arctic — who knew?), talking politics, drinking rice milk hot cocoa and eating delicate Finnish homemade cookies.

As the end of our travels drew near, my apprehension began to mount again. Fortunately, our seven-hour flight back from Gatwick, London, was on a Boeing 787 Dreamliner, the newest and most advanced jet in the sky. Better humidity, improved air pressure changes and even comfortable seats in economy made it a much easier flight than I had anticipated.

This week, reality hit home hard. We saw the hand surgeon late Monday afternoon, and his assessment was that I would need what’s called a hand “revision” that would involve trimming five of my fingers. His goal was to leave as much length as possible. But, in all probability, my right pinky and left index finger would be reduced to one digit stumps. The other three — left middle finger, right middle finger and right ring finger — would involve trimming exposed bone and leaving open wounds in the hopes of preserving length as skin regenerated. As it turned out, however, his OR schedule was booked through September. He referred me to an experienced colleague with similar credentials, who had an opening on Monday.

We met the second hand surgeon on Thursday. He is meticulous, thoughtful and thorough. With a very sober face, he told me that this would be the first of “many surgeries” because of the complexity of the damage. He described my situation as “serious scleroderma.” He is concerned about healing with my poor circulation and suggested the possibility of having a sympathectomy done at a later point to increase blood flow to my hands. He agreed with the first hand surgeon that I should have hyperbaric chamber treatment in the wound center to help improve oxygenation with my blood and speed healing. On Monday, he will debride all the ulcers, trim back exposed bone, and determine the best way to deal with my two broken knuckles. He will also take pictures and share them on a list-serve for hand surgeons to get more input about next steps.

I was very frightened and distressed after this meeting, even as I feel fortunate to have such an expert taking care of my hands. He has  an excellent reputation, especially for follow-through, and is in high demand. The last few days have been an emotional roller coaster ride, softened by love and support from family and good friends.  I wax and wane between fear and grief over losing part of five fingers and just wanting to be rid of these painful digits that no longer work.

My surgery is scheduled for first thing Monday morning. By the time you’re reading this, it will all be over. I do not know if I will be up for writing what happened by next week, but I will certainly share the next chapter when I am able. Let the healing begin.

Post-op P.S.:  Thank goodness, the procedure went better than expected. My circulation exceeded the hand surgeon’s expectations. Still have all 10 fingers, for now. He put temporary pins in my right pinky and left index finger to stabilize them and buy me some time. He is sharing pictures of my fingers on an international list serve for hand surgeons, so we will have input from the best of the best for next steps. Pain management will be the next challenge, but I am so grateful and relieved to have made it through this procedure. Thank you for sharing my odyssey, and thanks to Al for being my post-op scribe and life’s partner.

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.