Ten minutes this way, ten minutes that.
Yesterday’s weather related euphoria rapidly dissolved in today’s cold, gray drizzle. My walk was annoying, damp, and without any particular insight. The pain in my leg cracked like a whip with every third step, and I had to stay very focused or get shocked.
In the afternoon I went to see my surgeon for my post-op visit. He was late, so I studied the list of questions I had preparedand ran my fingers along all the models of the spine, discs, nerves that were tossed around the room like toys. Dr. Tran burst into the room with the force and enthusiasm I have come to expect from him. “Hello, Ms. Rachhhhellll,” he shouted.
Before asking me anything, he told me to stick my legs out in various ways. I did as I was told and he seemed confused as to why I wasn’t moving faster. He kept testing my right leg, my right foot, and finally asked me how I felt. I told him that I was about 25% better than before surgery. He looked as though I had slapped him.
He grabbed the laptop he had tossed onto the examination table and pulled up my file. He clicked and mumbled and sat there in silence until I decided that maybe I was being to harsh. “I can stand up longer. I can walk to the end of the block. I couldn’t do that before.” He looked up, “That’s good. But tell me about the pain.”
I told him about how it strikes like lightening when I turn in any direction, how it throbs when I try to sit still, how it forces me to move every hour through the night. I told him my leg was still cold, my foot was numb, and my limp was still prominent (all things he’d assured me would be immediately gone after surgery).
He looked again at his computer. “Here are my notes from your surgery, Rachel, and here is why I think your nerve is so angry.” He explained that the extrusion (the amount of disc material that had ruptured) was so much larger than he had anticipated, that it had pressed the nerve hard into the bone, “I actually had to remove some of the bone to make more room for the nerve.” He told me more about how much disc material he had removed, and admitted that it was possible he had not removed it all, that there might be some rogue pieces hiding in there, attacking the nerve when it’s supposed to be healing.
We briefly discussed more surgery, but I stopped him to ask, “Is it possible that I may just have to learn to live with this level of pain?” He looked sheepish, which is not a look I particularly like to see on a surgeon, and suggested I try a new medication to “mask the nerve pain.” I put the rest of my questions away.
I’m jumping ahead in the story of my back. I did have surgery on January 9th, and it was “successful”, though my extrusion was much larger than expected, and my nerve damage more extensive. The recovery thus far has been complicated by every member of my family, including myself, coming down with a violent stomach virus. I am in far more pain that I anticipated I would be after the surgery (which was sold to me as something that would leave me completely pain-free). I am going to try to post updates, simply because writing them does make me feel better.
Today I took a walk. I shuffled slowly down the street, kicking a happy clump of ball moss with my weak but working legs. The sun was already low, but it was warm and bright and optimistic.
I walked further than I have been (I started these walks four days ago), cheered on by the perfect weather and the solitude. My mother took all the girls to gymnastics, so there was no one to push or answer or herd toward safety. It’s still January, and there are at least a handful of pitiful winter days to come, but every branch is humming with readiness for spring. Just waiting for its cue.
I was reminded of a scribbled page from the fall, when I was dissecting my depression and lamenting my productivity. My little graph holds true, I feel the ascension into the lengthening days, the big ideas, the boundless hope, the filled up pages.
Even with my raw nerve begging me to stay still, with the electric pain that jolts down my leg if I do not choose the perfect steps, the perfect execution, I feel better today than yesterday.
Tomorrow I see the surgeon. I assume he will release me drive, to hold Harriet without help, and to slowly begin some sort of physical therapy. He will likely also tell me that the nerve pain I still feel is normal, based on the how compressed it was when it got in there and cut it loose. He will tell me there is more pain ahead. But if my graph is accurate, I’ve got until July to deal with it before it crushes my spirit.
I tend to invite injury on a liturgical schedule, so on the first Sunday of Advent I destroyed three discs in my back. I would like to say I was doing something amazing like throwing a Volkswagen or saving one of my children from an oncoming train. But I was just holding a baby, like I hold one every day, and cleaning up a spill with my foot and a dishtowel, like I clean them up every day. I did not fall, I did not slip, I just stepped on the towel to soak the coffee from the rug and an invisible hockey stick slammed across my back.
The pain was enough to force a phone call, and I carted my kids to the chiropractor three times that first week. Then I carted them to Costco, Whole Foods, Target, the YMCA, and round and round the lake as fast as I could, twice. I took some ibuprofen, I did some yoga. The pain was there, but it didn’t stop me.
When I woke up Saturday morning, six days after the disaster, it stopped me. Pain tore through my right leg like a serrated blade. I hobbled to the bathroom, leaned over the sink and promptly collapsed onto the floor. It was worse than labor, worse than c-sections (where actual knives cut through my body), worse than any pain I had ever felt. I dug through the medicine cabinet for leftover Norco from the last baby and swallowed them as fast as I could. They didn’t do much.
An MRI showed three herniated discs: one with a very large extrusion compressing my S1 nerve root, one with an annular tear, and one herniated and sharing space with a synovial cyst. The source of the pain was obvious, but the cause and course of treatment were unknown.
So I spent all of Advent on drugs, on the couch, in relentless pain. I tried to do the meditate on Mary thing, imagining how miserable it would’ve been to sit on a donkey for days and days while magnificently pregnant. I tried to pray for people with far more gruesome injuries. I tried to be thankful that I still had control of my bowels and bladder, that the miracle of Instacart was a thing, and that my husband was loading laundry and dishes, even if he was doing it completely wrong. I tried to stay calm. I tried to transcend.
I’ve been blogging for thirteen years. That’s weird.
The bulk of it doesn’t (intentionally) exist on the internet anymore, but it does exist. Lots of fits and starts, some long stretches, several apologies and silly promises to myself and whoever is reading that I will write more. I will write more! I will write better! You’ll see!
All of my favorite blogs tend to end with posts like that.
This is not an apology or an overconfident reintroduction. It’s just a post on my blog, because I do that sometimes.