• Problems With Pain

    Today I wanted to write about our recent adventures in Costa Rica or post pictures of the anatomically correct chalk drawings Drew and Porter decorated our driveway with recently.

    Instead I’m writing about pain– physical pain– as it’s had me in its jaws for the better part of three weeks.

    Longtime readers know that I’ve had two spine surgeries, one for scoliosis and a second to address complications caused by the first.  My spine is fused with a combination of rods, hooks and screws.  Here’s a diagram of a spine.
    vertebrae

    The spine is divided into the cervical, thoracic and lumbar regions, and each vertebra within a region is given a number.  The green line shows where I am fused, from the fourth thoracic to the fourth lumbar vertebra.  Those of us in the know call this T4 to L4.  The red area shows the vertebrae and discs that are not fused: L4-5 and L5-S1.  Because these two discs handle all the  movement of my upper torso, while the spine is designed to spread all the pressure evenly across the back, my bottom two vertebrae are in bad shape and are the source of most of my back pain.

    Here’s an xray, not mine, that gives you an idea of the hardware inside my body.   I have a few more hooks at the top of my fusion and some big screws at the bottom as a result of the 2004 surgery.
    xray of hook

    During the last thirty years, back pain has been a fact of life for me. It’s been worse at times and better at times, but it always lurks nearby.  I’ve used back braces, pain patches, physical therapists, chiropractors, medications, a muscle stimulator and gin and tonics in my fight against pain. I visited my trusty brace man to fashion a brace to support my belly during my pregnancies and relieve the pressure on my spine, but I still had to take painkillers during pregnancy to make it through some days.

    Generally I’m a rockstar at handling lower back pain.  If your lower back felt the way mine feels on a normal day, you’d be shooting tequila and hollering for your mama.

    Sometimes, however,  there’s pain that no medicine can touch, and that’s what I’ve been fighting most recently.

    It originated near the blue dot on the top diagram, which, coincidentally, is right by the top hook under my right shoulder.

    This upper back pain is a new kind of pain for me, and I haven’t been managing it well.  It radiates up into my neck, down my shoulder, and makes my arm and fingers numb.  The muscles on the left side of my lower back are burning, perhaps because they are compensating for the fact that I’m trying to move my right side as little as possible.

    I hurt when I stand and when I sit, but I hurt the most lying down.  I’m beginning to dread night time.

    Pain affects me physically, but it also gets inside my head.  I’ve been yelling at the boys.  Around 5:30, when it’s really throbbing, I feel like I’m seeing my family through a haze, and I fear that I’m losing my grasp on reality.  I tell Porter to sweep up his cookie crumbs, but impatiently, because I think I’ve already told him once.

    “Yes, ma’am,” Porter says, and he sweeps and then goes outside to write “Porter is cool” in Morse code on the driveway.

    I ask Drew if he’s finished his homework.

    “You already asked me that,” he says.  I don’t remember.

    Dinner is agonizingly slow, but no one else seems to notice.

    “Finn, eat or don’t eat, but let’s get this over with,” I hiss.

    “Honey, I’ll deal with the kitchen.  You go lie down,” Bill says.

    It’s a kind offer, and he means well, but it doesn’t help.  Alone in our room, I cry.  I’m frustrated.  I’ve had a shot in my back and I’m scheduled for an MRI.  My doctor has prescribed a different type of pain pill, but I still can’t sleep.  I wonder if my boys will remember me as a bedridden mom, alternately weeping and shouting orders.

    As the hours stretch on and everyone sleeps but me, my pity party is in full swing.  I cry over the years I’ve spent recuperating from surgeries and liver disease.  I sob about the things I can’t do, like turning cartwheels and somersaults.  When I get good and worked up, I weep about my big feet, my small breasts and the paint peeling in the bathroom.

    I know this season will pass.  Tonight I’ll try not to scream and be impatient with the boys; to keep my hurt hidden until they’re tucked in.

    I’ll try to remember what my mom told me: “My feet might be big, but they sure do hold me up.”

    To be honest, I never was that good at cartwheels, either.

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    Three years ago in My Tiny Kingdom: Get Me Out Of Here!

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    The theme for this week’s Flashback Friday is OOPS!  Feel free to join in– we’re having a marvelous time digging through old photos and blogging about the past.  Instructions are here.