TERRIBLY OFTEN when I tell people I have back problems, they’re like, Yeah me too. And then I can't say, No but mine are like super bad. I will tell you, though, dear reader: they are quite bad. Bad enough that I’ve landed on the floor, two months and counting, though I didn’t do anything much out of the ordinary.
In fact the strain upon my spine over the last decade has been far less than ordinary, since I make innumerable concessions to the tyrant Pain. I work part time and stretch at ballerina frequency. I am mindful of lifting and sitting and sneezing and carrying too much in my purse.
But nor am I Pain’s little bitch; I defy its rules when I think I can get away with it. And really, it was a pile-up of such sneaky infractions that landed me here, spine trained to the floor, with my mercifully tiny laptop atop a pillow on my stomach and my feet on the couch and an ice pack beneath me.
For the last few years Pain was the weaker contender, and I spit in its face, daring to do things I thought I might never get to do, like have a normal job, live by myself, take dance class, walk for miles. At the height of my triumph I wore some obscene heels.
I was a blithe, jubilant rat fattening myself on a windfall of spilled grain night after night, and Pain was a cat with a grin, crouching and watching. I’m being melodramatic, but nothing inspires it quite like Pain.
THERE IS A NERVE corridor originating at my sloppy L5-S1 spinal disc, the disc aptly if uncharmingly named for its location between the fifth lumbar and first sacral vertebrae. This corridor travels the length of my leg. Errant L5-S1 protrudes and the nerve gets agitated. Back in the day the S1 nerve path used to be the thing; now my main pain corridor is L5. (Both are pictured below.) The S1 path ends in the tendon and heel, which made me feel like an aching Achilles. L5 ends in the toes, which are often a-tingle.
The corridor is constantly abuzz. Be it with electric sharpshooters, splayed inflammation, dull ache. The sensations, and locations thereof, are ever changing, and sometimes I lie here and watch them, as malignant internal fireworks. The corridor may grow dark and quiet, but it always exists. Even at times when I have negligible pain, the corridor is active, alert, ready. My unaffected leg feels to have no corridor; such is the difference.
You may get frustrated, dear reader, when I tell you there is little more I can do for this than rest and let it get better. This smacks of medical slackerdom. But having done much time down the rabbithole of pills, treatments, hospitals, I can tell you with confidence that this is the truth. I had surgery ten years ago, to the day. So do me this one favor and don’t suggest anything for me to *try.* If you wish to offer something, I like food.
I just have to do the time. It is not fun, but it is a test of a sort, a strength challenge, and I dig those. It's like a marathon, only instead of training from normal human to superhuman capability, you train from jacked-up to normal. You battle the daily discouragements and the limits of your body and develop focus and stamina. And sometimes you give up and fall backwards, and watch streaming episodes of Basketball Wives. (I assume marathoners get discouraged and turn to Basketball Wives.)
Sometimes it is hard to believe that my spine is so dysfunctional. But I think of how other people have diabetes or lupus or herpes or dire allergies and it seems common for the body to have some failed function or other. It is the human body, after all, and quite remarkable. It is much more shocking to think of what it can do.
I EMPLOY a rope-a-dope pain management strategy. I lie here in apparent defeat and let Pain punch itself out until I am the stronger one.
I've had to adapt to long-term battle. Reading and writing are all I can accomplish, and sometimes I can accomplish nothing. I'm drinking pint smoothies and eating mini yogurts and frozen dinners, with a resultant abomination of plastic refuse that is hardly less objectionable than begging friends to do my dishes. Bowls are heavy to carry to bed and glasses are easily spilled down the chin when drinking lying down, so the plastics do win for now.
My personality adapts too, as you might have noticed if you know me as a pleasant person and are reading this thinking you would rather not visit such a grumpbitch after all. I don't laugh much, but I usually feel alright. It's just I have to be serious. I can't listen to music that gets me worked up or makes me want to bust even the smallest moves. No Nicki, no Weezy. I've been on Joan Baez and Iron & Wine. My earffirmative action campaign got a leg up.
And I'm in the hard situation of needing lots of Help. A friend remarked to me that it's too bad how in our society it is frowned upon to need Help. And that may be so, but I think needing Help sucks inherently, not just because of some social norms. There are as many kinds of Help as there are kinds of love or water. Help can be given loudly or quietly, generously or stingily, for free or for an implicit price; you can be made to feel it or allowed to accept it with ease. Given gracefully, it is a tremendous gift. But the position of need is a shit position, even so.
Pain is not all curses and grumbles. I grow by its trials and appreciate how it skims the bullshit off life's surface. Maybe I'll tell you about that some other time.