I'm hurting right now. A lot.
A couple of weeks ago, I had to get ready for a visit from Hammer. I hadn't seen him in well over a year, and we were gearing up for a couple of days in Atlanta, then a couple of days in Mobile for Mardi Gras, then another day in Atlanta before he flew home. The boys and I spent that Sunday cleaning up the rec (wreck) room, making space for our friend to sleep and be comfortable in our home.
The next day, I went to the gym for the first time in a couple of months. With everything happening with the divorce and kid illnesses, I hadn't been making the time for working out, and I could feel it. I knew better than to push too hard, so I was (I thought) very careful about using less weight, adding a few more reps, and not overdoing my cardio.
I felt pretty good. For a day.
By Wednesday morning, I knew my neck was a little out of whack. My left shoulder was hurting, and there were spasms in the left rhomboid muscle. I'd been through this before—as recently as July 2012—and knew it was one of the damaged discs in my neck. I hit an anti-inflammatory and a muscle relaxer and went on about my day, as carefully as I could. The boys and I picked up Hammer and brought him home. I hoped everything would be better the next day.
When things didn't feel better on Thursday, I called my orthopedist. She's the non-invasive spine specialist who's treated me through two bouts of cervical disc problems beginning in 2008, as well as the horrendous lumbar disc debacle of 2010. She shot me in the neck with five shots of steroid and scheduled my seventh epidural injection for the following Wednesday.
I felt pretty good. For that day.
Hammer and I went out with Growler and Big Cexy, cavorting through Atlanta until the wee hours of the morning. I was smiling and laughing and mostly behaving myself, though at times I knew it was obvious that I didn't feel well. By the time Hammer and I got to Mobile the next evening, I was miserable. But it didn't matter what I did or didn't do, within reason; I was going to hurt no matter what, so I kept pushing forward. When we went to see Galactic at Soul Kitchen, I alternated between sitting and standing. I didn't dance. But I still went and enjoyed it as best I could. Same for the Mystics of Time parade the next night. I had research to do for the next Junkture book, and it could only be done at Mardi Gras in Mobile. I stayed sober and found what I needed to find.
Jump ahead a few days, and I'm waiting patiently for epidural number eight, scheduled for next week. The seventh one a week ago helped, though not nearly as much as I would have hoped. She'll go in at a slightly different position this time in the hope that it will provide better relief. I'm living on muscle relaxers and pain killers and anti-inflammatories, and it sucks.
The pain never stops. It never quite goes away. There's muscular pain from the spasms, which is what will generally wake me after no more than four hours of sleep. But there's also constant, nagging nerve pain that runs constantly from the bottom of my neck into my left shoulder, through my elbow and into my thumb, which is almost always numb. Pain killers don't really touch that. The best to hope for is that they take the edge off, but that ends as soon as the drugs wear off, which starts a whole new cycle of wanting or needing medication.
After spending half an hour finding the most comfortable position in bed, which is on my back right now, I'll tumble into foggy sleep. Usually my left arm is over my head, to take some of the pressure off the nerve, but then I wake a few hours later because the entire arm is throbbing in process of falling asleep. I move it, which is excruciating to both my arm and my neck, and then shift again in my sleep—which usually triggers another spasm. I try to turn on my side (how I usually sleep), but I can't take the pressure on the right or the left as my spine curves to adjust. For the thousandth time, I think I'll try it on my stomach, but that means turning my head one way or the other, starting a whole new sting of torture. So I go back to my back.
It's a horrid little dance that goes on all damn night.
What scares me the most is that this is exactly how I was in the summer of 2010, when my lower back was so screwed up that I couldn't feel my left leg most of the time. I was in constant agony for three months. I'm only two weeks into this now. I can't imagine having to do this for many more weeks.
I try to keep going. I still hang with my friends or go to the grocery store or cook dinner. I have to; I don't have a choice. But being Mom right now usually involves some irritability and constant discomfort. I'm also hypersensitive to the steroids, which screw with my hormones and make me angry and sad and sometimes feeling a little psychotic. For more than a couple of nights, I've found myself stuffing all of my emotions into my mouth.
All of this feels so damn familiar, just like it did two-and-a-half years ago, right before I hit my breaking point and shifted my entire life so dramatically. Except now there's no DH roaming the house to help take care of me. I'm mostly on my own with this.
Cue the cycle of self-recrimination and fear.
Maybe it's my body's way of telling me to dial it back a little bit, to take a break from living my hard-fought lessons and just be still again. My body's memory of everything that came before is screaming at me, though, reminding me that I have to fight against this pain, to keep the damage at bay so it doesn't run amuck again. My body is afraid of going back.
The middle-of-the-night panic is the worst, when I wake in a cold sweat, momentarily paralyzed from the pain. Instinctively, I feel for DH on the other side of the bed, and I remember he's just not there anymore. So the crying starts again, and I find myself roaming the dark house, circling in a slow, awkward dance with all of these ghosts. Waiting impatiently for the pain to abate.
"That's what you promised to do," one whispers in his voice, "to be there for the other one when you couldn't take care of yourselves."
"You could've had him here if you hadn't made those choices," I hear in my own ephemeral voice.
I rage at the voices, and at myself, until the medicine kicks in and slows the spasms, dulling the pre-dawn pain for just a few more hours.
They're right. And they're wrong.
Yes, that was part of our contract. Yes, it could've been different. But my own choices would not have changed his, no matter how hard I tried. He won't be there when I'm 80 and frail, but in a lot of ways he wasn't there when I was 38 and frail. Should I have been willing to trade 40 years of ignorance and discomfort for the promise of elder care? To keep myself from feeling afraid of dying alone?
There was never going to be a win-win, no matter how hard we wanted it.
So I'll stick to my doctor's plan of action, aggressively but pragmatically treating this latest bout of damage. It will get better eventually, though it's frustrating not to know when that may be. And no matter how hard it was, or how hard it will be, I still know I made the right choice. Even if it still makes me cry.