I can't remember what it feels like to live without pain.
I started having back problems when I was a teenager. I wasn't terribly surprised; all the women in my family experienced terrible back pain, and I was a musician. There were days when I would practice or rehearse for hours on end, and by the time I was finished my neck, jaw, and lower back would be aching. My mom took me to the doctor at one point, and he had no real advice besides, "try some stretches." By the time I was 18, I was going to a chiropractor and an orthodontic specialist regularly. By the time I started college, my back pain had become so intense that I began seeing a physical therapist and a massage therapist. I took a few yoga classes at the campus gym, and while everything took the edge off my pain...nothing was really helping.
|My brother and I, Fall 1999|
Fast forward a decade. During my pregnancy with Alessandra, the pain in my back became unbearable. I received a referral to a physical therapist who specialized in pregnant women, and I saw a chiropractor to adjust my hips. (Tony was posterior, and I had had such terrible back labor with him, and I was willing to do anything to avoid that experience again). The PT and adjustments helped considerably, and I foolishly assumed my days of constant back pain were coming to an end. I had an amazing, painless birth with Alessandra, and in the days that followed I was far more concerned about milk supply and jaundice issues than lower back pain. However, as the weeks progressed, so did my lower back pain. I dreaded getting out of bed every morning, and as much as I loved wearing Alessandra, I would wince when I put her in a wrap or carrier. I continued going to my chiropractor, but the adjustments were no longer bringing me any relief. Finally, after two straight weekends of excruciating pain that caused my husband to miss both class and reserve detail, I made an appointment with my regular physician. She scheduled an MRI for me, which turned out to be a disaster. Despite me repeatedly telling the assistant that I was exclusively breastfeeding my baby, somehow the memo did not get passed to the radiologist. After drinking two repulsive "banana flavored" (yeah right) liquids, I was about to get injected with the dye when I once again asked the technician to confirm with the radiologist that the dye was safe for breastfeeding mothers.
Spoiler alert: it wasn't. So, to no one's great surprise, the MRI results came back inconclusive, and I was back at Square One.
The pain only continued to get worse after our move to Fort Benning. I went to a new doctor, who took my complaints seriously, and scheduled me for an X-ray and a repeat MRI. He also prescribed some heavy duty pain pills, which I hate taking (they render me completely useless, as they all have a sedative effect). This time, I had a much better experience with the MRI, and a few weeks later the doctor's office called with the results. According to my doctor, he found visible signs of spinal stenosis, and he wanted to refer me to an orthopedic/spinal surgeon. Well. Hardly what I would call good news, but I was extremely relieved to know that:
a. Something really is wrong, and it's not in my head.
b. I was being referred to a specialist who could give me options for treatment.
c. I was being taken seriously.
I met with the specialist this past Friday. When he came into the room where I was waiting, he glanced at me, glanced back down at me chart, and looked up at me again. "You're 32." "Yes, I am. I'll be 33 next month." "You're 32." "Yes...." (I'm thinking, okay, we've established my age, why is this a problem...). The doctor sat down in his chair, and looked me straight in the eye, and told me I had some very serious issues for someone so young. He pulled up my MRI results on a screen, and showed me multiple places in my lower back where my disks were disintegrating. The tissue in between the disks was disintegrating as well. He asked me what I had been doing for the pain, and I told him every single treatment I had tried over the past 16 years; physical therapy, massage therapy, chiropractors, yoga, pilates, acupuncture, essential oils, etc. He then asked me how I felt about surgery. I told him that spinal surgery was my absolute dead last resort. Don't get me wrong, I will do whatever is necessary to fix my back issues, but unfortunately back surgery doesn't always produce the greatest results. He agreed that we could leave surgery off the table for now, and suggested that I come in soon for an injection. While it is a short-term solution, at least it's one that can provide me with some relief and won't involve anesthesia, cutting me open, a long and painful recovery, etc.
I don't really know how to describe how I felt when I left his office. I sat in the car for a little while with the air conditioning blasting, and not really moving or doing much of anything. I was frightened of the diagnosis I received; there was still a little part of me that hoped my back issues weren't serious at all, and could be solved with a quick pill or treatment. At the same time, though, I was relived that after all these years of living in pain, I finally had answers. And a plan for treatment. I don't like admitting when something is physically wrong with me. It drives Will absolutely crazy; the last few times he's (literally) dragged me out of bed to go to the hospital, the issues I had were not only serious, but life-threatening. So, Will is now proudly proclaiming that he's 3 for 3, and I'm 0 for 3. It's cool. I can take it.
A few months back, I read this post by one of my favorite bloggers (Jennifer Fulwiler, at Conversion Diary). For the longest time, I've felt the exact same way she did. "Why didn't you vacuum today? There are dirty dishes in the sink! Alessandra and Tony are running around in diapers and underwear, you haven't even brushed your teeth, much less your hair, there's dog hair everywhere, you haven't dusted in at least a week....WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU?" It was hard for me to admit that some days, the pain I felt was so excruciating, all I could do was flop down on the couch and count the minutes until Will walked in the door. I hated myself for my perceived laziness ("your husband works so hard all day, and he deserves to come home to a break, not shrieking kids in a messy house with a frumpy wife on the couch!"), my inability to just suck it up and deal with the pain, and my ingratitude. I mean, really, all I have to do is turn on a NatGeo special about the lives of Roma mothers in Slovakia, or women in South America or Africa who are trying to raise a family amid poverty, crime, disease, and war to make me feel like the most ungrateful, spoiled, laziest human being on the planet. God has blessed our family abundantly, and all I can do is cry about a little back pain?
After receiving my diagnosis, I was relieved. Not because I was dealing with another potentially serious health concern, but because I was finally able to admit that something was wrong with my body. My inability to get off the couch and clean the house and cook dinner had nothing to do with ingratitude, or being self-absorbed. My back was giving out on me, and on the days when I tried to convince myself that nothing was wrong, and I needed to get over myself and take care of my home and family, I would massively overdo it. Then, naturally, I wound up paying the price tenfold, as I would be in such horrible pain the next couple of days I truly couldn't do anything for anyone.
I don't know what the next couple of months, or the next couple of years have in store for me. I don't know how long I'll be able to continue getting injections before I finally have to have surgery. I don't know how the problems with my back will impact my family, and our everyday life. I am thankful, however, that the diagnosis I received is not life-threatening. I'll be able to get up every day, and go about my normal routine the best I can. I can cut myself some slack from now on, on the days I'm trying to do too much. I am beyond grateful to my husband and family, for their kindness and helpfulness. Not once have I ever been treated like a burden, or (my worst fear) a slacker. God has been so good to me, and I've found myself finding more comfort than ever in prayer and meditation. With God's grace, I will get through this. My family will get through this. Nothing, especially not a little spinal stenosis/disk disintegration is going to keep me down. I'll be hiking up those mountains in Colorado before you know it.
(Yeah right. I am so not the hiking type).