Forgive me for the long absence. I’ve been down a rabbit hole for all of April, rather an appropriate place to spend the Spring, after hitting a large pot hole as I drove to return my little Ford Fiesta rental car at LAX. I thought I was being economical renting this little car. But perhaps economical is not always smart. Hitting the pot hole was a moment in time that was a cross between shocking and jarring, and eye crossing or star seeing (but not of the celebrity type). It only takes a few seconds for lives to turn in another direction to the one we thought we were heading. This turn was to the road less traveled. After three days of work and meetings, I was driving to deliver the car back to its rightful place and catch my plane home, mulling over of all the things I had to do that coming week and how I was enjoying this new project I’d just taken on as Creative Director, and I was looking forward to getting home to hug my 10 year old that evening and catch up with my husband. Then the slow motion button got pushed and I veered left onto a road I had not intended to be on.
As wide as the streets are in LA, and as bad as the driving is, there is never a good time for a random car to pull across the road passing in front of me with inches to spare. The brakes of my economical bucket squealed like finger nails on a blackboard as I floored the pedal, and the bottom of economy hit the unseen pot hole with such force that it gave me shuddering goosebumps. In a slow motion blur I saw the passenger of the car look at me with her mouth open, and then they were gone as fast as they came. I swore out loud and shook my fist, but didn’t really understand the extent of what had just happened. It was two days later when I awoke to get my son ready for school, I realized that I couldn’t bend my body, and getting out of bed was an incredible struggle. My right side had locked and I couldn’t swing my leg or push myself up from my mattress. You know its bad when you cry putting your knickers on, that you’ve hit an all time low when your partner finds you sobbing over your underwear and you are unable to bend your legs to reach down to pull up. That moment of complete helplessness doesn’t come easy for anyone, and for me it was the moment I realized I was in real trouble.
Ten weeks earlier I had gone to my doctor to ask about the back pain I was having, and to tell her I thought I had a bulging disc in my lower back, but after being given a token prescription of vicodin and a referral for an xray, in which nothing apparently showed, and taking half a vicoden pill I found myself nauseas and laying down on my office sofa for an afternoon, I was back to square one. When I hobbled into her office for a visit after my pot hole run in, she hummed and murmured “oh dear” and then prescribed steroids, ibuprofen and the process of getting an MRI began. It took two weeks to get the approval by my insurance company. I suppose it was just in case I wasn’t ready, because by the time I got the stamp of approval, I was in blind agony. I could walk only on my left leg, dragging my right behind me inches at a time, my foot was completely numb and with the assistance of the two walking canes we had purchased when Mike had twisted his ankle earlier this year in Mexico I moved forward at the pace of a snail. At least my pesos were well spent.
Once you lose the ability to get up, you never want to lie down and it was taking me an hour to get out of bed each morning. I would position myself and hoist, fall down, writhe around in pain again and again and continue this until I could position myself on the edge of the mattress, then slowly shift my bottom down until I reach the end of the bed, where, with the help of the bed frame and the walking sticks I could rise (and fall) until I was standing. I was like a fish out of water. Literally gasping between flaps, flailing without limbs. I learned how to pee standing up because sitting became no longer an option unless I sloped into a half lay, and I cried out as I hurled my body to the upward position By this point I had stopped driving and had become reliant on friends and family to drive me to only necessary places. The week before I had driven my son to a friends house and spent the entire drive breathing heavily – remincent of birthing. My son reassured me that this was only temporary, and I would mend. He was handling it better than me, which was strangely reassuring. And he was now serving me food and tending to my needs instead of the other way around. That was, in my mind, the time it was to admit the rabbit hole had closed around me and I was truly in the dark.
During all this, I sadly missed attending my step sons wedding, and a number of other family moments I thought were probably important, but avoided inclusion. One evening my step children and their partners came over for dinner, the four girls all cooking in the kitchen, two of which are pregnant with our future grandchildren, the three boys all sitting around the table talking of the upcoming wedding. I sat alone in the living room, watching on, with my walking sticks by my side, propped up in a position that I could tolerate for a few hours. The girls glowed healthy, a vision that always strikes clearer when you yourself are unwell. Periodically checking on me, topping up my vodka to numb this mess of a woman, and a look of pity in their eyes as I winced at every move I made. I saw for a moment the future as they all sat around the table, animated and happy as I half lay with my wobbly TV table and my food cut up for me. The old biddy that needed feeding and caring for had suddenly found her way into my house and she was me. That was a stunning turning point when I silently made a pact with myself to heal quickly and focus on being strong and healthy so that I don’t become what I saw before the right time. Heck, I have two new babies coming to grandmother, and my 10 year old needs me! Perhaps those moments are the most important, when the light bulb clicked on, and I vowed I was not going to own this disability and remembered Eden’s words spoken earlier in the car about this being temporary. My lovely 10 year old wise son.
A day passed after my MRI came back and it was faxed to a neurosurgeon, who called me immediately and told me to come the next day. And there in print lay the root ofthis problem, shouting from the black and white facsimile the doctor had sent to him, was the culprit, the lower S1 disc ruptured, pushing its leaked contents against my sciatic nerve, rendering me useless and in agony. He calmly told me he would be drilling into my back with a dremel like tool and pulling the disc ooze off my nerve which he described as a tuna like substance and scheduled me for surgery 3 days later. As a virgin to the surgery alter, I was eager to participate because the only other option was to wait it out to heal, which I was told could take as long as 2 years and unknown costs for alternative healing, of course not covered by any insurer.
Its funny how the human spirit takes over during times of chaos and illness. The surgery seemed inconsequential comparative to the radiating pain, particularly the leg spasms that now invaded me like a bad joke. I would feel like I was periodically being hit with a bat across my backside and my leg would swing up and over my left leg, trying to run away from these blinding uncontrolled motions. These would come more and more frequently as the surgery date loomed. Finally, waiting on a bed in the pre-op room at the hosptial, the charming surgeon came to my side and smiled, and my leg threw itself in the air as I arched my back in pain. I was exhausted by my bodies own mechanisms, by the sheer lack of control I know had. His hand patted my arm, the classic doctor motion to instill some hope, and reassured me that it would be over soon. Vulnerable and tearful, I lay back and watched the lights above me as I was wheeled into the operating room. I was now in a movie, there was no turning back.
I awoke to the sound of a nurse telling me to breathe, that I needed to bring my heart rate back up, and I struggled to regain my ground, and awaken from the 2 hours I had spent out while they mined for leaking goop and drilled away at the base of my spine. Immediately my leg lurched into the air, a spasm of magnitude dying its last breath, the nurse gasped and told me I scared her, and that was that. I’ve not had one since. They wheeled me back to the recovery room and I lay anticapating the radiating nausea, but none came. After a few minutes I asked to go to the bathroom and found I could sit up, stand up and now walk to the bathroom without the help of the Mexican crutches I had become so dependent on. I could sit without screaming and the permanent crinkle of agony evaporated. Just like that – it was over!
I’m in bed now, its 9 days since the surgery, and I’m doing just fine. Not allowed to sit for more than 20 minutes, three times a day for the first week, and slowly start to regain my strength again. At the beginning I would walk to the bathroom and after a few minutes of standing, there was the pounding of a steel hammer beating on my tail bone, and the feeling of what I imagine a gun shot wound would feel like in the back of my leg, but now it is less and less, more a dull ache, and I can stand for 20 minutes before I have to lay down.
I try to understand what the cause of this was, overall and not just the pot hole which was the straw that finally broke this camels back. All illness, injury or disability stems from the root which seems important to discover so we can steer around pot holes and not fall directly into one. The shamans believe that lower back issues relate to lack of financial support, which in itself makes complete sense. With the recession behind me, and a new and exciting job in front, it strikes me as odd timing for the collapse of my financial back bone. Is it possible that holding onto all that stress for the past few years finally caused my affliction? My son in law, an excellent chiropractor in Whitefish, Montana tells me that he saw more cases of herniated and ruptured discs during the six months following the kickoff to the most recent and disabling recession for small business owners than at any other time in his career. So I ponder all this while I lay in my insurance issued home hospital bed and recover.
This week the days have turned from the pain into a delight and I’ve climbed back out of the hole. Friends and family keep stopping by to bring food, love and word of the outside world. I feel as though I was picked up and removed from my life and allowed the chance to stop and look at it all in wonder. To have been granted a chance to look through a window in silence at a moment in time, and to take with it lessons and changes that I need to make. It has become a valuable window, that has allowed me some space and forced me to be still and breathe. A rare gem of a moment to step out of the fast track lifestyle we all lead. I’m zeroing in on those things I need to eliminate, projects that are no longer necessary, some relationships that are more toxic than nurturing. I wanted to write this down, in case you have a time when your back is broken, or your stuck at home pulled from your routine. Make the most of it. Don’t squander away the gift of healing – it’s a chance to come up for air. The rabbit hole is dark and it can be frightening, but the return to the light is worth it all.
It’s May now and I plan to be down for another week or two while I slowly start to walk and then stride. I’ll let you know what I work out and how I heal. Meanwhile, a word of advise….stay healthy, exercise and eat right. Love your family and your friends and truly appreciate the simple task of getting your undies on- and not in a twist! Remember – it takes just one pot hole to change direction, a valuable and expensive pot hole, full of challenges and wonder. And finally – don’t be cheap for the sake of comfort – alway rent the better car!