Tuesday, December 06, 2016

Post-Op Thoughts: Creativity Vanquishes Pain

I have three-quarters of a million dollars invested into my spine, but that's not the most expensive aspect of the injury that started me on this road to disaster.

Chronic pain in general and chronic back pain in particular are so all-encompassing. Every aspect of your life is impacted--mostly by taking things away. When I was in the car wreck that blew up my spine fourteen years ago, I had an extremely active lifestyle. Swimming, scuba, hiking, off-trail hiking, rock climbing, bicycling...all activities I loved. All gone now. I would walk 1-2 miles a day. The furthest I've been able to walk for the past four years is a block.

Half a block for the past year or more.

I do all my shopping online so it can be delivered. I haven't been in a brick and mortar store shopping in two years at least--mostly because even though I can't walk in WalMart, I don't think it's right for me to take the little carts away from people who "really" need them. And then I get pissed when I see people who don't really need them zipping through the aisles like it's a NASCAR race.

I can't pick up anything heavier than a gallon of milk. Been that way since 2012. And, of course, I ignore that rule when there are grandbabies or cats involved.

Or my laptop.

As a writer and editor, I spend the majority of my time on the computer. But I cannot sit up for longer than half an hour at a time, so I have learned how to awkwardly write with the laptop perched too high on my abdomen.

Basic life activities are gone--driving a car, for example. If I slipped behind the wheel of my PT Cruiser now, I'd automatically be guilty of an OMVI because of the medications I'm on. Housework is out save for a few easy chores and the ones I've figured out how to do by sliding around the house on my butt. As you can imagine, my baseboards are immaculate. The crown molding, not so much. I can fold laundry, as long as the basket is brought to me. For the rest, I've learned some life hacks but my house makes me fussy because it's not the way I like it to be or feel.

Now I am six days out of another major back surgery, and once again lying on my mother-in-law's couch while I fret and worry and wonder for the umpteenth time: "Will this one actually work? Will I get that life back I enjoyed so much? Or will this be just another patch-up job that raises my hopes and then destroys them, leaving me to fight out of the depression that came after the last four-five-six surgeries?"

There's no way to answer that. With the type of bizarre condition in my spine, the success or failure of this procedure won't be known for months--six months before it's official according to my spinal surgeon. But I'll know sooner.

I know--you're sitting there, reading this and thinking that I'm whining. And you're right; I am whining. Hard not to, if I'm being honest. But my whining doesn't lead to me lying in bed, feebly asking my mother-in-law for cups of coffee or just one more cupcake. (She knows me too well. That's why the cupcakes are here.) When I'm told to walk a half hour every day, I walk an hour. When I'm assigned exercises to do in bed every four hours, I do them every three hours. I push myself, always, to supersede my doctor's expectations.

For example, in order to get released from the orthopedic hospital I was in, patients had to walk 150 feet. I went 125 feet two hours after I got into my room post-surgery. Just like an athlete striving to improve their strength or agility, I know that for every extra foot, every additional effort, the healing will be faster and more thorough. I never do too much, but I never settle for just enough either.

My lot in life has been bizarre, and is certainly not helped by the piece of broken hardware in my spine that if it shifts can either kill or paralyze me without warning. No one could have anticipated the butcher job that took place during my first back surgery in 2006--when a surgeon put the wrong sized artificial disc into my lumbar spine, had to pry it out, and in the process of hammering the correct size prosthesis into place with a sledge hammer broke it and started this fourteen year spiral of doom. No one believed me for six years when my pain worsened instead of improved. I was treated as if I was a drug addict, looking for a bigger fix. Not until I got an infection at that same level did anyone finally diagnose the real problem--and in the process reveal that the artificial disc had been shredding my spinal column and could not be removed. The prosthetic was inserted from the front, and was now insinuated between arteries on the front and my spinal cord on the back. The subsequent fusions weren't done to 'fix' my spine, but to keep that artificial disc from killing me.

And after the gazillionth back procedure in four years, it turned out that the fusion intended to secure that broken artificial disc was also broken.

It's hard for anyone to look ahead at their life and accept that regardless of what they do, regardless if they do exactly what the doctor tells them, all the parts of their life they particularly loved are a permanent thing of the past. But there's an aspect of healing I possess that many of my disabled peers do not. An outlet.

Creativity is both a blessing and a curse. It's a curse because your parents were right. "You can't earn a living writing stories. That's just a pipe dream."

And for most people, it is. A debut author's first book is released, and when it doesn't sell they give up. Mentally, they've made the transition from "anyone can write a book" to "I am a failure as a writer" and they don't try again.

But creativity is also a blessing. For one thing, you're running around with your characters in your mind, watching their story unfold and finding a way to share it with your readers. For another, people with the right personality traits (for me it's being damn stubborn) are taught not to give up. Ever. Sure, the odds of me being able to walk much more than a block for the rest of my life are pretty much non-existent, but I have made the choice not to let that define who I am. I live vicariously through my words, and create new worlds that both intrigue and challenge not only my characters but myself.

And all of this led me down a path that once was closed to me, and brought me to Charlie Burris and the Orange & White Report--writing articles and features about college football when I was told during college that there was no place for women journalists in sports--unless they covered ice skating or gymnastics. Plus every Saturday, I get to interact with the other O&W writers and argue or theorize or analyze football games while they're ongoing. That transforms me from a woman old enough to be their mother lying in a huge back brace in Ohio to a sports journalist, and fulfills a long-ago dream of mine in the process.

In the end, then, my overriding thought after my fourth major back surgery in ten years would have been applicable whether I regain the life I missed or continue in the life I've had.

1. My spine cannot restrict my mind.
2. My world is much, much more than the four walls that I am usually trapped within.
3. My life is not over; it's richer and rewarding beyond my expectations thanks to the people I interact with every day online.
4. Never give up on your dreams and ambitions.
5. It's 11:14 am and Florida still sucks.

So don't feel sorry for me; I don't feel sorry for myself. And as you look at your life and the things you wanted but didn't get, don't think those things are past you either. Life or circumstance don't dictate your destiny--you do.

Even with failed hardware in your spine.