The greatest evil is physical pain. — Saint Augustine
When it comes to my health, there are long stories and short stories, but they are all connected, making it exceedingly difficult to know where to start. I thought the most recent “stuff” would be best to build from for now.
First, you need to know a couple base things: (1) I have a long history of headaches since childhood, which turned to chronic migraines about 16 years ago and (2) My back is crap, and I mean epic levels, Doctors shake their heads and say, “I wouldn’t believe it if I hadn’t seen the scans myself” level of crap. It started when I was 16, a junior in high school, and it has progressed to such severe levels that I’ve had tests and procedures some might consider war crimes.
This past October, I had a convergence. A multi-day cluster of migraines that my sumatriptan shots barely tickled and my back pain reached a point where I couldn’t walk into a gas station to use the bathroom with a cane without ending up in terrible, terrible pain. For the span of about 6 weeks, I had 2 migraine-free days — not a typo; that was 2 days out of 42.
While I had wanted to wait for the end of COVID, I took the plunge and decided it was time for me to make a last-ditch effort on my back pain: a spinal stimulator. Quick 40 words or less tutorial: this is a device they implant which is connected to an electrode attached to your spine. It would then let out electrical impulses to block the pain signals from travelling up the spinal cord to the brain.
I had my trial in November where they externally inserted the electrode, a “minor” outpatient procedure I now refer to as my November torture session. They connected that electrode to the device, which is outside my body and attached to my hip. I then spent 4 days with it to see if it helps the pain. Their torture was only partially successful in that I had only one electrode working. So, relief on the left side, standard pain on the right.
We thought (mistake #1) that this would give me a great opportunity to compare one side with the stimulator relief vs the other side without, and I did. The difference was huge, almost to the point I felt like humpty dumpty that was put back together by a bunch of drunks. I did question the “tingling” feeling it caused from the middle of my back down to my foot, but pain or tingling…kind of like asking if I want asparagus or ice cream for dinner. One unexpected, and short-lived, bonus was for those 5 days, I was migraine free. Then 4 hours after the electrode was removed the <insert nasty word of your choice> migraines returned.
We took the plunge and decided the pros outweighed the cons — amazing how those feathers really pile up — and the day before my two-week Christmas vacation was to begin, I had the implant surgery. I’d been told by multiple people that the recovery was pretty easy, and most people were up and about after just a few days. No, nothing can be that simple with me. I spent 90% of my time lying in bed on my side wondering how I was going to sit in a chair for 8 hours when my record of 4 hours caused a full day of sleep the next day. I called my boss and explained it would be another week before I was released by the surgeon and able to return to work.
This is where the fun part began! Right around the first of the year, that time when the black cloud of torment of 2020 was finally supposed to drop away, it took my ability to stand and walk with it. I was stumbling and falling into the walls. My husband and I had the great debate — Old Lady Walker or two canes. I know, this one is right up there with the sex and money arguments for couples, right? The two won, by the way.
On the day of my appointment, I dragged my 23-year-old son out of bed to drive me, because it’s one thing to use walls as bumpers walking down the hallway and a whole other ballgame when trying to do that with machinery. He stayed in the car to sleep, and I headed in to get an x-ray, nearly falling twice, and finally meet with the PA. He is pleased with my incisions, they look good, blah blah blah. I mention my increase in balance issues. You know those mazes with the metal ball that you angle the board to move it to the end without going into one of the holes? The ball goes banging wall to wall to wall…that was me.
His immediate response, “It’s going to have to come out.”
Time stopped. My heart dropped to about mid-thigh in my right leg, but I can’t be sure since there was very little feeling down there. I started reciting my multiplication facts in my head: 1 times 2 is 2, 1 times 3 is 3… It’s science that if you do mathematical problems you can prevent yourself from crying. I made it through the 3s before I turned angry.
This had been my last chance. Thirty-three years ago, after months of 3-days-a-week PT and no pain relief, I was told by a wonderfully compassionate <insert nasty word> doctor that at 16 years old, “you are going to be in pain for the rest of your life, you need to learn to deal with it.” Such uplifting words for a teenage athlete, but like so much in my life, I took it to heart and I tolerated. I accepted the progressive pain, even through 2 pregnancies. I spent 17 years accepting pain was there and refusing to deal with the condescension from doctors and people who didn’t believe what they couldn’t see.
Then, 16 years ago, I finally broke down and went kicking off years of PT, injections, drugs, surgeries, tests, and scans, all culminating to this final, last ditch hail mary. I ended up bed for two weeks, in terrible pain because the pain meds were too light and being waited on hand and foot by my husband, just to turn around and have the damn thing taken out. There must be some multidimensional wavelength of celestial intent out there that really, really hates me. I know that may sound paranoid, but sometimes, things really are out to get you.
PS…just to share the whipped cream on top of the sundae that has been my Holidays, a week and a half after the second surgery, I lost a crown and then came down with the flu. If I were a horse….