45 Days…Posted: August 10, 2011
For the five of you who read this regularly, hang in through the beginning, you know this part already.
45 days ago I awoke from my back surgery at 2:30 am alone in my hospital room unable to move both of my legs. It was a terrifying (and greatly drug-enhanced) realization.
Almost immediately sensation began to return to my right leg, but I still had no feeling or sensation in my left from the hip down. Over the course of the next five weeks my right leg grew strong enough to support me for limited periods of time but for the most part I had to rely on a wheelchair for getting around. My left leg, began to slowly regain sensation to the point of pain.
Searing, fiery, unending pain.
The hyper-sensation caused by the regrowth of the dendrites (according to S.) was completely uncontrollable by meds, ointments, heat/cold packs, etc…. The only relief I could get was to put my foot in a pan of tepid (which felt arctic) water. Since I couldn’t sleep like that, the pain at night only increased. S. tried everything she knew (this is a woman with TWO physical therapy doctorates, on in science (DSc and one in pediatrics (DPT). She consulted colleagues, we called doctors, I considered acupuncture, everything.
Last weekend I could feel myself sliding into a depression I knew was dangerous and beyond bordering on clinical. You go through several miscarriages and other trials and you begin to recognize the signs. My emotional state was not just because of the fiery foot, the crutches, the wheelchair, but also the knowledge that I am dangerously close to failing both of my summer session doctoral classes. The remaining assignments are just so BIG and overwhelming I have no point at which to start.
Last night was the worst I think. I managed to drive myself (first time since surgery) to the DMV, and wheel in to get my temporary 6-month disabled parking placard, but that effort wiped me out so much that I came home and crashed. Later I could hear S. and M. in the living room cracking up over a TV show and was at my absolute lowest point. S. had attached an extra two leads to the TENS unit (a little nerve-zapper thingie that is supposed to confuse the nerve endings so they don’t send “hurt me” signals to my brain…but the zappies hurt just the same), so I was alone in a dark room, in pain, and very, very depressed.
I’ve been trying to put a positive spin on this whole event, since it really has given me greater insight into a world in which I had no idea is faced by millions of our population each day. It had also given me a greater, deeper, richer character around which to center my next book. But last night I just didn’t care. I forced myself out into the living room and tried to socialize for a bit but in the end gave up and went back to bed.
As I measured out my nightly pain meds I did have a single, fleeting thought of “accidentally” adding more than I should, and I am ashamed to admit that. But I thought about it.
Then I thought about the people who’ve been “poking” me on FB, sending me emails, and cards, and calling, and coming by to visit, and most especially, my S. who would be so hurt and confused and how much more that “accident” would add to her pain. So, as I carefully counted out the prescribed amount, the recent words of a friend popped into my head, “You matter to people.”
So I prepared for another night of the same. No sleep, a foot on fire, a brain running through all of the things I should be doing but couldn’t bring myself to even begin. Hot pad under the surgical incisions for the back (remember, this was originally back surgery), four pillows to prop up the foot and leg that were plugged into the TENS zapper. Hours passed and finally at 1 am S. said, “please stop reading and try to sleep.” After several more hours of staring into the darkness, I did. Restlessly, painfully, but I did. I awoke again at 3:30 to take my “middle of the night” meds then dozed off again.
And I woke up this morning, rolled out of bed, and walked—well, wobbled really—to the bathroom.
In case you missed it, I’ll say it again. I walked to the bathroom!
Unsteadily, certainly. Not completely weight-bearing on that foot, but I did it.
I couldn’t wait to tell S.
I hobbled out into the hallway to find her in an exhausted lump on the couch (she ends up there a lot if I’m having a bad night or if she needs the TV on to sleep to wind down…and she’s been so overburdened these past few months). So I waited. I went into my office to begin the assignments that need to be done in a week.
When she woke up I showed her and we were both happy about it.
I know it’s not over. PT wipes me out 3x a week, and I begin teaching in 12 days. And I’m sure the fiery foot will be back again tonight. But…for today…I walked.
And that’s good enough for now.