As I sit here on Easter morning, bathed in gorgeous California sunshine, I am overwhelmed with joy and a deep sense of renewal. I feel a tremendous sense of hope. I have been so immersed in physical agony over the last few months, that to sit here without pain, able to freely use my left hand to type, is an incredible gift. Not just that, it is a privilege.
Over the last several months as I have been all consumed with my pain, it has become extremely apparent to me just how fortunate I am. My injury – a severe disc herniation at C6/C7 resulting in spinal cord and nerve root compression and ligament tear – is very common. According to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics*, more than one million workers suffer back injuries each year. And that is just in the United States with injuries related to work. Mine wasn’t caused by work, or anything in particular. It just…happened.
Before this recent incident in my life, I had experienced other significant injuries. I shattered my right ankle, which was the entire inspiration for this blog in the first place. I had undergone surgeries and medical procedures. I had experienced other bone breaks, muscle sprains and strains. I was adept at icing and heating and massaging. I knew how to use anti-inflammatories, pain medicine, and muscle relaxers.
But THIS. This was another beast completely. The pain has been so incredibly intense I’ve had to use Lamaze breathing techniques just to get through – what I started to call – my pain waves. I lost muscle strength and feeling in my left arm. I couldn’t walk without pain. I couldn’t sit without pain. I couldn’t stand without pain. There was not one moment of time, not a single breath, not an instance, in which I felt relief. Sleep was interrupted constantly. I’ve slept upright either on the couch or a recliner that my husband graciously bought for me, for almost three months.
Exercise? Forget it. Impossible. I could barely – and with great effort and fatigue – walk the dogs around the block.
My entire identity was abandoned. My daily routine completely disrupted. I carried Ziploc bags of ice with me wherever I went. I would go to the grocery store in the middle of the day to buy more ice, refill my Ziploc and carry on icing my neck while I was driving, running errands, and striving to be a semblance of the mom, wife, and friend people knew.
No amount of medicine could numb me enough to feel good. I was taking handfuls of pain medicine every day – to no avail. I was hurting, I was exhausted, I was depressed. It took incredible mental and emotional focus to take the kids to school, try to smile, and get through the day with as minimal interruption to the family life as possible.
And when you’re that drained and depleted, physically and emotionally, all you want to do is go home, lay down and rest. That reprieve didn’t exist for me. I haven’t been able to lay flat since this all started.
Moving and staying busy was the only thing that could distract me enough to endure the day.
The intensity of the pain did recede over the weeks. The bright white gripping pain of the first month eventually dulled to a constant, ever-present nails on chalkboard sensation inside me that would occasionally be interrupted by a brief stabbing spasm if I moved a certain way. Mostly when I was sleeping. A nightmare jarring me awake multiple times a night.
If it sounds terrible and dramatic – it was.
I’m trying to make a point that as awful as my experience was – millions of other people are going through the same horror – RIGHT NOW.
Millions of other people without access to fantastic medical care. People who don’t have insurance or who are under insured. People who are the primary income providers for the family. People without the loving support of family and friends. People with limited choices and limited options.
I was extremely lucky and fortunate to go through such a difficult experience under the best of circumstances.
My pain was absolutely the very best it could have been.
I think about this a lot.
I went in for surgery to resolve the issue only several months after it first presented itself. This is not only a miracle, this is extreme privilege.
I was strong and fit when the injury happened, able to withstand months of relative immobility and muscle loss through the process and yet still enter surgery completely healthy. This is privilege.
I was able to eliminate the use of any prescribed or over-the-counter pain medication within days of a double disc replacement, walking up to two miles within 5 days, and able to completely care for myself without assistance. This is privilege.
I am able to focus on self-care without the pressures of a job or the daily responsibility of financially supporting our family. This is privilege.
I have a husband who is able to juggle the demands of his work while caring for me and supporting the needs of the kids and our home. This is privilege.
I have kids at home old enough to now be the ones offering help, not the ones needing it. This is privilege.
I have friends literally banging on my front door with meals, flowers, support, and kindness. This is privilege.
I have a beautiful backyard filled with sunshine and space to relax, rest, and recoup. This is privilege.
There are things in life we can control and things we cannot.
I cannot control my privilege. I was born into it. I married into it. I live in it.
What I can do is control how I recognize it and how I use it.
I pray that this experience will open my eyes wider to the experience of others in this world. I pray that I will be more aware of, understanding of, and curious about, other people’s suffering, circumstances, limitations, gifts, and opportunities. I pray that my heart will be open to respond to calls for help. I pray that I will generously mobilize my resources, time, and abilities, to provide for others in need. I pray that I am able to be an example of love and service in this world. I pray that I give back more than I receive.
I sincerely hope I never have to go through anything like this ever again. At the same time, I am extremely grateful for this experience. I hope this short time in my life has taught me greater humility, compassion, appreciation, and empathy. I can truly say now that I can find the positive of any situation. Maybe not always in the moment. That would be too idealistic for me to claim. But I have faith that eventually, through the darkness, there will be a light. Even in the greatest struggle there is a gift. We just have to be open and willing to receive it.