Monday, September 13, 2010

On herniated disks, excruciating pain, and patience....

How did I get to the point where the most comfortable place for me is on my knees on the floor of the shower in the fetal position with hot water cascading down my back? Only like that is there a complete absence of pain. The only discomfort is water running up my nose.

A disk slipped, herniated, did something, pinched a nerve or a bundle of nerves, and now I can walk no more than ten feet without excruciating pain, or worse, paralysis. I didn't realize paralysis could be painful. I thought it was the complete absence of any feeling. But you cannot move your leg and still be in--and I keep hating to use this word, but excruciating is the first word that comes to mind--at the same time. The kind of pain that makes you involuntarily throw back your head and suck in your breath with a shhh...ttt...and you lose all control of your legs so you have to grab on to something or someone to stand and you don't even see; just white light. Or something. I have to be more aware of what I see. Yes, slow things down so I can see through the pain, what's there. And yes, it's a searing burn in my thigh, like a hot knife, or what I'd imagine a hot knife would feel like. Sometimes it's like the worst charlie horse you've ever had--non-stop.

The damage is in my back, but curiously the pain is in my leg. So interesting to live this long and not be aware of that little line of nerves that coursed down my spinal column and exited my backbone at the small of my back. So vital, and it's letting me know it's there now, and its function and how important it has been for all my years. The damage is in my back but the pain is over here. There's an analogy there, for life, isn't there. Something more to explore while I wile away my time on the couch, willing my tissue to heal. The damage can be here but that person over there gets hurt. There are bundles of nerves connecting all of us, and the damage over here can cause pain over there. What do you think?--is too heavy-handed for a premise for a play? Is my medication playing with my mind?

This is pain but wouldn't it be fun to be totally aware of the functioning of our bodies this profoundly. The beating of our hearts would seem like the throbbing the engines of the Titanic. Our breathing roaring like a cyclone. The opening and closing of our eyelids flapping like unleashed window shades. 

Thursday night I was creeping along the wall of the Harvard Square T stop, the pain was so bad. Holding on tight so I wouldn't crumble to the ground. Groups of commuters, caught up in their own world, would be startled to look up suddenly and see me. People stared. People gave me wide berths. I did think it was funny. I was confused, by some, for one of the many drug addicts, homeless people, crazies, that populate the city. You should try it sometime, being a pariah. Maybe the next time you'll be a bit more generous with your spare change.

This is a long time coming. A few weeks ago I was standing in the lobby of Playwright's Platform Theater after seeing New Exhibition Room's Candyland, and suddenly my right leg went numb, and I grabbed at the table that holds all the theater postcards. No one noticed. Sue and Dawn kept talking. And then it went away. And I forgot about it.

This is the result of years and years of running. Pounding the road. I started when I was thirteen, and God willing I'll be fifty-five at the end of this month. You do the math. I have medals from road races to prove I was fast. My PR in the 10K was 46: something, maybe 47: something. I don't remember, but right now I'd take a sixty-minute 10K. I'm going to miss running, but I think a new part of my life is starting.

So, now, until tomorrow morning sometime when I have to be at BU for class and for work on Five Down, One Across, I'm sitting on the couch, trying to be as "patient as a milksnake swallowing an egg."*

*From Highland Center, Indiana

1 comment:

The Witty Fool said...

Oh God, I can't say I feel your pain... but I can imagine it. Man... that sucks.

It is a pity that we don't appreciate the majesty of our body's machine until it malfunctions. But I do like the analogy to emotions... which is a testament to your mind as a writer, always finding a story in the midst of physical agony.

Be well. Heal quickly. And I hope that Bob is giving you some commiseration and company while you are on the couch.

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