OK – I admit it. I’ve been feeling sorry for myself. Those of you who follow this blog might recall that I discussed my ongoing issue with nerve pain in my legs a couple of months ago. Since that time I’ve had every test imaginable and all the professionals involved have concluded that the problem is in my spine. Lumbar spinal stenosis, they say, also arthritis and other contributors to compression in my spine leading to narrowing of space for the nerves. From the very first viewings of my MRI, it was suggested that surgery would be the most likely recommended route. Still I remained unconvinced and resistant. Something else must be wrong. Just look at all the years I’ve spent caring for my spine with yoga and Pilates. Of course, that overlooks the other bunch of years I was pounding on my spine and otherwise abusing my body as an ultrarunner. And, of course, as much as I’d like to I can’t discount my age. Even though inside my head I don’t feel any older than 40, all I have to do is look in the mirror and remember that the mind can tell one story while the body tells another.
Over the last several months I’ve done my best to find other ways of alleviating the pain (including ignoring it which can only take one so far.) First I tried medication designed specifically for nerve pain. I got all of the side effects and none of the benefits. Then I had a cortisone shot. The lidocaine applied before the shot reduced the pain for about 2 days, but as that wore off the pain crept right back in. Within a week I was right back to where I started from. I went back to over-the-counter NSAIDS, but soon was taking enough of those to burn multiple holes in my stomach. I already have GI issues so I knew I could not go on with that. Besides, they also stopped working no matter how much I took. Time to turn to the heavy-duty stuff (yup – the ones that the politicians are screaming about.) The federal noose is being wrapped around doctors’ necks over these so only a limited amount is available to humans in pain. Despite all the hand-wringing these haven’t been much help either. My mind is foggy, but the fog isn’t sufficiently dense to mask the pain. Physical therapy, acupuncture, myofascial release, energy healing. All have been fun and interesting to explore and I will probably continue to do so. But, unfortunately, none have given me any sustainable pain relief.
Anyone who has suffered with pain from anything, no matter how temporary, will know how quickly it takes over your life. There doesn’t seem to be enough room in your head for anything else when pain invades the senses. You have to think twice about doing anything. Going out or even just getting out of bed requires a strong will. It is so easy to just give into it and withdraw from life. At the end of each of my yoga classes I always express gratitude for being able to move and breathe. (Thanks to yoga teacher Sean Corne for reminding me of that in a workshop some years ago.) Yet even remembering that becomes a challenge as pain sucks all of your energy. Muscles tense up under the strain and imbalances are created that serve only to exacerbate the sensations.
This week, though, I had an abrupt wake-up call. As I sat in my doctor’s office waiting my turn for a routine follow-up appointment I had scheduled, a friend came in who has the same doctor. We had both had similar treatment for cancer a couple of years ago. Thankfully, I have been in remission since completing chemo in 2015. This woman has not been so fortunate. Her cancer has returned with a vengeance to the point where she is running out of treatment options. My heart goes out to her and her family. But I could not help but recognize how fortunate I am. Sure I may be hurting right now, but my condition is not life-threatening. Quality of life, maybe, but otherwise I’m still pretty healthy. As I’ve heard many times in many places, there is much more right with me than there is wrong. Despite our complaints and inherent tendency to focus on the negative, this is true for most of us. Take a few minutes to think about that. Gratitude lists are often recommended as a way to climb out of the “poor-me’s”. Try listing all the things that you can do at the top of today’s gratitude list. Can you see? Hear? Feel? Breathe and move? Do you have enough to eat? A warm and dry place to sleep? Do you have friends and/or family who care about you? Some of these will surely apply and I’m certain each of you will think of more. None of us is perfect and life is full of trials and tribulations, but it still usually remains true – there is more right with us than there is wrong. Sometimes all it requires to see that is simply a change of attitude.
So I’ve now arrived at surgery’s door and at this point I’m willing, almost glad to finally turn the problem over to someone else more competent than me at finding a solution. I’ve learned that there is a reasonably reliable fix for my condition that has great success rates. Granted, spine surgery is never something to take lightly and I am well aware that anything can happen. But at this point I’m ready to accept the outcome whatever it is. My surgeon is enthusiastic about my ability to handle it and recover well. All those years of Pilates and yoga have, in fact, helped me alot! Maintaining a healthy level of mobility, strength and flexibility will get me through the surgery and help me recover quickly. And then I hope to be better than ever with years of renewed life for my spine and its miraculous support for all my activities.
Someone said, “So sorry to hear you have to go through this.” But I said, “Don’t be sorry. I have a condition with a high probability of being fixed! Many people have much worse problems for which there is no fix.” I have good health insurance (Medicare – Yay!). There is a competent surgeon and facility nearby that can do this for me. I have help and support all around me. I am very fortunate. Having the problem is no fun, but if you have to have a problem, this one is better than many.