Monday, December 21, 2009

Pain in the Neck

It's Tuesday late morning and about this time, one week ago, I woke up from surgery. There were tubes going in my nose and out of places I'd rather not mention, enough needle marks to look like a heroin addict, not to mention the large bore needle that was still in residence in my right hand and, through the hazy fog of anesthesia, a lingering fear that I now looked like Sally, Jack Skellington's quirky bride in The Nightmare Before Christmas. That despite my doctor's prior reassurance that the incision would be small and well sutured from the inside, I would have a large, stitch-riddled slash across my neck as a result of my single-level cervical spine fusion. I actually still don't know what the incision looks like, as it's still covered with a large white bandage that spans the front of my neck. And honestly, at the moment, that's just peachy with me. But the surgery was almost the easy part of it all, mainly because I was asleep. And as I deal with the after-effects, the part I thought about, but didn't really think about, I keep reminding myself that I chose to do this. That a few months from now, the chronic pain that I've dealt with for years will hopefully have vacated the premises as a result. That I should be grateful the things I'm going through are temporary. And most of all, that I have to be a patient patient.

Oldie But a Goodie

At thirty-five, I'm still more than a few decades away from the golden years, but in the last week, I've experienced a new-found empathy for the senior citizen set. Put simply, a major surgery of any kind makes you feel old. I'm tired all the time, everything aches, I get winded at the drop of a hat. In the hospital, after surgery, they had me hobble down the hallway with a walker. My 92-year old grandmother doesn't even need one of those. Not too mention the fact that the painkillers make me feel as foggy-headed as an Alzheimer's patient and then there's the other side effect that they always fail to mention, requiring me to remember a daily dose of regularity medicine to keep my system working in a general approximation of someone my actual age. Thanks to the swelling in my throat and the inconsistency of my stomach, my food has to be gentle in nature and cut into small pieces for ease of swallowing and digestion. Overnight, I turned into a 95 year old. And I don't like it one bit. At least I'm not experiencing an overwhelming urge to sit around playing Pinnacle and talk about the good old days.

Stop Staring!

I've always been appreciative that my body spends most of it's time in optimum condition, all things being equal. What I mean is, I have all of my motor functions and all of my appendages and everything works like it's supposed to. I've had the good fortune of enough athletic ability and inclination to stay healthy and active for most of my life. Surgery changes that temporarily, making you handicapped. I can't take a shower or wash or style my hair without assistance, meaning I haven't been at my most glamorous these days. And at my doctor's insistence, I have to wear a neck brace when I'm in a car or in a public place where strangers could inadvertently jostle my newly joined discs before they have a chance to fuse. It's ugly, it's uncomfortable and it makes everyone look at me, though it does keep them out of my way, an unexpected bonus in the stores during this busy holiday shopping season. Nothing makes you feel quite so handicapped, or quite so sympathetic to those who live with the issue permanently as being, as my boyfriend called it, "the hot girl in the neck brace," which believe, me is the only compliment on my appearance Ive received all week, so I'm reveling in it. A couple of hours out of the house at Target and Fry's over the weekend, under the curious gaze of holiday shoppers, was enough to make me feel like Joan Cusak in Sixteen Candles or Mira Sorvino in Romy & Michelle's High School Reunion. A friend suggested to my boyfriend that he should pull out his neck brace, from oddly enough, the same surgery two years ago and wear it along with me. Now that would really garner some attention, and definitely give me a moment to laugh at the humor in the situation, though I think it would take the promise of a kiss for him from Carmen Electra to make that happen.

Like Fine Bone China

There have certainly been times in my life where I felt like I could shatter emotionally, but never, not even in any previous surgery, have I ever felt so physically fragile. At moments, I forget, but then a turn of the head or a lean back into the pillow taken a little too quickly reminds me that my new fusion like a delicately crafted teacup. That too much force in movement could render it as ineffectual at holding my neck in the right place long enough to heal and stop the pain, as a broken cup could hold my Early Grey in the right place long enough for me to drink it without having to lick it off my hand. It makes me oddly grateful at moments when I hit a bump in the road in the car or get bumped by an inattentive shopper to have that monstrosity of a neck brace. Like an ugly, uncomfortable security blanket. People treat me as if I'm breakable as well, looking nervously when I flinch and offering hugs gently and with trepidation, something not lost on one who loves and is missing a more exuberant expression of human contact, especially during a holiday season when family and friends are near. It's a sobering thing, to feel so breakable, and will be a true test of my patience to make my way slowly to a place where I'm no longer nervous to look over my shoulder.

It's an interesting thing to be squatting in a body that doesn't work the way I'm used to. And a reality check to stop and appreciate the fact that most of the time, I can run, swim, jump or pretty much do as I please. For many people, a handicap or a chronic illness is a permanent sideline, not just an unpleasant but short time out in an otherwise active game. And someday, I will be a senior citizen, and play Pinnacle (if I ever figure out what the hell it is) and talk about the good old days, but thankfully, I can still say that's a long, long ways off. So for now, I'll be grateful for a very legitimate excuse to take it easy over the holidays, try not to think about the fact that my neck bandage feels like it is trying to strangle me, and appreciate every little hug, however gentle, while I daydream about my feet again pounding against the pavement in what really is the very near future.


  1. oh honey, i am right there with you. i was feeling so broken & sorry for myself (and my pathetic spine) today, until i read your piece and now feel grateful not to have to wear a brace. i hope you feel a little stronger everyday and more and more like the powerful woman that you are.
    p.s. what the hell IS pinnacle?

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