Saturday, October 18, 2014

Goddess Wears Orthopedic Shoes...

The goddess with her new "pimp cane"

The past month has been the most difficult and wonderful of my entire life. And I say that without hyperbole, without exaggeration -- just with stark, real honesty.

A month ago today, I was in the hospital. I woke up that morning and felt the most terrible pain I'd ever experienced. It was more pain than I could bare. More pain than I knew possible. I called my doctor to let her know I was coming in, but as I got out of bed to make my way to the bathroom, I blacked out, fell to the floor, and went unconscious. I remember thinking how I just couldn't do it, that there had to be something I could do to end the pain, and my brain just shut down.

B was there, thank goodness, and called 911.

The next thing I know, I'm waking up, and the paramedics are loading me into an ambulance. I try to put on a brave face, but I was scared out of my mind.

At the ER, the the doctor looks at me for two minutes and wants to send me home. "You don't meet the criteria for care," he says, and I throw the biggest hissy fit of my life. I cry and demand help. Sometimes, you simply have to wail.

And I do get help -- another doctor. A shot of morphine later, I'm wheeled away to an MRI machine, and then I'm admitted into the hospital. The whole ordeal takes all day, and by the nighttime, I'm assigned a neurosurgeon to help me find a solution. "Herniated discs, no biggie," he says at first, "you just need some rest. I'll look at your MRI in the morning."

But 15 minutes later, he returns, apologizes, and says it's more serious than a simple hernia, and that we'll talk more in the morning.

I don't sleep. Who could? B stays by my side.

The next morning I learn more. It turns out I have three herniated discs pushing into my spine, and on top of that, I have spinal stenosis compressing the nerves in my spinal canal. The doc thinks it's caused by my spine's unusual curve at the bottom, though he's not entirely sure, so he goes with the diagnosis of degenerative disc disease. In short, my back is FUBR."You need surgery," he tells me, a spinal fusion where they'll bolt together the bottom of my spine and remove the damaged discs, though all I can think about is going back to work. I opt for lots of drugs instead. I tell him, as long as I can walk again, I would rather wait until I have some time off to recover.

Now, a month out, I am doing much better. I am walking again. I am (almost) completely off pain medication. I have been undergoing physical therapy, I wear a back brace, and usually need a cane to get around (my physical therapist calls it my "pimp cane" which I find awesome). My neurosurgeon is so impressed with how I'm doing that even he wants to wait and see how I do before cutting into me. All is going well.

And I've been just trying to return to life as normal, keeping myself busy with work so I don't have time to think about everything. The past week, though, I've been reflecting and thinking about the whole ordeal a lot. I can't believe how much strength my body has, the amazing things it can do in the face of such adversity. I can't believe how strong I am, though at times, I do fall apart. I can't believe how compassionate people can be. With the exception of that first ER doctor, I have been treated with the greatest of kindnesses and dignity by my doctors, nurses, and therapists. And of course, I can't believe how much people care about me. My parents, B, B's family, my friends, and even my students. I've had an outpouring of love, and somehow, I just don't feel worthy of it all.

Last week, I celebrated life. Alongside the valley poetry community, I still went forth with my book launch, and it was amazing. I sold out of books before the night was even halfway through. We sat under the stars and shared poetry, music, laughter, stories, and well-wishes. It was absolutely surreal. Life will go on.

I'm 27 years old. This is something I will be dealing with, probably, for the rest of my life. If I don't have surgery, my doc says this will flare up again. With the surgery, I won't be "cured" either, though it will help. That's been really hard for me to accept, but I know that I can do this. I've never felt so weak and so strong at the same time. I feel like this experience has taught me so much about what it means to suffer, about being helpless, and about finding my sources of strength.

It's too soon to write about my experiences, though I hope to one day turn this into something beautiful and positive. In the meantime, I am relearning how to live, who I am, and really, what I'm made of. I'm still the Goddess, but I'm the Goddess in Orthopedic Shoes.