Part 2: So, How Did You Hurt Your Back?
May 12, 2009 § 6 Comments
Since 1999, I suspect I’ve had to tell my “Back History” to a minimum of 17 different doctors,nurses,therapists,pharmacists who thought I was a drug seeker,brace makers,employers and reproductive endocrinologists. I wish I could tell you that I survived a flaming car wreck whilst chasing down the perpetrator of various crimes against dogs, dragging my singed and broken body up a ragged, unforgiving incline, surviving on 8 tic tacs and a warm Diet Coke until rescued by handsome and compassionate paramedics, but that would be an exaggeration.
In truth, I slipped on the sidewalk outside my house. Back in ’99, Chicago had herself a mammoth snow storm. Not really a blizzard, just a steady, never ending snow that started New Year’s Day and ended some thirty six hours later with 23 inches of snow on the ground. I remember opening the door to let our beloved dog Marge out to pee and the snow was packed up two feet high, OVER HER HEAD. She looked at me, looked at the snow, and peed in the back hall. Chicago returned to work a couple days later, and while the sidewalks were somewhat cleared, they were also crusted with a densely packed snow/ice frosting that looked safer than it was.
The spine is a 13 year old brat. Everything that happens to it is considered a personal trauma. Nobody treats their spine with the reverence that the spine thinks it deserves. Everyone supposes their spine can handle more than it can, some people even speculating that the rash of back injuries and pains in the world is as a result of TOO rapid evolution, and the unnatural pose of standing upright. And sometimes, the tiniest thing becomes the micro trauma that broke the executive assistant’s back. My right foot slipped forward and out and I lost my balance. Instead of letting myself fall on my butt and maybe have a butt/back ache for two days, I decided to catch myself in a dramatic, wide legged lunge and jerk myself upward, back to a standing position. Did my discs ‘herniate’ at that moment? Did my vertebrae pinch against my sciatic nerve right then? I don’t know…but I know that the next day I couldn’t stand upright. I literally felt like if I stood up, my back would snap and I would crumble to the floor. I took a cab to the hospital that was four blocks away and was given my first MRI that gave me my first vague news: herniated discs and inflammation, and hey, did you know you have scoliosis?
So that was 1999. I was young spring chicken back then. I remember that I could fit into a size MEDIUM top at Rampage. I was only 27. They sent me home, doped to the gills, told me to rest and that was that. I got upright in a few days and didn’t have another flare up for a month or so. When I was once again immobile, I called my doctor who called in a prescription for a muscle relaxant and vicodin, to be taken together, I assume as a form of COMPLETE ANESTHESIA FOR NO LESS THAN 18 HOURS. I took the medication as directed for about three days, felt better, and went back to work. The bottle of 90 Vicodin sat in my medicine cabinet, nearly untouched for almost a year and a half.
Then I took Ami to go see Rammstein. The tales of my attendance to Rammstein concerts and their aftershow activities are significant enough for a post or ten of their own, but let’s just say that the music is loud and fast and grinding and the lightshow is seizure inducing and dangerous, and when you leave, you pretty much feel like you could rip a 100 year old oak tree out of the ground. My husband was out of town for some reason, and after dropping Ami off at home, I was still bouncing off the walls, anxious to build a coliseum or perfect cold fusion or write. I wanted to write.
But I also needed to calm down. I needed to be able to sleep at some point, so I took two vicodin instead of my usual one, and from that point on, the chase began. Within an hour I felt like my life was nothing short of perfect. I was energetic, pain free, optimistic, creative, focused, clearheaded. I took a hot bath, picked out some CDs and sat down at the computer to write. Nearly five hours later I had written the best 23 pages of fiction I had ever created and it came to me as easily as breathing. I had no notice of the time. I was lost in creativity.
Talk to any addict and they’ll tell you that their story spiraled out of control from a desire to relive that first moment they experienced their own euphoria. All they want to do is get that back. But soon that fades, and all they want is to get back the feeling of NORMAL. You’re no longer chasing a high, you’re chasing “getting through the work day” or “taking care of my kid on a saturday afternoon”. Vicodin is a cruel mistress. Your body builds a tolerance in a flash, wanting more and more and more, even manufacturing pain to get you to take more. So, you say, “you WERE taking it to get high, right?”
But I wasn’t. It’s a complex knot of impulses and urges and actual physiological symptoms. As my back deteriorated, it went from being sore once or twice a week to a little bit every day, to every day all day, to the point where I could not remember NOT being in pain. Have you ever had someone, an unruly toddler perhaps, grab a big hunk of your skin and pinch it hard, deep, between a fist of fingers? Imagine that on the INSIDE. Imagine nearly complete numbness and electric-like shooting pain down your left leg from the moment you wake up to the minute you go to sleep. I took my painkillers in all of their various forms, with a hope of escaping that agony, if only for a few hours. If only I could have a full work day of clarity and focus and laughing and motivation. I took the pills because when I did I didn’t have to think about my back. I could sit through a movie in the theatre, I could enjoy a day at the zoo with my daughter, I could celebrate Christmas morning. The euphoria, so fleeting and brief, sometimes only half an hour or so…was just a bonus, but one that I cherished, and felt I deserved in a lifetime, nearly a decade of pain.
When I got out of detox, I prepared myself for back surgery, something my doctors had put off for years, hoping my back would fix itself. I still am a bit bitter and just a touch amused at their attitude of pouring hundreds, thousands of pills down my throat for years as a way to treat the problem, but when it becomes apparent that I am dependent on said pills, they quickly snatch them away and expedite the surgery (a surgery I had asked for three times before). I am now almost entirely pain free (physically), although I am still dealing with the aftermath of addiction.
If I could offer one bit of honest, unfortunate advice to all those folks out there who may be currently chasing some high, some buzz, some euphoria that they felt weeks, months or even years ago; it’s that you’ll never get it back. You’ll never feel it again. The first innocent high is a one time deal, like your free sample of crack. And the other brutal honesty is that you will not feel it after you’re clean either. You will not feel ‘high on life’, or at least not in the way I expected I would. But what you will feel is like a weight has been lifted. There’s nothing left to hide, there is no rollercoaster from day to day, no wondering where your next pill/hit/prescription/ounce/drink is coming from. You can just live. You can just get up in the morning with a clear, clean head. You can enjoy what you’re meant to treasure, focus on what’s meant to be center stage, achieve what previously seemed impossible.
I’m still very much a work in progress, still struggling with depression, with a loss of creative passion. But I’m also a better mother to my beautiful young daughter, a better wife to my incredibly dedicated husband, a better employee, a better daughter, sister and friend. I pray that the rest will come in time.