The doctor asked me five and a half weeks ago if I could live with the pain. I couldn't really wrap my brain around the question then. Part of that was denial. The pain was not supposed to be there. He was supposed to tell me that it was just inflammation from the surgery. He was absolutely not supposed to tell me the cyst I'd had removed from my spine five weeks earlier was growing back.
So when he asked the question, "Can you live with this pain?" I couldn't stop flashing on how bad the pain had been before surgery to assess where the pain was in that particular moment. And I couldn't think about saying "no" -- because what would no mean? Would no mean that I would kill myself over the pain?
Weeks later, the pain has gotten worse. The last week has seen the return of the searing sensation in my lower leg. It has been waking me up. And the pattern is the same. I awaken and there is a peaceful moment -- when I'm aware of being awake, but I'm enjoying the pleasure of my bed, but as soon as I move, the pain builds and I have to get up -- usually whimpering while I do it. It's not that I can't live with a couple of shortened nights of sleep (I have two kids -- I've done it), but now I'm playing the doctor's question through the lens of my daily life.... Can I live with never sleeping more than 4 hours at a stretch? That is where I was for more than a month before my surgery. Can I live with not being able to sit through an entire meeting? Can I live with cutting my students short and shooing them out the door so I can stop trying to hide my hurt?
When the pain first appeared, I tried so hard to ignore it. The first time, during a meeting, that I had to stand to relieve the leg pain, I felt such defeat. I could see the downward slope ahead of me.
I'm no longer standing at the top of that slope. And it is worse because I know where this is going. I was here so recently. And I know that I can't parent, I can't grade or write, I can't concentrate when I have to hold my body so carefully and so intentionally all the time.
Right now, I am achingly tired, but I can't go to bed. It is too early. I'll be up at three, even with narcotics (but the narcotics will help me get to 3am quite nicely). In moments like these, I can almost see myself saying "no" to the doctor. No, I can't live with this. But that leaves me in a place that might be scarier than the pain.
2 months ago