Sunday, May 06, 2018

Stuck in the Middle with Me

It's right in my blog header, but in case you haven't noticed, one of the ways the semicolon behaves metaphorically for me is that it usually appears in the middle of a sentence (i.e. middle age).

Middle age is fraught with uncertainty, compounded by what I call, The Second Child Effect: By the time we raise our first child for a couple years and/or live the first half or so of life for about thirty years, we delude ourselves into thinking that we've, "got this." Nothing's gonna surprise us or pull one over on the professional parents and adults we've become, right?

Of course, that's just idiotic. But most people, including myself, are idiots.

My realization of the relationship between this fantasy and reality has mostly manifested itself physically:

1987The earliest example I can recall was when I was around seventeen (not middle-aged but constantly in existential crisis), while subbing in one of my father's weekly doubles tennis matches (it was always exciting get called up to "The Show"). I dove (impressively, I'm sure) to volley a passing shot at the net and landed on my hip. Thinking nothing of it at the time, I woke up the next morning a little sore and within the next day or so discovered I could no longer fully bend my leg at the knee. My chiropractor (yes, I had a chiropractor at 17; thanks, Mom) explained that your hip is connected to your hamstring, so knocking my hip out of alignment had stretched my hamstring to the point that I could no longer bend it. "Ridiculous!" I thought. "I've been throwing this body around like a rag doll for seventeen years, and it's never made a peep of complaint!" Then he adjusted my hip, and I was fine in a day or two.

2000: For my thirtieth birthday, I went Cresta Sledding, which is basically just blade sledding on a ski slope (you even get to ride the lift up). That and parasailing are as close as I've come to Extreme Sports or adrenaline even. For some reason, I was the only person who seemed to enjoy the sledding (Jamie hit a lamp post). But, sure enough, the jumps and bumps left me with a sore back the next morning. Again, I resented this bag of bones for not properly weathering the storm. Wasn't it bad enough I had the stigma of 30 hanging over my head?! And, again, the chiropractor (not a paid promotion from the ACA) set me straight.

2008: A year after Gus taught us that a good portion of the knowledge we'd acquired from his brother was virtually useless on him, I learned that middle age could hurt from no cause other than living. During a family vacation in Vermont, I found myself lying back-down on the condo floor and an ice pack, legs resting on the seat of a futon couch (per the chiropractor's suggestion). All I had done was drive a car across New England, and now 38-year-old me was lying next to his 66-year-old father,  both of us on ice packs with our legs in the air; because the rotation of the Earth had thrown our alignment out of whack.

Of course, this was pre-stroke, so even though my back seized a bit every time I bent over, at least I could get on and off the ground without much effort or fear of falling.

2018:This week, I suffered my most debilitating non-injury I've ever had. Even saying, "suffered," or that I "injured myself" seems to give the pain more credit than it deserves. "Injuring yourself" somehow sounds active and courageous. Now, my stroke has taught me how to safely handle myself in an imbalanced world, but it's taught me next to nothing about pain. While in the hospital, I was regularly asked to rate my pain on a scale from 1-10 and smiley face to weeping frowny face (see below). I think the highest I ever went was four, and that was after having my skull taken apart and reassembled, with only Tylenol to relieve the pain. Jamie says I'm stoic. I wasn't being brave or holding back. Mostly, I think I just took the frowny face at its word: "Was this the worst pain I could imagine?" No, thank god. It was a four. Meh.
Image result for pain scale faces
But this Thursday, just following a meeting, ironically, to script a Virtual Reality production about a woman who injures her back falling off a ladder (nor that's injuring yourself), I discovered that I could barely bring myself to even lean forward to stand. Had I fallen off a ladder? No. Had I leaped in front of an attacking mountain lion to save a co-worker? No. How did the mountain lion get in the building without proper ID? Did the lion work with me and I'd just never noticed? Yes, that's entirely feasible. 

But the truth is that my back had been bothering me for about a week, I hadn't gone to the chiropractor since the last time my back tightened up, and I simply sat oddly in the chair, tweaking something. Every time I tried to stand, I was stabbed in the lower back, an easy 8. No mas, please. My left arm started shaking; because that's what it does when my brain identifies pain, sour, or itchy. That's just what happens when neurons fire in a half empty room -- ricochet. I either shake on the side I can't control, or I laugh. Laughing has actually been my odd, lifelong response to pain. Why is there no laughing hysterically face on the chart?

I did manage to stand and shuffle out the door and hug the wall, to the horror of my two colleagues. I felt sweaty, and they said I'd turned gray. My manager, Ben, asked if I wanted him to get my chair and wheel me back to my desk. A lot went through my head after that. Of course I did. But pride, dignity, things like that. Then I remembered a day in the rehab when my pants fell down during group physical therapy.  I know I told someone I that watched my dignity sink below the horizon that day, like the mast of a ship. I realized then that in the grand scheme, a moment of embarrassment meant nothing. I let the ship drift out to sea. I've also just returned from a conference where all we did was talk about disability. For me, that's a lot of acceptance and ownership of what I've lost. It's also a matter of taking pride and ownership in what I'm able to do.

So I gasped out, "No, thanks," refusing to backslide (aside from at the airport, where getting a mobility assistant is best for everyone, I'd been wheelchair unbound for eight years), and inched slowly along my good friend the wall. Rounding the corner, I could now see how far away my desk truly was. Not wanting to hold up my co-workers anymore, realizing it could take me hours to walk there on my own, realizing I might not make it there at all on my own, remembering my dignity adrift and that every humiliation is an opportunity to educate, I agreed to the chair. Sitting turned out to be much more comfortable than standing or walking (somewhere from a two to a four), and I was pretty easily brought back to my desk. Once there, I managed to get myself collected and call the chiropractor. Turned out they didn't open until 3:00, and it was only 1:30. I decided I'd get as much work done as I could and then head straight there. At around 2:30 Ben asked if I wanted him to wheel me out to my car, and I agreed (though I was hoping my back would loosen up enough to walk.

Fortunately, getting into the driver's seat wasn't too painful, and I hoped my back would be better still once I reached the office, assuming they were open. As it turned out, I met the doctor in the parking lot, he tried to help me inside, and we both decided it was best for me to get back in the car and head home to rest until Friday (at that point my back was at around a seven). Lest you think him callous, he did get me an ice pack. He did the best he could under the circumstances, as did I.

Once I arrived home, we realized how fortunate it was that we'd held onto my old wheelchair and the ramp into the house. The ramp has also been handy for the delivery of new appliances. Jamie managed to get me into the Family Room and my recliner. I'd been told to lie down, so it was either the recliner, the Living Room couch with no TV, or my bed upstairs. And we didn't build a ramp or elevator to there.

So in the recliner I stayed for the rest of the day and night. TMI, it was much like being back at the rehab -- everything brought to me, then removed, cared for but degrading. We upcycled a urinal (a never-to-again-be-used water bottle), and in the morning I was loose enough to ease myself up and out of the chair to the bathroom and beyond. Jamie wheeled me to the car, then into the chiropractor's office for an adjustment. I even got the pain relieving cold laser treatment. That was a new one.

I spent one more day and night in the recliner, finally changed my clothes for the first time in three days (dignity? What dignity?), and managed to get up the stairs to bed. Today (Sunday) I'm a little better still, obviously okay to sit at the computer (only a 1-3, depending how I lean) but still a good six when I stand up, bend over, or weight bear too much.

As much as I'm writing all this off to aging or that spectacularly-achieved old tennis injury, I shouldn't give my wonky brain short shrift. Maybe my heightened powers of empathy contributed. Even though my back had been giving me trouble for years prior to the stroke, my hemispherical imbalance definitely forces my right side to overcompensate and throw me into misalignment. Not to mention that my left side's inability to turn on a dime doesn't help pick up the slack when I'm nursing my right.

Needless to say, I'm going to start going to the chiropractor monthly as a preventative measure. I may be stoic, but I'm not a masochist. No more frowny faces, please.

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