Thirteen days ago I pulled something on the right side of my back while deadheading some flowers. If you’ve ever put your back out, you know how that is: You’re doing some mundane, every day task and your back seizes up.
Twelve days ago I had a private skating lesson, in spite of my back pain. I felt better after skating, though I couldn’t even begin to swing my leg up to try a baby jump.
Nine days ago the pain on the right side was waning, but pain on the left side increased. I’ve been dealing with that pain for more than a year. I’d been told it was my sacroiliac joint. It hasn’t been a big deal. I went to one session of physical therapy for it, but the experience was not positive (The therapist complained to a colleague, in front of me, that I was his 4th diagnostic for the day, and basically said “good luck” when I asked about how to schedule regular sessions.) I went to my group skating lessons that morning, but I left halfway though the second class. I just didn’t feel well, and I couldn’t seem to make my body do what it usually can. That afternoon I made an appointment to see a doctor about the SI joint pain and talk again about physical therapy.
Seven days ago I was functioning, but it was difficult. While I was cleaning up the kitchen my daughter told me to sit down and I snapped at her that I was fine. “You’re moaning,” she said. “You’re not fine.” Cane let her know that I was not aware of the moaning. (I wasn’t.)
Six days ago Cane and I moved my son to Seattle for school. The ride from Portland was challenging; I couldn’t find a position where my back didn’t hurt. The actual moving wasn’t so bad, and I didn’t do any heavy lifting because of my back pain. Five days ago we met my parents for lunch on our way home. I was uncomfortable, but was able to get through the lunch without showing it. I was sure I could manage for two days until I could get to the appointment I’d made.
Four days ago I woke up after a night of pain-interrupted sleep and called to see if I could get a same-day appointment because I couldn’t walk or sit without unbearable pain. There were no same-day appointments available with anyone, so I was advised to go to urgent care, an excruciating experience which now feels like the beginning of a tumble into a rabbit hole. I don’t think I’ve landed at the bottom of it yet.
I had appointments with 4 different doctors in 3 days. In addition to urgent care, I’ve been to an office for routine appointments and the ER. I’ve been prescribed 7 different medications, one of them an opioid. I’ve not yet been able to talk with my primary care doctor; I have a phone appointment scheduled for August 3. I have a referral to a spine clinic and an appointment for an MRI. I’ve been mostly on my back, but yesterday I finally started to get better rather than worse. I can now be upright for 5-10 minutes at a time. I try to do that every hour, as I’ve been told that movement will help me. I’ve been told that it could take weeks to months to recover my previous level of functionality/pain.
All I know right now is that I have “degenerative disc disease,” severe in some places and mild in others. I have “exaggerated lumbar lordosis” and “mild degenerative retrolisthesis.” I have “diffuse facet arthropathy.” My sacroiliac joints–originally deemed the problem by the overworked and unprofessional physical therapist–are “unremarkable.” No medical person has talked with me about what any of this means; I know what I do only because the x-ray report is in my online healthcare portal. What I can surmise from Dr. Google is that I have some form of arthritis.
I suspect that this will end up being one of those “before and after” moments in my life, a line of demarcation between one way of being and another. I’ve known for some time that I need to live differently in order to be healthy. I’ve taken steps toward that; I retired (earlier than planned), I began skating (regular exercise), I’ve made some dietary changes. With arthritis (as with migraine and fibromyalgia, two other diagnoses I’ve been given), there is only management, no cure. Stress, sleep, and diet are all factors in managing the condition. I’m pretty sure I’m going to need to bump my efforts up exponentially.
As I lay in bed unable to find a pain-free position, unable to roll over without using my hands to support my hips, not knowing what was happening or how long I might be in such a state, I could not stop thinking about how fortunate I am. I have access to healthcare, imperfect as it is. I’m not missing work and don’t have to worry about getting back to work. I don’t have young children I need to care for. I have family who have been able to care for me. (I’ve been told I’m not terribly good at receiving care, but I’m working on it.) Don’t get me wrong: This situation is bad and scary, but in different circumstances, it would be catastrophic. I’m grateful it’s not worse.
I don’t know if I’ve even begun to really process this, but it’s shaken me. It’s challenging my sense of self. It’s humbling. It’s filling me with gratitude and questions. Pain is a beast. I suspect that taming it is going to be my new full-time job.