Today marks one year since my spinal surgery. You remember, that day they sliced through the fascia in my upper back, hand-cranked my muscles out of the way, chipped away part of my spine, scooped out that benign meningioma, then whispered to my nerves an admonition to behave.
Remember? No? Honestly, me neither. But I’ve been re-reading all the notes I took before and after surgery, the texts I sent myself in the middle of the night in the hospital so I wouldn’t forget anything, the Facebook posts charting my phenomenal victories. “Two laps around the kitchen in my walker … woohoo!”
I was fastidious about keeping notes because one, that’s how I roll, and two, because when I found out I had this tumor and needed surgery, I searched—and I mean SEARCHED—for first-person accounts. But there were none to be had. So I knew, if I survived, I’d have to write one.
There are some interesting passages in my notes.
“You can do a lot of things with words, but describing pain isn’t one of them. Shooting, stabbing, aching, throbbing, twinging, cramping, seering … none of these describe anything happening to me.”
“When that pain roars back it’s like a bullet train. Fast and directly at me. Feels quite personal. Like a betrayal.”
“I can absolutely see people just giving up. Pain is hard. Moving is hard. Everything is hard. Here [in the hospital] they just do stuff for you. Or they don’t and you realize you just don’t care.”
This fascinates me because I honestly don’t remember much pain.
“My neurosurgeon came in to check on me [the next day], and was very pleased with himself. Said I was fully cured. I disagreed with him just the teensiest bit.”
“These texts to myself don’t make any noise. Once in awhile, though, it makes my “sending” noise and I wonder who I just told all my poop info to.”
This is hilarious in retrospect because I had obviously been cogent enough to turn the sound on and off, but I acted like it was a highly unusual rift in the Universe.
Mostly my middle-of-the-night texts were perfectly lucid. And then there was this one: “I hope I don’t have to muster all the persistence/hope/etc. I’d prefer it to be thrust upon me.”
And, yes, I was on drugs …. “Your leg pain brought to you this morning by Sleeping Too Long On Your Left Hip. Side effects include cursing, saying bad words, expletives, and grandiloquent language. Treatment includes pancakes and finger weapons. Pew-pew-pew.”
When people ask how I am these days, I tell them the truth. Still numb across my upper back, my right underarm, and my left leg. My balance is weird, so it always looks like I’m walking just the teensiest bit drunk. Still some things I can’t do—walk barefoot, run without looking like a walrus on the beach, jump, or hurry for any reason.
But that’s about it. Can’t really complain, considering all the slicing, cranking, chipping, and scooping. Unfortunately, my recovery after 12 months isn’t vastly different from my recovery after 2 months. Except I’m less cranky today. And I still can’t clip my toenails very easily.
The difference between 2 months and 12 months is clearly one of acceptance. I’ve lost perspective after all this time about how I really am, versus how much I’ve simply adapted to my limitations.
But I continue to surprise myself. I still work with my personal trainer. Last night she had me do single-leg squats with my foot behind me on a chair. Neither one of us thought I could do it. For the first set, I glommed onto her for balance while getting myself sorted. For the second set, I glommed onto her and then she gave me 15-pound weights to hold and walked across the room. For the third set, she stayed across the room. Afterward she said, “You couldn’t do that before your surgery.”
So, yes, acceptance and attitude. But I would like to find an ending for this tale of sound and fury so I can start crafting my memoir. I was thinking about signing up for the Colfax Half-Marathon, but am so relieved I came to my senses. Running like a walrus on a beach for two blocks of a 13-mile race is a lousy ending to a memoir. Worse if I actually croaked while doing it, which is the likely scenario.
Then I was thinking that the ending would be when I went to soap up my armpit and it magically felt like an actual armpit, but that doesn’t seem like it’s going to happen any time soon. Or perhaps ever.
And then I was thinking, maybe the ending will be when I can tap dance. But I wasn’t really doing that particularly well before the surgery.
So now, I don’t know. How do you think I should end my story about an ordeal that hasn’t technically ended?