Today is the six-year anniversary of the date of my spinal surgery.
If you haven’t heard my sad, gruesome tale, frankly I’m surprised because I talk about it more than your grandpa talks about how he used to be able to service his own car.
I talk about it a lot for several reasons.
One, I find myself endlessly fascinating.
Two, I process things by writing about them.
Three, it’s easily the most exciting thing that ever happened to me. And I’ve been on Space Mountain.
Four, I couldn’t find a single first-person account of this ordeal when I needed it, so maybe someone who is going through the same thing might stumble upon my words.
Fifteen years ago, my boys were going into the Navy and I wrote a ton about that too. I still get spouses and parents of the newly-enlisted thanking me for writing about it and shedding light on what to expect. Boot camp is scary—much like spinal surgery but with more people yelling at you—and offering a lucid, factual, humorous take on it was apparently quite appreciated.
But six years on from my surgery … what is there to say?
I guess I could update on the physical part of it all. My balance is still wonky. What was numb five-and-a-half years ago is still numb today: upper back, right armpit, entire left leg and foot. Nerves, as my doctor told me, can be assholes. I still get hilarious electric jolts, although much less frequently. I’ll be minding my own business, watching a movie or something, when out of the blue my left leg will pop up like Eggos out of a toaster. It never fails to make me laugh.
[Side note here: if I hadn’t written about my spicy leg and foot, I never would have known how many people in my orbit had never experienced the thrill of putting their tongue on a 9-volt battery. I thought everyone embraced that rite of passage! If you haven’t, go do it right now in solidarity with my leg. Go ahead. I’ll wait. See?? Wasn’t that a hoot?]
At the time of the surgery, nobody could tell me what “healing” or even “healed” would look like, so, like a dummy, I decided it would be exactly like I’d been before surgery. Well, six months before surgery. I’d be back tap dancing, which I had taken up the year before and was advancing at poorly but enthusiastically. Now my tap shoes are dusty, and lacing them up is an exercise in … perhaps not futility, but something very similar.
In the six months or so post-surgery, every time I’d get in the shower, I’d have a tickle of hope that when I suds up my armpit, I’d actually feel it. I don’t remember when I quit expecting it, but it hasn’t happened yet.
I never, ever, EVER forget how lucky I am, though. My neurosurgeon was so calm and confident that it didn’t occur to me until I was back at home recuperating that I could have been paralyzed if he was just a hair off his game that day. My tumor, growing slowly for at least ten years, was bulging my spinal cord out. Instead of my spinal cord looking like a capital I, it looked more like a capital D.
So what if when I tap dance I look like a walrus running on the beach? (Truth be told, I probably looked like that before the surgery too. Enthusiasm, remember? Shrug.)
So what if when I walk down my driveway to get the mail my neighbors think I’ve been day drinking?
So what if my leg suddenly loses power going up or down the stairs?
There are benefits too, don’t forget. For instance, I’ve learned that if I use my numb foot to take that cold step across the bathroom tile, I don’t even feel the cold!
And there’s … um …
Okay, fine. That’s the only benefit I could think of, but it’s a pretty good one!
I kept a lot of notes about all this—A LOT. I intended to write some kind of memoir about it. But here’s the thing about memoirs. There has to be closure, some kind of lesson, a mountaintop epiphany, a character arc of some kind. My story doesn’t have that.
My story is simply, “here’s an interesting thing that happened to me, nothing really bad happened, I didn’t learn anything, and my life didn’t change much.”
I guess there are worse stories.