A couple of weeks ago I went to a pain clinic because I'd been suffering acute, debilitating back pain for two weeks and my neurologist couldn't see me for two more weeks. At the pain clinic, they gave me paperwork that asked me to describe the pain in all kinds of creative ways. Then there was a line that asked, "How long have you been experiencing pain?"
I answered, "30 years."
The pain clinic sent me for my first MRI. Thirty years of pain and finally - FINALLY - someone sends me for an MRI.
Even I was a little distrubed by the images.
I was diagnosed with scoliosis when I was 11. Doctors followed it through puberty and made the executive decision that it was never "bad enough" for me to wear a brace. (Fun fact: It was the 70s. They measured the curvature of my spine with an x-ray and a protractor. True story.) I mean, they probably saved me from being an extreme social outcast, but correcting it way back then would've saved me a lifetime of chronic pain.
At 19, I suffered my first acute back pain. I was sentenced to a week in bed, flat on my back, on muscle relaxers and pain killers. It became a common occurance over the years. And it's pretty embarrassing, tbh. I have "thrown my back out" sneezing, lifting a laundry basket, moving plants, throwing up and even sleeping. Yes, sometimes I just wake up that way.
If you look at the MRI image, you can see how the curve in my spine has caused undue pressure on the lower right side of my spine. Over the years, that pressure has worn away the cushion in my facet joints that come off the spine, resulting in spinal arthritis. Without the cushioning, my joints are rubbing on the spinal cord neves that run through them and I suffer from chronic pain.
In her new book, Furiously Happy, Jenny Lawson gives a brutally honest account of living with chronic pain. We live in an endless cycle of pain, fatigue, depression and guilt. It is exhausting. I feel like my body has turned against me. I'm not 50 yet and I wonder if this is all that's left for me.
Chronic pain is hard on the family too. Plans are cancelled. Or I go along but everyone is inconveinienced when I lag behind or have to leave early. Standing, walking and sitting are all equally uncomfortable for me.
I've taken so many rounds of pain killers over the years that my tolerance level is off the charts. When doctors give them to me now I know I'll have to take two at a time to make any difference. That's a road no one wants to venture down.
My husband says, "It's just a matter of time before you're completely disabled." He means that I should be documenting my endless doctor and ER visits but I'm picturing our retirement and me in a wheelchair wasn't supposed to be part of the plan.Now I'm worndering how I'll ever tour Europe.
But the pain doctor thinks he can help. I go today for my first treatment* - shots into my spinal facet joints that will numb the nerves. It doesn't solve the problem but it blocks the nerves from sending the pain messages to my brain. In two weeks, I go back for a more agressive treatment - a nerve ablation. He'll basically burn the nerve endings in those facet joints.
There's a part of me that is absolutely terrified that this treatment won't work. But there's another part of me that is so, so hopeful. Hopeful that my pain will end. That my life will change. That I will be free from pain and free to enjoy life.
* If you and I are Facebook friends, you may have read that I was meant to have the treatment weeks ago. Unfortunately, my health insurance had a different plan. So there have been setbacks in the timeline. But we're back on track this week.