I have chronic back pain. I’ve had it for years. I have a condition call spondylolisthesis or as I like to call it spondoblah-blah-blah. It is NOT scoliosis, although I have that too. A vertebrae in my back is cracked – snapped through in 2 places – and the vertebrae has shifted. It’s making a break for it, I guess. This puts my spinal cord at sort of a bend. And radiates pain out from that place of dysfunction to my hips, legs and low back.
Sometimes, the pain is considerable. Other times it is just gnawing and annoying.
The worst characteristic of the pain is that it is constant. Now I understand how a small stream can, over time, cut a path through a boulder. Consistency. I once had an un-empathetic doctor ask me “Does it hurt so bad you feel like you’re going to take a gun and shoot someone?” I didn’t say “Other than you?” as I wanted to. Instead I said, “No. It doesn’t hurt so bad I feel like I’m going to take a gun and shoot someone. But,” I leaned across the paper covered table and lightly shoved him in the shoulder with three fingers, “does this hurt so bad you want to take a gun and shoot someone?” I didn’t wait for an answer, “probably not. But imagine I followed you around 24 hours a day, every day and did this,” I shoved him again, “just like this,” shove, “24 hours a day, 7 days a week…”
He rolled away – out of my reach.
Through the years I’ve tried a number of different things to deal with the pain.
I’ve tried physical therapy
I’ve tried visiting a chiropractor
I’ve tried medications. I’ve tried a few too many medications.
I’ve tried inactivity, I tried activity
I’ve tried regular shots of some kind into my spine which were supposed to deaden the pain
I’ve tried a TENS unit which is suppose to confuse the nerve endings and redirect the pain signal
I’ve tried changing mattresses, sleeping with a pillow between my knees, using ice, using heat, using wine
I’ve tried a lot of things.
You know what worked best? Cancer.
During treatment I had a couple of friends who know about my back problems ask me how it was going. “How’s your back doing?” My reply? “Uh. It hurts I guess.”
Because it did, I guess. My back still hurt. But somehow the rest of what I was dealing with took the focus off of my back. That makes sense. When you’re huddled over a commode, you don’t really think about if your back is burning. When your struggling for the next breath, you don’t wonder if laying this way or that way will make a difference. When you’re fighting for your life, a little bit of never-ending gnawing pain goes almost unnoticed.
Which is cool. I think it is cool that pain in one place can be helpful to pain in another place. And surprising. Athough, it shouldn’t be. My father tried to convince me of this theory every time I complained of an ache or pain of some sort. Always the problem solver, my father would offer to stomp on my toe so I would forget about the other pain. “Want me to stomp on your foot so you’ll forget about the paper cut on your finger?” he’d say. I always declined. And usually ran from the room. But now I see maybe it’s not such a bad strategy after all. Maybe not for me with my paper cut, but if the one pain is so intense, so awful, so bone crushing, maybe it is good to have pain somewhere else.
Maybe pain in one part of the body eases pain in another part of the same body.
Relatives of one of my dearest friends are in the midst of a battle. On Feb 28 they found out their darling 2 year old daughter has stage 4 cancer. An awful cancer. A horrible, awful, cancer. They thought she had a tummy ache. She has cancer. She’s riddled with it. Treatment started the same day as diagnosis. There is no time to waste. I read their updates daily. I read weary words from her broken parents who are clinging desperately to hope as they cling tenderly to their daughter. My spirit is nearly crushed. I can hardly bear the weight of it all. When I read the updates I find the air in the room getting heavy. My skin crawls. I read about the details of her treatment and vomit rises in my throat. I have to fight through each word. I have to make my eyes move across the screen. It is almost too much.
I cry. Each time I read about beautiful Anna I cry. Often I put my head down on my desk and try to take deep breaths. If my dog is near I grab her and pull her head into my lap and bend to touch my forehead to her nose. For comfort. It is so heavy.
My friend wondered if I should be reading the updates. Actually considered not telling me about the whole thing, “I thought maybe it was too soon, too raw for you to know this.” It is too soon. It is too raw. But I WANT to know it. I HAVE to. And I will continue to read. Every day. Every word. Because I have hope. Hope in her healing. Hope in her recovery. And hope that the hundreds of tears I shed will somehow ease just one of theirs. I know we are all part of the same family – we are all connected, and maybe the pain I feel over here in Kansas City will some how ease the pain they feel, in that hospital room, stroking their baby’s sweaty head and gathering golden hair as it falls out in clumps.
We are one body. And I will shoulder up next to them and share this burden any way I know how.
Be well, dear Anna.
Stay close, dear Lord.