Irritating. The pain is really irritating. It’s radiating up and down your spinal column. It’s draining you of all your energy. The homework you still have to do may not get finished. The last seven hours of your shift seem impossible to finish. The pain doesn’t care though. The pain never cared about the time, the day, the inconvenience. It simply arrives when it wants, usually with no warning. It causes a sudden overwhelming sleepiness that you can’t shake off. You feel a numb tingling feeling as if your body is already going into sleep mode. Your eyes begin to close.
It has taken you hostage. You try and tell your brain to ignore the pain, ignore the exhaustion that has taken over you, but your brain just isn’t listening. Maybe you will get a random burst of energy soon. Caffeine no longer communicates the way that it used to. The irritating pain may win.
Sparks. Sparks fly in every direction. A beautiful light show if you think about it. The Source? The source of the sparks are the damaged nerves trying desperately to communicate. Their cries come out in untimed bursts. What are they trying to say? Are they supposed to feel fine or are they hurting? Neuropathic pain after spinal surgery is a frequently observed troublesome disease entity for both patients and surgeons. Wrong signal here, mixed signals there. Induce sweating…welcome the chills. Is there something trickling down your leg? No, just a sensation…a bizarre sensation. Inflammation of the arachnoid can lead to the formation of scar tissue and can cause the spinal nerves to stick together and malfunction.
Before. Before the sparks, before the exhaustion and inconvenience. You were athletic. You were a runner, a gymnast and weightlifter. You rolled out of bed in the morning without stiffness and struggle. Those are now nothing more but faded memories. A life before the pain.
Twisting. Spasms causing sporadic contortions. A little advice, don’t bend. If you bend the muscles will tighten more and you might get stuck. Back spasms can be the result of injuries to the muscles, tendons, and ligaments in the back, or they can be related to more serious medical conditions. A soreness so familiar that you can usually ignore it. Knots, growing bigger and bigger: no point in massage, a slight touch welcomes searing pain. Upper back tight, breathing can become restricted. Lower back, don’t even think about touching it. You do anyways out of habit, shuddering…pain. The muscles have a mind of their own…or maybe they are being puppeteered by the damaged nerves who struggle to communicate correctly. A muscle spasm is a sudden, involuntary contraction of one or more muscles. A spasm results from an abnormally sustained muscle contraction and is often painful.
Incisions. Fourteen months and three incisions later. Stability should begin. Or so you thought. Here you are, two titanium rods and screws later and still in pain. You went through several months of physical therapy to only gain back a little of your pre-surgery self. The sparks still fly, the muscles still twist and spasm, the exhaustion still has not let go of you. You begin to convince yourself this may be what your life has become, there is no “fix”, you need to learn to accept it.
Pins and needles. Who knew the skin is such a delicate organ? At times the slightest touch sends pain signals exploding from head to toe. Is it the skin? Or is it what lies underneath the skin that’s hurting? The clothing you wear is sometimes enough to make your skin hurt. How or why is the skin hurting? Allodynia is an unusual symptom that can result from several nerve-related conditions. When you’re experiencing it, you feel pain from stimuli that don’t normally cause pain. For example, lightly touching your skin or brushing your hair might feel painful. Do they (skin, muscle spasms) all connect to the same source? The strange phenomenon comes and goes, but you deal with it. On top of everything else, it’s not that bothersome to you. A minor symptom that you don’t focus on too much.
Pressure. Dear God, the pressure. Radiating through the hip sockets, deep into the pelvis. You just want it to explode already. Walking hurts, sitting hurts, lying down hurts. You can’t win over this flare-up. In the bone, how could the pain be in the bone? Or is it really in the bone? Just feels that way. There are multiple factors that may explain this phenomenon, including an increase in the mechanical load the SI joints are forced to bear after lumbar fusion surgery, complications with bone grafting of the iliac crest (hip bone), or a misdiagnosis of an underlying Sacroiliac Joint Syndrome that was present but not detected before surgery. The outside of your hips are tender to the touch. More muscle soreness. More tightness. The region is close to the fusion. Right above the tail bone. L5-S1 if we are being precise. The titanium screws are sitting on either side right above the S1 joint (the hip joint). Bone on bone, disc so herniated that it completely spilled into the nerve canal. Too much time had passed without getting proper treatment. Scar tissue formed. Crushed, encased in scar tissue that was once a spinal disc. Crushing, suffocating…comatose. The nerves gradually lost communication. Having been imprisoned by the newly formed tissue, they weakened. Their communication signals compromised.
Carefree. Remember when you could run for miles and the only thing that hurt was your lungs? Remember being an energetic little kid who wasn’t scared of falling down or stepping wrong? Acceptance, all you can do is accept it.
Fatigue. Muscles weakened, joints unstable, must sit. Must rest. The exhaustion is more than just a need for sleep. Your muscles feel it, your skeleton feels it. This is your life now. This is what you must manage. This is what you have now learned to accept.
The muscles now respond to their sorrow. The joints sigh with their condolences. The well-oiled machine your body once was now works on broken communication.
Emily Lawrence is a current undergrad student completing her creative writing BA. She usually writes horror fiction and psychological thrillers, but has recently been experimenting writing young adult fiction and creative nonfiction.