“Trace the exact path of your pain for me.”
I sit on a padded exam table facing the neurologist, having passed the slew of tests to determine if the pain and numbness in my hands is due to something in my brain as opposed to my periphery. I trace a path from my ring finger , down the side of my palm to under my wrist and forearm, over my elbow and up my triceps.
“What about the left side?”
“It’s the same, only not as bad.”
“Trace it for me anyway.”
She writes prescriptions for two new medications. She also wants me to take a nerve conduction test, on both sides. She recommends I pull out some of my leftover opiod pain medication for the procedure. I have learned it is never a good sign when a medical professional suggest you take pain medication prior to a procedure, but it’s not like pain is a new thing. I’d had such a test before to assay for carpal tunnel and it, well, sucked. But this was before my whole pain scale had been shifted up several levels. Perhaps this won’t be as bad.
But that’s a post for another day. This is a post about the remainder of my conversation with her (the neurologist). I pressed her for details. What was she expecting the results of the test to be? Getting an answer for that was like pulling teeth. But getting an answer for my next question; i.e., what are the treatment options for the likely diagnosis, which was some sort of impeded nerves in my arms, was more difficult still.
Still, I pressed on. Jesus, lady, after everything I’ve been through, don’t soft pedal me, I need to know what I’m getting myself into. I was afraid she would say there was no treatment, but instead, she said something worse.
Oh, no, I thought. I’m not going through that s**t again. No, I’m supposed to be better now. I’m supposed to be fixed. I was disabled for over two years. I’ve had chunks of both of my shoulder blades lopped off in order to relieve said disablement. It took a year and a half to get back here, but I’m finally working again. At a physical job that requires full, four-limbed competence, by the way. There is no light duty version of what I do. In fact, if I do have to take off work for an injury, I have to submit a stack of paperwork with a doctor’s signature on it before I’m permitted to work again.
I asked about conservative management, which she was quick, if less certain, to acquiesce to, but the damage had been done. Besides, I know enough to know that if something is preventing the nerves in my arm from conducting signals, the mere fact that it is localized to my periphery all but guarantees a physical, rather than physiological, cause. And even now, as I type this, missing letters because of the numbness in my fingers and having to pound on the keys as though I were punishing them, I know that I am in for another medically challenging, not to mention expensive year.
I just wish I understood. Or I wish I didn’t feel like I needed to understand. Haven’t I learned by now that asking why things happen is a pointless, not to mention demoralizing, exercise? But when I have a moment and I sit down and think about what I will do if I have to have more surgery, I can’t keep that destructive little voice in my head quiet. Why must I perpetually tumble from one crisis to another? When do I just get to live my life? Why does the rug keep getting pulled out from under me?
I nearly lost Momma Ape last year. She rallied, but during and after, and upon returning home, she required 24-hour care, and I suddenly had to be the Momma Ape in our relationship. I wasn’t prepared for it. It was something I knew would happen at some point, of course, but I imagined that some point to be some twenty years away, give or take. I wasn’t ready to stop being my parents’ little ape yet. But Poppa Ape’s inability to be assertive with the hospital nurses and doctors, coupled with Momma Ape’s incapacitation, suddenly demanded that I be the ape who was in charge of doing what needed to be done.
And I hated it. I don’t want to have to do it again.
I learned from it, too, of course. I learned I could manage such responsibilities, well, if not easily. But I’m still dealing with the pain and resentment of losing my parents as an anchor, of having to become my own. I suppose everyone has to come to that realization, early or late. But I could have used some time to get used to it. Instead, it was followed by a break-up with my significant other, and now, still grieving that loss, still unable to let go, I am facing yet another situation that could divest me of the independence I’ve come by at such a steep price.
I just don’t want to do this. I don’t want any more goddamn tests. I don’t want any more pills. I don’t want any more f***ing surgeries. Please, please, I don’t understand why it’s too much to ask to just go about my daily life, the greatest injustice in it being the fact that I am overworked and underpaid.
I don’t want to have to do this again, have to find people to drive me to and from things, have to beg for lenience from bosses, to have to go back to Momma and Poppa Ape and ask for help with my medical costs again. I had just – quite literally just, as in the last two weeks – paid down all of my financial outstandings except for my car. And just this week, I had to load up my credit cards again for new specialists and prescriptions.
I remember thinking, recently, how little I wanted to go on living if I was to have to do it on the current terms. As true as it was before, it is even more so, now. Why must I stay in this perpetual state of medical and monetary dependence? It’s all I’ve ever known and I hate it, I hate it all the way down to my core, and I just want to prove to myself, even if it’s only for a short period of time, that I don’t have to be dependent upon anyone if I don’t want to be. I don’t understand why I am still denied that opportunity. I don’t understand why this s**t keeps happening to me, and worse, why, if I’m to be forced to deal with it, I have to do it alone, dependent upon others for my physical health, but denied the emotional support of a partner, so I didn’t have to be so goddamn strong about everything all the time.
People will tell you how strong you are like it’s a compliment. Like you wouldn’t trade that strength for an easier ride in an instant. It’s hollow praise, given from a vantage point of surreptitious guilt and relief. I remember hearing it from one of my closest friends during the ordeal with Momma Ape, and from another when I was making arrangements to move out of the domicile I shared with my now former significant other. I don’t know how you can be so strong during all this. I don’t know what I would do.
Please. You’d be the same way. Not because you want to be. Not because that’s how you are. It’s because you don’t have a choice. Survive or fall apart.
I don’t get to do the latter because there’s no-one to pick up the pieces. And so somehow, I have to find a way to get through this next thing, whatever it is, trying and painful as it will undoubtedly be. And to think I had actually made plans for a year from now, assuming I’d still be working full time. I suppose I should have known better than to assume that my medical issues were behind me. I suppose I should be on the lookout to avoid making that mistake again. Not, it seems, that I ever learn.
Apparently, even my own tempered and limited optimism is not so small as to avoid being noticed, and crushed, by the vagaries of fate.