Chronic Pain Diaries: The Longest Cycle

Sometimes I imagine that I am in a time loop. That my life is only capable of extending to a certain point before I reach a door that is meant to represent change. Instead, the door leads me directly back to the beginning of the cycle. I walk, and run, and prance my way through everyday events until I reach that damnedable door. The whole process begins again.

Today was a bad pain day, fitting given that I had my appointment with the Good Doctor. It was the sort of morning where it felt like the pain was leaking from my spine and staining my hips, my thighs, and even my ass. My ass, for god’s sake. This is mechanical pain, coming from the arthritis. I assumed it’s because the weather is properly cold now. This mechanical pain is the sort that claws into your body and doesn’t let go no matter how much morphine or baclofen or kittens you throw at it. It’s a vibrant, hot, red and black pain.

In the last two years my pain has gotten worse, and with it I assumed so did my curve. Perhaps the only highlight of the visit was learning that my lower curve has settled nicely at it’s 45-49 degree range. It hasn’t moved and likely won’t anymore. Hooray for me!

But at the same time it was some of the worst news I could have imagined. 50 degrees is the magic number. That is when the specialists go from shrugging their shoulders and saying “meh?” when you ask about surgery, to rushing you into the OR and rubbing iodine over your back themselves. Don’t get me wrong. I don’t want more surgery. The concept of my spine being almost fully fused is troubling.

But I’ve learned to live with a fused spine. I’ve adjusted my life to it and I get by even without being able to bend over to tie my shoes. What I still find myself struggling with every day is the inconsistencies in pain. One day is good. One day is bad. One day is puppies and cotton candy and the next the puppies have rabies and the cotton candy is actually some sort of snake that is propelled by rockets made out of spiders. And while I can predict when snake-spider-rocket days might occur, it’s fairly hit and miss for the most part. And not knowing when I will be in that sort of pain is exhausting. You feel as if you can’t make plans, can’t make promises. You never know what sort of person you will be when you wake up in the morning.

Because the pain comes out of nowhere and it infects your life like those damned rabid puppies spreading through a daycare.

If the doctor has told me that the time had come to fuse my lower spine I would have been a-okay with that, because there is a slight possibility that fusing those two vertebrae would decrease some of my mechanical pain.


Then again, maybe not.

So I open the door and I walk through, back to the start of the cycle. I look back and see all my friends and family walking through the same door, yet somehow being able to reach another path that isn’t open to me. I have so many questions. When can I finally step onto that new path? What preparations do I have to make? Can I speed up this process? No. I am shunted back to the start of the cycle. Another year of waiting, of snakes and spiders nibbling on my nerves and burrowing into my body.

I’ll give myself one day to be sad, to feel a bit of self-pity that this will be another year when this cannot progress. I’ll put all my focus onto writing, of being a good partner to my husband and support him as he has supported me not only today, but every day rabid puppies and spider rockets strike me down. I’ll work and save, and in October I will go to Japan and see another culture with towering mountains and verdant plains. I’ll snuggle my cats when I feel sad and knit my blanket when I am lazily watching TV.

And I will have pain, every day, because the cycle is just starting again.

In Which Someone, Who Won’t Be Named, Forgot Her Limits

Perhaps one of the greatest struggles for anyone suffering from chronic pain, aside from the suppression of the frequent homicidal rages and the desire to kill or be killed, is the acknowledging and subsequent acceptance of new limits. Limits imposed upon said person because their body, whether they like it or not, probably now has the structure of al dente spaghetti and a single wrong move will result in hours if not days or even possibly centuries of excruciating pain.

Maybe it’s because I am young, or naive, or have the mythical sense of invincibility, which I am told people my age suffer from, but I just do not know my limits.

Oh sure, I can grasp the psychological impact of chronic pain. I can deal with the emotional highs and lows. I have even learned how to properly speak of my pain without resorting to vulgar swears. Okay, that last one is a lie. Fuck chronic pain, but still. I really mastered 90% of what the CPC was trying to teach me. I am vocal enough about my pain to ensure my health professionals listen to me; I am in control of my medication; I find the sunnyside of life mildly more interesting than the other side of life.

I have not, however, learned to accept my limitations and, when recognizing said limits, I still refuse to speak of them. I am woman, hear me groan in agony as I limp towards the finish line.

At this point I would make some pithy comment about my limits not being the mountain I will die on, however yesterday I am fairly sure that is exactly what happened. Because we decided to go on a nice little hike in Banff. And now I feel dead. So dead.

In our defense, we did not plan on climbing the mountain. It is generally accepted that I am not capable of taking part in such activities unless I have all my morphine with me, and also possibly some sort of sherpa who is willing to tote my fragile corpse back to the car. We had planned on hiking/walking gently over man-made paths through Johnson Canyon to the Ink Pots in Banff. My understanding was that these Ink Pots contained some sort of magical fairy, much like The Legend of Zelda, who would grant a single wish to me if I played the Song of Healing. Let me tell you, if that damn fairy was actually there I would have wished to be transported directly back to the car.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. We had planned to move through Johnson Canyon, only to arrive in Banff and discover it was closed for repairs. Because nothing says “Preserving natural sites” by repairing them with man-made tools. No, no, I understand. It is done to prevent obese tourists from getting wedged between canyon walls. But still, we could have used some heads up.

Still, that magical wish-granting-fairy was too much to miss, so we decided to access the Ink Pots via Moose Meadows. Meadows. Sounds picturesque, right? Maybe a moose or two? Something extremely Canadian that would undoubtedly fulfill my Canadiana quota for a day or two. When the average person thinks meadows,  the generally accepted synonym is probably not mountainous switchbacks that equate to roughly 124 flights of stairs… one way. That is, I imagine, more of an antonym.

And yet that is precisely what the Moose Meadows Trail is like. No moose, not a single meadow, and somehow it managed to be uphill both ways, like some sort of Man vs Wild on Acid experience.

It was just over 11 kilometers altogether. For you American’s, that is generally accepted as “not that bad of a hike”. It was really only the uphill part that caused issues. Oh, and the deep downhill part. And the roots, the winding, the questionable animal prints and, finally, the disappointment that was the Ink Pots at the end of the journey. To be fair, had we known what we were in for by taking the Moose Meadows Trail, we probably wouldn’t have raised our expectations to the point where we imagined magical wish-granting-fairies. Had we expected five beautifully coloured, naturally occurring springs (one of which was frozen over. Yes. Frozen over) we might have arrived there thinking “Ah yes, that was quite the hike for this lovely sight. Now let us return home.”

Instead, as Alex so eloquently said, “This is fucking it? This is what we came all this way for?”

But this isn’t about the nature version of the disappointing Armstrong Cheese Factory experience. This is about limits. If I had known how difficult the hike would be for the… ahem… mildly disappointing Ink Pots, I would have listened to my body which said, roughly every 1.2 kilometers “Turn back. Just turn back. Tell Alex you are sore. You will regret this the next day.Turn back, you foolish cow!”

We did not turn back. We completed the entire hike.

Last night, after doping myself into a deep sleep, I stirred, just enough that my body shifted in the glory that is our bed. The pain was excruciating. It jolted me straight out of my sleep. Turns out I didn’t have to wait until the next day to regret the hike or those goddamned Ink Pots. I just needed to wait an hour or two after falling asleep.

I don’t want to be limited simply because my back is full of delightfully polypy degenerative arthritis. I certainly don’t want to be limited because of the constant, agonizing sensation of someone punching me repeatedly in my vertebrae. I would like to be able to hike and see the highly overrated Ink Pots (although once was probably more than enough for me.) I would like to not have to take copious amounts of morphine just to roll out of bed the morning after these adventures.

I also want my goddamned one wish, because bitch, I want a pony.

Walk to Fight Irony!

I like a lot things in life. I like bunnies, cupcakes, kitty cats, the word ‘snorkel’, banana bread (with or without walnuts), lime flavoured things, and Final Fantasy VII.

I do not like my arthritis. It is degenerative, which I am told is a bad thing. Ergo, I dislike it even more.