04 November 2011

The Big One

hope springs eternal

Seven years ago tomorrow, I went under the knife.

Prior to surgery, I'd been told recovery would be six to eight weeks. When I woke up, groggy and disoriented, but lying on my back for the first time in two weeks, I was told the neurosurgeon did not remove what he'd thought was a defective disc. Instead, he'd found a dime-sized bone chip embedded in my sciatic nerve, and he removed that instead. All parts were still present and accounted for. But now recovery would be 24 to 36 months, and nerve damage could take up to seven years. IF it heals. IF. No promises, no guaranties. A very big IF.

I am prone to depression, particularly in winter, and in some ways, that has been the bigger battle than recovery from injury and surgery. There were a couple of very dark years in the last seven years. Granted, I could not walk before surgery; I had no choice but to undergo the procedure neither the doctor nor I knew he would be performing. The post-surgery pain and recovery was nothing compared to what the bone chip did during its brief foray chewing up my nerve and spitting it out. Yet there were days when I thought the pain would never end. From late 2006 or early 2007 throughout 2008, I thought I was done healing and stuck in that condition forever. It was not a pleasant condition.

I thought I'd never be able to ride my bike more than about 2 miles. I thought I'd never be able to climb another mountain. I thought I'd never be able to take my camera on hikes again. The pain often was more than I was able to bear. I've never suffered a gunshot wound and hope I never do, but that was the only way I could describe what the hole in my nerve felt like. I felt as if I had a bullet hole in my behind, and when it got bad, it radiated to the top of my head and the tips of my toes. I frequently experience spasms in my right hand, the side on which the nerve damage occurred.

Arthritis often sets in where a patient has been opened up, and I have a deep and penetrating family history with that little stumbling block with or without surgery. So cloudy days do not help. I dread the changing of the barometric pressure. During my very own, personal Dark Ages, my two pains joined forces to physically and emotionally whittle away at any determination I could muster.

Sometimes, the depression made it more difficult to get out of bed in the mornings than the pain did.

Sometimes, The Lizard had to remind me I was crawling up the stairs to my apartment before surgery. The discomfort of healing was no comparison to what life would have been without surgery.

The Lizard gave me this, my first Christmas cactus, while I was in the hospital seven years ago this Saturday.  I'll have flowers for the anniversary!

For seven years, I have done everything I can to try to encourage and enable healing. Plenty of rest, lots of water, no caffeine, no red meat, and since 2006, no refined white sugar or white starch. I did (and still do) everything the doctors and physical therapists instructed. I took (and still take) every supplement (natural as well as man-made) designed to promote nerve healing and lessen the impact of arthritis. I maintain a diet and regime designed to support nerve regeneration and thwart arthritis. Annual checkup after annual checkup, I hear and obey, "The best thing I can tell you is to stay active."

Tomorrow is the forecast day of the end of healing, so to speak. Technically, the way I feel tomorrow morning is the way I feel from now on. The mending is over.

But I believe in miracles. In the most recent Star Trek movie, not-quite-captain Kirk explains why he cheated to beat the Kobayashi Maru: "I don't believe in no-win scenarios." Maybe that's why I love the movie so much. I don't believe in impossible. I don't believe in giving up. (William Shatner uttered the very same line in "The Wrath of Khan," but I didn't like that movie until "Search for Spock" came out because they'd killed off my favorite character!)

Got Moab?

I still feel tiny morsels of improvement. Even now. There are days when I wake up pain-free. Few and far between, and often the sensation doesn't last long. But they happen. Three weeks ago while camping in Moab, I awoke one morning feeling as if surgery had been a bad dream, as if it never really happened. After four nights in a tent, on cold, hard ground! The old body was back after breakfast, but these moments still happen, and I have no reason to believe they will stop or occur less frequently just because a certain calendar day comes and goes.

Tomorrow is the anniversary of my surgery and the fabled end of recovery. I am on the verge of my first-ever 4,000-mile year. I am two months away from a 60-mile day every month this year but February, for the first time ever.

I am at the stage when the body supposedly quits improving and begins to slowly show its age. But I am getting stronger.

I read in Road Bike Rider last week that with proper training, diet and exercise, the body can continue to build muscle until you are well into your 90s.

I'm not 90 yet. And I intend to get there. Safely. Strongly. With both hands hanging on tightly and me wailing at the top of my lungs, "Man, what a ride!"

A double bow!


  1. What a brave outlook you have. Here's to pain free futures.

    And that picture under the rainbow is FANTASTIC!

  2. Oh, Deb. I have tears in my eyes for you - and admiration in my heart.

    Healing always seems to take longer than they say it will (we've experienced that with Mr. M's many physical problems too). Nerve regeneration is an agonizingly slow process.

    And depression IS the worst. I know exactly what you mean about that, more than pain, making it hard to get out of bed.

    I still don't know how you accomplish all you do, cycling-wise, productivity-wise, photography-wise, cheerfulness-wise. You're a veritable whirlwind of amazement.

    I don't believe in no-win scenarios either (and Spock is my favourite character too!). So I will wish you as happy a surgery anniversary as possible, and pray for you that from here on in things keep getting better. Try to ignore the seven-year thing, and keep on climbing!

  3. I too have known depression and how it can intertwine with whatever else is going on in my life. Maybe seven years is like those increments of time that recur in the Bible--40 days and 40 nights--but are more about a milestone than an exact date. Here's to more healing!

  4. Thanks for telling us that whole story. The only part that I don't know is how the bone chip came to be embedded in your nerve...

    You and I have more similar lives than I knew. I, too, battle depression... and I think that the pain has something to do with it. You are a brave, upbeat, and inspiring woman. Thanks so much for sharing!

    I don't think that docs know exactly what miracles can occur in the human body, especially in an active and vigilant person like you. I bet that you can keep getting stronger for more years ahead.

    I love the rainbow photo!

  5. I think, this is a very happy end.

    I´ve been there, too. Sometimes bad days and mostly good days, nowadays :).

  6. We call that plant, November cactus. Mine are in full bloom now :)

    This year we are enjoying (so far) a warm and somewhat sunny November. Considering the last two years, when we already had winter this time of year, this perhaps abnormal weather makes me happy.

  7. That is quite a story. When it comes to body trouble I agree with you. There is no giving up. I have done no surgery but I have problems with neck and spine. That is what keeps me working out several times a week or I would be in a wheelchair by now. But I think you are amazing. Biking that much ... getting stronger. That is great.

  8. Wow! What an inspiration.

    I was really struck by your title, 'The Big One'. For me that is not the surgery, or recovery, or anniversary, but The Big One who is not bound by diagnosis, limited by deadline, or chained by expectation or even imagination. I pray that as you continue to do all you can, He would do the 'immeasurably more' that He can, and make you as good as new.

    Every blessing as you carrying on journeying, with Him.

  9. Thank you everyone. I wish there was some way to verbalize how your comments have braced me up and touched my heart.

    Esther, you are absolutely right. How could I neglect to mention the Biggest Source of strength in my life? He is indeed the one who has helped the pain subside a bit and given me the determination to keep going, even when it hurts. He provides all those gorgeous sunrises that make me WANT to go outside, and He is responsible for all the wildlife I love to stalk. Most of all, He helps me stay away from M&Ms, Hershey's kisses and Reese's peanut butter cups... :)

  10. seven is one of my favorite numbers. 3 sets of them is even better. Part of me wants to tell the doctor who said seven to you that biological systems are not so precise, and part of me wants to be glad that it was seven years and not seven months that was said. Seven years was many many a day to imagine and experience healing and you went for it. congrats. keep going for at least two more sets of seven.


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You can talk to me... (Stevie Nicks)

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