Playing Chicken with the Universe

It’s been a busy, busy week at work. It’s been a long week. It’s good to be busy at work, and I like that, business is picking up, it’s brisk. The plans for the move are inching forward. Since Wednesday, I’ve enrolled 6 new students, and tested 7 more. I’ve worked 9 & 10 the last 6 days straight. Which would have been fine, but for Wednesday.

Most of you know I suffer from Rheumatoid Arthritis, what you likely don’t know is that RA is not my first experience with serious pain. I have eight herniated/prolapsed discs in my neck/back. Five (of the seven) in my neck, and three in my lower back. I move with care. Twenty-two years ago when I slipped on the ice and was rushed to the hospital, the doctor told me, I’d be in a wheelchair in less than a year.


I didn’t have time for that. I do have numb spots, and tingling shooting pains, you learn to live with it. I move carefully and don’t lift things. Kids and coworkers are gracious and carry heavy things for me. My Kindle is a magical back-saver! I can carry a complete Shakespeare and dictionary in my purse. I have what’s commonly referred to as a hidden disability. Usually, the only outward sign is my handicap placard. I am careful to rest my head throughout the course of the day – to take the pressure off my neck.

That didn’t happen this week. I moved from parent to student to contractors to corporate and back again from Monday until shortly before noon on Wednesday. I wore low-heeled cowboy style boots Wednesday. I was standing in the office talking to coworkers – when suddenly I felt my neck pop-pop-pop. Pain shot up into my head and down through my neck into my shoulder.

This wasn’t good. My blood sugar, and pressure, dropped. For a brief moment the room spun. And I felt like I was functioning in a fog. I knew I was shorter—which was strange. N & B got food into me and bolstered me up; the day had seven hours remaining. The week still had 35 hours of work for me. Work that I would do in flat shoes. Converse.

I came home, walked—hobbled—dragged myself in and announced that my back was “out” my head hurt and I needed dinner, ice, and pain medication.

JL responded that he too had hurt his back, his lower back.

How? I asked, trying to be sympathetic.

Carrying a cast iron bat tub up a flight of stairs. What did you do to your back?

Hmm. Well, um, I was sort of standing and then I sort of wasn’t. I wore heels, I turned my head too fast.

He looked at my feet. He looked back at me, somewhat incredulously, expectantly, as if to ask, and?

I tried to imagine how someone carries a cast iron bathtub – the skillet seems heavy to me! No, I didn’t fall off my heel (although I know people who have done that), no I wasn’t carrying something heavy, I wasn’t pushed, or shoved, or anything. The discs in my back had just reached their limit, thank you very much. On a good day, x-rays of my back look like a sloppy stack of pancakes, one pressing in onto my spine and the next protruding out not offering sufficient support. One of them pressed more one way than usual and sent the whole stack into disarray. The surrounding muscles tensed, locking the discs in this sorry state. Pressure was placed on my skeletal structure – my skull, clavicle.

Ok, so I didn’t pick up a bathtub. I did a lot of crazy things a long time ago. I damaged myself a little bit at a time until that December day 22 years ago when my body reached its limit. Riding motorcycles, horses, bulls (being thrown from all!), climbing trees (and falling out of them), jumping out second story windows, off seawalls, playing chicken with the ocean. Playing chicken with the Universe.

JL’s back feels better. I made it through my work week, with significant successes in my business. I have come home each night to dinner, ice, and medication.

Yes, there’s surgery. But it won’t change my pain level, nor will it restore the damaged nerves – and it will serve to weaken the surrounding discs. It will stop further degeneration of the discs operated on and that’s it. Yeah, no thanks. Every day for twenty-two years I have played chicken with the Universe. This week, the Universe scored a point.

I may be down for the moment – but the Universe should not count me out yet!

Word count: 779


5 thoughts on “Playing Chicken with the Universe

  1. Mel, I have to say that I feel your pain. Literally, I do. I have Multi Level Degenerative Disc Disease and it mainly affects my cervical spine, although the neurosurgeon I saw told me that it’s starting down further as well. That you are able to even function at all is amazing. It is a testament to your will that you persevere through it all. I admire you for that.

    I am currently on a narcotics pain management program with my Doctor as the Neurosurgeon told me that surgery on my neck would invovle a 5 level fusion and I’d never move my neck again, plus I’d have difficulty swallowing. Uh, I don’t think I like the way that sounds. In my reading I have found that most patients still remain on pain meds after the surgery, so I have chose to just stick with the pain meds for now. Currently I take 12 pills/capsules a day related to my pain….ugh.

    I hope you are feeling better by Monday as I cannot imagine having to work through pain like this. I’m sure the Universe will never count you out!

  2. Mel, I must say that I not only sympathize but also empathize. See if your doctor will prescribe a soft neck collar/brace … and don’t drive when you can avoid it. I did have surgery when the disc between C 4-5 ruptured (while I slept, no less) and I gradually lost the use of my left arm and hand. The surgery helped — for about a year. After that, the remaining discs started disintegrating and the pain returned. The only really effective relief I have had over the last twenty-plus-years has been the course of cortisone injections (3) into the spine. In my opinion though, the injections are absolutely the last resort because of the possibility of spinal cord damage during and immediately after the procedure, a truly fearsome prospect. It does show what intractable pain I endured, however. These were not the epidurals used for labor and delivery but more anti-inflammatory in nature. Imaging of the spinal column is required during the process. I had the procedure done at the Mayo Clinic in Phoenix and would not trust any other facility to do it if I again find myself in that position. If you want more information about my experience with this procedure, let me know.

    Let me say in closing though, the longer you can put off surgery or dangerous procedures, the better. Also, get a mouth guard to protect against teeth gritting and buy stock in Tiger Balm! And, that’s not all in jest…I do hope you feel better when the weather settled down a bit and the stress/work load of the move is over.

  3. I have to say that in researching my own spine/disc problems I am finding that most people do not find relief in surgery and regret having gone that route. Most people end up back on the pain meds within a year. Given that most of these surgeries are truly life altering, I say avoid having surgery. I do hope that my Dr. will keep me on the pain medication even if I need it forever. I have tried physical therapy and the cortisone injections that Pat mentioned. Neither provided any relief.

    Having back or neck pain is difficult when you’re trying to function in the world, especially because we “don’t look sick.”

  4. Yet another beautiful piece. I’m sorry for your pain, but I thrive on your fighting spirit and drive. Thanks.

  5. You know to be fair…it takes a special level of blond to fall off her shoes and break her wrist!

    Seriously, I’ve used something called Blue Emu on joint pains, it seems to work, and has the added perk of having required the sacrifice of an emu to make it. Okay…me and birds again.

    Hope you feel better.

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