Last week this time, my life was great. I just did not realize how great it was. I drove, walked, danced, hopped on to the bus, and sprinted down the stairs of my townhome without realizing how blessed one must be to be able to do these without experiencing any pain. Last week this time, the issues ailing me revolved around learning to use logistic versus multinomial regression model, finishing the deadlines for the semester, and planning my Canada itinerary. When my back felt a little stiff, I blamed it on my two-hour long drive to Washington D.C. In the excitement about preparing for my conference presentation, I almost ignored the pain that had started to invade parts of my lower back. That afternoon, I lifted the laundry basket multiple times and loaded and unloaded stuff from my car in a bid to finish off the pending chores before I left for the conference. Something quite did not feel right in my back, and I blamed it on a faulty sleeping position or a sagging mattress and moved on. The bed I sleep on is anything but sagging by the way.
With every passing day, my pain intensified and manifested itself in scary ways. I would go to sleep praying that things would be fine the next day, but come morning, I saw myself unable to spring into action. I would spend quite some time tossing, turning, and wincing in pain. By the time I was presenting at the conference, the pain had shifted to the right side of my body, extending all the way to the back of my knees. I noticed I had started to drag my feet. As I boarded the 7 am flight this morning, I was a mess. The pain had started to make me feverish and nauseated. I had three short flights ahead of me, which meant a lot of boarding, deplaning, lifting heavy luggage, and hurting myself more. The first thing I did after landing back was to call the doctor and make an appointment. I had suffered so much pain during those eight hours of my flight that I could no longer walk without a limp, and was about to faint.
A herniated spinal disc is what they diagnosed, something akin to a slip-disc. The vertebral column gets dislocated, causing immense pressure and pain in the adjoining nerve. I had never associated a herniated spinal disc with a thirty year old woman who between gymming, dancing, driving, and running around, had led a perfectly normal and active life. I can neither go to the gym, nor dance anymore. In fact, every time I walk, I am in so much pain that I consider using my arms and crawling on my belly instead, just like army men under cover do in war movies.
Thankfully, the doctor did not think I would need surgery. She thinks that with rest, medicines, and physiotherapy, I should be fine in a few months. Which brings me to my second worst fear of living alone in the US (the first one being death of any member of my family and me being unable to take a flight back in time to see them). I am not even getting into the student health insurance issues, and the thought of how much I have to cough for my physiotherapy deductible and co-pay alone makes me think of the wisdom someone had put in saying, “If you don’t want to get bankrupt paying medical bills in America, make sure that you are not poor and you never fall sick”. Surely it is a concern that has been plaguing and stoking my worst fears. Living in the US for the last five years has only been possible because I chose the life of an independent person. I cooked my food, did my dishes and laundry, cleaned my home, drove myself to wherever I needed to be at, and never depended on anyone to run my life for me. This mandated that my limbs and my brain functioned properly. I do not live with my parents anymore, and in the unlikely event that I injured myself, there is no one to take care of me.
The demons of your worst fears nudge you and nag you to death when you are confined to the bed, writhing in pain and unable to function well. For the first time, I can genuinely feel the panic of the endless possibilities of unpleasant consequences awaiting me if I ever hurt myself and cannot function properly. I have never craved for my old, seemingly boring but comfortably normal life more, a life where I lifted heavy grocery from Krogers, went Zumba dancing three days a week, drove 500 miles to Rochester without blinking an eyelid, climbed stairs in haste, sometimes two steps at a time, and sat through classes for six hours a day. I can no longer do these seemingly ordinary things anymore.
In a state of helplessness mixed with panic, I asked the doctor if she thought I had bone cancer or arthritis. At some point in life, I developed a deep-seated fear for these two, afraid that I might die of one of these someday. My grandmother suffered through arthritis, and I have seen so many people, some considerably young, losing their lives to cancer. The doctor assured me that it was neither. Suddenly, perspectives have changed and graying hair is not an issue for me anymore. I used to count the number of grey hairs I got first thing in the morning every day, but my spinal cord gave me a perspective that half a dozen hardly visible graying hairs could not. I don’t care if I wake up with a mop of grey hair. I just want this back breaking pain to go away.
My doctor comes with a sense of humor. She said that I will be fine and gymming soon, although, if I was thinking of making a career out of weight lifting, I should probably give up that idea now.
I write this post and dedicate it to the benefits of good health we enjoy, something which we so often overlook and take for granted. Flu and fevers do not scare me. My twisted ligament in Italy did not scare me. But my spine worries me. For this is not a fracture incident borne out of an active lifestyle of running around. It is but the heralding of the disturbing realization that the body is no better than a machine, and with age, wear, and tear, it is deteriorating, and will require more effort in maintenance and servicing than I had anticipated before. At 5:30 in the morning, as I still struggle to fall asleep due to pain, I know that I would give anything to get back to my normal, active, pain-free, and sedative-less life again.