Life – Pain = Euphoria!

Example of an American grocery store aisle.
Scary no more!! Image via Wikipedia

So many people are telling me how different I look since I had my hip replaced Feb. 6.

Not only that I can now walk standing upright without lurching scarily from side to side.

But I smile more. I look people in the eye. I’m once more able — after two years — to focus on details beyond howgoddamnfarisittogettowhereIhavetogo?

It could have been the agonizing journey the entire length of a grocery store aisle for a forgotten (cursed) gallon of milk. Or the hotel entrance closed on one Manhattan block forcing me to round the corner, sweating and resentful from the additional exertion.

I feel like a new person, someone back in the world.

For the first few weeks, I felt I was rebounding off a trampoline, so high was I flying — emotional energy, physical stamina, intellectual curiosity restored.

(A doctor friend explained this was a neurochemical high as my endorphins were in overdrive for years.They did eventually subside.)

Chronic pain drains your battery, and leaches color from everyday life in so many ways. When every step hurts, you dread…everything: grocery-shopping, visiting a museum, exploring a new city, buying clothes or shoes or anything in a store.

It also drains you mentally — something I hadn’t considered, so automatic had it become — as you constantly calculate how much is this going to hurt before doing even the simplest things.

I chose the anterior method, a less common procedure, which from the day of surgery has made my life better. Since my three days in the hospital, I’ve needed only one dose of major painkiller and a dozen Tylenol.

I’ve gone from being Eeeyore to Tigger, both Winnie the Pooh characters; “Bouncing is what Tiggers do best!”

I’ve even (yayyyyyy!) started to lose weight. I’ve realized, to my chagrin, that my nightly cocktail had become, essentially, liquid painkiller — I’d been self-medicating in a pretty high-calorie way. Add to that the double whammy of a slowed metabolism due to my age and my body’s growing inability to handle truly vigorous cardio workouts…

I fly to San Francisco next week to report a story, which is so fun — being able to travel without dreading every step; exploring one of my favorites cities again for the first time since 1998; seeing three friends out there; having an editor sufficiently confident to send me.

But more than anything, I now have the energy and enthusiasm for all of it.

My husband is a bit overwhelmed, although thrilled, by the new ebullient me.  “You’re happy!” he said the other day.

Why, yes I am.

What's Next — Leeches?

ER (TV series)
Image via Wikipedia

What a few weeks it’s been.

The good news is that it’s “only” been an insanely painful bout of athritis in my left hip and a lower back spasm that sent me to the ER at midnight. Could be much worse.

And I am very, very grateful to have good health insurance, through my partner’s full-time job, that allows me to get the care I need.

I did something I have never done in my professional life — transposed the address of a crucial interview with a source for my book, so I kept looking in vain for 970 Broadway — when I needed 907. I was 30 minutes late, apologizing like mad, and told him “Pain meds will do that.” So will pain. It’s insanely distracting.

It’s not really my normal life to see the same Xray technician twice in three days and have him recognize me. He is a ggggggorgeous man (sexist, I know, but when everything hurts so much, anything pleasant is especially welcome) and gentle and kind. I tend to joke a lot when I am scared, and was cracking so many jokes during my back Xrays he finally said “You must stop this.”

Yesterday, it hurt so badly to simply lie flat on the table for my hip Xray I started to cry. I hate crying and know it can’t be fun for them to see. The technician was very sweet and said he could clearly see the arthritis on my Xray.

“But you’re so young!” he said, as surprised as I at what appalling condition I’m in; my 80-year-old Dad is exhaustingly, astonishingly healthy and unmedicated.

“You’re a sweetie,” I said. “But I really hope we don’t see one another for a long time.”

In the past two weeks, I’ve been to the ER, my GP, another physician, (with a neurologist’s visit for Tuesday and an MRI likely after that), had a massage, taken four kinds of medication (two of which wreaked total havoc on my system and the latest isn’t much fun either) and now await a needle full of steroids plunged deep into my hip joint next Wednesday.

I live in the New York suburbs and have spent hours driving, sitting, meeting doctors, arranging appointments — so serious, focused work on my book has halted for the moment. I actually had to pay to park at a hospital in one of the county’s wealthiest towns, Bronxville. Paying to park at a hospital?!

Chronic or acute pain, as some of you know, makes you so filthy-tempered. You are forced to be alone (can’t go out, see friends, exercise); in pain; tired. It takes a lot of strength to do stupid and crucial stuff like just go to the post office or bank, where even standing for five painful minutes feels like an eternity. You want to rip people’s heads off, which they likely do not appreciate.

The injection, veterans tell me, will make a huge difference. I may, like the Tin Man, seize up for a few days right after that, but I’ve seen this with cortisone shots to my knee, so I at least know what it’s like.

The challenge will be if a major magazine assignment comes through — which will put me on a plane to rural New Mexico next Friday. Walker, cane, wheelchair, whatever. I once covered an entire political campaign, in the winter’s ice and snow, on crutches — getting on and off of campaign buses.

I currently walk like a drunken sailor because every single step puts painful pressure on my left hip. I’m actually forbidden to walk or climb stairs; so much for my girls’ museum/lunch day tomorrow seeing the Jane Austen show at the Morgan Library I was so looking forward to. I’d go with my walker (!) but the doctor says rest.

As you can tell, that’s a four-letter word in my world.

The good news? Our local indie film theater has three films I am dying to see: Hurt Locker,  A Single Man and Crazy Heart. I can easily shuffle from one cinema seat to the next, eat some popcorn and rest my aching bones — while enjoying a bit of the world.

I am really not 103. I just feel like it.

What Physical Pain Can Teach Us

According to Herbert Ponting, who took this ph...
Image via Wikipedia

Once more, my favorite New York Times writer, Dana Jennings, has hit it out of the park with today’s Cases essay, in Science Times, on facing excruciating pain.

Mothers who’ve experienced labor know it. Athletes who’ve torn an ACL know it. I felt it when I finally went to the hospital in 2007 with a 104 degree temperature as the result of pneumonia. On the hospital pain scale of 1-10, (10 being the worst ever), I was about a 15. Especially if, as Jennings writes, you come from a culture of stiff-upper-lip silence and non-medication, it’s tough to admit you’re in agony, and frightening to have to gulp down painkillers you know, like Vicodin, can become addictive. Some physical pain can feel as though it is eating you alive.

And as someone who’s had three orthopedic surgeries since 2000 and many painful months of physical therapy before and after each one, I know what even low-level chronic pain does to you. It wears you down, makes you bitchy, distracts you, makes you withdraw from work and friends, shortens your temper. The American Pain Foundation offers a wealth of ideas and links.

Here’s a well-reviewed book on the subject by Marni Jackson, a respected Canadian writer.