Friday, July 6, 2012

Walking towards the light

The next month was a blur at first.  It really took me about a week to just adjust to my new diagnosis.  It was strange- the gamut of emotions that I was feeling.  The most surprising to me was that I felt relief!  I felt validated- that my pain wasn't in my head.  That what I was feeling, subjectively, was due to something really wrong with me- something that could be seen, objectively!  One of the worst things about pain (for me) is that unless you are bleeding or obviously broken, or showing some signs of trauma, people don't get it.  It's almost like they are skeptical.  And I have been guilty of this.  I am a nurse! I had to listen to patients complain about pain all the time.  I had to judge whether their symptoms matched their complaints.  And often they did not!  There was a whole movement years ago about whether we, as a medical community, were addressing and treating pain appropriately.  That's why nurses and doctors ask us to rate out pain (you know that 1-10 scale...) over and over again.  It's an attempt to objectify and subjective feeling.  And with the rise of the abuse of pain medicine, sometimes this assessment/treatment thing gets very tricky.  But I digress... It felt good to know that there was a reason for my pain.  A diagnosis.  Other people have this!  And better yet, there are treatments.  There is controversy over the particular treatments I had to chose from (as I would learn in even more detail later), but there were treatments! Choices!  Some patients have none.  For this, I felt gratitude.

But that was pretty much it for the positive emotions.  I also felt anger (why me?).  Sadness (why me??).  Confusion (why me???).  Despair (why me????). I threw a pretty decent pity-party for myself.  It lasted about a week, and I threw a darn good one.  I was irritable.  I snapped at my kids and family.  I slept a lot.  I smoked a lot more (no I wasn't one of those patients who after smoking for so many years suddenly stopped when learning that my smoking was finally showing how unhealthy it was).  I isolated.  I cried.  I cursed.  I let those horrible visions of the wheelchair-living, donut-eating, cat-breeding, disability-getting lonely lady fill my head.

But then I stopped.  I threw myself deeper into my recovery and 12 Step program:  Started working with my sponsor more, going to more meetings.  I went to the pain management doctor and committed to work with his team so that I treated my pain correctly.  I wasn't going to be a martyr, but I was worried about addiction to the pain meds. I reached out to friends again and shared what was going on, talked about it.  I spent hours and hours online, researching and looking for anything I could about my diagnosis.  I practiced asking for lots of help.  I practiced accepting lots of help.  I started taking care of myself again, and being kind to myself.  I started a diet- a serious one.  I used the Medifast program and stuck to it.  It's hard to lose weight when you can't exercise- but I did it.  I made another appointment and got my hair done.  I got a few massages.  I took a trip- so see my college roommates in Phoenix.  I wasn't sure about going, but my mom actually encouraged me to go, I hadn't seen those friends for so long.  And I needed to get away from the stress.  When I got back, I helped my best friend plan her wedding.  I started reading again.  I started listening to music again.  I started enjoying my kids again.  I started doing more.  Even if it hurt.  I took my pain medicine and got outside.  I was determined to be emotionally and physically prepared for surgery.  I wanted to be normal again.  I wanted to not be in pain.  I wanted to move forward, fix my problem the best I could, and resume life...

My biggest hiccup was the smoking.  I cut way down, I really did.  I had been a half to full pack a day smoker and I was down to less than half a pack a day, usually less.  But I hadn't quit.  I couldn't even use nicotine gum or patches.  Remember- it wasn't the "smoking" part he was worried about- it was the nicotine and how it caused blood vessel constriction that was my biggest enemy.  I had to just stop.

About four weeks after seeing Dr #4, I suddenly started having much worse pain.  I could barely walk.  Sometimes my pain would "flare up" for a day or two and then back off if I slowed down and rested.  But this time it didn't, no matter what I did, it was worse.  So I called the doctor.

Dr #4 was very kind when we spoke on the phone.  He said that it was time I started using a walker- to get the weight off the left hip.  This was for my comfort, and also to prevent the femur from collapsing (some of you may be wondering why he didn't have me on a walker or crutches to begin with.  It's a good question.).  He told me to use it when I was hurting a lot.  He didn't want me to stop moving, but also didn't want me needing more narcotics.  He asked me how the smoking was going.  I told him the truth.  He said he needed me to be smoke-free when he operated.  The he asked me when I would like to have surgery- a total hip replacement (THR), i.e. what date in the next month works with me in terms of getting the help and support I would need afterward.  He reminded me that I would be able to do anything I wanted to once I had healed, that my life would be perfectly normal, no restrictions. We chose a date.  He told me to call his office back that afternoon and schedule an appointment with him for a week before surgery, and also said there would be some other things I would need to do to prepare that his assistant would go over with me.  I reminded him that I had an appointment with him in a week, and ask should I keep it?  He said he had forgotten, but keep it and we could talk more about the surgery in detail.  He even joked and said don't forget to bring your dad!

In the next week, I had gotten a walker and a cane.  I was down to about 5-6 cigarettes a day.  I was down 10 pounds already too!  My family and friends had the surgery date on the calendar and we were starting to makes plans for it.  I let my boss at work know the latest and was finally able to give them a tentative idea of when I may be back.  I wasn't happy about getting a fake hip, but for the first time in months, I could actually see light at the end of the tunnel.  Even if I was limping toward it, I was making progress!

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