“Part IV: A New Hope”?

All the chronic pain…. My God, could I see an end to this?torture rack

Yesterday, at my pain management visit, I exploded at the Physician’s Assistant. Well, not at her, just at the frustration of having to live this way. It turns out that the doctor had foreseen this and he made a recommendation, specifically that I receive an injection of steroids into the vertebral area around my spine, the area where the nerves meet up with my feet. It is supposed to relieve the pain and weakness from the neuropathy that has assaulted the soles of my feet for the last several years.

My initial reaction was predictable. Fuck, no. Nobody’s sticking needles into my spine.

But as we talked, things began to clarify just a bit.

What is the worst that could happen? Well, there are two possibilities.

  1. The chief possibility would be that the treatment would not work. The pain and weakness would not abate.
  2. The second would be that some mistake would damage my spine and leave me in worse shape than I’m in now. Which is a nice way to say I’d wind up as a paraplegic with no sensation at all.

So I told the PA that if the injection did not work, I’d simply opt to have my feet amputated in favor of those cute little titanium oxide prosthetic feet. I knew one guy who also had diabetes and gave up. He had the offending foot cut off. He got his titanium replacement foot. If you wear trousers, who would know?

His pain went away. However, his body had been so abused by diabetes and alcohol for so long that his body quit not long afterwards. He died of a heart attack. This poor man was a long-term alcoholic.

Well, I am also an alcoholic, but–for what this is worth–my physical consumption of the stuff was not at all as serious as my AA comrade’s. I could not drink a bottle of whiskey in one evening, and for years at a time. I did not damage my liver and vital systems. I drank just enough to get me fucked up. And that did not take long.

Lucky me, I suppose. If I’d kept on going beyond January 2000, God only knows how my capacity would have increased. So lucky is right. I was already pushing my “start time” further and further toward noon and even toward late morning. And I had the disposition and charm of one of history’s great charmers, Dr. Josef Goebbels.Goebbels

How did this post start to turn into a description of my life with alcoholism? Well, alcoholism is also a chronic condition. You get better, but you’re never cured. I’ve known at least one person who’d been dry for 20 years, and she (yes, she) was a temperamental and explosive bitch.

So I’m not really digressing, am I?

Amputation or not, I figured that with my mother’s family’s history of longevity (my mother was a week short of 86 when she died), at age 70 I was looking at perhaps 10 years or more of this shit. And frankly, I’d rather die than endure anything more of this: of a pain so bad that I’d want to weep; of being unable to walk more than 50 feet at a time before I had to lean on my cane; of having to travel around the local supermarket in what I call the electric cripp-cart. Disability simply enrages me; of envying people in worse shape than me walking unencumbered by canes, pains, and bipolar. NB: bipolar is another story for another day.)

I suppose I had to bottom out, the same way an alcoholic has to hit bottom to be willing to take a risk.

So I said yes. All this in 30 minutes, or after I got it off my chest.

I did the paperwork: the scheduling, the permission. So next Thursday, I’m going to the hospital’s pain center. The staff is going to give me a significant dose of a sedative to chill me out but keep me alert. I am a terrible coward and I won’t even sit in a dentist’s chair for a cleaning without being whacked beforehand on nitrous oxide. When I’m nice and somnolent, they will roll me onto my stomach. The doctor will use some sort of scan to spot the exact spot to stick the needle (I just shivered as I wrote that down), and he’ll put the needle into my back. If he mistakenly taps a nerve, I’ll say (or yell) so, and he’ll move it. Then he’ll inject the ‘roids. The whole procedure will take no more than 15 minutes. I will think of every dirty joke I know (“The Aristocrats” is my first choice), and I’ll try to have inappropriate sexual fantasies about women I’ve slept with or would like to sleep with. Realism and propriety do not matter at a time like that.

When the procedure is complete, I’ll get dressed (I must remember that) and the van will drive me home. I’ll get home, feed and talk to my cat, and if I feel like living dangerously (I expect I will), I’ll call a Chinese restaurant and order some food to be delivered. I figure I’ll owe myself something better that evening than my laughable version of cooking. One less CD or DVD this month. It’ll be worth it.

Weirdly, I feel almost apologetic. I have some dear friends who live with chronic physical and emotional pain. I will perhaps feel like I’m quitting the field of honor in favor of an easy way out.

God, but I’m so good at bullshitting myself!

If the treatment works, the pain in my feet will start to subside. I expect will be able to walk with some degree of normality. I will be arresting my neuropathy the same way I’ve been able, over the years, to arrest my alcoholism. It’s not gone. I’ve just learned that it can be managed. Within some indeterminate time–three months, up to two years–I’ll need a “booster shot” to restore my feet again. There is no cure for what I’ve got. That’s why they call it pain management, not cure.

I may even stop feeling like shit. I may get my feelings back, some degree of selflessness, some ability to love other human beings. I would like to be able to make love to a woman again (no, 70 is not the end). I would like to be able to be not only a lover but also a father to my two children. I would like to be able to write from beyond pain. I would like not to feel like I’m doomed to perpetual suffering. That is the one thing in my life that I refuse to accept. I deserve better than pain, a cane, and useless (not to mention dangerous) doses of Tylenol with codeine just to take off the edge. I would like to feel something besides resentment and a distinct flavor of sarcasm. Nobody should need to live this way, and with God’s help, I hope I will not have to.

What I pray never to lose is empathy, my sense of solidarity with other people who live with their own pain. I never want to forget what this is like. I never want to forget the pain from nerve damage is still there, waiting for me. Pain people: I love you all, I want as much relief for you as I want for myself. And that is everything.

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About Ken Wolman

Sit still, shut up, and listen. We might both learn something.
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5 Responses to “Part IV: A New Hope”?

  1. You’re brave to do this. Because of the emotional risk entailed in allowing yourself to hope for better.

    Damn right you deserve better than pain. I hope and pray that this injection works as well for you as it has done for others of my acquaintance who’ve gone down this path.

    I’m holding you in my prayers, always, but now especially.

    Like

  2. Noel-Anne Brennan says:

    I’ve had these spinal shots, Ken, not for the same problem you have but for some serious spinal issues. They never did me any good but they did no harm. I hope this works for you! Fingers crossed!

    Like

  3. Diana Gregory says:

    May Bast hold you and be sure that all will be well. My nerve damage is near my neck – seriously scary to have, and to have “treated” – no sign of anything other than the original issue (20 years later, it finally showed up as a place near my neck/shoulder blade that if touched, feels like someone has put a battery on the area), and an index finger that fluxuates from numb to hypersensitive. I have no clue what has caused the numbness at the bottom joint of that same index finger – everything else is working as it has for the last 20 years, I do have other issues that make taking care of myself and the cats an issue – but mobility is not yet (thank Bast) not one of them. Hugs.

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    • Rick Warren says:

      Hi Ken
      How’s this for a blast from the past. This Rick Warren! What’s it been, about forty years or so? Richie has kept me somewhat abreast of your life over the years but he just forwarded me a copy of your blog. We have an amazing correspondence of ailments. I do not have time right now to go into anything in depth because my wife is coming home in a few hours from a hiking trip up to Southern Colorado. Her daughter took a bad tumble down a trail overhang and needed hospital care and took several stitches and is quite beaten up from the fall. So I need to attend to that.
      Suffice it to say that I have been taking the steroid injections for years (up to four times a year) and sometimes they work for a day and other times for six months. The pain from the shots is minor. I now take microwave ablation treatments which burn out the offending nerves and offer relief for as long as 12-18 months. I too have peripheral neuropathy in my feet and hands and virtually no disks between L1-L5.

      Gotta go. I will get back to when I have the time. Feel better.

      Rick Warren
      richardmwarren@gmail.com

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      • kenwolman says:

        Wow–surprises! One old fart to another. I’m not sure I expected to get to 70, but we’re all here or in the ballpark. Bette Davis’s line was “Old age is not for sissies.” No shit. So we share neuropathy. Whoopdee-fuckin-doo. Mine started in 2011–before that I’d taken up running! And after that, I didn’t even want to HEAR about running. Too bitter. But now, this first treatment has been a miracle. I still walk like a drunk, but at least the soles of my feet don’t hurt, not really much. I don’t know how long this “remission” will last, but at least I know the shots are repeatable. Okay. Maybe the relief will be extensible. I hope so. And thank God I live in a state where I don’t have to go out of a really shallow pocket to pay for it. I was hoping that medical marijuana would be available–or it is, but you’ve got to have a lot of money to get into the game. Amazingly for me, I’m trying to keep a positive mind-set about the whole thing. Yeah, that is not easy; but I’m managing it. How old are your kids? Mine are 32 and 36. “I can’t have children that age, I’m only 30.” Right. I just woke up from a nap (I like them more and more) and I’m gonna re-collect my brains, which left someplace, if I can remember where. — Ken

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