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.
- The chief possibility would be that the treatment would not work. The pain and weakness would not abate.
- 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.
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.