Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Pain & Perspective (Sciatica and Life)

As it often does, my blogging has fallen by the wayside. This time I blame pain. I began the summer with torn cartilage in my knee, and ended the summer with sciatica, likely brought on after hikes in damp, freezing weather over uneven ground up to Black rock (left) and down into Dark Hollow (right) at Shenandoah National Park. Of course it could have been a culmination of hiking in Israel, then working at camp, then the trip to Shenandoah, but we'll never know.


Dealing with sciatica, I have been unable to sit, unable to stand, unable to focus. For over two months I have essentially become a hermit. I work. I come home. I cannot drive. I cannot walk. Finally at the start of November, I began to emerge from my isolation. Actually I was forced, perhaps prematurely. I was scheduled to serve as Rabbi-in-Residence in Ottawa. So on October 31 I boarded a train to Ottawa. The train ride was long, but allowed me to shift positions and stand. My biggest problem was getting my shoes and socks on (I still have trouble with that). The weekend went well. There was wonderful feedback. Anyone who saw me gripping the lectern white-knuckled attributed it to my fervor, and not to the pain of sitting and standing in services.

What I had not realized was how much I missed being part of a Shabbat community. I missed the davenning.  I missed the people. I missed the interaction. The return trip was agony. The next day not much better. After Ottawa was a Shabbat with two b'nei mitzvah. Lots of walking- not good. Loads of friends- great! Then teaching- so good to be back, but oh so sore. Then another working Shabbat and another bat mitzvah. Next week is a working Shabbat, away again, followed by a bat mitzvah in Houston for me and my girl. Who knows what a 5 hour plane ride will do?

Still, I'm happy for all of this. Even as I type this, the pain is increasing. Meds only do so much. But there is perspective. I spent 2 months sleeping on my couch. We needed a new mattress, but, of course, I couldn't help shop for one while laid up. Shopping for a mattress with sciatica is immensely painful, but when I could stand it for a while we made 3 separate trips to look at mattresses. I am finally back in my bed. I still can't put my shoes on, but through all of this, I haven't missed a day of work. If anything, due to projects and the upcoming WZO Congress, I've put in extra hours. I've managed (including those coming up) 3 Shabbatot as a guest speaker, 4 b'nei mitzvah, one train trip, one plane trip, and teaching twice.When people ask me how I am, I say, "a little better everyday." It's mostly true. The path of healing is not a straight one. It sometimes doubles back. But slowly, slowly I am emerging back into the light. My garden is overgrown, and I still can't really drive or put on my own socks, but I can help with the laundry and the cooking. I can't do the shopping, but I can do the menu planning. I can help Jesse with his organization (when he lets me). I can bend over and kiss my children good night. When this resolves, and it will eventually, there is no reason to think it will reoccur.

The pain of sciatica is excruciating. It's amazing how many people suffer from it. I have a high tolerance for pain. And so I was amazed at how low I could be brought down by this. Given how common it is, you'd think that the medical world would find better treatments. But no-

  • Rest, not too much. It could make it worse.
  • Don't sit too long.
  • Don't stand too long.
  • No driving.
  • No walking.
  • Tylenol with Codeine
  • That doesn't work- Percoset. (My kids loved watching me on that)
  • Finally, Tylenol with Ibuprofen
  • Then, Tylenol with Naproxen
  • Now add Pregabalin for nerve pain (hopefully to stop taking so much Tylenol)
  • Acupuncture (I've become a pin cushion)
  • Laser therapy
  • Ultrasound
  • Traction
  • Electro-stimulation
  • Chiropractic adjustment
  • Massage
  • Magnesium
There's more, but I've begun to lose track. For two months I was a hermit. I went nowhere. I did nothing. I'd pace because sitting or standing was horribly painful. I couldn't sleep in my bed. But it makes you appreciate the little moments. I am happy when I get my own shoes on. I am happy when I sleep through the night. I am happy just to lie next to my husband in my bed. I am happy when I do not spend my day distracted by pain.

Soon I will take some time off work for the winter break. With stat holidays we have little time the office is open, and so we're closed the whole two weeks. It is a time for me to just enjoy and heal. No school schedules, no work phone calls, no running here, there, and everywhere. Just time to play, and maybe, just maybe, I'll leave the computer open, and the cats will again be able to sneak back onto my blog.