Sunday, December 06, 2009

Waylaid by a Dragon

Illustration credit: Mikael Häggström
Have you ever noticed how much the shape of a human spine resembles a dragon, with the head at the base of the spine, and the tail at the neck?

I have. I have had reason to.

If you are a regular reader of this blog, you may be wondering: what happened to it?

The Dragon happened to it, in the form of a post-influenza inflammation of either the sacroiliac joint or the L5 S1 disc, depending on which doctor you prefer to ask. And while I have had my share of back pain in the past, this is really my first encounter with chronic and serious pain.

I have not been able to sit for more than a few minutes at a time for about a month now.

When I sit still, or try to sleep more than a few hours, The Dragon gets me, with fiery breath and claws, and sharp electric teeth, up and down my leg from ankle to hip. I have come to dread my inner Dragon, my spine that will not tolerate stillness or rest.

I have been back at work for a little more than a week, but the 25-minute commute is often a real test of endurance. Once there (or, for that matter, at home, once out of bed) I have been forced to stay on my feet continuously. I can stand still for a limited amount of time--say, ten or fifteen minutes--before the pain becomes serious.

And I can walk.

Thank goodness, I can walk. Up at 4:30 AM, up at 4:00 AM, up at 3:00 AM, I can walk off the pain of lying still for too long. During the day, I can walk off the pain of standing at my desk, trying to work. At school, I pace endless circles in my classroom, like a caged lion.

But the best times are in the woods.

I don't know why, but the time I have spent walking through the woods, cane in hand, have been the best times of all for pain control. I've walked the woods in moonlight, in rain, and in sleet. I've walked my woods on sunny afternoons and on nights almost too dark to see the path at all, at sunset and at moonrise. The woods have been my good, good friends. Even more than my NSAIDs and my heating pad, walking in the woods has eased my pain; sometimes The Dragon drowses, and sometimes she is actually lulled entirely asleep when I walk my woods.

But walking in the woods or lying on my couch, one thing I have not been able to do is write. Not write properly, developing an idea and letting it run. Peter has made me a standing desk, and I greatly appreciate it. I've been able to get at least most of the grading and planning I need to do for school done at that desk. But it isn't truly comfortable, and it doesn't encourage letting ideas wash up, one upon the other, like waves on a beach.

Or like a long, reflective blog post.

But here I am again. Though it looks as though real recovery is going to take a while, I was blessed this week by the arrival of something called a Lafuma Zero Gravity chair. It's ugly--like a long, drawn out beach chair in its looks--but it's amazing: a chair that reclines with a gentle nudge, and is upright with a gentle tug.

I am typing these words on my laptop computer, on a lap desk, on a lap that has been tilted back far enough that The Dragon that gnaws my bones when I attempt to sit is still asleep.

For the first time in almost a month, I can sit--because the moment I feel discomfort, with a motion, I can lie down.

The first time I sat in this chair, I wept. Tears of sweet, sweet relief.

Kircher: Flying Dragon
I am sure that, as my friend Mike suggests, The Dragon will wind up having things to teach me. Asking for help has never been my forte, for instance--and I'm certainly getting practice at it. Meanwhile, however, I'm grateful to be able to take some parts of this experience sitting down, at least from time to time.

And, for the next little while, I'm going to play it by ear when it comes to this blog. I may wind up
blogging less often than normal, or perhaps microblogging while I'm standing up. Or maybe I'll wind up able to make enough use of this chair to continue to think out loud here, for the readers of QPR.

For the moment, I'm satisfied to have arrived at at least a momentary truce with The Dragon that Eats my Bones.


Mama Kelly said...

I am so glad to read that you've finally found at least some relief. Have a blessed holiday season!

Clare said...

I've missed you! I hope the dragon goes poof soon. May I recommend acupuncture to help in your healing?

Thurman said...

Though not to the degree you describe, I have met and conversed with this or a similar dragon of my own in recent years. I wouldn't wish such pain on my worst enemies.

Gives a whole new slant to the old phrase, "chasing the Dragon." Chase it away!

May your recovery be swift and your healing complete.

clymela said...

Shit!! So very sorry to hear this and the vulgarity was my first response on reading about your past few weeks. Yes, I was asking where you were.
Love and prayer of course. I once was waylaid by a neck blow-out so I have a hint of what you are confronted with.

Erik said...

Aw hon, I'm so sorry... glad you're finding at least a little relief, anyway. Praying for your continued healing!

Yewtree said...

Dear Cat, sorry to hear of your pain (saw your posts on Facebook about it).

I wonder if the reason it doesn't hurt so much when you walk in the woods is because you are walking on uneven ground, which is better for the feet, legs, and spine, because that is the surface we have evolved to walk on.

You can get shoes which simulate walking on uneven ground - they are called MBTs (Masai Barefoot Technology). They are only for wearing on flat ground (not recommended for walking on uneven ground because then you get double the effect). I have found them really helpful for reducing back pain and strengthening my ankles.

becca.tell said...

I'm so sorry you've been in so much pain!
I had a bad herniation at L5-S1 a couple years ago after a work accident. I got to the point of scheduling surgery because I couldn't imagine what else to do. I also got over my fear of needles and tried acupuncture... and that turned out to work well enough that I cancelled the surgery. I have made a pretty much complete recovery since then.
Hoping you're able to find something that works that well for you too, and soon.

Bright Crow (Mike Shell) said...

Continuing to hold you in the Light, Dear One.


Marcella said...

Ahhh, the spongy soil made of accumulated layers of decomposing vegetation. And the magic of being amongst life. So good for the soul. I'm glad it's good for your spine and leg also.

May this time of darkness help you discover the lesson(s), and may the returning light/Light offer you healing on all levels.

Anonymous said...

Oddly enough, it turns out that many people with serious chronic back pain can be helped with Clean Language: You're an ex-therapist and an English teacher and a priestess, so of course you know that metaphor is essential to our experiences of the world and our bodies, and of course you're aware of the ways in which our emotions and beliefs affect our experience of physical pain, so I hope you find the site helpful. I admit, I'm making may way through every page of it multiple times, because I think it's fantastic. Apparently, it's used by some top back pain clinicians in the UK.

Be well.

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