By seven in the morning, I was in the hospital on five hits of morphine. I was floating in and out of consciousness, barely aware of my best friend Wendy holding my hand tightly as I moved through one of the craziest highs I’ve ever experienced. During moments of consciousness, I would try to focus on Wendy and explain to her that I felt as if I wasn’t breathing. I felt as if everything in my body had slowed down so completely that my lungs seemed to be made out of sticky glue, as if each breath was like pulling apart wet cloth. I also kept throwing up, and then barely focusing in on the nurse and trying to explain how I just vomited. I remember feeling that it was crucial that the nurse knew I had just been sick. Unfortunately, since I wasn’t breathing so well, everything I said to the nurse came out in an incomprehensible mumble of half garbled sentences. Wendy did everything in her power to keep me calm, holding tightly to my hand and making me feel as if she was the only anchor that kept me from floating completely away.
The night before, I’d been out to dinner with some people I’d met recently. I wasn’t very hungry so I just kept picking at my food and sipping plum wine. Slowly, I started to become aware of a pain in my back, but since I’ve spent years suffering from lower back problems, I did my best to ignore it. As I sat there talking and sipping my wine, the pain began to increase and then slowly started to work it’s way down my left leg. I kept fidgeting in my seat, wondering why I wasn’t able to find a comfortable position, trying to ignore the increasing levels of pain, talking and laughing as if nothing were wrong. By the time everyone was close to finishing their dinner, the pain had exploded in my knee and I was barely able to concentrate on everyone’s conversation. I became more and more quiet, shifting desperately in my seat to relieve the pressure on my spine. I felt panic start to come to life inside of me. By the time the pain worked its way to my foot, I was in so much physical agony that I knew something was desperately wrong with me. I have an extremely high tolerance for physical pain and endurance, but my back and leg felt as if they were on fire. As if each bone was grinding and crushing to dust within my leg. I was struggling to not cry and decided I needed to tell this group of basic strangers that I was in some kind of trouble and needed help to get home. Everyone was very kind and understanding, helping me get to my truck and driving back to my apartment as I writhed in the front seat, no longer able to hold back the tears.
Somehow, I made it through the night even though every movement was agony. By the time I made it to the hospital, I could barely walk on my left leg and couldn’t sit down in the hospital admittance chair without stifling screams. They rushed me into a hospital bed and began shooting me up with morphine. One hit did absolutely nothing. Two hits of morphine and I was still begging for them to help me. By the third hit, I began to feel the pain start to subside. The fourth hit pushed me completely over the edge into definitely high. The fifth hit was just an extra bonus point that brought me into the realm of beyond high. It was after the fifth hit when I was no longer able to speak and started puking and was barely conscious. At that point, the hospital staff cut me off from any more hits of morphine. I was so high that I felt like I was overdosing anyway.
It took me two months to be able to really walk again. I spent eight weeks in constant pain, unable to sleep or walk or move my body without suffering through intense physical hurt. The sleep deprivation became so intense that everything seemed surreal. As if I was in some bizarre torture chamber designed by some particularly heinous madman. Everything around me looked like my normal, happy life and yet I was completely drowning in so much pain that I felt as if I wasn’t really touching anything, wasn’t really speaking, couldn’t actually hear what was said to me. I developed an addiction to painkillers. Since I couldn’t function on any level, I had to move in with my Mother and she helped take care of me and my little dog during those dark months. She also kept my supply of pain killers under tight security, only giving me one pill every four hours no matter how hard I tried to convince her I needed more. And trust me, I desperately needed more.
What happened to me is something called “sciatica”. The sciatic nerve is the largest one in your body, running from the top of your spine, down into both arms, and into both legs. Somewhere in my spine, my sciatic nerve got damaged and was sending severe and chronic pain signals down into my leg and foot. It’s been almost a year since this happened, and even right at this moment I can feel a slight tingling of pain in my leg. Sciatica is normally a condition that will clear up within a week and most doctors I saw kept telling me that it would clear up, go away, just give it another week…but week after week, it didn’t go away. Even today, I still worry that I might be out to dinner, be watching a movie, or hanging out with friends, and end up hospitalized within a few hours, fucked up on five hits of morphine again. It makes me feel as if my body is not completely my own. As if my physical self is now partly controlled by my fear of sciatica.
Oddly enough, it also made me appreciate my body even more. I’ve always been physically strong and capable, so it was a completely different perspective to suddenly be crippled and unable to do almost anything I could normally do with my body. Losing my physical self brought me to a place of being ecstatic when I was finally able to walk across the room without crying for an hour. Being unable to physically function made me truly appreciate how incredible a walk around the block is. I have a lot of fear about having a possible relapse of the sciatica, but I also have so much joy in the fact that I can move, walk, ride my bike, sit up, go to sleep…anything and everything that my body can do now seems like an incredible ability. If you’ve ever had a disability that left you crippled in any way, then this might be something you can relate to or understand. If you’ve never experienced that, then please appreciate all of the wonderful things your body does every single moment, every single day. It truly is a gift, but one that can be taken away from you within moments. I never fully realized that until I lost my own body, and never fully appreciate it until I gained my body back.