She wakes as the sun comes up and thinks, ‘maybe it’s gone’. Then tries to roll over the the pain ricochets through her, sometimes starting from the right butt cheek, sometimes shooting from the ankle. It’s a cruel trick her mind plays on her every single morning. Two panadeine forte are cracked, swallowed and then she waits. It normally takes 15, sometimes 20 minutes before she can feel the codeine coursing her veins, sinking her body deeper into the matress.
She fights the calling to close her eyes, knowing if she doesn’t get up now the pain will be excruciating as opposed to horrible. The first few steps to the shower are always good. Hard hot water streams onto her rump in a daily futile exercise to relax muscles so tight her right leg feels a foot shorter than her left. Getting dry is a ridiculous game of crouching to dry her legs and thinking that’s a good stretch only to have agonising spasms as she stands. Then there is the undies game, she tries the good leg first some days, the dodgy leg others. It doesn’t matter. It always ends badly with collapsing on the bed and an internal pep talk to get them on. ‘
The first hour is the worst. You are not dying. Nothing is going to break or snap. Take a deep breath. And another one. You can do this. It’s just nerve pain, brain, it’s OK, just a pinched nerve. Breath. But none of it makes any difference. Once that first hour is done then standing is normally ok. Sitting on anything other than a hard chair with a towel folded in three is untenable. Lying down is deadly only for the fact she eventually has to get up and endure that first hour all over again. Curiously, all she wants to do is lie down.
Meanwhile the household comes to life. Breakfasts, washing on, delegations to unpack the dishwasher, fights to umpire, questions to answer. Just breath.
The pain pre-occupies, like water coursing along a riverbed, filling every twist and turn, finding a path between every pebble of her life, every thought in her head. It makes her snap and cross. Each question, request, conversation adding another weight on the pain load she is already bearing. It stops her from paying attention so she drops things, cuts or burns herself when cooking and basically forgets all the things she’d normally consider. There’s a wicked burn on her bingo wing from the pretty lanterns she bought for the Christmas day tablescape that pains as it brushes against her body. She sees it as a welcome distraction from the leg.
She’s been living with back pain since June and the sciatica since September. Maybe October? There’s been chiro and physio, training and visits to the GP. There’s been talk of steroid injections and resounding medical advice against it. “Let’s just ramp up your pain relief,” is the current approach along with chiro.
But then the anxiety starts to fester. So much codeine, the occasional half an endone when she knows the tightness is in another realm. She tries a day without codeine and ends it completely paralysed, locked halfway between getting up and lying down. Unable to put any weight on her leg and incapable of finding any position where the pain does not shoot up and down her entire right side like a puck in a pinball machine. Involuntarily gasps of pain, tears, locked in a twisted position holding on to the end of the lounge until the neurofen plus and a whole endone kick in. It’s a long 20 minutes.
As summer in Sydney gets serious, she can feel herself slipping. The mental war begin waged against the physical pain has been ambushed. The air is heavy with heat and humidity. Cicadas whir incessantly competing with the hum of the fan as the soundtrack to the season as she feels herself sliding into a gloaming, neither night nor day, here nor there, present or absent. Just existing. Knowing it will pass, it will get better, just not today.