For at least 10 days after surgery, I was planning my triumphant announcement that I am CURED. That back surgery is the best thing on earth, and that I recommend it to all. That recovery is the easiest thing on earth. That birds are singing and rainbows are lighting up my days. And really, I have no reason not to continue to feel that way. I am still eternally grateful that the pain in my leg has been reduced to intermittent twinges. I can walk again, sometimes miles at a time. I can sit in chairs. I can, for the most part, go places and do things without spending every other second noticing the pain in my leg increasing. I can cook simple dinners and go out for drinks with my husband. I feel like eating food again. I spend zero minutes per day sobbing my eyes out and fearing that I will never walk again. I am — finally, finally — getting better, physically and emotionally.
And yet, and yet, this still isn't easy. As time goes by (16 days post surgery now) my standards for what it means to feel "wonderful" start to go up. Having to spend significant portions of every day lying down starts to feel like prison. Being able to run no more than one or two errands at a time becomes frustrating. Having new (and very uncomfortable) muscle spasms appear in random parts of my back becomes demoralizing. Worrying that every new ache and twinge means I might have reherniated becomes mentally exhausting.
Yesterday, I took my daughter to a museum and realized my body wasn't quite ready yet. Part of my back became intolerably sore and my leg twinges intensified, and I started to get that old sweaty, anxious feeling. Will I ever be able to do enjoy these simple activities again? Will my back ever be well enough for me to live a normal life? Will I ever climb a mountain or ski down one again? Will I enjoy vacations or be able to work in an office? Will I ever do anything without the fear of injuring my back? The answer is, of course, yes. Time (and successful surgery) heals, and it has only been 16 days. (Even though it feels like ETERNITY right now, 16 days is not a long time.) In a few months, I will be fine. I will take scrupulous care of my back, like never before, and I will get strong. One day, this monumental crisis in my life will be a distant memory.
But I have to learn to trust my body again after what feels like the worst kind of betrayal. I have to get over the grief and fear that this has caused. On the way home from the museum, my daughter and I talked about a time when we had gone to the movies. Maybe a year ago? And she said, "That was the time before your leg was hurting." The idea that she now has these dual images of a sort of before-and-after mother, an able-bodied one and a disabled one, is devastating. I know that, eventually, this will be on a blip on her radar. But right now, our entire family is still coping with the seismic shift that has occured. There is no small amount of guilt in the knowledge that my suffering has caused the people I love to suffer, too.
I know that my problems are not unique. Millions of people every year suffer with crippling back problems. Many, many people deal with health problems far worse. Every single one of us lives with the threat that illness or disaster could strike at any moment. At least once a day, I hear about someone who has dealt with an illness or a heartache exponentially worse than my own. And yet, that doesn't change the feeling I get in my gut when my leg or my back hurts. The feeling that everything can be ripped away from me, and that it is completely out of my control. Right now, I am feeling my vulnerability in an entirely new way. All I can do is be gentle and kind with myself, and remember that, whether I like it or not, this is my season of healing.