Throughout my recovery, I've had a mantra: Be patient. It's only been XX weeks. As long as I was under that magical three month threshold, I had no right to expect perfection. But three months, March 21, that was my mental deadline. That was when spring would arrive and I would begin the next phase of my life as a person fully recovered from successful back surgery. So why, on March 26, am I lying here on the fucking couch with an ice pack on my back? Fuck.
There has not been a disaster. I am, for the most part, a normal and functioning human being again. I can cook and wander around museums and go away for weekend trips and go to the gym (though I still have to be very gentle and cautious) and run errands. I am back to my ever-growing to do lists. But I do it all with the background noise of mild sciatica, and the attendant worries about what that means. Somewhere around the 2 month mark, things kind of leveled off. I stopped seeing a week by week improvement, and it became more of a mild up and down cycling of nerve irritation and twinges. Sometimes its more noticeable and sometimes it's barely perceptible. It's always mild and manageable. I am plagued by the fear that it's gradually getting worse, but I don't know if that's true. Time clouds things, and I'm not sure anymore if I remember what it was like a month ago. If it was really worse, I would know for sure.
I went back to my surgeon last week, hoping to get some answers that would calm my mind. Instead, I got what I already knew: This stuff is not an exact science. It might keep getting better. It might not. You might need another surgery in the future. You might not. I guess a part of me hoped he would say I needed a new MRI, and that he would look at it and say that everything looks good, and that it will take approximately X more weeks for my nerve to heal completely, and that he promises I will be back to backpacking and Zumbaing and skiing before I know it. Instead he told me that I have a bad back, and that I just have to live my life day to day and trust my body to tell me when an activity is safe and when it's hurting me. He said to stay away from MRI machines, because I really don't want to know what's in there. It will only scare me. And we don't need to know what's in there unless I have pain bad enough to consider another surgery.
So I am left, once again, facing the inevitable truth: I have to live with uncertainty. I am naked and unprotected in this world, and the best I can do is to live and love and laugh, even in the face of disaster. On the days when it is feeling great, that is not so hard. I feel gratitude for the simplest things. I marvel at the many lessons this ordeal has taught me. A simple day of work, errands and family is enough in a way that it never was before. But on the days when it flares up, and I feel the sharp edge of that old nerve pain, that's when the fear leaps up. That's when I wonder if my body will hold up long enough to raise my child, when I wonder if I will ever see the wilderness again. When I imagine a future of not being able to climb mountains, ski and ride bikes with my family.
Most of my suffering is caused not by actual pain, but by this mental 3-month deadline. The idea that, if I'm not cured by now, I might never be. But my rational mind knows that, even though three months feels like a long time, the ordeal I went through was huge and intense. I know, in my gut, that I am still healing, physically and emotionally. And healing is not always linear. It goes up and down. Today I am feeling scared and shaky, because my nerve is a bit flared up after a long day of sitting yesterday. So I will treat myself with gentleness and compassion today. I will hope for the best but know that I can survive the worst.
I know that my back is not always going to be the focus of my life. Eventually, somehow or some way, I will heal and change, and other things will move into the foreground. Someday I will be able to look back on the period when I worried about my back all the time--and with the benefit of perspective, I will see how I worried too much and about the wrong things. I will see that I should have been more patient. I will see that my life was far from over. It helps to remember that. This is another passing phase, and I am doing my best to live every day to its fullest even in the midst of uncertainty and fear. I can't ask any more of myself.