Recently, my body said fuck you to me. I was diagnosed with a chronic condition called cervical spinal stenosis that isn’t curable although it could potentially be helped with spine surgery. Just hearing the words spine surgery makes me cringe (much worse than drinking orange juice after brushing your teeth). Yet, if physical therapy does not work, it could be my only option if the stenosis progresses.
I have been a relatively healthy hypochondriac most of my life so the revelation that I have a real identifiable condition put me in a tailspin. In fact I still have trouble believing I have a condition – I don’t want to have something that can be called a condition. I’ve never had a physical issue before in which people look at me and genuinely say they are sorry and I know are glad they have been spared this…condition.
I’ve met people with frightening health problems and at the same time my heart aches for them, I am thankful it’s not me. Those are the moments you realize how thankful you are to have good health. Then you can get on with your day and complain about hard it is to drink your cup of coffee because the waitress put it in a mug that is heavy. You have the luxury of being annoyed by stupid shit because you are back to taking your health for granted.
Immediately after getting my diagnosis, I joined Facebook support groups for people with stenosis. It is like combining WebMd and Google to constantly discover every possible worst case scenario. My husband urges me to leave the groups but I am Pandora and the group is my box. Coupled with Google searches and my vivid imagination, I am led down dark paths in which I find myself nearly comatose from pain killers or paralyzed.
An emotional ache sweeps over me every time I’m reminded I have a condition which is every few minutes since I’m one to ruminate. It’s the isolation you feel knowing that even with friends and family that care about your health, they are not going through the fear and pain with you. No matter how detailed I describe the fog of vertigo, the burning sensation on the side of my neck or the anxiety I get when my right leg is numb, no one else feels it the way I do. I am alone.
Apparently confusion is another part of this process. I may have had bone spurs and arthritis in my spine for many years but the trigger for the pain was a tennis injury a few months ago. There I was thinking exercise was good for me. We’re supposed to exercise to build strength to avoid injury. But when I exercise I get injured. And then there is the advice from different medical professionals. Don’t lift anything more than 15 pounds above your head, lift as much weight as you want above your head, only do the backstroke if you go swimming, do whatever kind of stroke you want if you go swimming. It’s like the old joke “Two Jews, Three Opinions.” Who do I believe?
What hurts most is the anxiety from not knowing what the future holds. I’ve been told strong back and core muscles are the best defense against my condition worsening. But even if I strengthen my core and back like the photo on the Abs of Steel video, I have no clue if the bone spurs will grow or my spine degenerates even further. It’s like standing on a shaky ledge overlooking over a cliff and hoping you can keep your footing – especially hard when you have vertigo.
The hope that physical therapy and exercise keeps the progression at bay isn’t good enough. I need to do the traveling and activities I have a passion for now because I have no idea what the future holds for me. In this, I am not alone.