In 2009 I found myself near Waco at a dollhouse miniaturists’ annual convention. The weekend started out badly, with flooding east of Austin shutting down roads, including an Interstate. My shotgun rider was a Norwegian national who insisted we use a map app, despite the fact I knew a route from Houston that avoided lengthy and busy roads. I think she was rethinking her plan after taking a potty break in an enormous canebrake off the Interstate.
Hours later I killed time before dinner talking to spouses of other miniaturists and started feeling very uncomfortable in my left arm. Heart disease wasn’t in my medical history, so as uncomfortable grew to excruciating pain, I didn’t call for an ambulance to cart me away. My mantra has always been if a body part isn’t about to fall off and no bleeding was involved, no ER.
By morning the pain was nauseating. I spent most of the weekend attempting to get a phone signal in what was then a dead zone for my cell provider, trying to get in touch with my husband and to search for what ailed me. I should have told my companion to find a way home and gotten myself back home ASAP, but instead ended up Sunday driving the backways to Houston with my arm over my head to ease the pain. NSAIDS and other OTC meds were of no use.
My doctor ran tests, X-rays, CAT scans, and came back with spinal stenosis, herniated discs, bulging discs. Heavy meds including Oxycontin followed, leaving me in a drugged state. Physical therapy and medication finally won out and my life returned to normal.
Two weeks ago it happened again. I was taking Vinyasa yoga and feeling great, then BAM! People with bad backs and necks understand how this happens. A turn, a twist of the body, phase of the moon, and it begins. When the worst moves in, your brain anticipates pain, bad pain, muscles tighten and weaken around inflamed nerves. There’s so much pain you can’t concentrate on work. You can’t do normal chores because it may keep the flare-up going or make it even worse. Luckily I have a thoughtful, patient spouse.
My novel writing has been impossible during this time. I stare at the WIP in Scrivener, feeling the throb in my arm despite heavy duty meds, and sometimes I just have to cry. My former pain doctor warned me of symptoms of imminent paralysis. I’m paranoid of getting jostled or knocked down, of that slender highway of nerves severed or permanent pain. Despite that, I’m lucky. What I experience is temporary for the most part, despite arthritis.
I feel like a complete whiner compared to Frieda Kahlo who managed to paint masterpieces despite a bus accident that should’ve killed her. If I used the frustration and anger about my spinal issues, my writing would be different. The good angel on my right shoulder wants happiness, sunflowers, fireflies, nights under the stars holding my husband’s hand. The left, the seat of the pain, wants to write novels with darkness and savagery, full of despair, loneliness, frustration, anger. Where my mystery/suspense writing ideas find a route.
So life changed for me over seven years ago. No more scuba diving, backpacks full of books, huge purses, heavy boxes. I can deal with those minor things. If I was a Catholic saint, perhaps this could be a suffering for God, albeit a minor one. But I’m an Episcopalian with spinal issues, and a drive to write. The pain will subside and my muse will wander back. She’s quite flaky, my muse, and perhaps I’ll lure her with a few Ritter’s chocolates and honeyed chamomile tea. Off in the wings of my life stage, she grows impatient, stamping her feet with impatience and need. We’ll get there because we have to exorcise the stories in my head.