My left hand rested on my lower back while my right hand leaned on the couch attempting to hold myself from falling to the ground in excruciating pain. It was the kind of PKD pain I had prior to my bilateral nephrectomy. I managed to get myself in a seated position on the couch as I waited to hear back from my doctor’s office. My phone rang and the nurse on the line said, “Valen, I talked with Dr. Bixler. He wants you to go to the emergency room immediately.” I have heard those words numerous times in my life. I instantly put my ‘game face’ on.
It was the weekend before my 30th birthday and I, of course, did not imagine it would unfold like this. My back had been bothering me for about two months. I attributed the lower back pain to all of the sitting I do throughout the day. I winced in pain over every bump in the road as Noah drove me to the hospital. He helped me out of the car at the emergency drop-off. I could barely walk. I placed one foot in front of the other and grabbed the railing in pain, as tears streamed down my cheeks. A nurse rushed out with a wheelchair and took me in to register. I handed her my medicine and medical history spreadsheet. My jaw was clenched with pain as I informed the nurse that I had scoliosis back surgery when I was in 8th grade, but have not had any back pain since.
I sat in a wheelchair in the waiting room for the next available room and reflected on the day thus far. I felt fine that morning at work. It was a gorgeous day and I was looking forward to stretching my legs in the afternoon on a nice hike in the canyon. Then in a split second, I went from “just fine” to “unable to walk.” My foot was tapping and I was antsy in my wheelchair as the lower back pain was now radiating around my hips and down the front of my thighs.
I looked up as I heard the noise of the automatic hospital door. My name was called and I was wheeled back to room #11. Little did I know that my room number would match the amount of times I was stuck to get an IV because the nurse couldn’t find a good vein. I looked like a pincushion from all of the needle marks and bruises. Friday afternoon soon blended into Saturday and before I knew it, Sunday arrived. They did an X-ray, CAT scan and MRI. It was determined that I have two bulging disks that are compressing my nerves and causing all of my pain. They have me on constant pain meds and a high dosage of prednisone to try and help with the swelling.
I am an answers-driven person and the doctors do not know why this happened, how long it will last, or what I will have to deal with in the future because of this. They said that my last few vertebras are not connected to the Harrington rods like the other ones and take the stress and twisting of my entire back. The doctors could not say if this was the reason for my pain.
This was all very sudden and I’m still trying to comprehend it. They said that I will have to make “lifestyle changes.” I can’t seem to shake those two words. Right now I am to constantly take pain meds and be laying down in hopes that the meds will mask the pain and my body will be able to heal on its own. I have to see a neurosurgeon and do physical therapy when some of the pain subsides. The doctor also said I will be doing daily stretches and activities, such as pilates.
On my 30th birthday, I was following the doctor’s orders of laying on the couch and taking pain meds. I looked to my left and smiled when I saw a pretty flower arrangement with a balloon that read ‘The Big 30.’ My eyes then glanced to the left and saw my walker. I thought, “What is wrong with this picture?” Sometimes I like to daydream and imagine what it would be like to wake up care-free and not have to get my meds out for the day and to not have to worry about what my quality of life might be like 10-20 years from now. The past few days I have been trying to practice what I preach, which is not always easy.
However, this is life; full of trials, full of unknowns, full of tests. It is ok to get frustrated, as we are human. I then use that frustration to fuel myself to keep fighting. It is not easy to be taken out of my routine, but that gives me time to really think about my life. I am going to listen to my doctors and do all I can to let my body heal on its own. I will make whatever lifestyle changes necessary and these changes will become my new ‘normal.’ One day at a time and one foot in front of the other. We must find a way to smile, to laugh and to enjoy every day. To focus our vision and energy on what we need to do today and the decisions we need to make to have the best quality of life today, because we do not know what the new day will bring. Once I get back to my new ‘normal’ I can get back to doing what I love, and that is living life to its fullest.