I think Tom Waits said it best in Telephone Call from Istanbul:
All night long on the broken glass
Livin’ in a medicine chest
Mediteromanian hotel back
Sprawled across a rolltop desk
Yeah, I’d tweaked my back a little bit while doing deadlifts several weeks ago. Nothing like ten years ago when I’d first really tweaked it. And this time, it seemed to be getting better, not worse. Barely noticed any soreness.
Then suddenly a monster appeared. Out of nowhere. It raked a casual claw down my right side from lower back to ankle, producing a blinding voltaic agony that belied its gentle, almost loving stroke.
For those of you who’ve never experienced it, it’s called sciatica, and I’m not exaggerating the horror. Imagine a dentist probing your cavity without anesthesia. One minute you’d be sitting in the chair, the next you’d be attached to the ceiling. The sciatic nerve is just as sensitive, minus the dentist. But it’s debilitating. There is no comfortable position. You can’t move. You can’t sit down. You can’t lie down. You can’t stand up. You can’t walk. You can’t think. You can’t sleep.
I used to be pretty tough as a kid. I was a tomboy. I climbed trees, roller skated for miles, pummeled myself in gymnastics.
Once I was accidentally smashed in the chin with a golf club by a neighborhood kid. At the hospital later as the doctor stitched up the wound, he commented on how brave I was (I refused to cry in front of him).
I broke my toe on a family vacation and didn’t tell anyone. When asked why I was limping, I said I’d stubbed it.
Chasing my older brother brought all sorts of woe all the time. I ran through the shower door once, receiving a large shard of glass in my knee in the process.
I slammed my temple harder than an MMA fighter on a wooden gate while once again pursuing said older sibling. The doctor told my mother not to let me go to sleep that night, and I remember happily watching TV and reading while a huge lump throbbed on the side of my head.
There’s many more examples, but suffice it to say that when the monster appeared a week ago, pressing almost absentmindedly on the nerve running down my leg, oh, so disinterestedly, preoccupied with the other myriad matters that could only concern a monster like it, that younger me, that braver me, was nowhere in sight.
In fact, if I was taken as a prisoner of war right now, today, I think the safety of the entire United States would come into serious jeopardy, because evidently, even before they got started, just the thought of the forthcoming torture would have me singing like an opera diva. Sorry, you guys. Sorry, America. Just being real.
Props to hubby, BTW, for trying everything under the sun to alleviate the suffering, including tight calf wrappings, experiments with pillows, and Icy Hot massages.
A product of this flare-up itself, though, was all the weird things going through my mind as the monster squatted, an unwelcome interloper, inside me. Maybe not so much weird as disparate, zinging up and down a wildly fluctuating scale as I morphed from pain to relief and back to pain again: the ravings of a madwoman.
As the TV droned in the background, vomiting up old topics, reality transmogrified. I imagined that Trump, someone who’d never been in the military, much less a war, had never voiced the incredible, mind-boggling suggestion that Senator McCain was a loser for “getting caught” by the enemy. Instead, he and McCain became good friends, exercised together in an endless pool, and started an afternoon bowling group.
I imagined the NFL players kneeling down during the National Anthem and people reacting with empathy and compassion for those in America whose experiences in “the land of the free” differed wildly from theirs, observing not disrespect for the flag but only a simple desire to have a deep concern recognized, since all other traditional routes and attempts had gone more or less unheard. As a result, changes came about, and eventually everybody got along and loved each other.
I remembered the fun of seeing Undiscovered Country in the Mann Theater in Hollywood and wondered what in the name of all that’s holy was The Book of Henry about?
Same with Mother! I’ve heard all the theories and explanations, but I still want to know who had snuck the LSD into my Coke while I was watching that movie.
When the monster was reclining in the La-Z-boy sipping a cup of coffee, reading the paper, distracted, my thoughts would go soft and mushy like Jell-O, nullified by the universal equalizer: pain killers.
I thought how much I loved these words:
I wondered who came up with “a murder of crows” and was there a more beautiful sentence anywhere in the world?
And what of the hordes of wild parrots that had taken over Burbank? Their screechy, ear-piercing shrieks were a thousand times louder and more knife-like than the caw-caw-cawing of the crows.
What were they? A wreckage of parrots? A slaughter of parrots? A calamity of parrots? A misfortune of parrots?
I wondered who didn’t love Daniel Day Lewis’s character bellowing, “I drink your milkshake,” or yelling, “I’m finished!” at the bizarre conclusion of There Will Be Blood?
I thought: No wonder people have near death experiences and then their entire perspective shifts. I don’t have any warnings to give like “be careful when you’re working out, or this will happen,” or anything like that, ‘cause I was doing everything pretty much right.
The weight wasn’t super-heavy, and I had my heavy lifting belt on along with other gear. It just happened. Obviously sciatica pain was nothing close to near death (although it felt like it) but it was a big kick in the butt, a colossal reminder of how great it is to feel good and how lucky we are when everything inside us is running smoothly.
I also realized I was no longer the child who refused to cry while the doctor stitched up her chin. I had succumbed to a fair amount of whimpering and sniveling and unabashed writhing during this sciatica event. But that was okay. Maybe younger me had paved the way for older me to handle an extremely unenjoyable tango with the monster—and hopefully many other things in life–better than I might have had I not been a tough little tomboy.
And man, I don’t think anybody wants to see what that would have looked like, including me.