What I Didn’t Want To Hear

Jun. 25th 2013

When the doctor first mentioned the possibility of me needing surgery again I felt myself losing it. The tears welled up in my eyes as he went on to explain how my vertebra was compressed due to the lack of a disk and that was the most likely cause of my nerve pain. When he finished talking I tried to respond but just started crying. “I’m sorry” I said with a broken voice, tears still streaming down my face. “Everything you are saying makes sense. It’s just that the first surgery was so awful. I don’t want to have to go through that again.”

“Of course we can try non-surgical options first” He said handing me a box of tissues. The fact that there just happened to be a box of tissues in the room made me realize my reaction to the idea of spinal surgery was probably fairly common. “I can write you a script for physical therapy and you can also try cortisone injections. Our goal here is to keep you from needing surgery. I’ll get those scripts written up for you. You can wait in the waiting room and someone will bring them to you.”

As I walked out to the waiting room, still doing a very poor job of hiding my tears, the image of my MRI was stuck in my head. I know my spine would never look “normal”. I already have four screws and two rods holding my fused vertebrae in place. But that tiny dark space with a missing disk and that one vertebra that looked like it had been pushed out of place, like a spinal version of an overbite, made the pessimist in me feel like surgery was the inevitable outcome. Sitting in that waiting room, still silently crying around a bunch of strangers, I texted my mother and my husband an abbreviated version of what the doctor told me.

“I may need surgery due to a compressed vertebra. Trying PT first.” Despite being at work my mother responded right away asking for more detail. Sometimes it’s great to have a nurse for a mother, other times it can be very trying. I gave her some more technical details about the situation but then the receptionist handed me the paperwork I needed so it was time for me to leave and get to work. As I was exiting the hospital and walking to the parking garage I heard my cell ringing. I sighed thinking it must be my mom wanting to discuss my broken spine in even more detail but it turned out to be my husband.

“Hey honey” I tried to sound calm and somewhat cheerful not wanting him to worry about my mental state. But as we talked it was clear that he had been crying and when I described what my MRI looked like he started sobbing. “It’s going to be ok, the physical therapy might be all I need.” Anytime he was in emotional distress it immediately made me emotionally stronger. Maybe it’s some natural motherly instinct; whenever someone I love is depressed it makes me throw aside my emotional pain so I can focus all my energy on helping the person I love. By the time I got off the phone he still wasn’t doing so well but I had managed to stop crying and just disconnect myself from the situation. Having been though a lot of trauma in my life disconnecting myself emotionally is a skill I have mastered fairly well. I drove to work feeling numb and managed to enter the lab and get to my room without having to talk to anyone.

Unfortunately work was not a very good distraction. I work as a technician for a molecular biology lab and I absolutely love my job. I do get to run experiments but my main tasks are rather mindless repetitive things that give me a lot of time to let my mind wander. Normally I don’t mind mindless repetitive work but today my mind just kept going back to that doctor’s appointment and the idea of needing back surgery. I could only keep myself numb for so long and throughout the day I would just randomly start crying. I mostly work in a room by myself so for the most part I was able to just avoid my co-workers. But there were times I needed to grab items from other areas of the lab; if anyone noticed my red watery eyes they certainly didn’t say anything to me about it. But I am fairly certain my coworkers think I am a bit nuts anyway. I have PTSD from being stalked by a physically and sexually abusive ex-boyfriend so random bouts of crying and anti-social behavior are not uncommon for me. When I am acting weird people just leave me alone and personally I am grateful for that.

But despite my normal urge to be antisocial when depressed I for some reason felt the need to approach my supervisor at the end of the day. I managed not to cry but with a broken and quivering voice I explained to her what my doctor told me. “I just wanted to give you a heads up so if I do need the surgery it’s not like I am telling you at that last minute”

“Well of course you should do whatever is best for your health. “ She said very calmly but I could see the shock of this news in her eyes. I have mentioned my back problems before but when I am in pain I just tend to hide it, so none of my coworkers had any idea that for the past several months I have been suffering from severe pain. “I hope the PT helps and just keep me updated if you need time off.”


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