The Follow-up

Dec. 6th 2013

I was looking forward to my follow up exam, mainly so I could get my pain killer prescription refilled that I had been waiting for for five days now. I was also told I was getting x-rays done and after accidentally jerking may back a bit to avoid tripping I really wanted to make sure that the additional pain I was getting wasn’t caused by something moving out of place.

I have been here so often that the receptionist now recognizes me. “Hi there, how are you doing?”

“I’m ok; slowly getting better”. But really I felt far from ok today. I didn’t want to take any pills so I could accurately describe my pain to my doctor. Plus I would have had to take more of the tramadol then I even had left to feel any relief, so suffering silently, something I have become so good at, seemed like the best option.

My husband and I sat down in the waiting area so I could get called in for some x-rays before seeing the doctor. He looked just as poorly as I felt. He had his laptop out so he could work remotely but his exhaustion was clearly painted on his face and his hair looked as if it had been unwashed for a week. That was one big difference between the two of us. He really didn’t care what anyone thought of him and only dressed nice when he really needed to, like going into the office. While I didn’t particularly care what others thought of me I learned early on in my life that all people, either consciously or subconsciously, treat you based on how you look.

Back in my freshman year of high school I might just as well have been invisible. After years of my mother buying me overly girly clothes that got me teased as a young girl I then dressed as plain and boring as possible. I was quite and did my work so I mostly got A’s in my classes. And even when a friend of mine convinced me to start skipping gym class I still got an A. The teacher probably had no idea who I was.

And then sophomore year something in me shifted. I disliked how superficial and capitalistic mainstream society seemed to me; you could say I was going though that typical teenage angst period. I put blue streaks in my hair, and despite this being well past the 90’s my attire took on more of a grunge look because I only wanted to shop at thrift stores and refused to buy new jeans even when the ones I had became ripped at the knees. I somehow managed to talk my parents into letting me get an eyebrow piercing when I was 15 and then when I was 16 I made a fake ID to get my first tattoo. I was still a straight A student and even in several advanced placement classes, I didn’t drink or do drugs but somehow I was suddenly an embarrassment to my family.

As my hair and clothing became more unconventional my parents argued with me more. My mother knew my brother was going out and drinking at party’s underage but that was somehow ok, the fact that I looked so different from a typical nice suburban teenager wasn’t. My mother told me she was embarrassed to be seen with me. That only solidified my belief that this world was a hollow, superficial place and strengthened my resolve to distance myself from the mindless sheep who thrive off of a twisted religion known as consumerism.

For the rest of high school and most of college I did my best to play the part of an anti-social post-punk socialist. As soon as I was no longer under my parent’s roof I shaved off most of my hair into a mohawk. I gauged my ears and got more ink. But I wasn’t one of those people who got tattoos for the sake of getting tattoos. Sure I think they look good but they also have meaning to me. My behavior may have seemed erratic and illogical to my parents but to me everything I did had meaning.

It wasn’t until I ended up in the hospital crying in the worst pain I have ever experienced at the time that my views on my appearance started to change. I was taken to the hospital in an ambulance but despite being admitted right away I was ignored for over an hour. It was about 6 am at this point and most of the rooms around me seemed to be empty. Two nurses were casually chatting at the nurses’ station. Crying and feeling frightened I walked up to the nurses and asked why no one had been in to see me yet.

“We’re busy” one of the nurses said curtly and then immediately turned away from me. I walked back to my room and just stared at the clock and cried as the pain in my lower back just kept getting worse.

I was terrified that something was wrong with my spine even though I couldn’t think of anything I had done that might have damaged my fusion. Finally a large woman in a white coat came in and started asking me some questions. She was actually very nice and surprisingly pleasant. After asking about my symptoms and after doing a brief physical exam she said I should have a CT scan.

“Can I please be given something for the pain? I feel really awful.” I pleaded, I was so afraid of going to the hospital that I waited for six hours dealing with this excruciating pain before calling 911. My mother who was an RN and used to work in a hospital ER once warned me that if I ever went to the ER complaining of pain I would likely be assumed to be a drug addict based on my age, tattoos and piercings.

“Well we really shouldn’t give you anything until we know what’s going on” said the plump lady in the white coat as she abruptly left the room. My mom was right; these people just thought I was looking for drugs. Even once I had the CT scan done and it showed several stones in both my kidneys the nurse assigned to me still decided to treat me like a drug addict. When she was instructed to start and IV line so I could finally get some pain medication she jabbed the needle into my arm so hard it left me with a bruise two inches long.

After that miserable experience I realized that the way I was presenting myself to the world was doing nothing but making my own life harder. So as much as I would love to have purple hair and be covered in ink, here I sit at the doctor’s office with my hair dyed a natural looking red wearing khaki pants and a crew neck t-shirt that covered my chest tattoo. Sure you can call me a sell-out, but really appearance is just superficial, it doesn’t change who I am. I can dress the part of a responsible adult if it gets me what I want.

“We’re ready for you”. I look up and see the x-ray tech across the room. I awkwardly stand up and my husband starts to follow me.

“Oh you can’t come with her, she’s just getting some x-rays and we will bring her right back,” the tech explains with a thick accent that I think is Indian. I have never been good at guessing people’s nationalities. He leads me to the changing room where I am to take everything off except my underwear. The door to the changing room feels like it’s fifty pounds, I can barely push it open. This is clearly a poor design. I am not supposed to strain and here I have to take my brace off and then pull open this absurdly heavy door? I am already in pain and now I’m frightened of a damn door. This day is not going very well. At least once I am taken in for the x-rays all I have to do is lay on my back and then roll on my side. Those are two things I am now an expert at.

After carefully putting my clothes back on like I am an antique doll that might break at any moment, I head back to the waiting room where my husband is intently focused on his computer. Luckily we don’t have to wait too long before the physician’s assistant calls me in. It’s the same routine every time. I tell her my symptoms, she relays them to the doctor and then he comes in and goes over what everything means.

He explains my x-rays in detail going over where the old hardware is and then zooming in to show the new hardware he put in.

“And the line here between the vertebrae is the spacer. I don’t see any bone growth yet but when there is bone growth we will be able to see it easily; it will look white like your bones here.”

Damn it I need to eat more yogurt. I have been obsessively eating greek yogurt hoping the protein and calcium will help me heal and encourage bone growth. I do not want this fusion to be a failure.

“So the nerve pain has been getting better?” The doctor asks as I am still fixated on that synthetic bone spacer, trying to will my own bones to grow into that tiny looking line.

“Yeah I am now basically just getting pain in my left foot but the rest of my leg has been pain free”.

“Oh, good. I wasn’t sure how that was going to go. I haven’t seen many cases of that happening. I think because you had so much hardware already in your spine it made it harder for everything to move well.”

If I was a different type of person I may have been mad that he had previously seemed so sure that the nerve pain was temporary and was now admitting that he had no idea what the outcome was going to be. Despite the fact that it felt like my foot was on fire and I had barely slept this past week I found this whole situation very amusing. Nothing is ever simple for me, nothing ever goes as planned. At least I had a new script for my pain meds so I could finally feel better and get some sleep. Or so I hoped…

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