The King and I
Friday, January 13.
I go to Pennsylvania Hospital in Philadelphia to have a discogram. This sounds like fun; it sounds like something would involve a mirrored ball and a polyester wrap skirt. It sounds like its soundtrack would be the BeeGees or the Andrea True Connection. It sounds like maybe Denny Terrio comes to your house with a message.
It’s not. The test is done under anesthesia in an operating room. Before I’m taken in, I lay on the gurney doing isometric stomach crunches and stretching my legs like an athlete before a contest. After it’s over and I’m in recovery, they keep trying to give me pain medication, Vicodin, Percocet, the ones I can’t take because they make me sick. They keep saying that a discogram is a very painful test and maybe I should take something for the pain. No thanks, I don’t want to get naseous, I say, I’d rather have a little pain.
Saturday, January 14.
I’m still groggy from the anesthesia, and my back is very stiff. I spend the majority of the day on the couch.
Sunday January 15.
I’m stiffer now, and have to hold onto things to walk because I can’t stand upright, but I manage to make scrambled eggs. I sit down at the computer to do the Times Crossword Puzzle and feel my body crumpling in half. I abandon the eggs and stagger to the bed, where I can’t find any comfortable position to lay in. Everything hurts. I know I said I didn’t want to take anything, but quicker than you can say Danny Bonaduce I’m gobbling muscle relaxers and Tylenol and Motrin.
Monday, January 16.
The stiffness is now pain, full-on, nasty pain. I can’t take a breath because the movement of the stomach muscles sends bolts of pain down my legs and my back muscles are vibrating with pain spasms. Even thinking about moving causes pain, as if my brain was admonishing me for having the audacity to try to move. Thank God Tyler comes home early from work to help me to the bathroom because I can’t even turn over without screaming. Any weight on my legs is excruciating.
Tuesday, January 17.
The Pain is my religion. It is the basis for everything, the answer to every question. It’s all I have.
Unable to even lift my head, I lay in bed and cry and pray to The Pain. I’m taking Tylenol and muscle relaxers at four hour intervals; they wear off after about two or three hours and I’m left with The Pain: bright, searing flashes.
The Pain is everywhere and nowhere. It moves, disjointed. I picture my body as the ground in an aerial view of a bombing attack. The bombs are tiny and I can’t see them as they fall, just the explosions, spots of fire and ruin, then The Pain blooms up like curling clouds of smoke, spreading devastation.
Late afternoon and I can’t move to get to the Tylenol and muscle relaxers on the bed table. I’m in agony until Tyler comes home from work. Later, I vaguely remember begging him to get a knife from the kitchen and cut me, so that the pain of the wound will distract me from The Pain. He helps me take pills, and I lie pulsing with The Pain, waiting for it to move away. It takes about twenty minutes, but eventually it’s like The Pain is on the other side of a wall, like neighbors having a nasty fight; you can’t quite get what is going on, but you know it’s bad.
Wednesday, January 18.
Tyler doses me up before leaving for work. When I wake later on, I hear a low guttural sound in the distance. In my stupor, I think it’s Tony, then I remember he’s at daycare.
It’s me. My voice is escaping like steam from a kettle, as if there was not enough room inside my body for The Pain and anything else.
By afternoon, I’m fantasizing about peeing in bed. It’s not like I’ve been eating asparagus or anything, and at least it would be one less thing. I haven’t showered or brushed my teeth since Sunday.
That night, Tyler helps me to the bathroom and I sit in the tub splashing water on myself like a feeble, awkward bird. I brush my teeth in bed with a cup of water.
Thursday, January 19.
I feel like Elvis: heavy, drugged, nauseous, unable to sit up or go to the bathroom by myself. I can’t even watch TV, so I lie in bed and watch The Pain from a distance. I’m able to, by grasping the headboard, shift myself over from side to side. I can take my pills myself now, and swallow another handful at 10:30. By noon, The Pain is distant, throbbing, a car crash way down the road, all crumpled metal and burning tires, but far away.
The Pain is now in my legs. I see the nerves that run through my hips and down my legs as filaments in a light bulb, brilliant and quivering with pain. I can take deeper breaths now, so I try to breathe against The Pain, but it’s everywhere, swirling around me like smoke, and I end up just breathing in more Pain.
I make it to the bathroom with my fist stuffed into my screaming mouth. By the time I get back to bed, The Pain is back full force, and I’m not supposed to take any more pills till around 4pm. I take another handful at 1:30.
Friday, January 20.
The one-week anniversary of the test. I’m able to get to the kitchen more than once and grab a few pieces of cheese and some almonds and water. I’m also able to make it to the bathroom, but I’m still gulping Tylenol and muscle relaxers every four hours. I can lay on my side and look at Flickr on the laptop. I can also watch TV, but can't maneuver myself to aim the remote correctly to change the channel or turn it off without pain. I understand why Elvis shot the TV; if I had a gun, I'd shoot ours, just to turn it off.
Saturday, January 21.
I don’t need the muscle relaxers anymore; and I’m now alternating Mortin and Tylenol. The Pain is now a strand of wires, sometimes strectched and raw and sometimes it is almost gone. I can sit up to eat or watch TV or be at the computer for short periods before it becomes unbearable.
It's now Tuesday morning. I take the train to Philadelphia to see the doctors in a little while. I'm not looking forward to sitting on the train for over an hour each way, let's face it, Amtrak seats are not comfortable on a good day, but I am anxious to put this whole episode behind me. If I have to feel like Elvis ever again. I hope it's the hip shaking Elvis from Viva Las Vegas. Better yet, maybe I could just be Ann-Margret. Disco is dead, anyway.