When I was sixteen, a drunk driver slammed our car into a tree. I was in the passenger seat. The massive old tree caved in my door. The fire department cut us out of the car with the Jaws of Life. The tree saved our small car from going over a ravine.

The next 24 hours were pain and confusion. The doctor in the hospital said that I had no injuries and sent me home. I woke up peeing blood and unable to move my right leg. My mother was already on the phone with the hospital. A radiologist checking the X-rays from the night before saw that the last three vertebra in my back were fractured, called my mother, and told her that they were sending an ambulance for me.

I lay in a hospital bed for a week with no treatment, just under observation, and was released still unable to walk without crutches because my right leg didn’t work. I could feel it, but I couldn’t make it move. No one ever said why.

I went home again, for a month. I couldn’t go to school because I could barely get to the bathroom. Over the course of the the next month, I regained the use of my right leg and went back to school. I still wasn’t able to climb stairs. I sat in the library/study hall when I had a class in an upstairs classroom. I think it took about another month before I regained full mobility.

The orthopedic doctor told me that, due to arthritis, I would be in a wheelchair by the time I was 35. 35 came and went. I was on my feet and felt pretty good except for some pain in my right hip and knee. My right knee went out on me occasionally when I was rising from a sitting position. I thought that I had beat the orthopod’s prediction. I thought I would have some pain but be okay.

I turned 40 and everything hit me like the car slamming into the tree again. My knee is unreliable. My hip is starting to hurt in a way that frightens me.

And, my back.

The spinal vertebrae have wing-like projections on each side. In my back, each of those projections, six in all, broke off from the vertebrae at the moment of impact. Nothing was done at the hospital to aid my healing; perhaps nothing could be done. Nothing was done for my bruised kidney or spleen. They just left me in a bed for a week.

Over the months that I spent in bed waiting for my leg to work again, my spleen and kidney repaired themselves, and the wings of my vertebrae knitted themselves back to my spine. They served me well until four years ago.

The pain in my lower back now, every day, is like someone slammed three steak knives into my lower back on either side. It takes my breath away. Sometimes, I make my way from room to room holding onto furniture. Because I am the sole caretaker of my mother, I must do some heavy lifting. Sometimes, the pain is so much that it exhausts me and I have to sleep. That may be an early bedtime, or a five hour “nap” in the afternoon.

I take medication so that I don’t end up in that wheelchair that the orthopod promised. I take medication so that I can walk and drive and do laundry and shower. I’m not going to apologize for taking pain medication because I have to live in this breaking-down body. No one else has to live in it but me, and I’ve tried yoga, and I won’t try it again, and save the rest of your suggestions.

I’m starting to have difficulty walking on occasion. I reckon that I’ll be using a cane like my mother’s very soon. If it takes the edge off the pain, I’m fine with it. I can’t take enough medicine to completely kill the pain, but I will take what I am allowed, and I do not care what anyone thinks about it. Because it’s my pain alone, no one helps me, and I have to keep living.


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