A Full Plate

It’s finally mid-December, which means we’re ~20 days away from this hell year being over. The FDA has approved the Pfizer vaccine with shots beginning ASAP (I think someone in the Massachusetts government was saying that the first shots would be going out on Thursday), so there’s a light at the end of the Covid tunnel; and a new president will be inaugurated on January 20 (although he’s not as progressive as I’d like, it’ll be nice to wake up without that sinking sensation of pure dread for a little while). 

In my house, things are busy and have been, to the point where my body is 100% telling me to slow tf down, but it’s like… I can’t, because if I do, everything falls to pieces. I’m not saying this because I’m being overdramatic; sometimes SAHMing feels like being the manager for an entire company. 

But I digress.

I said last time that I’d been planning to write about sciatica, and boy do I have a story. Towards the end of my partial hospitalization program, where I was feeling mentally healthy and ready to get there physically as well, I woke one day with excruciating back pain. Nothing touched it–not NSAIDs, not Tylenol, not warmies, not stretches. When I went to the doctor for it, the x-rays showed that I basically have (a) mild scoliosis; (b) bone degeneration; and (c) bone spurs in my spine, which explains why I’ve been prone to throwing my back out since I was in college. 

(it was November of my junior year, I had just turned 20, and I had a lot on my plate: finishing out the semester, providing stage manager/dramaturgy stuff for our chamber choir’s Madrigal Feast, violin lessons, pulling my act together for a semester studying abroad at Oxford University, plus all the typical late-teens/early-20s drama that comes with being a college student. Oh, and that’s when I first got diagnosed with asthma and what’s probably chronic bronchitis, so yeah. A little on my plate)

My doctor had me go to physical therapy, and I was slowly getting better, but I’d also have days where I’d get worse. The pain seemed to be doing weird things, sometimes being very calm and manageable and other times being too bad for me to get out of bed. Eventually, by about mid-November, I found that I couldn’t sit up for long periods of time. I had to lounge on the couch or in bed with my legs and back in a specific position or else the pain would become unbearable. I started using a TENS unit regularly, trying to confuse the nerves in my back and leg, where the pain had now spread, and while the massage was pleasant, it didn’t do much long term. 

This all came to a head in the days leading up to Thanksgiving. Even without the usual hubbub (read: 20 something people at my uncle’s house and baked brie and so many desserts and family for days), I had plans to bake cinnamon rolls and cookies and green bean casserole for our more subdued holiday (my parents, whom we see pretty much every week anyway, were hosting and making the pies). The Tuesday before, I had physical therapy first thing in the morning and felt GREAT, but that afternoon, we did pictures with the kids…

…which, don’t get me wrong, turned out AMAZING, but once we were done, I was in too much pain to do anything but go collapse in bed. I wanted to be at my best on Thanksgiving, so I decided to spend Wednesday in bed, recovering.

Well, silly me, because that’s the opposite of what you should do with sciatica, especially if it’s caused by a herniated disc (which I suspect mine is). Being horizontal spreads the disc material out and makes it bulge out more when you eventually, inevitably stand up (because I am not going to get a fucking bed pan for sciatica). So Wednesday wasn’t too bad at first–I spent the day lying on my stomach, doing press-ups as instructed by my therapist, and listening to hypnotherapy and guided meditation on YouTube to get my mind off the pain. 

BUT sometime Wednesday night, all the things I had been doing just… failed. And Thursday morning, I woke up in blinding agony.

I have pain rankings, and this was only the second thing in my life to hit a 10. The first was gallstones, and those rank lower if only because they’re temporary. Once the gallstone breaks up or passes, the pain fades, and you go back to your life until it happens again. With sciatica, though, sitting and standing and walking and doing anything hurt like hell, and if you don’t figure out how to take care of it well, you eventually get to the point where there is nothing BUT pain. Pain is your existence, and you can’t remember a time without pain, and you can’t imagine a future time without pain, because that’s all there is. 

Eventually, I was screaming. Just mindlessly screaming because it hurt so much. My primary care doctor had suggested that if my pain got this bad, maybe I should go to the ER, but I’d been avoiding an ER visit because our new health insurance has terrible copays for everything, to the tune of “an ER visit before you’ve met your annual out of pocket maximum will cost you at least $3500, and if you HAVE met your out of pocket maximum, you’ll have a $1000 copay.” 

(MAN I am so glad that we pay 20% of Kyle’s paycheck to get THIS insurance instead of however the fuck much we would pay to get universal healthcare, like WOO this is so much better than living in Denmark and getting taken care of for the low low price of FREE)

But we called the ER and said I was on my way, and then I couldn’t even sit up at all, so we called an ambulance. I had to wait for the ambulance in the living room while screaming and crying and shaking from pain, and Sam had to see me like that, which I hate. I don’t remember anything about what I said or thought beyond “I hate that Sam is seeing me like this”–allegedly, I was telling the EMTs that I hoped they were going to get to have turkey, and I was really worried about making sure they’d have their turkey, but I don’t remember any of it. 

They were great, as I recall–they gave me a nasal shot of fentanyl to take the pain from an impossible place to a place where I could be transported, and they were really funny. The pain did not go away completely from the fentanyl, but I stopped screaming for the ride and managed to get to a point where I was just lying there, quietly hurting, with nobody helping me. 

That was probably the second worst part (the worst part was Sam seeing me like that)–being in the ER and nobody being there to even check in with me. They looked me over once I was there and gave me like… whatever generic painkillers they had available and eventually did prescribe me a nerve blocker called gabapentin, which has done WONDERS. BUT it also reminded me why I hate going to the ER for anything ever, because unless you’re dying or possibly dying, they sort of don’t pay attention to you at all. 

And that’s understandable–there are a lot of people coming in and out of the ER, sometimes just to get painkillers, sometimes just to get an ultrasound of their baby, sometimes just because they’re like. Itchy. It’s especially bad now with Covid and people having to go to the ER because they might have it (on my way out, I saw three rooms designated as Covid-only). And I didn’t WANT to go to the ER, but my pain just got to an impossible point. 

My therapist helped me with it this week. She told me that one of the hallmarks of chronic pain is that eventually, your body is too tired to try and fight it off, and the more you have on your plate, the harder it is for your body to work through the pain. Which was like, wow, I didn’t come here to be attacked like this, but that makes way too much sense.

There’s not much of a choice in the matter, of course. Kyle’s job doesn’t necessarily demand too much of him (he’s able to come out and help when I really need it, especially since after the ER), but he’s still working full time, and I’m full time with the kids. Especially during the holiday season, that means that my daytime hours basically evaporate, because there’s so much that I need to organize and do and make sure of, all while I’ve got three kids asking things of me at all times.

I’m not complaining. I love being a stay-at-home mom. But I think I might be reaching a pandemic breaking point, because said pandemic has unquestionably made things MUCH harder. There’s no chunk of afternoon time where the twins are napping and Sam is at school where I can just focus on getting household stuff done, whether it’s cleaning or setting up appointments or paying bills or whatever. There’s no time when I’m awake and not exhausted where I can just be

I think I’d be able to bear it much more if I weren’t prone to chronic pain, but when you add all that work to the work of bearing chronic pain, the pain gets severe that much faster. You’re already exhausted from the everything–the kids jumping on the couches and knocking each other over and batting at Christmas ornaments because they want to be kittens, the homeschool battle because even on good days it’s a battle, the trying to keep up with everyone’s therapies like ABA and speech and coordination and whatever the fuck, the socializing that starts to feel like work because you’ve been overwhelmed with people being literally ON you all day, the weekends where it used to be getting more done but are now just gasping air before being pulled under again–and then the pain creeps in. 

And pain is so exhausting. I remember when I was younger and used to get excruciating menstrual cramps (I found out while trying to have Sam that I had a tilted uterus, which has fortunately fixed itself since having kids, but let me tell you, it’s a for-sure recipe for very bad periods), I’d reach the end of the day and just fall asleep for 18 hours straight. There are a lot of ways to think about pain that involve accepting it and trying to help your body cope with it better, but sometimes, it really is just a battle that you end up losing.

So here we are in December. I can tell that if I weren’t on the meds I’m on, I’d be in a lot more pain, but the gabapentin is doing the excellent work of keeping the pain manageable, as long as I don’t push myself too hard and keep mobile. Sciatica is a weird thing where the more you’re able to stay mobile and keep exercising, the better it gets; but at the same time, when it’s at its peak, the pain defies belief, and all you want is for someone to just knock you out so you don’t have to deal with it anymore. BUT the meds I’m on make it possible for me to stay mobile, and I have a timer set on my phone that reminds me to get up and loosen up every two hours or so (I call it my dance break, and the twins participate, and none of us are very good dancers). 

I keep doing Everything because I have to, which is something I keep thinking whenever someone remarks on us having two-year-old twins (and also three four-month-old kittens, more on that in a second) and asks, “how do you do it?” The only answer is that we do it because we have to. We had these kids, and we’re going to make sure they thrive. And there’s a light at the end of the tunnel–as I’m writing this, the FDA is an hour past approving the Covid vaccine for emergency use. By the time the twins turn three in March, we should be well on our way to getting our jabs, and in any case, the twins start preschool March 15 (assuming all things run smoothly). That will make things easier. 

But in the meantime, I’m sitting here, feeling my leg be numb because it can’t hurt, and knowing that I can’t stop juggling all these balls or else everything falls apart.

And in the midst of all this, we adopted three kittens!

Honestly, they don’t add a lot to the load. We’ve been on waiting lists since Tinkerbell passed because I cannot go a long time without a cat, and the shelters we applied to wanted to make sure they paired us with kittens that could thrive in a house with three kids. I got the call Monday about a litter of five cats that had been raised with kids about Sam’s age and the caveat that I had to bring all three kids to meet them and the kids had to behave or else the kittens wouldn’t come home with us.

We went in wanting just two, but of the litter of five, two had already been adopted, and these three were the only ones left. And we couldn’t just LEAVE them, so. 

Well. 

They also kind of adopted us. Each one snuggled up to us and purred and rubbed against our legs and force pet us (you know, when cats bump their heads against your hand like “LOVE ME” and you’re like “I already do?” and they’re like “NO LOVE ME” so you do), and… well, they’re necessary. Not because we have any sort of mouse problem, not because I need more on my plate, but because they spark joy. A whole lot of joy.

Biggest brother is Duke Orlando Stinkybutt Catrissian, so named because he farts like an unholy terror. He’s a little fighty, but only with me or Kyle; with the kids, he keeps a respectful distance unless they’re petting him. He’s the most adventurous of the trio, most prone to getting into trouble and the murderer of at least one tree ornament. 

Then we have Duchess Oreo Zoomies the Experience, who has established herself as Sam’s Cat. He named her–he saw the pictures of the kittens and decided that her name should be Oreo because she’s black and white like an Oreo. She ADORES Sam–hunts him down wherever he is and snuggles up with him. And she’s been so good for his anxiety, too, helping him to calm down and feel safe enough to sleep, even when he’s worried about something. She’s almost as much of an explorer as Orlando and is highly prone to Zoomies at all times.

Last, but certainly not least, is Duchess Orla With the Chanel Boots…

…who is Mine. She established herself as Mine when we were meeting them and she only came out to socialize with me and Carrie. She’s the shyest of the three, only really coming out for cuddles when the kids are safely in bed and Kyle and I are in a quiet place. Once she’s out, though, she’s a party animal but very ladylike about it. She’ll mince around the covers and attack our feet with the same attitude as Miranda Priestly going after an incompetent staffer. She’s adamant about being held but will also fight me forever about the cat pouch hoodie I bought (yes, I am being That Kind of Cat Mom). 

And, well. It may have been biting off a lot, but I feel like the joy and stress relief they give with their cuddles make up for the buying food for three cats and scooping a litter box again and “what are you chewing on???” and “GET OUT OF THE TREE” and “Isaac, it is REALLY ADORABLE that you’ve decided to pretend you’re a kitten, but if you try to climb the Christmas tree, nobody will end up happy” and the “yes, Carrie, the kitty is sharp, have we learned a lesson?”

They’re necessary. They don’t feel like more on my plate. They feel like they’re individually taking the stress of having so much on my plate and dissolving it, and that’s a nice feeling.

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