What a difference a week makes! Taking some time to think about why I was slipping into depression, writing about it and reflecting on it, helped me to push it aside. Thank you to everyone who sent me positive messages and support – I really appreciate it.
Having a more positive outlook is helping me to better deal with my physical recovery. While I am not any better this week, I know more about my nerve pain, which makes me less worried about it. The fatigue and ridiculous sleep patterns, while problematic, are manageable and may be the result of the stress of following the Seahawks more than a side effect of recovery (seriously, the last 3 minutes against the Packers were almost too much for me); one more game and thankfully this adrenaline ride will be over.
I was in Vancouver on Wednesday (Bell’s “Let’s Talk” day. If you are Canadian you likely couldn’t miss the relentless messaging about mental health. While the skeptic in me recoiled a bit at the crass marketing tied to mental health, I can’t knock the efforts to reduce the stigma around these issues. While it may have been self-serving, Bell did end up donating about 6 million bucks to mental health initiatives due to the 122 million texts and tweets about the campaign. Kudos to them for supporting mental health, however it didn’t make me think about switching my phone plan to them, so maybe less a marketing win than they wanted). I had x-rays taken and a follow up appointment with Dr. Fisher, the orthopaedic spine wizard* who performed my surgery in July (an en bloc resection of the L5 vertebra with a lumbar – sacral fusion). While we talked about my back and the healing of the vertebrae, my primary concern was the nerve pain in my right foot. It is worse than it was in October, continues to move around and is incredibly frustrating; I haven’t felt confident driving because of the loss of sensation and it interrupts my sleep. I was concerned that almost six months after surgery this might be permanent. Dr. Fisher was encouraging. He reminded me that radiation is essentially the enemy of healing. No healing or bone growth has occurred since radiation started, and likely some deterioration (due to osteoradionecrosis) has occurred. The x-rays, while not showing any new weakness where the rods/pins are connected to my sacrum and lumbar vertebrae, also show that no bone growth has occurred where the chordoma tumor was removed. Essentially I am back to where I was in the early fall, which in a way is good news. It means that the nerve damage isn’t necessarily permanent; that recovery is really only getting underway now and there is a chance of substantial if not full recovery. This is awesome! (It is proof that my attitude is more positive when I can celebrate a surgeon telling me that my spine has decayed and I have made had no progress in healing).
Now I need to focus on recovery. I can begin to rebuild my strength, which should also help with fatigue and sleeping. I still need to be very careful of damaging my lower back but I can work on my core and overall fitness. I went back to yoga this week, which felt really good, and am trying to add in other activities. I am also walking as much as possible, which today’s massive snowfall won’t help with.
While in Vancouver I was fortunate enough to be able to spend some time with a friend that I have known for 30 years but haven’t spoken to since she visited me at VGH in my post-surgery drug fog. We discussed kids, work, family and our health struggles. I left our short time together feeling calm, happy and hopeful. It is amazing how comforting and uplifting sharing time with someone who knows you deeply, knows all your flaws and imperfections, and still gives you a warm hug can be. Thank you so much for making time for me.
Now that I have a better understanding of my nerve pain, I can also start to focus on sleep. I need to break this pattern of staying up all night and being exhausted all day. It is a serious impediment to work and family life, not to mention that I fell asleep as Kam Chancellor caught that interception against the Panthers and ran it back 89 yards for a touchdown, with Stella cheering beside me the whole time. How could I sleep through that? Never mind that I almost nodded off while Hibla Gerzmava was singing Antonia in Saturday’s MetOpera performance of Hoffmann.
So, sleep. I am going to try some pharmaceutical assistance for a few nights, get enough exercise to ensure I am exhausted by the evening and try to correct this. I think that I can train myself back into a normal pattern if I really focus on it for a week or two. Stopping my caffeine intake at noon and locking my cat out of the bedroom might help too.
And meditation. If I actually tried to meditate half as much as I think, write and talk about it, it might provide me with important benefits – better sleep, better focus, improved mood and less agitation, reduced crankiness, better concentration, oneness with a supreme being, telekinesis with my cat –but damn it is hard. However, I am committed to it, so I have been faithfully doing it daily and 8 days in, I think it might actually be getting easier (whatever that means). I know that “meditation” can mean so many things, encompass so much, and I am trying to be as catholic as I can in exploring it. I am going to take the next few months to investigate as many variations/approaches as I can to find a path that works for me. I am so thankful to my friend Melissa who is working so hard to bring awareness of this to Kelowna and to Colleen who took the time to have coffee with me this week. Colleen is a yoga teacher of mine with a deep practice in yoga who is on her own meditation journey. She inspired me to seek a deeper practice and to find a teacher. I feel that this is my next big adventure and that it can replace some of the medical world I was immersed in.
I think that my depressed mood in January may also have been affected by reading Unbroken, Laura Hillenbrand’s remarkable story of human strength that my friend Gary lent to me. While it is an inspiring story, I was struck by how incredibly cruel people can be. Now I am onto reading Narnia with Stella. While it also contains a lot of cruelty – wow, that witch is truly wicked – I have also read it many times and it is fiction so it isn’t bothering me as much. I also found that reading some Simon Rich (thanks Paula and Dave) after Unbroken helped change my mindset. Now I am reading Thich Nhat Hanh’s Miracle of Mindfulness which is powerful (thank you Jacalyn!).
I can’t post today without writing about the Seahawks. Today, assuming 12.5lb psi pigskins, we will see a 31-24 Seahawks victory, although they will again trail until the 4th, causing me undue anxiety. Marshawn Lynch will rush for 85 yards, and immediately after Pete Carroll hoists the Lombardi, Richard Sherman’s baby will be born. Mr. Lynch will be given the keys to Seattle (and have a line of skittles named after him); in April the team will announce that they are not resigning him for next season. However, even if he is no longer a Seahawk I know that his baseball will continue to afford me good luck.
Now that I am home, I will be cheering for the Canadians to help Seattle in their victory. It was great to see three Canucks play key roles in the win over Green Bay: Jon Ryan’s touchdown pass to get the ‘hawks on the board, Chris Matthew’s recovery of the on-side kick and then Luke Willson’s 2 point conversion to open the lead to 3. Go Canada!
Okay – I’ve got this. Thank you to everyone for their well wishes and support. Now I need to get positive, stay positive, and do this! I can, I know I can. I have all the support, I just need to follow through. I might be on a bit of an artificial high, the afterglow of having seen Vittorio Grigolo sing Hoffman in Offenbach’s opera in the Met in HD with Hibla Gerzmava singing Antonia and Stella. It was a fabulous production and both were fantastic; however I was blown away by Kate Lindsey’s performance of Hoffmann’s muse and his friend Nicklausse. If you didn’t see it, it is well worth it – there is an encore February 4th in the US and at the end of March in Canada. Also, put February 14th in your calendar for Iolanta and Bluebeard’s Castle. While Bluebeard isn’t exactly fairy-tale Valentine’s Day fare, Iolanta promises to be very cool. I always go to these alone, but as it is Valentine’s maybe I’ll bring a date!
Have a great February!
Go Seahawks! Looking forward to Russell Wilson winning SB XLIX in the desert!
*Dr. Fisher is truly an amazing surgeon: http://vancouverspinesurgery.com/our-team/charles-fisher/