The Relative Nature of Problems

Problems, problems, problems
Woe is me, I’m havin’
Problems, problems, problems
– Tribe Called Quest, 8 Million Stories

Phife described problems with women, clothes, and theft. Endless problems that warranted lengthy and numerous verses. But I’m still pretty sure for the last couple of weeks I’ve had him beat. Did he really think those were problems?

This is how my thinking has turned. I’ve developed some sort of anguish snobbery. Arguments with other drivers, missing the train, the general annoyances of my job. Sure, these can all be frustrating. And they really are. I don’t want to discount the fact that even the little things can have a big effect. And I don’t want to say that every time I’m upset about something I must let it roll off my back in light of the people with real problems. Because even the smallest issues have their place on a scale of frustration. But it’s just that I have earned some type of (temporary) right to judge other people’s problems and, in most cases, deem my circumstances more dire. Although I’m nowhere near the end of the scale involving terminal illness, insurmountable poverty, or gruesome death, I’m definitely far superior to the road ragers and reality tv “stars” of the world.

My climb into the range of superior problems began a couple of weeks ago when I began to feel pain in my back, reminiscent of what brought on a need for surgery last year. No big deal though. I had been stretching and doing strengthening exercises that I assumed were pushing it a bit (although that falsely implies I was working out aggressively). This type of pain has come up a couple of times since last year’s surgery. And once it required a couple of vicodin. But it never took more than a few stretches, some rest, and a few days to subside. However, a week later – on a Saturday, it was much worse this time. Sciatica in my left leg was in full effect. And if you’re not familiar with the pains of sciatica…well, you’re really lucky. The best way I can describe it is the brief, sharp, pulling pain you get in your legs when you over-stretch your hamstring, thigh, or calf muscles. But imagine that feeling all the time, in any and all resting positions. Last year the sciatica was in my right leg and accompanied by total numbess of my foot and much of my leg. Pain on the inside and numbess on the outside.

Wong-Baker Pain Scale

When I woke up on Saturday with the crazy pain in my leg and persistent pain in my back, I thought my whole weekend would be blown as I waited it out. By Saturday evening I was completely collapsed on my kitchen floor, literally screaming, having sneezed and taken level 9 pain to something off the charts. I’m not sure how many vicodin I took. But it didn’t matter. I watched the sun rise without even the briefest reprieve. And somewhere around 5am, if you can believe it, it became worse. As I shifted from one painful position to another, the pain in my back suddenly became more acute. As if the knife that were already there were twisted and lodged further in with a hammer. And at the same time, a cruel person pulled every nerve out of my left leg with bare, dirty hands, only to play them like a harp. I’m not sure I even got a scream out – nothing but the pain seemed clear…that is until I felt the feeling in my foot fading. The little toe, all the toes, my heel, then my calf. I begged…literally begged. “Please don’t let this happen to me again. PLEASE!!”

It didn’t stop. In fact, through Sunday, the numbness and pain were only accompanied by severe weakness. Twice I fell over when putting my weight on my left leg for only a moment. Monday I barely moved. Tuesday morning I took my last remaining vicodin and dragged myself out of the house to see my spine doctor (that’s right – I have a doctor just for my spine). Not so sure how I survived that journey, but it did involve some crying in the taxi. And incidentally, once I stopped crying, the driver and I had a delightful conversation about Amsterdam. He promised to pray first that I would feel better, and second that I would find love and happiness in Amsterdam. He was a bright spot. But I digress.

Wednesday morning was the MRI, to which my brother-in-law drove me. Wednesday afternoon was a call from my doctor. A disk herniation would have been bad. But this was a super duper sized herniated disk, that had broken off, and was hanging out in my spinal canal and severely compressing the area nerves, causing almost the complete breakdown of my leg. What’s more, there was blood that had gathered where it was not supposed to be. And since he was going on vacation in two days, I had two choices: wait for two weeks to reassess when he returned, or get myself to the hospital that night to have surgery on Thursday.

Woe is me, I’m havin’ problems, problems, problems. Pray for me, I’m havin’ problems, problems, problems.

Wednesday night I checked into the hospital (I’ll spare you the details of how I got there and how I found my final pre-surgery meal). Thursday morning I was wearing all the surgery gear, including a very unflattering cap that barely fit my hair, and rolling over to have the doctor sign my back. I was too dazed by all of it to even register fear.

I woke up from a pleasant dream to find myself in the surgery recovery room. I don’t remember much – except there was no more pain in my leg. I later learned that although there was no more pain, so much of my disk had been lost (between last year and this year’s incident) that I’m about 10% of a disk away from being “bone to bone” in the lowest part of my spine.  I can live with it.  But if the thought of it isn’t cringe-worthy, I’m not sure what is.

Friday morning, I passed the physical therapy test (which basically just told them I wouldn’t tumble down a flight of stairs the moment I left the hospital) and was discharged.

Problems over, you wonder?

My sister picked me up from the hospital to drive me home in my car. Almost in tears, she ran into my hospital room explaining that the driver-side window wouldn’t roll up. There was just no window. After driving me to Brooklyn, she and her husband found a lot for my car for the evening because parking on the street for even a moment wasn’t an option. But the good news was my sister would stay with me for a couple of nights to take care of me. She would just get some much needed work done while at my place. But when she tried to get online…fail. My internet wasn’t working. I called the cable company. The neighborhood was fine. It was only my connection – but it was so broken that it would require a technician to come to my place. My sister’s plans of working were destroyed and her options for staying as long as she planned became blurry.

Lord knows I’m havin’ problems, problems, problems.

Saturday evening my sister drove my three-windowed car to her much safer neighborhood in Jersey. She’d figure out how to get it fixed on Monday. Sunday afternoon her car broke down. Monday morning both of our cars were taken to the car doctor – $350 later, my car window was fixed and her car needed more time. Monday evening my brother-in-law was forced to drive my car an hour or so south to pick up my nephews from his sister’s house. Two exits into the drive, my car started overheating. As I chewed on numerous vicodin, I listened to him describe the many things the Pep Boys guy said it could be. $200 later, I had a new thermostat and the car was still overheating. Nephews still at their aunt’s house, brother-in-law turned back, barely getting home in my smoking car with all types of things bursting and blowing out.

Tuesday morning I had my car towed from my sister’s house to a local dealership. I also had to make an early morning call to my doctor’s office, reporting continuous, unexplained bleeding from my incision.

Help me out, I’m havin’ problems, problems, problems.

Wednesday morning I was feeling much stronger, even able to hobble around my apartment without crutches and taking fewer vicodin to get through the day. The bleeding still persisted, but I had an appointment to have my incision looked at in the morning. After a much less dramatic taxi ride, and receiving yet another prescription, things in the health and pain departments seemed to be calming down.

And the car? Another $1,150 later to replace all types of parts, it was fixed and ready to be driven by Wednesday afternoon, windows up and all.

So it’s been a rough couple of weeks. Yes, I’m thankful for the many blessings that have gotten me through it (and in a short period of time, I should add) – including family and friends to take care of me and persistently check on me, an incredible doctor who was able to squeeze me in for an emergency surgery, and medical insurance to make surgery an option. But boy oh boy. I will be milking this right to judge other people’s problems, and reflecting on my superior coping skills for quite some time. I’ve earned it. And until I can completely feel my left leg and foot, and walk like a normal person again, as far as I’m concerned, I’ve still got some problems, problems, problems.

Woe is me.

8 thoughts on “The Relative Nature of Problems

  1. Empress Soldier,

    Hopes for a speedy recovery and thankfully Mercury’s retrograde has wrecked havoc early in the game. Hold fast, the new moon cometh….


  2. OMG Dana!!!!!!!!!!!!! You are really going thru out there. I am convinced the spirits of NY are trying to give you hell for daring to leave…Your oasis in Amsterdam awaits and it will be awesome.

    By the by this blog is awesome…minus all the problems.


  3. Dana! Had no idea about all the car trouble, on top of everything else… WOW. You’re a survivor! (Maybe you should have embedded Destiny’s Child, too.)

    Here’s a pain scale that may have been more helpful to you — seems like you were in the “too serious for numbers” category.

    You’ve definitely earned the right to judge almost everyone’s problems. At least that came out of this whole ordeal! Really hope you’re on a definite path to recovery now. Thinking of you!!


  4. Wow, so, I’m really late on commenting, but Danas! I had no idea. You are so much stronger than you realize. To have gone through- sorry, to be going through so much and still have a smile on your face at work of all places…I truly admire you.


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