Wednesday, August 5, 2020

We Haven’t Had Spine Issues for a Whole Year, and I’m Pretty Sure That Triggered the Plague

One year ago today, Ren had what we hope will be his last spine surgery.* He woke up from the hours of pre-op, operation, and recovery,  and for the first time in eight years, had a pain level that was bearable. He also had enough titanium in his back to stop a train.** Chronic pain and uncontrolled depression can make life next to impossible, and before surgery #7, we were dealing with both of them. Pain and pain meds can make you angry, and unpredictable, and detached, and a whole bunch of other things, and, because I was struggling to find the right combination of medications to help with my own depression, I had hit the outer limits of my ability to help Ren or to cope with his moods. We were lucky to make it through the spring of 2019.

Ren's rods. There are five of them just to be safe.
Anyway, Ren woke up from surgery a year ago today, and, with pain levels between 2 and 4, his life was different. Even though he had a 15-inch incision and a bunch of new hardware in his back, he felt like a new man after years of being at between 6 and 8 on the pain scale. We kept waiting for the intense pain to return as the "pain pack" the doctors had inserted during surgery wore off. But it never did.

Sometimes you don't realize the load you've been carrying until you aren't carrying it any more. Probably the biggest difference between Ren before surgery #7 and Ren after surgery #7 is that he was suddenly back in our lives again. For years, he spent much of the time we were all home lying in bed or on the couch while I handled child management and dinner prep. He often couldn't come to the kids' events because sitting on classroom chairs or bleachers, standing, or walking were too much for him. While I was becoming familiar with the restaurants and shops around town, and while I was driving kids to events in cities near and far, he was home, practically confined to the four walls of our house. When the back stopped hurting, we suddenly found ourselves together again, trying to put the pieces of our marriage and family back into place. Often that meant me introducing him to a place I've been many times but he'd never been before.
Gratuitous picture of the cat sitting on a puzzle Pink made me stay up half the night to finish.
It's pretty surreal to get the chance to see what comes after everything falls apart. I've learned a lot from it, especially since the pandemic has given us so much time to be together and to reflect. First, I've learned that our kids are hella resilient (and funny, and awesome, and not a little maddening). Those years when Ren couldn't do anything, the kids  often didn't understand why he couldn't do what other kids' dads could do. But, instead of becoming angry or resentful, they figured out ways to be expressive and creative and helpful. They also figured out ways to keep being kids, for better or for worse.
False bottom tissue box where Pink stashed candy and wrappers.

Second, some things are worth sticking out. For months and months and months, I wasn't sure Ren and I were going to make it because his pain and my depression made it nearly impossible for us to support each other. On top of that, for years and years, I wasn't sure his back would ever allow him to get to a place where we could enjoy things like travel or hiking again. So many years of uncertainty taught us how to stick it out, though, and I'm glad that we both kept trying. I'm absolutely sure that if either of us was slightly less stubborn, we wouldn't be together today discovering what this life after things fall apart can look like.

And, third, you really just never know, so you might as well try to live in the moment. The past 8 or so years have been hard, and it has taken awhile for me to believe that maybe, just maybe, the other shoe isn't going to drop this time. (I mean, unless you count the whole pandemic thing, which some days totally feels like my fault since surely MY bad luck is the reason this is all happening. I mean, we finally have a summer where someone doesn't need a surgery or a hospitalization, and I finally have tenure, so OF COURSE there's a worldwide plague). It's weird to be on the other side of so many years of chaos and back-to-back emergencies. I'm finding I'm having to rediscover how to "human" again. I am learning how to do things like have hobbies and enjoy down time with the kids (I've done a lot of decoupage and puzzles; and hiking--lots of hiking).

Can you have too many decoupage boxes? Asking for a friend.
I may have a problem. That, or I may just need to figure out new things to decoupage.

Ooooh, round box!
Some days, like when Facebook memories pop up on my page or when my depression isn't so great, I can get really stuck thinking about the trauma we've dealt with (2017, when Ren had heart issues and pulmonary emboli and might have died had we not stumbled our way into getting him the help he needed STILL haunts), but most days, I figure out how to live in the present and lean into this new life of ours.

Puzzle for Sky's room.
So, what am I trying to tell you, my dear readers? Thanks to months and months of brain-numbing quarantine and lack of sustained interactions with other adults, I really don't know. But, I THINK what I am trying to say is that I hope you remember that these current challenges are temporary and that you and the people you love have the capacity to grow and to change and to deal with whatever the universe throws your way. (Though I'm really hoping that once we get "through" the COVID-19 pandemic that the universe just kind of gives us all a few months off to try to regroup, straighten our collars, and have coffee with our friends again).

*In some ways, that is wishful thinking, since we know he has impacted levels in his neck that will most likely one day need attention, but for now, we choose not to worry about those.

 ** Lol. Not really, but maybe at LEAST enough to keep from another break!

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