A few weeks ago, I woke up with a terrible crick in my neck- the type you get when you’ve slept all funny. You know the type. It’s mildly annoying but usually fades by midday.
Tight as a drum, my neck never did loosen that day.
When I woke up the next morning, it was even worse.
This continued for four or five days. At that point, I began wearing eight hour heat patches on my neck, because without them I could hardly move. Driving was excruciating (and probably dangerous) because I really couldn’t properly turn my head.
By day three or four, James and I were both discussing that perhaps I should make an appointment with our doctor. I was beginning to get knife like pains all down the one arm, and we began to wonder if I had aggravated a head and neck injury I had sustained falling down the stairs a few years back. I kept demurring, saying that if it hadn’t gotten better “on Wednesday, on Friday”, I’d call Dr. B.
One day slipped by, then another. The pain didn’t go away. I knew I should call, but I just couldn’t do it.
I didn’t really want to know.
I’d rather live with the pain, I told myself.
We couldn’t really afford for me to visit the doctor. Just a week prior to my neck starting to bug me, the kids had come down with awful colds that sounded like they were turning into bronchitis. I waffled about what to do, calculating in my head that it would cost $150 just for my six children to see the doctor, not counting the cost for any medicines they might need. In shock, I posted this alarming revelation to Facebook, where, thank goodness, a dear friend suggested we try a mucus-reducing medicine that we could get over the counter. This did the trick, and the children all improved pretty quickly after that. Crisis avoided.
I am struggling to come to terms with this aspect for us. In a normal year, having to pay $150 for all the kids to see their pediatrician would not sink us and would be just a blip on the radar. I’m sure I’d have groaned a bit but it’s not like it would have really “hurt”; now every single penny is queried and interrogated before we send it off. It’s just hard.
Even more so, I just truly, really, didn’t want to know. We have been through so much that it felt a bit traumatic to even consider why my neck wasn’t healing. What could it be now? What will I have to go through? I can’t afford x-rays or MRIs or CT scans. I just couldn’t even make the jump.
I’m sure that sounds strange in a way. It would sound strange to me if I hadn’t gone through all we’ve been through in the last two years. There’s a weariness and a reticence to lift our heads. Sure, perhaps the vista will be okay, beautiful even, but after two, almost three years of train after train hitting us, we’re pretty afraid of what the light ahead might be. We say to each other “one foot in front of the other” daily, this mantra that keeps us steady- but every day that slips by it feels harder and harder to lift that foot. You get to a point where your prayers are simple and wordless and near-groan. Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner. There isn’t anything else left. Just that.
Something being wrong with my neck or shoulder just felt burden beyond us. Both in denial, we let it float.
About the eighth day of intense pain, as I was crawling into bed, I realized my pillow felt a bit funny. (I’d honestly been too tired and distracted prior to this evening to really pay attention to it.) I have a hybrid memory-foam/air pillow that can be inflated or deflated depending on need or personal taste. Even with the air completely deflated, the pillow is far more supportive than your average feather pillow. We had invested in this pillow years back when we realized it relieved the constant pressure that my mild scoliosis causes me.
You can see where this is going, can’t you?
My pillow’s air valve had somehow come loose, releasing all the air in the pillow, leaving only the memory foam. I refilled it to the point it should have been and went to sleep, a curious hope filling me.
The next morning, I awoke in substantially less pain. A day later, and the pain was completely gone again.
That subtle change- the air missing in the pillow- multiplied by the stress I’ve been feeling lately equaled excruciating neck pain.
Something so very small, just a tiny shift in perspective.
I laughed and honestly, cried. Such a small, seemingly foolish thing. My brain had begun to churn “what else is wrong NOW?” James and I were trying to figure out how to adjust to some new threatening reality, and the reality was a simple air-valve.
I’m not saying that everything is so easily fixed, but it has made me wonder. It’s a new conversation I’ve having with myself in addition to the “one foot in front of the other”- where’s your head? I think—it’s good for me to step outside of things and check for air valves. Or, at the very least, I’m starting to wonder if we can switch metaphorical pillows- thought processes. It’s hard, I’ll openly admit. I’m struggling to really process at all. I feel very a-emotional, unable to really engage, shut down. I’m told by my priest that this isn’t unusual- it just comes with the weariness of such a heavy load for so long, the way of a mind protecting itself from stress. Just don’t get stuck here, he says.
Even as I write this, as incredibly heavy as things feel, they are beginning to shift yet again. The doctors tell us that Josiah is as stable as he will be for quite some time; that he’ll only require occasional outpatient evaluations from time to time, and, with great hope, healing. From what they are telling us about Ellianna, even as they narrow down the culprit, she is stabilizing. Both possible treatments for both possible diagnoses will be more medication than treatment based; we probably won’t have to spend long treatment days in clinic. I can feel that our life is starting to settle down; that recovery and healing are on the horizon. Our life will never be the same as it was before, but it will be a much more stable life than it has been for the last year and a half, especially. It is taking everything within me to trust this bright hope.
We head to University of Virginia today to see a specialist they want Ellianna to see. It’s a three plus hour drive; a new chapter in her journey. I have no idea what it will bring and I can’t conjecture what it might mean going forward, but I am choosing to look on this with hope, not fear.