From my other articles, it might appear that Meg was our only concern when we came back to Virginia from Hawaii. Yet once we helped her settle into college, we were busy moving in and settling into our latest home: The house we still live in today, almost twenty years later. During this move I developed terrible, nagging, (it’s still hard for me to say), chronic pain in my back.
I remember exactly when it started. It was October, 1990 and our belongings had been moved into our fourteenth home, but there was still a lot of work to do. My husband, Joe, was at the Air Force base doing his work, and I was at home doing mine. That day I decided the china cabinet in the dining room was about two inches from being perfectly centered. Since I didn’t have Joe’s brawn to bring the cabinet into my perception of perfect alignment, I would have to move it myself.
I thought to myself: No problem, I’ve been moving furniture around for decades. I rationalized that I could do this. After all, the cabinet was empty. So I leaned my hip and shoulder into that sturdy cabinet we bought years ago in Germany and gave it a shove. Slowly I lowered myself to floor. The pain was great but not greater than my instantaneous feeling of utter stupidity. After a while, I started crawling to the sofa a few feet at a time and remained there until Joe came home. When I still couldn’t get up of the sofa, he carried me to the car and to his chiropractor.
I had never been to a chiropractor before, but I understood the process would include twisting and cracking my body. This made me tense, but not as tense as the man who looked like a left tackle that entered the examining room: Joe’s chiropractor. With the fight or flight adrenalin that was pumping through my body at that moment, I could have bolted off that table and out the door faster than you could say herniated disc. But I liked his kind eyes, and after a few minutes, I found he had a rye Irish wit to go with them. So I stayed.
During the treatment Dr. McKenna kept telling me to stop fighting him and to relax: Right. I won’t lie. My treatment was painful. But it did allow me to get up and walk out of the office, which I couldn’t do fast enough. Regrettably I had to come back. My course of treatment consisted of two visits per week for a month.
Even though the treatments were painful, like many women in my age demographic, I was taught to be a good soldier. So I dutifully went to my appointments, but with trepidation. Dr McKenna even gave me electro-stimulation treatments meant to lessen the pain following my adjustments. They didn’t help. After each appointment, I suffered pain, aching, and sleepless nights. The doctor couldn’t understand this. I felt like a complainer, or worse – a wimp. The opposite of a good soldier.
After my recommended visits were finished, I realized that chiropractic treatments, while good for some like my husband, were not curing my mysterious pains. I was walking now but not sleeping. I couldn’t even roll over in bed without pain. Carrying the groceries in from the car would make me want to jump into a hot bath. I still doggedly exercised, but could no longer do my favorite aerobic-dance classes.
These classes were my only opportunity to do something I’d done since I was four when I started tap dancing. My husband is a non dancer. So I regretfully hung up my dancing shoes and donned my walking shoes. I was now a fast walker which is better than nothing but not what I longed for and embarrassing to my daughters. Still looking for some relief, I employed the use of ice, heating pads, pain gels, stretching and so many non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs my stomach hurt almost constantly. These treatments gave temporary relief at best.
My life, as I knew it, was swiftly disappearing. But what about my plans! With Meg in her freshman year of college, I was determined to return to the community college I was attending before we were stationed in Hawaii for four years. So now what? Well, an orthopedic doctor of course. I asked for the first appointment and was surprised to find five other patients in the office when I walked in at 6:30 am. I was sent for x-rays, and when I finally got to see the doctor two hours later, I was told I had some narrowing in my spine and scoliosis: the dreaded S curve.
But I already knew I had scoliosis. Six years before, a doctor told me that I had congenital scoliosis and asked if my back hurt. I told him it hurt only when we move from base to base so he told me to keep on doing what I was doing. What I was doing was high impact aerobics and running: this was not good advice. And this is why it is so important to diagnose and treat childhood scoliosis. Because a crooked back, I was soon to find out, will set you up for constant pain when you’re older. By then, the condition is inoperable.
This orthopedic doctor six years later recommended three Advil, three times a day. And in a patronizing voice he said, “You’re getting older, you know.” And I said, “Oh, I know. But do you know that I ran a half marathon last year?” He had no response, only a look. Now this was the beginning of my pain almost twenty years ago, and I didn’t know any better so I took the three Advil, three times a day, and after a few days, I had ringing in my ears. And in a few weeks, I had weakness in my arms and more pain in my stomach. I was beginning to think I had some rare neurological disease.
At this time Meg was only in college for three months, and we had no idea that she would become anorexic. I would never have believed it of our easy-going Meg. But after a stressful Thanksgiving with both daughters, ages eighteen and twenty-three, fighting like they were five and ten, I knew I had to do something. After they left, I was changing the sheets, and I said to myself there has to be more to life than this. So, in spite of my age and in spite of my pain, I dropped those sheets and ran (no fast walked), from the house and back to school.
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