Yesterday I electronically shared this picture of myself out walking with my son.
Today, I spoke to a good friend who hasn’t seen me since before my surgery. “Your posture looks great!” he exclaimed in response to the photo. True, that. I’m definitely walking with more vigor, more verticality, and more vitality. Also, and I know I’ve been leading up to this statement in the past few posts, I am walking with no pain. I did not say “reduced pain.” I did not say “manageable pain.” I said, “NO PAIN.” When my left foot hits the ground, my brain does not send out warning flares to other parts of my body; my foot just rolls along in a natural stride. If I need to turn my head to speak to my walking companion, I do not lose my balance or experience a searing spasm through my quadriceps and gluteals. If I find myself walking down a hill, I can rely on every component in my lower left quadrant to comport itself properly, so that my foot actually touches the road exactly where my neurons are directing it.
I am only now realizing how much of my executive function in the past three years has been devoted to all of the above-mentioned scenarios, which occur, as you can imagine, countless times a day. I’m also coming to a deeper appreciation of a comment my surgeon made about a year ago. “You’ll know when it’s time for the fusion,” he said, “because you’ll realize how much of your daily activities are affected by the injury.” I think everyone has a unique form of response to chronic pain, and I can’t possibly judge others for their own choices. In my case, I continued to do almost everything I loved (except running), because I loved doing those activities, and they are part of who I am. Nonetheless, I was exerting extra brain energy in the form of pain management whenever
- I went to a museum. The pace of viewing an exhibit was horrible. Three steps, stop to look at a work of art, three steps, look at another work, three more steps, and a full-on spasm would begin that I could not shake for hours. But, the visual stimulation and the new perspectives and the fun of seeing great collections is worth it. The pain goes away; the images stay. I can’t wait to go back to the new wing at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts and stroll leisurely.
- I sneezed. If I were lucky enough to feel it coming on, I could brace myself and hold on so that the rush of exhalation wouldn’t make me fall over. I sneezed three times today and nothing happened beyond the relief of clearing the itch in my nose.
- I stood in the kitchen to cook. I got very good at using a stool to rest one foot while I stirred or chopped. Now I can stand for two hours and make a gourmet meal.
- I needed to pick up an object from a low shelf or the floor. I could not rely on my leg to return me to a standing position if I got down too low. Today I squatted several times and got up easily, smoothly, and with the desired item in hand.
- I sat in traffic. I haven’t tested that one yet, but I’m quite optimistic that my leg won’t start trembling if I sit still for too long in the car.
So now, I am expressing my gratitude to a whole chunk of my brain that has done its very best to keep me sane, functional, and productive for several years. When I spoke to my friend this afternoon, I told him that I hadn’t quite framed the language to explain the mental lightness I’ve been experiencing this week. I tried out the phrase “extra brain space,” and he said that was exactly the right way to describe my condition. With my return to full-time work next week, it’s the perfect timing to reassign some fun academic challenges to the cerebral material that’s been practicing perseverance and focus.