Seven hundred and fifty-nine days, give or take. That’s two years and twenty nine days that I have been in pain. This isn’t about sympathy. I’ve had lots and lots of sympathy since September of 2012. I was in pain before that, and worked through it, but it got to the point that it affected my job performance. My dream job is now a distant memory, warped and miss-shaped, the edges of that memory dulled by the drugs.
I’ve learned so many things since that day, when I lost my dream job. I’ve learned new words like Peripheral Arterial Disease and Heparin Induced Thrombocytopenia, also known as H.I.T. Large words with medical definitions so complicated they would astound a man of lesser education. I also discovered all about the consequences of another word. Amputation. The mere mention of such a word sends chills down the backs of the queasy. That word was very frightening to me at first, but the pain was much greater than my fear, and I reluctantly agreed to the consequences of that word, if it would stop the pain. It didn’t, at least not completely. It is true that the bad parts had to be removed. My right foot, starved of blood from a clogged artery and therefore starved of oxygen, essentially died and was affecting the rest of the leg it was attached to, and so the simple solution was to detach the offending appendage. Was this just a simple solution to a medical problem? Maybe the surgeon, well practiced in this type of operation may have considered it routine, due to the sheer number of amputations he has had to perform over the course of his learned career. My guess, after having talked at great length with the man, was that every operation was hard for him, not in the actual performance of the deed, but rather in the consequences he knew to be true for his patients.
I really don’t want to sound whiny. The pain I now have in both legs is certainly a lot less than the severity of 13 Months ago. The so called Phantom pain, the pain felt in the foot that was no longer there, has lessened to the point that it is mostly Phantom Sensation now. Yes, I can still feel my foot, more than a year after it was removed along with my ankle and the part of my leg that is no longer there beneath my knee. It is most unsettling to reach down to scratch what is no longer there. As to my other leg and foot, well that is another story.
After the first operation to replace a section of artery in my right leg, the surgeon ordered Heparin, a blood thinner, a very common drug that is used in a wide variety of medical treatments. In my case, it was used as a sort of cleaner, a thinner of blood, allowing the fast and free flowing liquid to wash away any remaining bits and small particles of the Plaque that was on my arterial walls. For some unknown and unexplainable medical reason my body’s defences sensed the drug as a foreign invader, and I developed the condition known medically as H.I.T. The consequence of this was opposite to what the doctors were trying to achieve. Instead of thinning my blood as expected, my blood volume coagulated to such an extent that blood flow was lost to both legs. The nerves in my good leg died, along with the tissue and some bone mass. Luckily, I was in hospital at the time of this new crisis, and the doctors, and there were three of them, worked together for over five hours removing clots to save my legs, and my life. I am alive today, and typing this as a direct result of their combined years of experience and skill as surgeons. I am and always will be grateful to these amazingly gifted men. That doesn’t change the fact that I now have nerve pain in my once good leg and foot, parts of me that were fine before February of 2013.
So, how do I cope with the constant pain, you may ask? It at times seems a daunting task to be sure. The ‘nerve’ drugs, I have found out, don’t actually take the pain away, but rather bathes the nerve endings in something to stop the rapid firing, and otherwise overly heightened sensations they are communicating to the brain. The pain killers work too, but are so powerful they sometimes leave you in a zombie state and then you don’t know which end is up. That’s no way to live. The doctors all say the ‘discomfort’ will go away with time. Oh yes they all say that, but not one of them will say how much time. I guess they don’t want to appear uneducated by saying they don’t know how much time. A couple of them went out on a limb, and qualified their answer by saying the very vague statement, “It is different for everyone.” Thank you for reassuring me that someday, maybe, I will be free of this heavy wet woollen blanket of despair, this discomfort.
The solution is to take drugs. Drugs with side effects like, weight gain, blotchy skin, a feeling of tiredness all the time, perhaps depression at times, and oh yes, let’s not forget constipation. Not to worry, there’s a pill for that too. At times it is too much to bear. Last night was one of those times, and that indeed prompted this writing. The blanket was so heavy last night that it bore me down into The Dark Place. The pain was no more intense than it had been the night before or the month before that. It was the never-ending-ness of it. It was the weight of the knowing that there was no end date to this. That was the heaviness that weighted me down into The Dark Place. The fact that I lay there weeping, my tears rolling down my face and falling onto my pillow, only seemed to make matters worse. Growing up in a time when it was not manly to cry, not something my father would tolerate from any of his sons, seemed to weigh on me even more than the pins and needles of my misery.
The Dark Place; The Dark Place is not a scary horror scene from a film or novel. It is not a place of excitement. It is a place of utter desolation and despair. For many, The Dark Place is the last stop here on earth, before the final leap, before the final cut, that last gunshot to the temple. It is the last place a person goes who has lost all hope of being able to live in a world that doesn’t understand what they are going through. I know this place well, for I have been there more than once. I have been to the darkness, and I can write about it now. I have learned how to find the stairs up and out of that desolate place. Each time after I have visited that kind of depression, I say never again. Never again will I let myself go down there. I am learning that one has no choice in the matter. The only choice, for those still in control, is whether to stay down there or not. I chose not to stay there. I chose not to give in to the demon, not to let it win. Even as I write this now, I refuse to capitalise its name, for I have won this time.
Today is better, and tomorrow will be better still. I will try and continue to fight this seemingly never ending battle. I will try to understand and to be more understanding of people whose pain I do not know. People who seem normal and bright and unaffected on the outside, but who are deep into battle on the inside, these people I will try and understand, because now, I too am one of them.