Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Peeves & Perspective

Throughout this whole ordeal with my fingers, arm and neck, I have been reminded of the CSCM (the Chain-Smoking Canadian Mormon, for those who haven’t been reading my blog since its inception), with whom I recently technically reconnected via a professional networking site.  About a decade ago, the first clue that he had a brain tumor was when he woke up one morning and found he couldn’t see.  His eyesight was completely gone.  It eventually returned (and, given that he’s now back home working for a nonprofit, the tumor must be in remission), but I have been considering since Thursday before last how grateful I am that I have just been affected overnight by some loss of dexterity and some discomfort, rather than sudden blindness! 

There are two trends in response to my symptoms that have bothered me, though.  First, many of the laity, who when I mentioned the numbness in my fingers or the pain in my arms, have responded by positing all sorts of simplistic explanations: “You slept wrong” (“your mattress is too soft/too hard”, “your pillow is too soft/too hard/too high/too low”), “You picked up something”, “You twisted something,” along with recommendations for fixing the issue, mostly useless.  I’ve discovered that experiencing nerve pain (before I could point to specific MRI results) is much like experiencing a mental illness—everyone has an opinion about how you incurred this indefinite condition and how you can go about fixing it; they don't treat it as a concrete problem, like a broken arm, that had a cause, has a standard course of treatment, and will have a recovery date.   
Second, the professionals.  The doctors I have spoken to have both of them intoned the same phrase when discussing my test results: “As we get older, we experience degenerative changes…”  For crying out loud, I’m 38, not 58!  To have this level of disability at this stage without a significant external causal factor seems strange to me.  I was looking at my MRI images today, and even to me it is obvious that my neck is pretty screwed up (as if I already couldn’t tell from the diminution of my typing skills—my right pointer finger is fumbling the keys repeatedly).  There has got to be a genetic factor at work that predisposes me to spinal issues--true, my father broke his neck twice (once weightlifting, once in a car accident), but would it have broken had he not already have had spinal changes?  My sweet Grandmommy had some severe back problems in her mid-fifties--could I have inherited this trait from both sides of the family?  I really want this to be treatable by physical therapy, but why it is happening at all, now, is still a mystery.

I am entering a real sort of mid-life crisis.  Should I stay in DC?  Can I stay in DC?  I can’t work at the estate sale company anymore; even if physical therapy is completely effective, it will be months until I can lean over and pick things up as a matter of course.  Without work, I don’t have income. With no income, I can’t afford my apartment.  I fear and dread returning to my hometown—I don’t want to end up intellectually stagnant, working at some minimum-wage job, living alone and lonely, growing greyer and more insular by the day.  I want to travel, I want to see new things, new people, learn about new cultures.  I love my friends and my church in DC.  But being a single person really sucks when it means that you have no one to care for you in-house and no one to help you financially when you find yourself suddenly, involuntarily unemployed and effectively disabled! 
My friends have been really sweet about offering to get me things from the store and asking me if I want to come over to stay with them so they can look after me.  But I now totally understand that with what previously I really could only theoretically sympathize: the desire of someone who’s ailing or aging to stay in their own home!  The last thing I want to do is pack a suitcase and go to someone else’s house, no matter how sweet a friend they are, or how good their care.  I want to curl up in my own room, surrounded by my own piles of clutter (OK, truly I wish I could get rid of the piles of clutter, but I was in the middle of sorting and culling them when this happened, so there they lie) and convalesce.  I want to be able to get on my computer when I can, fiddle with my lamp projects in the moments when I feel up to it, and sort through my bead piles and fabric stacks likewise.  Of course, I really want my hand to start working, and I want to start working overall.  Be that as it may, I hate having nothing to do, and especially when you are “guesting” at someone’s home, there is little built-in to do, whereas at least I can putter around my own house.  While I have been in Rhode Island, my niece and nephew have been a welcome distraction, but this hasn’t been either a productive or a lucrative week from a extra-familial perspective.

A month or so ago, when I was chatting with Rachel and the NPV, I told them that one of the reasons I did want to get married this year was that I knew I needed someone to take care of me in case I became disabled.  I was thinking more in terms of mental infirmity than of physical (I’ve always been pretty robust, so this nerve issue has thrown me totally off-balance) but here is a physical challenge sooner than I’d ever expected.  And, boy, does it make aloneness an issue!  Again, though, at least I am in a country where I am fluent in the local language for treatment—my single friend who moved to Seoul last year to teach English (she lives in Gangnam itself, but her apartment is not exactly posh) is having foot surgery soon, and she doesn’t speak Korean, so bilingual friends from church are helping her with the hospital communication and recuperation. 

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