Sucker Punch

I thought March would be a month of writerly delights. No less than three weekends were planned, all centering on what I enjoy best. The first of these was the much anticipated Tucson Festival of Books, a weekend long writer’s conference/book fair I’d been looking forward to ever since attending it the year prior and having such a grand time. Getting there was to be a fun road trip with friends Char, Diana, and LaDonna, all serious writers, and interesting people.

For a lover of books the TFB is a kind of high desert Nirvana. This year’s schedule included the likes of Alice Hoffman, Elmore Leonard and Jenna Blum. My friends in the ANWW and I planned to have dinner together Saturday evening, and a few of us would probably spend Sunday morning sipping lattes in some campus coffee shop or another, before a second delicious day of everything bookish. I would also finally get to meet fellow Arizonian Twitter writers, Melissa Crytzer Fry and Jessica McCann in the ‘real world’.

The following weekend in March was the Saturday meeting of the ANWW…always a weekend I look forward to with anticipation and joy.

The third Saturday would be spent in the Phoenix living room of my dear friend Trish, an awesome writer who organizes and hosts a Pulitzer book study group that is attended by writers. Again, the conversation here would center around everything I love best to discuss: novels and writing.

Those are the events that were supposed to happen. Here’s what actually did.

In February March shimmered on the horizon of my life like a literary oasis. I dragged my small overnight suitcase out from storage and made reservations for a room to share in Tucson with Diana. I worked diligently to wrap up outstanding business, bought batteries for my camera and notebooks small enough to fit in my purse. Last year we starved during the day at the festival—the cafeteria was jam-packed and the workshops are scheduled so close together there’s no time to wait in food lines if you don’t want to miss anything—so this year I bought beef jerky, nuts and dried fruit to share with whoever was with me. I had it all planned. It would be great fun, and I wouldn’t allow anything to spoil even a moment of it.

The week before the festival I developed what I first took to be allergies. By Thursday I realized it wasn’t allergies, but either a sinus infection or the flu. Thursday night I was so miserable I didn’t sleep at all, and as the sun rose on Friday I realized I would not be going to the festival. I called my friends and let them know. I looked up the confirmation number for the hotel reservations and emailed Diana. I also cried for a few minutes. But stuff happens, and I’m a big girl, so I got over the disappointment and set my sights on getting well.

And I did get better. By the time Sunday rolled around the worst of the snotty, sneezing, aching misery had passed and I knew I’d be completely well in a day or two.

But now I had a small pain in my lower back, just to the right of my tail bone. Had I perhaps sneezed too hard and pulled something? The pain wasn’t bad. I took some of the Motrin and flexural my rheumatologist prescribes for MCTD, and figured it would pass. My sinus infection got better but the pain in my back did not. I met with clients on Wednesday and one of them pointed out I was limping.

By Friday I knew something was seriously wrong. The small pain was not so small anymore, and it had spread like flaming napalm to my hip and down my right thigh. By 7pm Friday night I could find no position that didn’t hurt, and my right leg could not be bent without causing me excruciating pain. I could barely walk by this time, and I couldn’t sit, because that required bending my leg at the hip and knee, so it was a tense ride to the nearby urgent care clinic. We got there right before their 8 pm closing time. I stood leaning against a wall in the waiting room as the attending doctor saw to the last people who had been there before me. I was fighting back tears, and trembling with pain, but more importantly, I was beginning to feel frightened.

I am not a sissy when it comes to pain. I’ve given birth to two children, both of them large babies, and the first without benefit of pain meds. But this pain I was experiencing was so widespread, severe and inexplicable it actually frightened me. The doctor saw me. He suspected bursitis of the hip and gave me a scrip for pain meds, which my husband went and got filled, after taking me home and icing my hip and thigh as the doctor had recommended. I took the vicodin and waited for the pain to abate. But it never did.

By 5:30 am Saturday morning I was officially out of my mind. I was experiencing back-arching, claw-handed agony that nearly made speech impossible, and the pain meds the urgent care doctor had prescribed, even doubled, weren’t touching it. The large muscle in my right thigh jerked and jumped like it was electrically charged. My husband half carried me out to our truck and attempted to get me up into the passenger side. I was sobbing and frightened and in the most complete misery I have even experienced, outside childbirth. On a scale of 1 – 10 this pain was a 10, and I was completely freaked out by it.

Jim took me to the nearest emergency room, which happens to be located in a nearby retirement community. At the emergency room entrance I fell into the proffered  wheelchair. But since my hip and knee wouldn’t bend without exponentially increasing the pain all I could do was perch on the edge of the seat with my back arched and my head resting on the top of the seatback so I was staring straight up. I could not lift my right leg onto the foot rest, so whoever was pulling the chair wheeled me into the hospital backwards, with my right foot dragging, as my husband went to park our truck.

The wait in the emergency waiting room would have been humiliating…if I had cared what anyone thought of me. I was sweating profusely and my teeth chattered uncontrollably. My waist-length hair was wrapped everywhere around me and under me. I sat arched back in the chair, gripping the armrests with white knuckled intensity, hissing and sobbing with pain. I wore an old pair of black yoga pants and an old tee-shirt and flip-flops. I’m sure, in retrospect, I looked perfectly demented.

You would think a person in this condition would be brought right into the treatment area of an emergency room and cared for, but such is not the case. I was deposited in a public waiting room full of the disembodied voices of curious strangers while my husband had to fill out and sign a lot of papers. I don’t know how long I sat in that waiting room. It may have been an hour, it may have only been ten minutes, but every second ticked by like an hour. I recall hearing a woman nearby say, “Oh, my, that poor girl. She can go in front of me.” Next I heard the deeper rumble of an indignant man: “No. You’ve been waiting. When it’s your turn you go.”

“But I’m not that bad off,” said the female voice.

My husband returned and hovered over me, trying to comfort me. “Hang in there, babe. Just a little longer.” I heard him return to the admittance nurse’s window numerous times to ask how much longer I’d have to wait, and asking if they could at least get me out of the chair and onto a table, because sitting was not really possible and the position I was in was making the pain worse.

Eventually they called my name and someone grabbed the handles of the wheelchair and attempted to push it. The metal footrest jammed into the soft ligament at the back of my right ankle. “Mame, pick up your foot and put it on the footrest.” The demand penetrated the red haze surrounding me and I tried to respond. My leg wouldn’t move on its own and I couldn’t relax my grip on the arms of the chair or lean forward, both actions that would result in my hip bending. “Can you hear me?” Louder now. “I said pick up your foot.” The chair jerked impatiently. I think I said something like: “Uhhgrr.” I heard the low murmur of my husband’s voice. Then I felt hands lift my leg and place my foot on the footrest. The institutional acoustic tile ceiling above me whirled dizzily and I was wheeled off to the station where temps and blood pressure are checked.

I was so out of it that I remember very little of the next fifteen minutes or so. I was cuffed and questioned, and did my best to answer coherently. But I’m not sure I made much sense. I have no recollection of what anyone who spoke to me looked like, or what they asked me. I was wheeled into the treatment area of the emergency room and parked beside a bed, which my husband helped me up on to, all the while gently encouraging me. More questions were asked, and a short, middle aged Hispanic woman got an IV in my left arm.

“Where’s that noise coming from?” a male voice asked on the other side of a white canvas curtain. “It’s this one, in here,” another male voice replied. “I just ordered up morphine for her.”

My husband stood beside the bed I lay on, alternately stroking my hair back from my forehead and rubbing my spasming right thigh, while I worked on breaking the world record for saying ‘oh’.

The morphine took a long time to get to the emergency room. It seemed it needed to be brought in by camel, then unpacked and accounted for, before I could have it. Hard as it is to believe, morphine is apparently not kept in the very place where it is most needed.

The relief, when it finally arrived, hit my blood stream like mother’s love. The pain, which had grown to colossal size, shrank to a smoky throb in my lower back, hip and down my leg. My madly twitching thigh muscle slowed and my teeth ceased chattering. I felt my senses begin to return. It occurred to me I might be in some serious trouble. I could even be dying.

Over the course of that long Saturday I was again given morphine, and a little later something called dilaudid, when it became obvious the morphine wasn’t ‘holding’. The person assigned to me, a P.A. named Grace, ordered up tests and asked more questions.

Somewhere near the middle of the day I realized it was the Saturday of my writers workshop, and I was missing the second pleasure I had been looking forward to in March. My children came to see me, faces worried as they bent above me. My daughter brought me a birthday card, and I remembered it was St. Patrick’s Day…my birthday.

It was nearly 7pm by the time Grace had ruled out all the dire things she thought might be causing the problem. It wasn’t appendicitis, and it wasn’t anything to do with any of the other organs in my abdomen. Should I be admitted? Or should I go home? My only fear, at that point, was going home and having the pain return. The dilaudid was beginning to wear off and the pain was bearing its teeth at me in a wolfish grin, so Grace ordered up percoset to see if it would be sufficient to see me through until I could get to my GP on Monday.

Jim and I arrived home near sunset: me pale, hobbled and shaken; both of us ravenous after a long day without anything to eat other than some crackers the nurse had provided when she brought the Percocet. He brought me into the house and got me settled. There was a card on the front door from Diana, who had been worried and come looking for me when I hadn’t showed up at the workshop, which really touched me.

Jim went out front to retrieve my purse from the truck, and returned with his arms full of Tupperware. Our next door neighbor, Laura, had given him a corned beef supper, the traditional meal of St Patrick’s Day, complete with homemade Irish bread. This unexpected act of kindness completely shattered me. If I could have moved, I would have run next door and hugged her. It’s funny who the angels turn out to be, when something like this happens.

To be continued…

37 thoughts on “Sucker Punch

  1. Oh my goodness! Have you found out what it was? Was it some kind of infection? Sounds similar to what I went through when my daughter was about 7 weeks old. How scary for you, and how awful you had to miss all those wonderful things. I hope you’re feeling better!

  2. Oh, Cynthia, the pain sounds absolutely horrific! If it’s the disc, that explains it, because it’s touching on a nerve and it can be excruciating. My heart goes out to you. I don’t know what your buddies said but I thought the Tucson Book Fest was disappointing. You didn’t miss much. I could not get into a single talk: Richard Russo, included. I was really bummed out. Please get better soon. Sending you warm thoughts!

    • I heard the fest was a bit of a disapointment, Shona. Too bad, cause last year it was awesome. Seems the folks putting it on need to figure out who it’s for, and what it’s about.
      Thanks for the well wishes, dear :-)

  3. Oh. My. Gosh… Cynthia… I was hoping your silence lately in the blog and Twitterverse meant you were WRITING. I am FREAKING out for you. So nice to know angels are among us. I really hope your April is shaping up better than your March … and bulging discs are NO FUN. My dad has FOUR… Ugh. I can’t tell you how sad I am that Jess and I didn’t get to meet you. We’ll do it this year sometime, okay?

    • Thanks, Melissa. I wish I were writing. I’ve mostly been lying around, stoned on pain-killers and watching HBO, (I’ve seen every movie at least twice). LOL!
      I’m starting to feel much better, so I will soon be up to my normal mischief. :-)

  4. Yikes…. I’m so sorry; thank goodness that you’re starting to feel better. Like Melissa, I assumed your relative silence was due to being busy or intense writing. THAT will teach me! Next time I’ll check in on you!! Take care! xox

  5. Cynthia, I can’t get over this journey–but mostly, the anguish! To be in that kind of pain is utterly terrifying, there are no words and yet you’ve managed to find many (you are a writer, after all!;) ) The kindness of your friends and loved ones is such a bright spot in that darkness–I am so glad you are surrounded by so much support and love. You know we all here are thinking healing thoughts for you and just so glad to know that you can finally be on the mend. Warmest hugs to you.

    • Sorry for the really loooong post. I had to purge the tale. (There’s actually more where that came from.)
      Yes, friends are the best in times like this, Erika. Thanks for the well wishes and warm hugs. xoxo

  6. Oh my gosh I’m so sorry this happened!! I’m glad there is a (mostly) happy ending. I have experienced level 10 pain sending me to the ER once. I actually wrote about it too, but not on the blog, and your story reminded me a lot of mine, particularly how describe yourself in the waiting room…probably looking like you needed an exorcism. At least in childbirth you know what’s going on and that something good is coming from it. I hope you are feeling better and that you never have to feel that again! It’s too bad it happened over that weekend, but it’s good you didn’t arrive at the festival only to have this all start there. Your husband sounds like an angel.

    • He is an angel, my dear. I feel especially lucky to have him after all the care he has lavished on me these past weeks. Difficult times really show what a person is made of.

      I’m sorry to hear you know what I am talking about here. It pains me to even think of you experiencing it.

      Thank you for the well wishes, Sara. :-)

  7. When you didn’t show up at the Sat. meeting, I was pretty sure you and Jim had been murdered in your beds. With the exception of death, the only thing bad enough to keep you away would be something like the nerve pain had to deal with and I know from experience that death may have seemed preferable at the time.
    I’m so happy you’re doing better, but take it easy. I’ll fetch and carry for you on Saturday, ’cause you don’t want to go through that again.

    • If I ever disappear I want you looking for me, Diana. You are like the persistent heroine in a movie where everyone assumes the missing person has just run off. Thank you for caring. You’re awesome. (((hugs)))

  8. Oh dear – such a shame you missed not one but two of the events you were looking forward to and the pain you describe sounds terrible and frightening – very vividly brought across! I’m glad the problem has been identified and it’s something they can sort out/manage. I do hope April is a better month for you!

  9. Cynthia;
    I am so sorry to hear about your agony. Maybe if you had not described it so well, my own back would not be hurting. Bulging or ruptured discs is a rotten diagnosis, but it’s fixable. I wish you the best and a full recovery. Ron Friedman

  10. I echo all of the sympathies expressed her, and I also want to give you kudos on your writing. Your blog post had me riveted. From the very first few sentences (even from the title), the suspense began. I knew that such a post, with such a title, must contain a big surprise. I wondered as I read through all the wonderful doings you had planned what horrific event would intercede. The description of what you went through was masterful–I felt myself right there along with you. And the brilliant touch of leaving us hanging!

    I can only assume that since you are back to blogging, whatever it is much have been resolved or at least figured out, but I still want to read Part 2.

  11. oh no! I’m so sorry—what an awful story from missing all the exciting literary stuff to the real serious issue of the pain and unknown ending . . . hoping you’re okay . . .

  12. Wow, what a harrowing experience! I’m glad to read in the above comments that you’re doing better now. I’m sort of intrigued by the disembodied voices in this post– some sympathetic, others not at all. Isn’t it interesting how other people’s words sound when we’re in pain?

    • Isn’t it though, Sarah? I’ve always had some compassion in me, but I really think this experience has taught me even more. We must be gentle with each other, especially in those moments where the need is greatest.

      Thank you for stopping by. :-)

  13. Holy cow, Cynthia. I recall seeing a series of tweets with you and Melissa and Jessica about you missing the book festival, but didn’t realize this was the back story. I’m glad you revealed to a commenter that you’re on the mend, your cliffhanger was sneaky!

    I think the most horrifying part of the story for me was the hospital worker demanding you lift your foot, clearly not appreciating your inability to do so. I can imagine that is hard work, but if you’re going to be dealing with patients, you should have some patience.

    • Yes, I agree, Patrick. It is one of the moments that stands out in my mind, after the fact; how very callous she was. I asked my husband about it later in the day, and he said he thought she was tired and couldn’t wait to go home. I think it would be difficult to do that kind of work, but her behavior was inexcusable.

      Thanks for stopping by, and reading my very long post :-)

      • Ah yes, length! :) We’ve talked about this issue. I conducted a blogging workshop Wednesday night, and one thing I recommended was 800-1,500 words per post. I also gave other advice, and then listed all the times I ignored my own advice. This story needed the words it needed.

  14. Oh, Cynthia! What an excruciating experience. It takes something like this to make us really appreciate when we are feeling well and able-bodied.

    As awful as that must have been for you, I think of your poor husband who must have felt just helpless watching you in so much pain and not being able to do anything about it.

    I’m also distraught by how poorly it seems you were treated in the emergency room. Isn’t the purpose of triage to take the worst cases first?

    I’m hoping you’re on the mend and sending good thoughts to you.

    • Thanks, Jackie, I am healing well. Another two or three weeks and I will be back to normal, I think.

      I was surprised by the callousness of our medical system as well. That attitude probably has its roots in a system that is based on the dollar, rather than a natural desire to be a healer and care for others. I could wax all political about it, seriously.

  15. I sure hope you’re feeling better. Since you left us with that cliff hanger I read all the comments to try to find out how you were. That must have been absolutely awful. I’ll bet your husband was terrified.

    I hope you can get the problem resolved easily.

    I hope you are resting easy.

  16. Oh, Cynthia, what a truly awful experience, and during the time you were looking forward to so much! I’m terribly sorry, but I am glad to see through the other comments that you are feeling much better. Hope your healing continues, and I am looking forward to reading the rest of this post; you sure know how to keep your readers enthralled!

  17. Oh my gosh, Cynthia, I am so sorry to hear you went through so much pain and uncertainty. I wish there was something I could do to help, and please let me know if there is! In the meantime, I’m glad to hear that you’re feeling better, and will keep my eyes open for more updates from you. I’ll be thinking of you and wishing you a speedy recovery. BIG hug…

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