A Vulnerable, Scary Health Moment

I had a scary moment around a health issue recently, not something I've ever been concerned about prior to this. I woke up one morning with excruciating pain in my back to the extent I couldn't function. I called my doctor who recommended a spine specialist and wrote a prescription for painkillers.

Sleep was sporadic between doses of Hydrocodone, a drug I loathed taking because of the grogginess. I couldn't work, exercise, cook, eat, sit in a chair, or do much of anything other than moan quietly. Simultaneously, while enduring this horrific pain I received an invitation to speak at a conference on aging this fall in Europe, which provided much-needed relief, albeit momentary. I accepted immediately because life is too short to skip wonderful opportunities.

See A Specialist? Fugghedaboutit!
Living in the Bay Area, means that due to high demand, seeing a specialist is a difficult appointment to book. I had to wait a week to see a spine doctor who sent me for an MRI, which took nearly another week to schedule. I'm claustrophobic, so I opted for an open MRI, which in truth was hardly open at all. I closed my eyes and pretended I was at the beach, but the racket from the machinery interfered with that fantasy.

A What?

When I sat down with the doctor to discuss my MRI, he informed me I had a pinched-nerve in my neck that was causing the pain, and he sent me to physical therapy. It didn't work. The next step before surgery was a cortisone injection in my back, a procedure done in a surgical clinic by a doctor and a surprisingly large staff. I was scheduled for this in two weeks, the earliest available appointment, but I lucked out and got in after a few days from a cancellation.

Utter Exhaustion
I had to be at the surgical center at 7 a.m. and was told I needed a ride because of the sedation. My partner drove me. I was put out for the procedure and woke up half an hour later in a fog. I went home and was told to rest for a week. No exercise since the cortisone needed to sink into my muscles. What I've experienced since is exquisite pain relief and utter exhaustion from lack of sleep. I'm trying to be generous with myself in terms of feeling physically vulnerable, but that's not my default position since I drive myself hard.

Aging Related?
It's been five days since the cortisone therapy and I admit that for the first time I felt frightened about enduring another episode this painful again. Suddenly, aging seems to matter to a guy who never thought about it for a moment before. I'm otherwise a healthy and energetic 71-year-old man, so getting laid low to this extent was a blow to both my ego and my sense of manhood. I'm grateful I'm no longer in pain, and what little remains is easily endured considering what was.

The Lone Ranger
Sadly, I didn't have any conversations about this even with my closest friends, perhaps because I was in denial. A pinched-nerve happens to young men too, so I'm not sure it's age-related as much as related to an old injury. But I'll begin a dialogue about sharing pain with my men friends sooner rather than never.

Friends Can Help
I'm not sorry I never spent time pondering my health in terms of aging before. There simply wasn't any reason to. And I'm not sure what benefit I'll derive from sharing this with my men friends. I doubt I'm the only one of my friends who will have to deal with pain and suffering down the road, but I feel sorry I didn't lean on any of them for support. That's my fault, and I attribute it to male ego and stupidity.

And these are men with whom I share an emotionally intimate connection, so keeping this to myself was all about my issues, not theirs. When I finally shared my ordeal with my best friend he was shocked since I hadn't said a word.

Guys! It's a wonder we make it through life.

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