Saturday, March 12, 2011


I have made zero jewelry in the past two weeks. Nothing. I haven't even finished a necklace I started when I was recovering from surgery and had to set aside because the combination of my aging eyes and the poor lighting where I was trying to work left me unable to count chain links, which was vital to a balanced piece. All I have to do is count some links, wire wrap a few more beads, and add a clasp and that piece will be done, but I haven't found the impetus to do it. I'm in the dumps.

I had back surgery about three weeks ago to fix a herniated disk and put an end to the disabling sciatica (nerve pain) I've been having in my right leg for close to a year. For the first three postoperative days, the sciatica was complete gone. Though there was discomfort at the surgical site, I knew that was temporary, so I was a happy camper. Then on the fourth postop day, the sciatica started to come back, and it got worse every day until it reached its presurgery level and I was back on the narcotic pain relievers. My surgeon says not to panic, that this can happen. Sometimes the nerve is so dinged up by the herniation and aggravated by the surgery that it takes six to eight weeks to heal, so it's too early to know whether the operation was a failure. He had no good reason for why I'd have had no sciatica for three days only to have it come back but said it's a pattern he'd seen before, and it doesn't mean that the sciatica is back for good. (When he said this, I leaned in, looked him right in the eye, and said, "You wouldn't lie to me about this, would you?," and because I selected this surgeon myself from many options in the Philly area, I will believe him when he said he would not.) He gave me some steroids and more painkillers to add to my extensive sciatica-related pharmacopoeia, wrote a prescription for physical therapy to strengthen my ailing core, set up another appointment, and sent me on my way with a firm, reassuring handshake.

It's taking everything I have not to freak out entirely about how this is going. Even though I was aware that there was a possibility the surgery wouldn't clear up the pain, I was convinced that it would, and it seemed to have done so. But then, no. It feels especially cruel that I was allowed to think I was fine only to be more greatly disabused of that notion every day as the numbness, tingling, and deeply bruised feeling returned to my leg and grew stronger. I'm trying very hard to believe that, indeed, the nerve may just need more time to heal, even though not a single soul I know of who's had the same surgery reported a recovery like this. They just woke up after the operation and the pain was gone for good. That's what I wanted, what I thought I had. That relief seems to have slipped through my fingertips is all I can think about -- that and what else I will have to do to fix this if the surgery did not (kinesiology, acupuncture, perhaps stabbing myself in the other leg with a steak knife as a distraction). Keeping my chin up is harder every day.

There's my little trauma, and then there's Japan. Japan, Japan, Japan. When I'm not thinking leg, leg, leg, it's Japan, Japan, Japan. I watched as much of the news yesterday as I could bear and saw a country swept away, crumbling, exploding. They said on NPR that a train was missing. A train, gone. How do you start to fathom the loss of life and culture and property? How and where do you start to clean up and where do you go with it all? (The practical side of me sees landfills the size of mountains.) I wish I could say that I'm someone who feels empowered by tragedies, who mobilizes resources and moves swiftly and firmly to make things better, taking matters into my own hands. I'm not though. I make some donations of money and clothing and goods, whatever they're asking for, and then I hope that other people are making things better. Katrina, Haiti, the Indonesian tsunami -- donations plus wishful thinking is my pattern, along with not delving too deeply into the stories about the misery. So, Japan, you'll be getting some money from me, via one avenue or another, and I will be keeping you in my thoughts and engaging in conversation about you when others bring you  up, and in exchange I ask you to forgive me for avoiding news stories about your dead and mangled citizens, your lost treasures, the seeming impossible feat of cleaning up and rebuilding that you face. I care, but I just can't watch.

Finally, my blue mood is deepened by the knowledge that in two weeks, H would have turned 50. There would have been a righteous celebration of this to which I would not have been invited, but that's okay. I'd have called him a day or two before and wished him well and dropped off a gift on the back porch, as I have practically every year since we split, since that's the kind of exes we were. In the past month or so, I've seen several things, mostly artwork, that made me think "H's birthday present," a thought that isn't fully through my mind before it's headed off by "H is gone." A happy thought gone wrong before it's fully thunk.

The hits are getting harder to take, but there are happy things too. Last evening I went to an opening reception for a gallery show of my friend Alyce's paintings, which can be seen here. She is as genuine a person as I know, is a terrific artist and teacher, and is always wearing at least one piece of jewelry I made, so just seeing her cheers me up. Here we are last fall standing in front of a localish tree in a localish park that won some kind of statewide award. (Yeah, who knew that trees competed?) We followed signs leading into the woods to the state champion tree and frankly found it to be pretty average when got to it, so we took a picture of ourselves standing in front of it to make the occasion more memorable.

Glad I dug up this picture, since seeing Alyce's smiling face is again making me feel a bit better. Thanks, Alyce.

Hang in in there, Japan; help is coming. Wish you were here, H. And get over your bad self and fly right, sciatic nerve. I've had about enough of you.


  1. hey grace, i am new to your blog my name is Lana, oh my gosh your poor dear some people may say oh i know how you feel when in truth they have no idea well i can truly say i know how you feel. i am 49 and have a rare form of spinal arthritis i like you had that pain in the SI joint severe pain down my leg for years walking with a cane and every doc i saw would say well its this and that and its all in your head until i finally found a wonderful doc that finally sent me to a ruematologist who did blood work and found that i had a gentic disease called are you redi anklyosing spondaltis ya thats what i said ankly who? anyway within 2 months i was on an operating table getting my right hip repalced 3 yrs later my left an inbetween i thought i would fall off the back of a chair and break my neck so off for more surgurey to fuse my entire neck fron the c2 to the t1 it's an aweful thing to go through chronic pain no one seems to get it it takes over your life and takes the joy out of everything you do i feel a lot better now i take a drug called enbrel that supresses my immune system cause my condition is an auto immune disease i still have chronic daily pain jewelry making helps a lot but sometimes i don't pick up my pliers for weeks i really hope the surgery helps you just take it easy and heal yourself i'm sure they told to to get up and move around a bit so you don't stiffen all up. having somone who can relate helps a lot so if you ever want to talk send me an email and my daughter just made me a face book page.i can only say this try to keep a positive attitude i can be so hard when your in pain all the time keep yourself busy take care of yourself and you will feel better soon ttfn Lana

  2. I'm sorry to hear about your pain -- I hope that your doctor was right, and it really will be better in a few weeks. I have a bunch of annoying medical issues too, so I do know how depressing & frustrating it can be when it seems like everything's out of control all at once.

    As for Japan, my heart breaks for them. It is so difficult to watch, and I don't blame you for wanting to spare yourself. I don't know how you lose a train! I guess when you live on an island, it's possible. I can tell you that I'm from New Orleans, and I am very familiar with disaster. And if a 3rd world country like Louisiana can pull it together, I KNOW Japan will recover in the long term. Not that it makes it easier to watch, and to see all the death and destruction. I'm just saying I have faith in Japan.

    I hope your dumps pass before long :)

  3. Hey Grace, Jenni here, sorry to hear things are not going quite as you hoped at this stage, but hang in there, I know that bruised and handled nerves do take a while to settle down, I feel sure your story will be different in another 2-3 weeks.
    I too feel overwhelmed by the world news. I was a bit late hearing about it as we are in Italy at the moment and the hotel had no tv in our room in Venice. We arrived in Florence yesterday and are catching up with this sad, sad news. Given Japan's history, I know they can recover. I too will donate money, that is the least we can all do.
    Try and keep your spirits up, today is a new day, Jenni

  4. I'm thinking of you. The back pain, I totally know. The nerve pain is something no one can quite understand unless they've experienced it themselves. I hope your pain goes away quickly!

    I tried not to watch too much news because it horrifies me to a level that I can't quite put into words. It's not that I don't care -- I do! I just care so very much about so many tragedies that I feel helpless to encompass them all with the puny arms I have.

  5. Grace,
    I am sorry to read this. I am so sorry to hear that the pain is back. I am sending good thoughts to you. My doc also said that this was a possiblity for me as well. I didn't have that but experienced numbness that I hadn't had before. I still have some of it as the nerve heals.

    I am hoping that your day is better today. Sending lots of good thoughts to you.