Thirteen years. To some it is a lifetime. To others it almost seems like a blink of an eye. To me? What if I told you it seemed like both a lifetime, and the blink of an eye? What if I told you that these thirteen years have been the most painful yet the most important years of my life? What if I told you that if I had the choice to go back and do everything differently, OR I could go back and do everything the exact same way it has happened, but that would make the pain 10x worse, that I would choose to do it all again? What would you say? Would you think I am crazy? Most would.
Thirteen years ago, I went into the neurosurgeon. I was what I like to call a neurosurg virgin. I had no idea what was going to happen. When he told me I needed surgery, I had no idea what to think. I didn't really know if I should be upset, or sad, or happy we figured it out, I just sort of sat there emotionless. During these last 13 years, I've learned that reading other stories about your diagnoses, can be either your best friend, or your worst nightmare, because even people with the exact same diagnoses as you, could travel a path that's far different than what you go through yourself. I continue to seek answers, for this ever frustrating thing called chronic pain and it's sidekick hydrocephalus- a medical condition that I like to say it's common but not common. It's a snowflake illness, never are you going to have a patient that's exactly like you. I'm 28 years old and I've probably had over 40 surgeries, I know people who are half my age who have had over 200 and people who are double my age who have had two. You just don't know. I think that's the most frustrating part of this. No one can predict the future. Yes my parents can say oh you're past that "rocky time"(14-25) but does that mean nothing bad will ever happen to me again? No. It's evidence that it's hopefully unlikely that I will go through anything that horrible again, but no one can tell the future.
Thirteen years. You would think that after this long, and hundreds of doctors appointments, talking to residents, NP's I would become an expert at explaining my diagnoses to other people. What if I told you it was the opposite? There's an overwhelming sense of guilt that goes along with each explanation. It's as if I'm trying to validate myself and my choices. But I'm also trying to do it in a way that's not condescending. It's hard to talk about something that has become such a part of you. It becomes your normal. Because I never feel good, I never have a day where my head pain is zero, and my scars don't throb, where I can totally keep up with everyone, but that becomes your normal, and so you feel "fine" or my favorite, "I'm OK" anyway, and it takes having something really really bad happen to you to even notice that there's anything wrong. So then is it really a lie? If it has become so etched into your being that it's truly a part of you? That feeling awful has turned into a piece of you that makes you you?
I remember two years ago, when I was in the hospital for a month, and I got back to work. Everyone was asking me, "Where were you? It was just like you were here and then you were gone and now you're back, did you go on vacation? Were you just taking a break?" I remember the possible answers I could have given them churning inside my head, just trying to put the words in order. Honestly I think I eventually just said, "Oh I was really sick". And they were satisfied with that, and so was I. I could hide behind my mask of a fake smile and laugh, and make them think I was fine and nothing was wrong with that right?
Going to the neurosurgeon and waiting for four hours, is now normal. Do I ask questions when I'm there? Yes, but not for the reason you think. Not for answers, it's so he makes me write a paper on it so I can figure out the best treatment for me myself. When you're turned into a hospital kid your entire persona changes. You go from being a carefree person with no worries, to a freaked out hypochondriac in a matter of what seems to be 10 seconds. Does it scare you? Heck yeah it does. I remember not crying, not because I wasn't upset about what just happened, but because I was so upset about everything that happened, I didn't know what to cry about first!? I was just so overwhelmed with the entire situation, I was just frozen.
Your pride gets put into check, being a patient is not always pretty, and hardly ever glamorous. Have you seen those oversized hospital gowns? Yeah not exactly what I would call appealing. The things that happen behind those closed doors, yeah something you choose to never talk about again because of how low your self esteem got. Life in the ICU has it's gross moments, but it also has ones that you will never forget. I remember, when my nurse in Neuro ICU told me, "OMG it's so nice to have a patient who's conscious, no hear me out, it's nice to have a patient talking to you." And later that week, that nurse did something I will never be able to forget or thank her enough for.
To me it's turned into my normal. To not be able to write my name legibly anymore has become normal. Having a pain level of at least a four has become my normal. Going to the doctor once a month has become normal. Coloring in those pain sheets at the doctor the exact same way every time I go has become normal. I swore I would never let my worlds collide so that this would be the case, but it has. So why don't I talk about my diagnoses? Because it's my normal.