I had to ask…

I had to ask.

After the onslaught of pain for the past week, I had to ask THE question, the question runners ask after any physical issue rears its head.

“Um, I’m a runner.

Is it ok to run?”

What did I expect the answer to be? Some nonchalant comment on the weather would have seemed more emotional than what I was expecting for the answer. There was no moment of silence, no heartfelt empathy one would expect if you were talking to a fellow runner. It was as clinical as the situation I had found myself in.

“I would not advise it until after you talk to the specialist.”

And so my weeklong journey ends. Exactly seven days ago I was in enough agony to consider dashing to the ER. At moments, it was so excruciating, I pondered ending my life altogether. The pain was inside me, outside me, surrounding me and I could not escape it. My mind tried to find metaphors and similes to explain it. There were none available.

“Kidney infection, damn it.” That’s what is, I thought. “Just get me some Cipro and Lord, I shall be healed.” The nurse on the other end of the phone declined, “You need to make an appointment.” Twelve hours. Twelve long hours.

Something awful happens when you perceive your pain is being mocked. I paced restlessly in the 8 x 8 examination room. “It just freaking hurts. Do a urinalysis. Please. I know what this is.”

The doctor is bemused. She looks at me over the top of her 1.5 reading glasses and then glances at my husband. “Looks like a kidney stone to me. Watch her try to walk away from the pain. What do you think?”

I feel a burning fury turning my face red. “Never had one and they don’t tend to run in my family. At all. I’ve had this pain before. Cipro cleared it up. “ My patient spouse shrugs his shoulders. “I’ve had a kidney stone. Believe me. Would not wish it on anyone.”

I pee in the cup. Then wait. I sit down. I stand up. Pain. Doctor returns. “We’re going to do a CT Scan. Just to rule out, you know, a kidney stone.” The technician taps on the door and takes me to the magical CT machine. I wish it would just make the pain stop. Ten minutes later and a thousand dollars poorer, I’m given a compact disk and no encouraging news.

“What do you prefer? Percoset or Oxycodone?”
I haven’t had Percoset in years. “I really don’t know. And don’t care. And don’t like taking pain meds.”

I leave with a prescription for Oxycodone and Cipro. And tears in my eyes.

I don’t do pain. Well, I do, but only when I know I am inflicting it on myself. Running long distances, sure, why not? Driving ten-inch spikes into my right side? No.

For the next three days I’m unable to even sit in front of the computer. I miss meetings. I miss phone calls. I can’t answer emails. It’s the closest to being dead that I’ve ever been. I imagine my obituary. “And one day, she just stopped posting on Facebook…” Non-stop HLN becomes the soundtrack to my days.

Thoughts of cancer race through my mind. What if? Could I deal with the pain, the treatment? How do these patients cope? I form a new vision of a hero in my mind, bald and fearless, at the end of a chemotherapy bag. I decide I could never be that strong.

I go in and out of consciousness. I dread being awake. I dread being asleep. I have work to do and I can barely make it to the bathroom. After two days, it dawns on me that this is not a kidney infection. “Your urinalysis came back negative.”

“However, there is something odd on your CT scan and we are scheduling you for an MRI.” Holy high deductible health care. More pictures and less answers.

The MRI is scheduled and we find our way to an office so new the furniture is still outgassing polystyrene and formaldehyde. I’m taken to what appears to be a shrine, a giant doughnut made of polycarbonate. I am in fear that it will rip the titanium plates from my left arm as tribute.

“What kind of music do you want to listen to?” the tech asks. I shrug. She continues.“I need to set a channel for you. You will want music, trust me. “ “Anything is fine.” “Opera?” She is mocking me. I sigh and say“How about alternative?”

She places the headphones on my head after I lay down on the table. U2 bleats over the thrum of the machine. I am encased in a plastic cage. They do not want me to move. I concentrate on the gray stripe above my head. “This will take 15 to 20 minutes, so relax.” Roxy Music starts to play. This is not alternative, Ms. Technician.

A disembodied voice hovers through the headphones. “You are doing great. It will be about 10 minutes more…” I have heard descriptions of what an MRI sounds like. I understand now.

“London Calling” starts to play as the machine booms loudly. Who will win, I ponder, in this competition? The dubstep monotony of the MRI? Or Johnny Rotten?

And then it’s over and another round of anxiety starts. When will I know. What will I know? “They’ll let you know in a couple of days.” Let the weekend extend that to four days.

I am getting used to the pain pills. They give me solace. They hold the wolves of pain at bay. By the sixth day, I am finally able to feel human again. I cook every meal and even though my appetite has waned, I embrace the normal with joy.

I wait to hear the news. Nothing. I finally start answering emails and begin my social media frenzy anew.

My friends keep asking if I am alright. I am missing my long run, I am missing my social runs. I am not doing my weekly training runs. No. I am not alright.

Finally, I am coerced into calling the doctor. I am referred to the nurse. “How are you?”

“I am doing better. The pain pills help.”

“Good. Your doctors discussed your case and want you to see a spinal specialist.”

Spinal. Specialist. My brain flashes on wheelchairs and laminectomies.

“Oh?”

“Yes. The MRI is showing some kind of calcification or arthritic condition in your spinal column. A specialist will be able to advise on what the course of treatment should be.”

“Will they call me?”

“Yes. In the next day or two.”

Oh. And I have a question…

“I am a runner. I run. Do you think it’s ok for me to do any running before I consult with the specialist?”

“I would advise against it.”

I had to ask, didn’t I?

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