Monday, September 8, 2014

The shot of the century.

I got an epidural today.

It's been almost three months since I got my first one, and I this time I went into it feeling much more confident. I knew what to expect. I knew the play-by-play. And, most importantly, I knew that it would result in me feeling much, much better. Bring on the epidural.

So I met with my doctor and he did the regular diagnostic stuff--checking my strength, reflexes, whatever. Then he asked me "What would you like for me to do for you today?"

~~Little side note here. How amazing that my doctor treats me in a way that empowers me. He puts my medical decisions in my hands. He gives me the treatment that I feel comfortable with (and that he thinks is advisable). I feel so fortunate to be working with this doctor. If you are in the greater NYC area and you find yourself in need of a spine doctor, please get in touch with me so I can direct you to his office.~~

I told him flat out: "I want to get a second injection." He clapped his hands together and said, "Okay. Let's do it." Five minutes later I was on the table.

So... little flash back here... The first time I did this I was a trainwreck. I was trying to negotiate with the doctor while I was on the table ("Well, maybe there's another way?"), I had to hold the hand of his assistant, and I flat out screamed bloody murder when he put in the epidural needle.

I really didn't want to make an ass of myself this time. I wanted to act like an adult. I mean, I'm 29 god damn years old... the fits in the doctor's office need to end. So I went into this one fulled prepared with some mental strategies for dealing with the anxiety:
  1. I took a sh*tload of anti-anxiety medication.
  2. I tried to think about what it would be like to see Ryan Gosling naked.
  3. I talked about Italy, Greece, and tomatoes with the doctors.
Well, it worked. He gave me the first little shot to numb the area of my back where he was making the injection. No tears. Then he inserted the epidural needle, warning that I would feel a little pressure. No tears.

But then the steroid started to make its way into my back. And like a gun shot I felt an agonizing, excruciating, can't-be-compared-to-other-pain kind of pain go barreling down my leg like it wanted to make my toes explode. 

And that's when I totally lost it. I was yelping, whimpering in pain. Pleading, "please help me. it hurts so bad. please help me." All the while, the assistant was holding both of my hands, telling me that what I was feeling was painful, but normal. Many patients experience this. It does not mean that something has gone wrong. Through tears I asked "Are you sure nothing is wrong?"

So here's the good news:
  • I got a much needed medical procedure that will probably change my quality of life for the better.
  • I didn't cry over the shots.
  • I don't have to take the hydrocodone anymore!
Bad news:
  • I have yet a new standard for most painful thing ever.
Now it's really time to get back to the grind of recovery. I have a physical therapy appointment on Wednesday. I'm gonna rock that b*tch. And I'm gonna try getting into the pool again ASAP. I am so ready to work. I need my life back.

Also, I just want to add that I wore this awesome shirt to my appointment today. My doc (and everyone else in the office) loved the irony.

Saturday, September 6, 2014


I'm propped up in bed, grimacing and gritting my teeth through the sciatic pain that is so strong, so sharp, so overwhelming... it can even cut through a hydrocodone haze/stupor.

Hydrocodone is quite a drug, isn't it? Back in June, when I first got diagnosed with a herniated disc and when I first got a steroid injection to my spine, and when I first experienced all of this insane pain--you know, back in round one of this ongoing hell--my doctor did not give me any pain medication.

"Well, what are you taking for the pain?"--everyone.

I took nothing for the pain. I took everything for the inflammation.

But now--in round two of this ongoing hell--I have a big bottle full of hydrocodone, prescribed to me by a doctor that I visited in a panic while I was in Seattle.

I'll tell you what... hydrocodone isn't all that great. It makes me feel weird--like, in my head--and a bit jittery. And it messes with my sleep. Nonetheless...

Hydrocodone is to be celebrated.

Since I was a little kid I've enjoyed snip-snip-snipping at my hair. Fast forward a quarter century and here I am... a 29 year old woman who hasn't had a professional haircut since she was a teenager.

There are pros and cons to this lifestyle. For one, I don't have to hand off a ton of cash every time I want all my hairs cut. I can spend waste that money on other stuff like a 100th pair of running pants or candles that smell like holidays. On the other hand, I also have to walk around with hair that looks much worse than the 'dos sported by other women. For instance, sometimes I have to endure comments from my male colleagues about how my hair is quite uneven in the back ("Don't go back to the person who cut your hair."). And sometimes--*ahem* last week *ahem*--I have to chop my hair down really, really, really short because I... kinda, sorta... dyed my hair a bit green.

Pro tip: Call it an attempt to look like Mia Farrow and wear it with pride.

Auto-haircuts are to be celebrated.

When I was in Seattle a couple of weeks ago, literally doubled over in pain, my biggest fear was the airplane ride home. It's a long haul from Seattle to New Jersey, and pretty much the only position I found comfortable was the fetal position. Doubled over in pain, remember? Well, I managed through some miracle hydrocone, to survive the trip.

The second biggest fear: what in the hell I was going to do once I landed at Newark airport and had to make the long journey to Princeton and then *gulp* get around Princeton well enough to get by.

In some kind of effort to repay karmic debt, the universe made it possible for my mother to join me. Her flight landed exactly 12 minutes before mine in Newark. She met me at my gate. Since then, I've had my mother--who doesn't call out for their mother when they are hurting like this?--helping me get to my doctor's appointments, making me breakfast/lunch/dinner, guiding me through the awful psychological effects of this injury, and laughing with me, crying with me.

My mother is to be celebrated. (All mothers really, but especially mine.)

This post is brought to you by: My concerted effort to focus on the positive! (and hydrocone.)

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

The Pity Party Before Recovery

I certainly don't mean to brag in saying this, but a lot of people I interact with in my life congratulate me or express awe over how "strong" and "confident" I am. The comments don't really surprise me because, after all, I put a lot of effort into building a fierce outward appearance. When you're a woman working side by side with some of the world's most respected and, frankly, aggressive philosophers, you quickly learn that the best way to be taken seriously is by projecting strength and confidence.

I am not, however, an especially strong or confident person.

Exhibit A:
Three weeks ago I arrived in Bend, OR, for Oiselle's inaugural running camp (#birdcamp, yo!). On my first day hour there, I decided it was time for a run. This was no small thing for me. While all the other "birds" were skipping around in their Brooks/Asics/Sauconys, I was nervously and carefully calculating just how much my body could do. I was two months post-epidural steroid injection to my herniated disc, and my physical therapist had informed me that a very slow one mile run would be safe if I was able to walk 30 minutes straight without any symptoms. I was up to an hour straight of walking without symptoms, so I figured my nervous hesitation needed to come to an end. I decided on a 1/2 mile trot, and I laced up.

Well, that little trot ballooned into big problems. Now, three weeks after that fateful day, I'm laid up with a very, very angry herniated disc. In the interim I was on a 9-day tapered steroid regimen (3 pills for three days, 2 pills for three days, 1 pill for three days), and I responded really well to that medication. So it dropped my pain from 9 (out of 10) to 4-5. I'm bed ridden. I have had to cancel some really important engagements. And I'm even at the point where I feel so limited in my ability to get work done that I think I might not be able to go on the job market this fall. This injury is interfering with my life in the most serious and devastating of ways.

So this is where my outer shell of strength and confidence is shown to be just that: a shell. I can't stop crying. I can't figure out what I'm going to do. I'm reduced to a puddle of sweat and tears when I think about my appointment for another epidural on Monday. And I'm just generally... disappointed.

I know that people are dealt shitty hands at some points in their life. And I know that, as these things go, I could have been dealt worse. But I'm crumbling under the weight of this situation.

Yesterday I cried on the examination table at my physical therapist's office. She looked at me and said, "This is not the Brennan I know. I want the strong and confident Brennan back." Me too! She's just... sad.

So my PT told me to come back on Friday ready to work. I have until then to cry it all out. And maybe blog it all out? But then I need to stop feeling sorry for myself.

I just hurt so bad. In a deep down kind of way. I mean, I'm even crying through my anxiety medication and I thought that was physically impossible. And the thing is... it's not the pain (the back pain and sciatic pain) that makes me cry. If you've ever run a marathon, then you know this kind of pain--it's the pain you feel in mile 25, just before you reach the last mile that suddenly (and inexplicably) feels like relief. I'm stuck in mile 25 type pain. That's not what's making me cry. It's all the other stuff that seems to be falling away--lost opportunities that I can't reschedule and I can't get back. It's needing my husband to be with me though he's in AZ teaching a class. It's not knowing how long this damn 25th mile is going to last.

I guess a lot of injuries are like that though. The stuff that impacts you the hardest is the psychological stuff. I'm beginning to think that my broken wing isn't my back, but my mind and emotions. Those are much worse places to hurt.

If you have pictures of puppies to share, please do. 

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Donuts and Dogs

Summer is at its end, and so is my travel schedule. I have returned to Princeton after a whirlwind tour of Denver, Boulder, Portland, Bend, and Seattle. I've finally seen the Pacific Northwest! I've finally breathed in that crisp salty air.

Unfortunately, I managed to push myself too hard while I was gone. I re-aggravated my herniated disc. So now I'm back at home, very much tucked into my own bed. I'm not sure when I will emerge. I'll write more on that later...

For now I just want to share a few photos from my trip. There's definitely a theme here... donuts and dogs. What can I say? I delight in simple things.

Heart cafe and Blue Star donuts (Portland)
Barista cafe and Coco's Donuts (Portland)

San Juan Island, WA
Donut House (Anacortes, WA)
The Dough Nut (Bend, OR)
Anacortes, WA
TJ! (Bend, OR)
Top Pot Doughnuts (Seattle, WA)

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Home is where the heart is: Athens

My first visit to Athens was in 2011. I was with Keith and we were on our honeymoon. We did all the things that tourists do: climbed the Acropolis, strolled through the Roman Forum, gazed at the Temple of Zeus, ate all the things.

From the minute I arrived in Athens that first time, it had my heart. It's the hometown of my favorite dudes, Aristotle and Plato. It's ground-zero for all of the philosophy of the western world. It's a starting point, figuratively and literally for my professional life and my personal and moral outlook. To be able to see the land that Aristotle walked on, the sea that he gazed upon, and the Parthenon that was the pinnacle of achievement in his day, all of this made me feel intimately connected with the figures whose ideas I work on. Visiting Athens brought everything around for me.

I go back every year. And it never loses its shine. In fact, I actually get more excited to return to Athens with every passing year, and I feel more forlorn each year when I have to leave. Athens has my heart. I feel like I'm returning to myself when I visit.

This year I had only one evening there. One date night. I sat on a rooftop with a stellar view of the Acropolis and read a book. I ate frozen greek yogurt and approximately a pound of cherries. I bought silly trinkets for my family.

Oh, and I found my favorite Greek snack... it's a spicy cheese dip. Usually people eat it with bread, but come on... fries. And a big Fix (it's like a lager).

One night is hardly enough, but I'll take what I can get. Hopefully next year I'll be able to stay a little longer.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

That time I went to: Spetses, Greece

So marks the end of another wonderful visit to Greece.

I go every year with my colleagues in ancient philosophy. The Princeton crew meets up with some Greek professors and students, and we all gather around a conference table in order to translate and interpret an ancient text. We always choose one of Aristotle's smaller treatises (De Sensu, De Insomniis, Physics 9) because these texts are conducive to the kind of incisive and careful analysis that we so love. And because, well, Aristotle is a badass. (Disclaimer: my dissertation is on Aristotle, so I have no choice in my attitude about him.)

From year to year, details of these excursions vary. My first trip took me to Crete, where we met with the University of Crete faculty and students. The second and third years were in Athens, each at different institutions. And this year we were on the lovely island of Spetses. 

The island earned its name (from the Italian "Spezia" which means "spice") for its position on a trade route to Venice. But it is most famous not for its relationship to trade, but for being home to a Greek heroine, Laskarina Bouboulina. It might surprise you to learn this about a woman in the 1800's, but Bouboulina was a naval commander. She fought on behalf of Greece against the Ottoman Empire during the Greek War of Independence (1821) and gifted the island of Spetses with the honor of being the first island to raise the revolutionary flag. For its role in the War, Spetses is a very special island.

I had no idea what to expect in terms of the atmosphere of Spetses. Every Greek island is slightly unique, so my experience in visiting other islands did nothing to help me predict what Spetses would be like. It turns out that it's a very, very expensive island. It's not an especially popular destination for international travelers, but the Greeks do vacation there. There are only 38 hotels on the island, and they were all completely booked. And yet, it was quiet. 

There is only one road on the island, a loop along the coastline. And there are no private cars anywhere. Sure, you'll see a taxi or a delivery truck or a garbage truck, but people get around mostly on motorcycles, bicycles, horse-drawn carriages (!!), and foot.

As far as I can tell, the inhabitants of the island are there only part time. Summer draws the rich Athenians away from the city so that they can enjoy the sun and peace of the island for a few months. This trend began in the 60s, so many of the beautiful mansions that grace the hills of Spetses date back about 50 years. Some are older, of course--dating back to the time of the War of Independence--but most of the families who own the homes now acquired them in the 60s. In any case, these are the Athenian elites, so the island has a sort of aristocratic feel--a sense that is elevated as you look out on the Argolic Gulf and see dozens of classic yachts gliding gracefully across the water.

Greek beaches are beautiful. And the Greeks will stay in the sun from dawn to dusk. A whole culture exists around beach time. Even at relatively small beaches, chairs and umbrellas are offered for a fee (11 euro on Spetses--very pricey!) and beautiful bronzed girls and boys run drinks to you from a tiki bar. Basically, it's heaven.

Given my injury, I wasn't able to be as active as I would have liked. My usual M.O. in Greece is to swim for several hours, go running every day, and walk around exploring until my feet hurt. This year, however, I had to dial things back. I was able to swim a surprising amount--about 1 hour total each day. And I walked about 2-3 miles each afternoon. All of this was far more than I've been doing at home, so I was exhausted by night fall. I'm thankful that my leg/back held up though. I did feel sad about not being able to run, but I was incredibly grateful to be able to walk around a little bit.

And, of course, I ate mountains of delicious Greek food.

I really don't recommend this island for a first trip to Greece. There are less expensive islands with much better beaches. But I'm so very glad I got a chance to see it. It was a significant site during the Greek War of Independence, it is host to a beautiful monastery, and in its water float some of the most gorgeous yachts I have ever seen. It's certainly a special place. 

But it's a place that it best visited if you are willing to spend a lot of money. If you can save up for a stay at the Grand Poseidon Hotel (the most luxurious hotel on the island, styled in the mode of the Ritz-Carlton), then I'm sure it would be trip so elegant and so decadent that it would become a memory to rival all other memories. I, unfortunately, was not staying at the Poseidon. Perhaps one day I will. 

Here's a final picture for your pleasure.

Okay, one more...

Friday, July 18, 2014

Injury Update

Days since first doctor's appointment: 51
Days since epidural: 31

I changed my hair a little bit.

So I haven't been diligently blogging my way through recovery. It turns out that this recovery is incredibly boring. There's very little change day-to-day and even week-to-week. 

The biggest marker of improvement (yes, I am improving) is that I am able to walk a lot more than I was able to last month. To be clear, "a lot" of walking for me at this stage of things is not "a lot" by objective standards. This is my health profile right now:
  • I can get up and go to the bathroom without fear of pain. Before the epidural, I was afraid to drink too much water because I didn't want to have to get up to walk to the bathroom. Since the epidural, my ability to make the short trip to the toilet has improved dramatically.
  • I can walk the 1/2 mile to my physical therapy appointments and walk home afterwards. This is a tremendous improvement. Before the epidural and for the two weeks following it, Keith was driving me to and from these appointments. I had trouble just getting down the stairs to the therapist's office and, of course, climbing back out. Now I can make the trip by myself. I am fatigued by the time I get there, though.
  • I recover much, much more quickly than I used to. Before the epidural, if I walked a quarter mile, I would have to rest for a full day in order to recover. I typically couldn't walk a quarter mile straight through anyway. I would have to sit down for a break. Now I can walk a half mile, sit down for about ten minutes and feel almost entirely refreshed. 
  • I can stand at the stove and cook meals. Yes, I do have to sit down sometimes to rest while something simmers, but I couldn't even dream of cooking a month ago. This is a significant improvement for me because I was getting pretty tired of eating my husband's "food". I can't make especially complicated things, but I'm able to feed myself again and cook some dinners for the two of us. Making a lasagna was probably my biggest accomplishment. 
  • I can sleep on my belly again! This is my most favorite way to sleep, and it was entirely out of the question for all of June and for most of this month too. In fact, I only started doing it three or four nights ago. I can't sleep like that the whole night because I become somewhat uncomfortable after a bit (I think it makes me a little stiff? Not sure.). But it does not cause any pain or aggravate my neurological symptoms (tingling, numbness).
  • Speaking of neurological symptoms, they are much less severe and sometimes are entirely absent. Some of my exercises (primarily "superman" and balancing on my bad leg) instigate the symptoms, but I have been doing those specific exercises for only a week and a half and the symptoms are growing less intense already. I'm mostly relieved that the numbness in my toes has disappeared (or else I just don't feel it anymore?). 
This Saturday I'm flying to Greece. I'm excited, of course, but I'm also nervous. It's the flight that has me feeling most anxious. I'm able to sit for much longer periods than I used to be able to (~3-4 hours, as compared with 30 minutes), but when things start to hurt, the only thing I can do is lie down. So that might be a little tricky when I'm trapped in economy class. Boo hoo.

Will report back on how it goes, of course. Let's be honest, I'm pretty lucky to be going to Greece!