This past winter, the winter that set the record for snow days and pretty much shut down our commuter rail for a good long while, I was in a car accident. On my way to work sitting at a red light, my car was hit from behind. A minor accident, one out of I won’t even hazard a guess how many others that day. After a major snowstorm things like that just happen.
I didn’t feel great after, and only worse throughout the day. So by the time I saw the ER doc I wasn’t even that surprised by the verdict—concussion and whiplash. Rest and see your regular doctor for follow up. I did, and took the anti-inflamatories she prescribed to try to reason with the injury. I started PT and learned to turn my body rather than my neck to look over my shoulder. I learned to grade at a podium rather than at a flat surface whenever I could. I learned to angle my laptop to give my neck as much of a break as I could. And still, by the time April was half over I was half out of my mind. The pain itself, the aching and burning and squeezing of the scalp, the tenderness at the base, it was bad enough. But what made it truly unbearable, what made it maddening, was that the pain was constant and unrelenting. From the moment I sat up in bed to the moment I collapsed back into it, the pain was there.
My doctor didn’t know when it would get better. My PT kept talking about how incremental and jagged progress can sometimes be with this type of injury. I couldn’t tolerate even the simplest of exercises so all she could do for me was manual therapy. The one pain-free afternoon-- about four hours worth,-- that followed one of those sessions felt like a gift, and then a tease because the rest of that week was well and truly worse.
My doctor eventually sent me to a neurosurgeon who had a diagnosis, though not treatment for me—for treatment I had to go to yet another doctor. Pain clinic. Fucking A—I was forty years old and had a pain doctor. The pain doctor is knowledgeable and genuinely nice but not saccharine. I appreciate all three of those bits that every time I see him. He confirmed the diagnosis and outlined the treatment, with all of the unknowns clearly marked. Which is to say he was fairly clear that it may or may not work.
He said another thing then, and he said it again at a follow up, and my PT had said that same thing many a time before, but it didn’t sink until the pain doc said it for the second time—he said that with this type of an injury, where I was, months out, even six months out, was still considered an acute phase. Acute, people! As in sharp or early. Sharp and early. Not the message I wanted to hear or appreciate—no wonder it took much repetition for it to sink in.
There was another time in my life when I resisted hearing that my pain was still sharp and early. Six months from A’s death someone commented on my blog then that it was so new still, and I did a double take—it had felt like an eternity. The aching and burning and squeezing of the soul, the tenderness of love I could do nothing with or about except write it out, all of it adding up to the unrelenting sadness… It took more time, months and years more, to recognize that my commenter was right, to admit that six months was awfully early, awfully acute.
Joe Biden, who’s had more than his share of burials that shouldn’t have been, in speaking to gold star families promised that there will come a day when the thought of their loved ones would bring a smile to their lips before it would bring a tear to their eyes. In those early months I wouldn’t have even known how to imagine a thing like that for a beautiful boy who never got to take a breath of air. It’s still hard, but sometimes these days it does happen. It happens most often when my younger son talks about his brother, about how we love him because you don’t stop loving someone just because they die, or about how he wishes he got to know his brother. Damn, kid, don’t we all.
A’s eighth birthday was just days before the accident. And for some reason, eight was hard. Frankly, it wrung me out. It started in on me a good two months out and man, did it take me to school-- in a creative and unusual move, eight showed me what the expression “debilitating anxiety” is all about. I could’ve lived my whole life without knowing that, thankyouverymuch. One of the things we do for A’s birthday is spell out his name and number in oversized gingerbread cookies. And let me tell you—you can be a nerd all your life, you can know that an 8 sideways is the sign for infinity, you can even know and love excellent nerdy jokes that rely on that fact, and yet neither the knowledge nor the jokes will protect you from how visceral and conspicuous that silly infinity-shaped cookie makes the forever.
The treatment for my neck injury is finally getting somewhere—after recent repeat medical procedure, the pain level is appreciably less and I am finally able to do actual exercises in PT. I am starting to believe that I will actually get better, that I may even recover rather than enter the chronic phase of this thing.
On the other hand, the loving and missing of my son will never get “better.” It’s easier to live with these days, chronic, not acute. Integrated, part of me, part of the fabric of my life and my family. As eight demonstrated, there are flareups. Which is ok. This is not a condition from which I ever hoped to “recover.” Because after all, we don’t stop loving someone just because they die.
What stage are you in? How have you perceived time on this journey so far? Have you had your perception of where you are or have been affected by time or distance in time?