It’s 6:30 on a Friday morning and daughter #1 and I are sniping at each other. I want to be sure she has everything she needs for the ski bus she will take from school to Snoqualmie Summit later in the afternoon. Skis, poles, boots, helmet, gear bag and food are all piled up by our front door, just as they are every Friday morning. But this morning, I am bitchier than usual and daughter #1 is rolling her eyes and refusing to go through the checklist with me, though we both remember her maiden ski bus trip last year, when we packed everything except the ski boots, an omission she did not discover until she was on the mountain, ready to go.
I am bitchy because I haven’t slept for the past several nights, due to a pain in my neck. I’d like daughter #1, who is 13 and can’t always control herself, to stop being a pain in the bleep and cut me some slack. It doesn’t happen and we part on unfriendly terms.
Later, after I have been diagnosed with a herniated disc, pumped full of steroids and set up with a physical therapy regimen, I will have the foresight to send her a text apologizing for my bitchiness.
Still later, when she has been strapped to a backboard and rushed down the mountain in an ambulance, I will look at her texted response to my apology: ”I’m sorry I was a whiny schmuck.” Me: “I’m glad you’re my whiny schmuck :).” Her: :).
The next day we are walking companionably together in stiff-necked glory, me, whacked out on steroids and pain meds and a muscle relaxant, her, a little sore and just beginning to realize what might have been.
She tells me she dreaded making the call to us that night, knowing we would be upset. I tell her how helpless we felt because we weren’t there to comfort her and about the confusion of receiving several truncated calls from the ski patrol, her ski instructor and a chaperone who happened to be a doctor, trying to piece together what had happened and assess her situation. She’d fallen and somersaulted, landing on her back, while learning mogul safety, but had managed to ski herself down the mountain (good sign) before realizing she felt dizzy (bad sign). As a precaution, she was strapped to a backboard and it was determined that she should be taken by ambulance to the emergency room. The experts deliberated over which one, and we reacted to each possibility: the one nearest our house (good sign), the one at Seattle’s largest trauma hospital (bad sign), and finally, the one closest to the mountain (good sign).
She tells me what it was like to be immobilized on her back in a screaming ambulance, crying, with no one but an awkward EMT to comfort her with small talk.
I tell her about rushing to the hospital, a 45 minute drive from our house, with her pajama-clad frightened younger sister in tow. On the way, something smashed into our windshield, aimed at my heart. ”Have we been shot????” Jeff was rattled by the sudden impact. Indeed, there is a bullet-like hole on the outside of the glass and it seems hard to believe it could have come from a rock.
By 11:00 p.m., backboard just a memory,
we are at a drive-through Krispy Kreme at a strip-mall in Issaquah laughing at the strangeness of our situation and allowing the first waves of relief to sink in, along with the sugar.
Though I am unable to turn my head toward the backseat to smile, we agree that this was the mother of all gazumps.
Daughter #2 suggests I can bog about this. I feel a twinge of guilt over what we may be turning into.
The pharmacist calmly explained all the possible side effects of my meds. My friend Diane, a nurse, puts it in plainer terms. ”You’re going to be bloated and bitchy and miserable.” I already feel that way 11 days of each month, thanks to my perimenopausal PMS, which is kind of like PMS on steroids and which I have learned to manage with exercise, smoked salmon, red wine and my private reserve of dark chocolate.
Now that I am experiencing perimenopausal PMS and am on steroids, I realize that my previous forays into moodiness were a walk in the park compared to this new dimension of craziness. I have never suffered from chronic depression, nor have I ever taken anti-depressants. I have a new-found empathy for those who do.
My funny family is able to make light of Mom’s ‘roid rage and Daughter #1 buys me some Doublemint gum to cool me down. But, though I stop taking the muscle relaxants after the first one, and limit the pain meds to just one at bedtime, my consciousness is altered, like a mid-life follower of Timothy Leary, though I drive a minivan instead of a magic bus.
I take a four-mile walk on a glorious sunshiny day and my iPod astutely shuffles to Katrina and the Wave to help cheer me up.
It doesn’t work.
It’s been a long time since I’ve had the intensity of feeling one experiences in middle school, when the mountains can seem more beautiful than they ever have before
yet you question your place in this world. I have a new-found empathy for those who feel these extremes and also have to navigate the intricate social dynamics of the school lunchroom.
As the pain lessens and the meds wind down, I am regaining enough healthy perspective to understand that we dodged a number of bullets. That fateful Friday would have been the 17th birthday of my friend Beth’s son Ian. There was a madman with a gun terrorizing a neighborhood to our north, where residents were advised to stay home behind locked doors. There was an accident at our Sunday Farmers Market, resulting in the serious injury of a baby. I think the moon was full.
Our insurance will pay to get the windshield fixed. Daughter #1 is planning to go skiing again on Friday and I’ll be up and running again in no time. Over the years, we will re-tell the story of Daughter #1′s ambulance adventure when she comes home from college for the holidays or whenever we pass a drive-through Krispy Kreme kiosk.
In the grand scheme of things, I am grateful that in the end, this turned out to be nothing more than a pain in the neck.
Though many things can cause them, herniated discs can also be a by-product of aging. I’m grateful to my Facebook friends who stuck their necks out for me by sharing their stories and favorite remedies. Thanks to Nancy Schatz Alton, a member of the Ballard Writers Collective and co-author of The Healthy Back Book, which jump-started my efforts to take charge of my own recovery. Thanks to Christina Wilsdon, witty writer and animal aficionado, for suggesting Treat Your Own Neck, by Robin MacKenzie. Thanks to my neighbor Shannon for the nightly laser treatments, to Diane for the frankness and the heating pad, and to Liz and Paul for the promise of a rotisserie chicken and cookies.
In addition to drugs, physical therapy and ergonomic office arrangements, everyone agreed that dark chocolate has charms to soothe the savage beast. Some kindred spirits also felt that the pair of pink shoes I’ve been ogling would certainly have profound therapeutic benefits.
Finally, I haven’t felt much like eating because of the water retention, and have felt even less like cooking, which, if you know me, you know signals that my stars (not just my neck) are out of alignment. But this morning, while thinking about anti-inflammatory, all-around good for you foods, I remembered this wonderful salad from the cookbook Turquoise: A Chef’s Travels in Turkey by Greg and Lucy Malouf. Afiyet Olsun! (Turkish for enjoy your meal)
Green Olive, Walnut and Pomegranate Salad
3/4 cup walnuts, toasted for 5-10 minutes in a 350 degree oven. After cooling, pour the nuts into a towel and rub well to remove skin. Then coarsely chop
1/2 cup pitted green olives, washed and coarsely chopped
1/4 unsalted shelled pistachios, coarsely chopped
1/2 cup pomegranate seeds
2 small shallots, peeled and finely diced
1 red serrano chile, seeded and finely diced
1Tablespoon shredded flat-leaf parsley leaves
1 Tablespoon olive oil
I Tablespoon walnut oil
splash of pomegranate molasses
juice of 1/2 lemon
freshly ground black pepper
Combine all ingredients in a large bowl and toss gently. Let stand five minutes before serving so flavors can meld.