I hurt my back a month ago. I kept pushing through and pushing through, taking Aleve and visiting a chiropractor and a physiotherapist sporadically and never ever slowing down. I went to Colorado and then to Chicago. I horsed around with my children. I cleaned my house. I worked and I worked and I worked. This is what I do, after all: I’m a prairie kid raised on the doctrine of the honour and gift of work. I never sit still for long, it drives my husband crazy how I cannot even watch TV without knitting something. I am a do-er.
Then, a week ago, my back injury from a month ago caught up with me and I found I couldn’t move anymore. Everything on my left side hurt. I wept when I drove, I cried in the kitchen, I could not find relief no matter what I did – ice, heat, stretching, have you tried this? I will try anything – or how much over-the-counter medication I took every four hours on the dot. I like to think I have a pretty high pain threshold – hello, four babies – but this left me jagged.
I went to the emergency room finally. My back is a proper mess and my entire left side is suffering – I’ve lost a lot of mobility in my left arm and particularly my left hand. Answers aren’t certain but it seems like it might be a prolapsed disc in my upper back. I’ve been aggravating it mercilessly and now it has decided that I need to stop it, stop it, stop right now.
So I have been stopped. I’m on the couch. Here I am, on the couch.
I have appointments every day this week – everyone from physiotherapists to neurologists. I feel confident we will get this handled somehow, it’s not forever, it’s just for very long day after day right now. I am taking some serious painkillers every four hours and this takes the edge off, it takes me from excruciating pain to deep discomfort and so we are on the path of hopeful healing. But I haven’t really left the house for days now: I sit on the couch or I lay on my bed. These are the options. Brian is not only doing his work but mine, too. The big kids are helping immensely especially with the baby. We’re muddling through.
I find I feel guilty. Which is dumb, I know. But I feel guilty for sitting here on the couch while my whirlwind of a house has to carry on without me. I feel like I should try harder and just grit my teeth and push through. I always push through! This is what we do! And yet when I try to rise, I am laid out again and so here I sit.
I am re-learning how to rest here on the couch.
I sat in the corner of the couch with my ice pack and my minor doses of morphine and I cried steadily for an hour on that first day. I wasn’t in pain, not anymore (yay for morphine) but I felt ridiculous and self-indulgent. Who has time for a back injury? Not this household. Not me. Not my family right now – we have enough going on already and this summer has been hard on everyone and like anyone needs me to be down right now, too?!
But there comes a time when pushing through is creating greater damage and so we must stop trying and simply rest and heal.
There is a sermon in there somewhere.
This is my time for healing, not for inflicting further damage with my determination to be productive or for pretending everything is fine. It’s not fine and I’m finally admitting that and I’m doing what I need to do, turning to the people who can help me heal, here on the couch.
I work hard on keeping my mind from chasing down the rabbit trails of “what if I can’t travel? what about all of my speaking engagements this fall and in the spring? what about the book I’m supposed to be writing? I can barely sit up! what about my children? what about my husband? what about my family? what if something is seriously wrong? what if this is something big? what if…. what about…?”
This isn’t helpful.
I am re-learning how to take my own thoughts captive here on the couch, how to be mindful about what I allow into my own mind.
Anne turned ten this week and yet I was on the couch. For the first time in her life, I couldn’t make her a homemade birthday cake and I couldn’t go to her little party – this year, it was at the pottery painting place. She was disappointed and I cried at home most of the day, watching Olympic events I didn’t really care about. I flipped through pictures of her ten years of life. When she came into our lives, it was like something that had been always dislocated in me was popped back into place. I am so proud of her and Brian took pictures of her party on his phone so that when they came home that night, I could see them. I feel like I let her down though. She didn’t need anything physical: she had her friends, she had all the “stuff,” she had her family there, her gifts, her traditions all met, but there aren’t replacements for each other and I think she needed her mum and I know I needed to be there but instead we sat together on the couch that evening. She said, ‘I missed you today,’ and I said I was sorry and we had a bit of a cry together. She doesn’t blame me, she understands, and this feels like grace.
I am re-learning that it is okay to be sad with your children, to share their disappointments, and to not try jolly it up or fix it all the time here on the couch.
I watch the news and I pray. I read books that aren’t too heavy to hold up. I can’t knit. Brian makes me coffee in the morning, tea in the afternoon. I read my Bible often, particularly I’ve been reading the Gospels again (always). I try to walk a bit every day around the living room, to stretch, to shower. I am trying to dwell here. The days are longer than they are when you are moving a million miles an hour, juggling plates and babies and commitments. I feel like I have enough time for all the things I can’t do.
I’m not being productive. I’m not being helpful so I’m trying to be cheerful and grateful and stoic, a model couch-dweller. That’s me! No one will be better at this couch sitting than me! I will drink my water! I will take my meds! I will show up for my appointments! I will say thank you so much and apologise so often, you’ll tell me to stop it for heaven’s sake!
I’m sorry. Thank you. I’m so sorry. Thank you.
So. This isn’t that big of a deal, I know that. I’m watching the news here on the couch, after all, and I’m seeing what happened in Turkey at the wedding and in the southern United States with all the flooding and the world is still going mad, people are truly suffering without a reasonable health care system and access to medication and a supportive spouse and Netflix.
I’m remembering how fortunate I am here on the couch.
Brian helped me outside one evening and settled me into a red Adirondack chair with my feet in the kiddie pool. Maggie was in her little bathing suit – chubby baby thighs! – and Evelynn was in her Barbie swimsuit. They splashed and puttered around, putting the landscaping rocks into the water and taking them back where they belonged. The sun was heavy in the sky and I listened to the wind in the trees above my head. I thought of how I am often too busy, so busy, how there is so much to do in a family of six with work and life and school and ministry, and I thought that I was actually really glad to be sitting here, uncomfortably, in this chair with my feet in the kiddie pool and my husband behind me in the garden pulling beans. I was unable to get up and go be productive or find something to do and so I was just here, all here.
Now that it’s been a few days of this, I’m getting used to the pace of rest. If we don’t pace ourselves, sooner or later our bodies will reset the pace for us.
I did watch the final concert for the Tragically Hip on Saturday night. I cried a bit and I sang along. Like most Canadians of my generation, I came of age on the Hip – high school and university is always linked to this band, long drives around Calgary with the windows down, singing loud – and this good-bye has been so devastating and beautiful. I wished I had my old Zippo lighter there on the couch because I wanted to snap it open and hold it up for Gord and the boys while we sang along to Bobcaygeon in our living rooms all across Canada.
I am re-learning that there is room for our humanity, our places, our stars, our grief, our pain, our good-byes, our healing in our own art, even here on the couch.