Monday, February 6, 2017

Sick It Up

Last night was a bad one.

I woke up around midnight with a severe pain in my midsection, a round tortilla of suffering right where my ribs flare open. It felt like heartburn, but it steadily increased until it was the second worst pain I have ever felt. I couldn't but wake up my husband, and soon I was actually writhing in pain on our bed.

About a month ago, an uncomplicated stab of pain right at the bottom tip of my left scapula began interfering with my days. It would begin midday and get steadily worse until I could no longer concentrate by the time I left work. The only thing that helped it was lying down; being upright invariably made it worse, no matter if I was sitting or standing. After three days, I went to the doctor, and she told me that bad habits had pulled my musculature out of alignment and I needed physical therapy.

Matt frantically searched the internet for what could be wrong with me. Panting with anxiety, he brought me a glass of water with baking soda mixed in and told me to drink it all. I did. By then I was hunched over the toilet, moaning, occasionally banging my head against the porcelain lid to distract from the pain. It had occurred to me that throwing up might fix whatever this was; sick it up was what I kept thinking, sick it up. As if I'd swallowed a wasp, and needed to pull its pincer out. But I didn't feel especially nauseated. Which meant that any throwing up had to be induced.

I started going to physical therapy a few weeks ago. At first it made me better. The pain lessened. I kept icing my shoulder and taking my industrial-strength Aleve dosage. But then, at my third appointment, my regular therapist wasn't available and I had a different one. For whatever reason, his massage and manipulation of my spine brought me right back to where I was. (I'll be writing about this PT session; it felt violative and frightening, even though I'm positive the therapist did not mean it to be so.) Since then I have slid forward and backward and sideways, as if on wheels in a bowl. The pain lessens and worsens, the muscles all around my scapula get looser and weirder and stronger and tighter. That contradicts itself, but the whole joint and its girdle of flesh seem to be changing.

The pain did not get better. So I stuck my finger down my throat and I sicked it up.

One day, at PT, I was doing the exercises the assistants told me to do, and the pain in my scapula gave way to a different pain. I tried to describe it to the therapist later, as she pinched and pressed on my arm, telling her it was underneath the regular one. On a deeper level. Oooohh, it went. If I could press down directly on the place of the pain, black acid would squirt out of it. I'd run water into the place until the squeezings went gray, and then clear. She did not understand. Below? she asked. Like here? No, I said. Never mind.

Bulimics baffle me, a little. Throwing up is so unpleasant that I don't know why you'd make yourself do it so often when, for example, you could just choose not to eat. And it always takes me so long to recover after I throw up: the smell, the inflamed throat, the sense that my face is allergic to itself. I suppose, like all things, you get used to it. Or the quality of "does not enjoy throwing up" is on a spectrum, and some people tolerate it better than others.

I thought of layering like nail polish, like puff pastry. Like a personality: beneath my veneer of coworker-friendly is a thin laminate slat of civilization; beneath that is drywall of morality; beneath that is a load-bearing two-by-four of be kind. Too much metaphor and abstraction, but it's in service of describing the pain in my shoulder, which I do not understand, and which feels more mystical than physical. Underneath the showy pain that sent me to the doctor perhaps lies a disfigurement of the whole system, one I picked up somewhere in the passage from 2010 to now, and only by breaking down the cell walls one by one, session by session, do I uncover the first layer of real pain, which has remained quiet until now.

Sick it up. Sick it up.

It didn't surprise me that the shoulder pain was on my left side. There's a logical explanation for this: I am right-handed, so all the muscle strength is on the right side, so the left is weak enough that the muscles atrophy and deform just by trying to do ordinary life tasks like sitting upright. But the explanation underneath that one: I've always thought of my left side as my creative side. I tattooed myself first on that side, first and most meaningfully. Tom Servo is my right-arm man, but the lamppost of Narnia shines on my left shoulder. When I injured myself in yoga, it was on my left, because yoga was taking up creative space I should have used to write. When an idea is blocked or is blocking me, my left wrist (broken in seventh grade) aches. Now, here I am, facing the most generative season of my writing life, scared of and excited about what has to come out of me before May 20th, and I am arm-bicycling in place on the machine every Tuesday and Friday. Trying to locate the pain underneath. Trying, failing, to press it out without bruising my skin.

I vomited over and over, coughing out dessert and then dinner and then afternoon snack and then, although this seems impossible, the morning's smoothie. Relief, immediately - not total, but significant. I rinsed and waited, and the tortilla of suffering faded and dwindled to nearly nothing. I drank more baking soda and more Mylanta. Matt rubbed my back and sat with me in the dark, our heads touching. I'm sorry, I said to him. I'm sorry I worried you so badly. No, he said. I'm glad you're all right. I think I'm all right, I said.

My shoulder ached.

I laid back on a little platform of pillows so the acid wouldn't return, and I watched a bad movie until I fell asleep. Matt's even breathing comforted me. The next morning, I hurt a little, between my ribs and under my shoulder. As if I'd eaten too much marinara, and hadn't been careful on the weight machine.

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