Sunday, September 18, 2016

T-rex Rocks a Side Pony (in which I use the words "schwannoma" and "brachial plexus")

So lately I've been thinking a lot about the plight of our friend the Tyrannosaurus rex. He seems like such a grumpy guy most of the time, but can you really blame him?
I mean, with arms like that, he isn't exactly the life of the party, and even mundane every-day tasks would be so difficult for him. Let's face it, our arms are pretty useful. And we just sit back and take them for granted, not giving a thought to how frustrating our lives would be if we suffered from the condition of the T-rex.
Well, over the past month and a half, I have made it my goal to study and understand the difficulties of living life with T-rex arms. And I tell you the truth. The Struggle is Real.
I did not embark upon this journey of my own free will, so let me take you back to where it all began. 

Around a year ago I noticed a small lump on the left side of my neck. My doctor said it could be any number of things, and I should keep my eye on it. Fast forward to this past spring, when it became clear that it was not going away and might, in fact, be ever so slowly getting larger. Meetings with more doctors led us to the conclusion that it ought to be removed before it got any bigger. Then we would have it checked to see what it actually was. 

For reasons that seemed clear to me then, but have since grown fuzzy, I did not tell anyone about any of this. Only a few people even knew that I was going in for some quick "minor surgery" in the middle of the summer. I don't like to worry people with words like "tumor" or "cancer." Especially when it's all speculation. I don't like to ask for help. I can do it myself thankyouverymuch. My mama raised me to be a strong, independent woman, by golly. I don't like to give up control or admit weakness or impose myself upon other people.

So. I went into surgery.

They removed what turned out to be a benign schwannoma.

"Benign" was a good word to hear. I liked that word. That's one I could roll with all day.

"Schwannoma" threw me for a bit of a loop. I'm such a grammar dork that my mind immediately went to that ridiculous "uh" sound that any English vowel can make in an unstressed syllable. You know what I'm talking about: the unglamorous /ə/ -- the schwa. What in the world it was doing in my neck was quite beyond me. As it turns out, a schwannoma has nothing to do with phonics, nor is it related in any way to the Schwan's truck which sometimes drives through my neighborhood (my second guess). It is apparently a nerve sheath tumor

Go figure.

Immediately after the surgery, I noticed my left arm wasn't quite working right. I couldn't seem to lift it laterally or to the front. My shoulder just didn't work, and my whole arm was weak. I waited long enough to know that I wasn't just still loopy with anesthesia, and then started following up with the doctors.

After I successfully demonstrated to them that I was, in fact, half Tyrannosaurus rex, and reasurring them that I hadn't been so before the surgery, they set me up with some physical therapy and gave the order for more tests. They did all this while muttering words like "strange," "fascinating," and "mystery." Not things that you really like to hear from medical professionals.
This round of tests, I got zapped with all kinds of electricity for an hour to try to find out where my nerves were or were not working. A week and a half later, I got the results. It said simply that what was happening in my shoulder and arm was "consistent with a brachial plexus injury." 
Super informative.

Meanwhile, I wait. Wait to find out exactly which nerves were damaged. Wait to find out just how those nerves were damaged (stretched? compressed? torn?) and what, if anything, can be done to fix them. 

Meanwhile, I find ways to cope with the things I cannot do. Some more frustrating than others.

Meanwhile, I rock a side pony nearly every day because I can't reach a top knot. Or a regular ponytail. Or a clip. I can't curl my hair or straighten it. And, let's be honest, shampooing has become a bit of an ordeal...so that doesn't happen as often as maybe it should. Don't judge. Side ponies are amazing and there is one for nearly every occasion.
Meanwhile, we laugh about my relation to the T-rex. We laugh because T-rex Mommy has a hard time swimming, so please don't climb on her in the deep end. We laugh because T-rex Mommy can't take the trash bags to the dumpster, so trash duty and kitty litter have to be someone else's job. And Mommy doesn't mind that one so much. We laugh because T-rex Mommy sometimes accidentally smacks herself in the face when she loses control during a PT exercise. We laugh because T-rex Mommy can't reach the handlebars to ride a bike, so is really quite wobbly and may need training wheels.
Meanwhile, I find that I am being stretched. My character. My faith. My muscles. My pain tolerance. 

But mostly my character. It's funny how little ugly bits rise to the surface during these periods of difficulty. Nasty little parts of me that get overlooked in the middle of the ordinary. 

Like that weed. That little issue of pride. That one that makes me feel like I must be some sort of failure if I ask for help. That ugly flip side to the Strong Independent Woman badge that I carry around in my pocket. It's still there. Down deep the roots are still alive, waiting to take over again. But being a Tyrannosaurus for a while has helped trim it back, at least. It has forced me to admit that I can't do it all...
Because, well, I physically CAN'T. 

And I am learning, slowly, that it is okay to accept -- or even ask for -- help.

In the meantime, I'm going to be rocking my side pony.

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