I have a pinched sciatic nerve. Some days the pain is so bad my teeth chatter, as though I’m freezing – but it’s merely an expression of intense pain. At night, I cover my right side in a chain of analgesic patches from hip to ankle. It’s the only way I sleep. I wake and smell of camphor and menthol. I peel the patches off before I shower; it hurts less than tearing off band aids, but sometimes they leave red marks.
I eat breakfast, I take vitamins – and then a muscle relaxer to stave off the spasms that have come routinely to at first hint and then insist on moving in by mid afternoon. I put on my professional clothes and my makeup, try to do something passable with my wild hair, and pack for the day. On the train, I smile at the conductor as I board, show my pass, and finally lay my head against the window. It’s just for a moment, I think. I’ll close my eyes for a moment. The cyclobenzaprine has made me drowsy. And then, in my next moment of awareness, I open my eyes to the darkness of the underground cavern of the train station. When did I fall asleep? I nearly jump up – and begin hastily to shift into character. Into approximating being ‘together’. As I walk the length of the train to the area inside the station, my Kaiser Soze limp settles into quick pace, where I can almost match the work-day wolf pack.
On the way home, on the train again, I let go of the energy of the character. I’m not sleepy this time, just ready to ‘stop’. There’s a twinge in my back and thigh, a biting ache in my ankle, and I think my shin is numb. I try to sit straight with upright posture. I scan Facebook on my phone for funny memes or videos or listen to music that used to make me feel like living forever, when I was younger. In the 90s. Or sometimes, I just sit and allow my mind to wander. I stop processing the day and start worrying again about my back. Ahead of me awaits a lonely evening with my pain and my cat, and some TV shows I feel lukewarm about watching. And facing my bed with a mixture of hope and helpless fear. Hope that I can escape the pain this time – and just bloody sleep like a regular person. And helpless fear that it’s going to be just another lonely night in pain so bad my teeth chatter, the moment my muscles give in to the softness of the sheets and blankets and mattress and pillows. The moment just after where the nerve kicks in and insists on restlessness in any position – no matter what configuration of pillows my PTs have devised. I apply fresh patches. The plastic protective coating gives way to the freshly released scents of menthol and camphor. The patches feel cool as I press and smooth them over the aches. I then lay in the darkness in a state of demi-pain; half surrounded by and surrendered to the softness of pre-sleep in what should be a very nice, comfortable bed. Half poked and throbbing from hip to ankle by a rightly unhappy nerve. That insists I cannot ‘go to sleep on this job’. That it requires care. And I worry more about my back and the imminent surgery to unburden the nerve of the invading tongues of disc. I try to think about other things. And somewhere between progressively less conscious slices of thought, the coolness of the patches overcomes the various spectrum of throbbing and the Valium prescribed for just this purpose kicks in. And then my alarm wakens me to repeat The Loop.