Pain is the body’s way of letting the brain know that something is wrong. From a simple tooth ache, to a broken limb, the pain receptors send the messages to let us know that we must take some action.
In January 2012, while down in Ballito, I woke up one morning and literally had to roll out of bed. My lower back was in spasm, and everything I did hurt like hell. I could not pick up my then seven month old baby, I could not sit or stand without almost falling down again in agony. It was an effort to walk or move. My back felt broken, without any explanation as to what I had done to it. So I spent every third or fourth day of the holiday at the Physio, just to be able to move freely. She tried everything, including acupuncture, but I was still left feeling not quite right. (I remember one of the needles coming out of my back looking like a cork-screw in response to a muscle spasm as she tapped the needle in.)
Eighteen months on, and a small fortune spent on Physios, Chiros, Biokineticists, personal-trainers and anti-inflammatories, I still feel like my back is somewhat broken. In January this year I was advised by my Physio to see an orthopaedic surgeon, and after waiting four months to get an appointment, I finally saw him two weeks ago.
After spending an hour in radiography, and another hour in the waiting room, I finally got to explain my long sob-story of my always-fucking-sore back to the surgeon. After being prodded and poked, and being told to lift my legs, bend, move from side-to-side etc. (and listening to him relay my medical history into a hand-held tape-recorder while I changed out of the lovely green hospital gown that shows your bum to everyone) he told me that I may have a tear in one of my disks. Gulp.
Fast forward two weeks, and I found myself lying in a tube being subjected to a major magnetic force. After removing any metal from my body: anything with zips, jewelry, underwire bra; I lay there wondering if people with metal implants in their bodies would stick to the inside of the machine or if the metal parts would try to make their way out of their bodies. I was feeling very grateful that I no longer have any metal fillings in my mouth. I was given some head-phones to wear during the scan, to listen to the radio and to block out the cacophony produced by the MRI machine. It was freezing in the examination room, so they covered me with two blankets, and braced my head into place.
I was slid into the tube at about 11.40 AM, and after what felt like forty minutes, I heard Alex Jay announce that it had just gone Mid-day. Surely I hadn’t been in there for only twenty minutes! What felt like another ten minutes passed. My heart started to pound, I felt the walls of the machine closing in on me, the noise became deafening, I could not breathe. My logical mind said “Calm down, you are in an MRI machine, you are not underground. Breathe. Stop panicking. Only twenty minutes left. You can do this. The machine cannot crush you. This is all in your imagination. Breathe dammit.”
My body felt hot, and I could hear my own blood pumping in my ears. (My mind: “So this is what a panic attack feels like. Calm down. This will be over soon. Don’t move.”) I have never been claustrophobic; I have never avoided crowded lifts, jam-packed cars or small spaces. I thought of a story that Johnny Clegg tells about his song African Sky Blue: How when the gold miners are up to 5km underground, all they can think about is when they will see the beautiful African blue sky above them again. I could see the surveillance camera on the ceiling behind the machine thru a tiny gap behind my head: It was like my blue sky, to help me try to calm-the-fuck-down. It’s a bit like staring at the shore when you are on a boat and feeling sea-sick. I could feel the bile rising in my throat, and wondering how I would be able to turn my head if I needed to puke. (Funny what the mind conjures up when you are stuck in a tube.)
A voice: “Are you okay, Mrs Lawrence?” Clearly I was looking somewhat stressed.
Me: “Um, yes. Sort of.” Voice inside my head screaming “Get me out of here, I’m drowning!”
The voice again: “We only have one section left. About five minutes”
Me: “Okay” *Gulp*
Pep-talk inside my head: “Five minutes. You can do this. Keep still. DON’T SCREAM. Breathe …”
After what felt like half an hour, the noise stopped and I felt the machine move. And then, suddenly the hospital ceiling was above me again. Beautiful blue sky.
And now I wait with baited breath for the phone-call to tell me what is really wrong with my back.