Feeling better but not 100%

apollo11I’ve mentioned a few times that I’ve been having bad back and rib pain.  Well, it got a lot worse in November and December, and by the end of the year, it had expanded to severe abdominal pain as well.  For a while it looked like my gall bladder was going to have to come out, but so far all the various scans have been negative.

I’ve already had a couple of cortisone injections in my back for the pinched nerves there, but it wasn’t feeling much better.  Of course, tracking this stuff down by where it hurts can be hard since the place you feel the pain for a pinched nerve (around T7 if you’re curious) overlaps heavily with the areas you feel the pain from ulcers and gall bladder problems and other issues around the stomach/duodenum/small-intestine.

But given how much pain killer I was taking for the pain — and how long I’d been taking it — there was some suspicion that all of that ibuprofen might have been causing damage similar to an ulcer. So, the GI guy asked me to go a week or so without the ibuprofen and rely exclusively on the Vicodin.

I was expecting a week of blissful drooling under the heavy opiate haze, but instead, I found that by the second day, I was hurting a lot less, and wehn I say a lot, I mean a LOT!  Pain dropped from the 8 to 10 range down to the 3 to 6 range.  It still gets worse as the day progresses, but I’m typically not needing any of the vicodin until the end of the day.

So, my productivity has gone up a lot in the last week or so.  Mostly, I’ve been pouring that extra energy into my day job and my family.  I say this with apologies to my increasingly-less-patient readers, but I’m woefully behind at work, and my wife had been trudging along in “least sick adult” mode for weeks, verging on months.  But I’m making good progress on both of those fronts, so I hope to add my writing back into the mix soon, possibly this week.

I’m loathe to post specific goals or schedules just yet because I want to see how well my health holds in the coming weeks.  I still have some more tests coming in early February to see what kind of damage my GI tract might have sustained, and those might signal more procedures or therapies that will interrupt any workflow I set up.

But for now, I’m feeling much better, doing physical therapy twice a week for my back, and getting stuff done.  For that, I am thankful.

2014: Year in Review

CalendarObliqueThis past year has been a mixed one at best.

The bright point of the year was that I got a job, which relieved a lot of financial stress. On the other hand, though, it took away a lot of my writing time.

My goal of writing a million words fell flat on its face, mostly because of the job. I think before I started work, I was on pace for about 650,000 and accelerating, so it’s conceivable I could have made it, but the second half of the year pretty well tanked in my writing. I did manage a NaNoWriMo, but mostly due to a Herculean effort over the Thanksgiving holiday. Anyway, I stopped keeping good records in the later months, but I’m pretty sure I ended up in the neighborhood of 450,000 for the year.

But I did not get a single book out the door this year, and for that I consider the year a failure. I now have six – yes, SIX – novels in the queue. Two are technically still in the draft phase, but they’re close to done. Mostly everything is held up in edits, which I suck at. And alas, most of these aren’t the kind of edits I can hand off to an editor. These are essentially writing additional scenes and rewriting others to fix story problems. The actual grammar and language stuff goes pretty fast, and I DO get professional help with those.

But I get stuck on these story-level edits, and I’m still trying to fix that as a process problem. It’s not that I don’t know what needs to be fixed. I’m just having a hard time making progress on them. I once quipped, “I spent about forty hours this month not editing that book.” That is, I dedicated forty hours to the work but got virtually nothing done in that time. This is probably one of those things that I’ll eventually figure out, and once I do, I’ll look back on my lame excuses with the same scorn that I currently do for things like, “I don’t have the time to write” or “I don’t have any ideas”, etc. But in the meantime, I’m pounding my head against this wall of edits.

It’s also been a very rough year for me personally. I have special needs kids. I don’t talk about them much – at least not in specifics – but it’s been a hard year, especially with my oldest son, but even my youngest son has caused his share of gray hairs. My daughter, on the other hand, has been a delight. Still, I worry for her, growing up around her brothers who are causing me plenty of grief, even with thirty-six more years of emotional experience and perspective.

I’ve also been having a tremendous amount of physical pain this year. What started as an intermittent stabbing pain in my ribs in September 2013 has blossomed into near-constant agony throughout my torso. There are people out there hurting worse than me, so I feel lame complaining, but I also realize that I’ve probably only had three of four days since summer that the pain has not required a dose or two of Vicodin, just for me to function.

In the last couple of months, it’s gotten even worse while the source remains a mystery. A back specialist thinks the pain is being caused by pinched nerves. Apparently, I have herniated discs on either side of my T7 vertebrae, though how I did that is yet another mystery, since that part of the back is generally immune that this kind of problem. But after a couple of cortisone injections in my back, we’re starting to think there may be multiple sources to this pain. So I’m now being sent off physical therapy as well as a GI specialist. Apparently, there’s some chance the culprit is that bilious bag known as the gall bladder.

But whatever it is, I’ve spent much of the year exploring the upper ranges of the pain scale, determining the finer shades between an 8 and a 9. For those of you in similar situations, I highly recommend the alternate pain scale by Hyperbole and a Half.

So I go into 2015 with a few vague plans and a lot of an

Pain in the back/ribs

One of the things I’ve been battling with lately (in addition to edits and word counts) is an increasing level of pain in my back and ribs.  It’s been going since September 2013, and while it would come and go, for the last six months it’s been a pretty steady 5-7 on the pain scale.  Over the summer, it started it started seizing up with a pain level that went right up to the Hyperbole & a Half’s “10: I am being actively mauled by a bear”.

I have friends with chronic pain, and this has given me a whole new insight into their lives.  This pain has forced me into walking a precarious balance between hurting so bad as to be angry at the whole world and being too stoned on pain killers to really engage with the world.  I’ve been to doctors, chiropractors, and massage therapists the whole time, and none of them really had much success other than pointing me towards the next vertex in that little triangular round-about.

But now, at last, I may be getting relief. The latest MRI points to herniated discs in my back, both above and below the T7 vertebrae. That’s more or less between the shoulder blades. Anyway, the theory is that nerves coming through that are getting pinched and sending spurious signals in both directions. If so, then the pain in my ribs is not actually in my ribs, but merely being interpreted as being in my ribs, and seizures in those muscles are not a sign of problems in the muscles but rather the result of random misfires being sent down the nerves from the pinch point in my back.

It’s still unclear to me what I’m supposed to do about the herniated discs, but for the pinched nerves, there is a treatment, and I’m getting it today. They’ll be injecting cortisone into my back in two places near the spine. The idea is that the cortisone will significantly reduce the inflammation in the area, ending the pinch to the nerve. Given that this has been going for over a year, there is some chance I’ll need a second set of shots in the coming weeks/months. However, the theory is that this should eliminate the pain and seizing for years to come if not actually forever.

I’m not sure how much relief it’s going to provide me specifically for my writing, but I am hopeful.  And I’m also pretty sure it means one or more of my characters down the road is going to suffer from chronic pain as well.

End of September/Mid-October Update

Again, I’m running behind. The flu or cold or whatever I had in September pretty much sucked up my entire month and kept my energy down in early October as well. However, I am starting to make some progress again, and I hope to get Debts of My Fathers out for its second round of beta readers at the end of this month. I’m also considering NaNoWriMo next month, but not unless I can hand Debts off by November 1st. I have a little less than two weeks to do that, but I’m working hard on it.

I’m also having problems with my special-needs kids, and I’m having a persistent pain in my back and ribs all along my right side. In its steady-state, it’s only about a 4 or 5 on the pain scale, but it frequently seizes up and flares to a 9 or 10. In more qualitative terms, it feels like someone is pressing a putty knife against my ribs 24/7, and every now and then, they stab me with a spearhead. So, that’s been something of a distraction. For the record, we’ve done x-rays, chiropractic adjustments, and deep tissue massage, but nothing has made it better. Whatever it is, it appears to be a soft-tissue injury, and wrangling my ever-growing boys probably reinjures it on a regular basis. I suspect physical therapy is the next step, but I don’t have a schedule for that yet.

So, the work continues, just never as fast as I want it to.