The Real Deal

The Real Deal

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Say Goodbye to Back Pain!

The Real Deal

I remember the words he spoke as a tear welled up in my eye. “Well Carissa,” he raised his brows, took in a breath and let out an almost scripted sigh. “What can I say; you’re just the real deal.”

The real deal? As opposed to what? The fake deal? And where’s my “real” doctor anyway? Since when is it okay for a physician’s assistant to tell a patient that she’s in need of surgery? I suppose he was trying to be empathetic. After all, this was my seventh surgery in seven years.

My head was starting to spin. I held back my frustration. And who is “Carissa” anyway? It’s Carisa, buddy! Ca-Ree-Sa! You would think after all we’ve been through he would surely know how to pronounce my name. After all he has seen almost as much of my body as my husband has. With his words gently fading in and out I stared blankly around the tiny six by nine foot office. It smelled of hospital sanitizer and floral perfume, probably from the last patient who was told of her painful fate.

“Here are your prescriptions for preoperative blood work, an EKG, your LSO corset, a CT scan and a lumbar myelogram. Remember, bring your CT scan and myelogram disc on surgery day or we will have to reschedule the whole thing.” He paused and fell silent. “Carissa, are you listening?”

His words startled me out of my dejected trance. I adjusted myself on the table and tore the paper covering as I moved. The wrinkled sheet of paper was sticking to the back of my leg.

“Oops. Sorry, Sam.” Yes, the P.A. and I were on a first name basis by then, except he still couldn’t or wouldn’t pronounce my name correctly, even after seven years.

“I’m still listening. Blood work, EKG, CT, myelogram, brace. Got it.”

Gosh, another three months in that giant turtle shell of a brace. I dreaded it. It was my twin sister’s daughter Julia, who was two at the time of my first lumber fusion, who coined the now synonymous term “turtle shell.” It made me laugh so hard when she asked why I was wearing one. I couldn’t explain that it was an LSO corset brace and why I needed it. So, when just three years and five lumbar surgeries later my younger sister’s children, four-year-old Luke and two-year-old Ava saw it again, I stuck with it. “You can color Aunt Carisa’s turtle shell if you want, but be careful because Aunt Carisa has a big boo-boo under there.” Surprisingly, they became very protective of me and my “big boo-boos” over the years.

“We need to get you into surgery in two weeks.” Again his voice interrupted my reverie.

I know I was acting like an overgrown child, daydreaming while the teacher was lecturing the class, but I knew the drill by now, and to me it was like riding a bike. After 38 neurosurgery appointments, 20 orthopedic surgeon visits, 8 lumbar myelograms, 17 MRIs, 9 CT scans, 7 lumbar laminectomy surgeries, 3 lumbar fusions, using a walker at age thirty, needing a buggy to ride around the grocery store, a spine built of titanium rods and screws, and seven years of my new married life spent in and out of the hospital, this bionic woman was a pro.

I guess it sounds like I carry a lot of anger and resentment around with me, but truthfully it is the exact opposite. Using humor to get through my tedious doctor appointments has helped me. It’s become my coping mechanism. So, a silly thought here and there in a stressful situation couldn’t possibly hurt. I really am always listening. After all this is my health we’re talking about. Crazy, but true, that I went through the five stages of grief and held pity parties in my honor after my first two visits with the operating table.

I needed a swift kick in the pants to get me out of my slump. It was my husband and best friend Ralph, the love of my life, who nursed me back to health after each traumatic operation that reminded me, no matter how many surgeries I had or may need again, he would always be there. “You are still as beautiful as the day we met fifteen years ago.” His words always helped heal me.

So now, at thirty-seven years old, and four months out of my seventh lumber surgery, heading to my eighth, things have gotten better. Sometimes, I can walk on my own without my cane. Medication and my trusty heat pad help when the pain in my legs and back becomes unbearable, and it gets better. It’s in those better times that you need to live life. You may have to adjust the way you do things, and for me it’s been a constant learning experience. Where’s the closest pillow? How long will I need to sit?

I make sure I get plenty of rest. You always heal on the outside first, so you have to take it easy because you can’t see what’s going on inside. I have these relentless talks with myself. My degenerative disc disease isn’t curable, but I’ve learned I can fight it. When you have people who love you, your family, in your corner of the proverbial boxing ring picking you up when you are facing another T.K.O. maybe someday you can really “Say Goodbye to Back Pain!” forever. Until then, I guess he was right, I’m just the real deal.

~ Carisa J. Burrows ~

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