In about October of last year, I slipped on the marble floor outside my gym. I fell, like a cartoon character, and landed right on a heavy glass water bottle I was carrying on my backpack. It shattered from the force of the fall, right into my lower back. I shook it off, thinking the past few years of training has really toughened me up. I actually told one of the guys, "If this was a few years ago, that fall would've crippled me for life."
Hubris, thy name is Fialkov. After that, I was hiking in the mountains on the edge of Burbank. It had rained, and I was moving as fast as I ever had. Which is why I missed a foothold, and felt a painful, ear splitting POP. That pop, it would turn out, was my L3-L4 disc, already hurt from the fall, now bulging 10-13mm. My L2-L3 was also injured, as was my L5-S1. That's virtually all of my lower back.
Over the next week, I felt stabbing pain in my right leg, and tingling on the left. Eventually it got so bad, my co-workers insisted I go see a doctor. That doctor immediately sent me for an MRI, which showed the injury. We began a long arduous process of steroid shots, stretching, and pain medicine.
And for the following five months, I spent almost every minute in agony. I, somewhat fool-heartedly, decided that I was going to run the Infinity Gauntlet Challenge at Disneyland, plus a 5K warm up around the Universal Studios Backlot (where I was working.) I did the 5k, no problem. In fact, the pain was almost gone. So I did the 10k... It was painful, but I did it. Then I did the Half Marathon and... nothing happened. I was fine. I could walk no problem.
Until I started having tingling all the way up and down my left leg. A nerve conduction study showed that the injury was in fact causing the nerve damage to spread all the way up to my L1-L2. Panic started to set in. I saw a half dozen doctors while writing my first episode of network TV (making my dream come true, a nightmare).
Each doctor had a different prognosis. I called my brother (a surgeon) and he asked his spinal surgeon friends for THEIR opinions. The spinal surgeon I was referred to had his own bleak prognosis. Finally, after months of limited sleep, painkiller dazed days, and constant, crippling pain, I found two doctors who agreed. My pain doctor was pushing a procedure called a Pulsing Ablation, and my second opinion surgeon agreed.
Last week, I took the afternoon off work to have the procedure done. Essentially, they insert a needle into the nerve stems of each effected nerve and they blast it with electricity, killing the nerve. It was painful and brutal (especially when I woke up in the middle of the procedure), and I was sent home thinking it wasn't going to work. I'd been told multiple times that the pain I felt was just going to be how I spent the rest of my life.
The next morning I woke up, and... the pain was gone. For the first time in six long months, the thing that's been a yoke around my neck, pulling me down in literally every part of my life, had disappeared. There's still odd sensations, and I can still feel the injury, but, the pain was gone.
I've written a lot about my battles with Chronic Migraines, and how it's haunted so much of my work, life, and the life of my family. But, having spent six months in literal agony,gave me a very real perspective on what so many of us deal with in our lives. I have so many friends with fibromyalgia and other chronic pain diseases who get treated as though they're just over reacting and imagining it.
I can tell you, despite having a 3-D picture of my injury, the cause of my suffering, I still had the very same feelings and worries. I battled with myself over the severity of the injury, especially as doctors told me it 'shouldn't be that severe' or 'you'll get used to it.' The fact is that pain is the most personal thing I person can feel. From broken hearts to broken bones, it's a part of you, and speaks to what some would call your soul.
Pain is who we are. It's what gives an identity, and allows us to identify. Show me a compelling story that isn't about pain. Show me an interesting human being who hasn't felt pain. Show me any human being, from a newborn to a 120 year old woman and we can find their pain. The real test of strength is how you triumph over it.
I was lucky. My battle is a easily diagnosable, and, theoretically, treatable one. But for all of the people who's pain is more complicated, less detectable, and every bit as real, show compassion. Show love. Because it really is the only thing that can beat pain.
That, and an electrically charged needle that kills your nerves, apparently.