Day 22: Spineless

I clearly lack the backbone for a PhD. I’ve come to this conclusion today after much careful and considered thought, and about 48 hours of intense pain and some very fun drugs. (Just kidding. They’re not that fun. Okay, you got me, yeah they are, but I’m not sharing.)

I hate to blog about a health crisis, because, really, who cares, right? Everybody has health issues, and the minute I start complaining about my minor complaint, I know there is someone else out there with far better reason to complain about a far larger complaint who can one-up me and make me feel like the whiny wimp I truly am. (Go on, I dare ya.)

But, I’m gonna do it anyway.

So, here is why I lack the spine for this:

A few years ago, the first day I sat down to really start writing the dissertation, feeling done with some research and ready to move beyond literature reviews, I started to prepare to write about my primary material. I was in my Cave (the Midwestern library office space assigned to me that had absolutely no natural light whatsoever – kind of an 1870s version of the Cage) when I picked up 3 books from the top of a waist-high shelf, and turned to put them on my desk, and wham. Back spasm. I couldn’t stand up. I couldn’t straighten my back, I could barely move and was in excruciating pain. At the time we were living in the Fabulous Midwestern Lake town where Spousal Unit was doing a post-doc and where coincidentally my mom was working as well. So, I hung out there in the Cave for a while, trying to figure out what to do. I was crying. I was desperate. I couldn’t reach Spousal Unit. So, I did what any reasonable 30 year-old graduate student would do. I called my Mommy. She said she’d come and get me, so I hobbled down two big flights of stairs while folks looked at me like I was Quasimodo (although, in truth, at that point he could have played me in the TV movie). My Mom found Spousal Unit and they came and helped me hobble to the car, and took me to a nice doctor, who gave me lots of sleep-inducing drugs, and eventually, a few days later I could stand up again. I chalked it up to a freak of nature. My mom suggested that I clearly was the freak of nature and that I had issues surrounding the dissertation. Imagine that. Clearly, she’s right.

So now I’m getting to the end of this thing (so everyone tells me, although I surely can’t see it), and I’ve apparently developed disc problems in my lower right back that make it uncomfortable to sit, stand, walk, or lie down. Which is pretty much most of the human condition. But it is especially uncomfortable to sit. Handy, that. The physical therapist today thinks it is a “bulging” disc that is pressing on nerves, also accounting for the dead-to-the world toes She told me to ice it as often as I want, to do some exercises which involve slight bodily contortions while on the floor or a bed (so much for working in the library today), and to change my position every 30-45 minutes. Not too onerous. But, I’m still uncomfortable. All the time. Which is doing wonders for my concentration.

Like I said, I just don’t have the backbone for the dissertation. Or maybe it is just breaking my back. It is the straw and I am the camel. I really wish I didn’t have to use my body literally to act out these weird metaphors and puns. (But, at least I’m not the dude I know with irritable bowel syndrome who is so totally disorganized — he just can’t keep his shit together…)

Despite all of this, I did manage to complete a bit of work, and am going to do a bit more right now before a friend cooks us dinner. Maybe having a true obstacle to overcome, rather than the imaginary ones I cook up for myself in my overactive imagination, will result in some progress. Here’s hoping.

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8 responses to “Day 22: Spineless

  1. Ugh. So sorry to hear about that. Seems like our bodies are conspiring against us to prevent any forward motion. We’ll have to have a huge celebration when we’re both healthy AND finished. I myself plan to have a very COLD beer tonight. Enjoy your dinner.

  2. I am so sorry you are in pain. Any pain–major or minor–is a real drain mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. I am hoping that you get ur strength back soon. I’m glad you have a physical therapist–I hope the treatment works for you. I have a bad shoulder that (as soon as I started my comps process) literally froze–I woke up one week with virtually no mobility in my shoulder. Physical therapy was a godsend. It was a nice routine; a great excuse to get out of my study hole and I had a wonderfully bright therapist who gave great massages!! (See if you can get some good backrubs out of this) I think it made me feel good to take care of me when I felt like the program was wearing me down.

  3. Hello!
    Welcome to the club! I started blogging almost one year ago during a very lonely summer. I had to lie still in my bed because of two herniated discs pressing on my nerves. YES YES YES. The dissertation crisis!
    Well, I’m better now (apart from conferences which usually involve hour-long sitting, not being able to change the position – yes, my therapist said exactly the same).
    What I do now is basically lying in my bed and reading and sketching and only sit at the desk when I really have to type (or surf the web). I’m thinking of getting a projector so that I can type in my bed and see the screen on the wall.
    I don’t think I got this because I’m too weak to write the dissertation, I think I got this because of all the troubles with Ex Supervisor and Ex My Mr Perfect.

    BTW I got a relaxant and Dexibuprofen for 2 months (or more, I forgot). Drugs are great!

  4. Physical Therapy is great – they are so nice, and they just want me to feel better. AND they told me that pain isn’t normal. Huh? The therapist I was working with told me that all the grad students that come in are shocked when they get told this fact – that we all seem to live with some degree of pain, and expect that it is normal.

    Wanna – the projecter is a great idea. I can lie down, but I’ve also been having shoulder issues, so standing is better for me. I was working at our dictionary stand on the iBook yesterday, and that was pretty good. I also hooked the computer into the big TV to get a large image while sitting in a chair for a bit too. That worked for word processing because I could make the letters really huge (and therefore legible) but it didn’t work for browsing or email. Glad you’re feeling better generally, it gives me hope that someday I too will not be in constant pain! 🙂

    I wonder how many grad students experience physical crises at some point in their programs? It seems like a lot, to me. Is it just the timing of grad school, that it happens as we move into our 30s that our bodies start messing up, or is it that the stress and horrible tension of grad school produces more physical issues than in the general population? I wonder of anybody has studied this. Hm… If I wasn’t a historian, it could be an interesting project.

  5. I’m sorry about your back, but your post was a wonderful example of an extended metaphor!

  6. New Kid on the Hallway

    I had back problems in grad school, too – just muscular, as in, I had no muscles; I got the problems on the two quarters I was on fellowship, and spent the day sitting on my sofa reading. Good for the brain, not good for the back. Ironically, I never have those problems now, if nothing else because I stand while I’m teaching and that’s enough to keep the back muscles limber (or limber enough not to spasm on me). Go figure.

    But yes, I think grad students are especially good at living with pain (I had the same experience with allergies – when I finally got them diagnosed and it turns out I’m allergic to about everything out there, the doctor told me, “I think you’ve got used to living with a very high level of discomfort.” What, you mean everyone else doesn’t walk around with a box of tissues attached at the hip, blowing their nose 20x an hour and sneezing all the time?)

    Anyway, I hope that your back problems go away soon! Concentrating through pain is a huge pain in the ass.

    You might also consider voice-recognition software? It’s supposed to be quite good by now.

  7. stew g

    beyond PT, there’s http://www.source1medical.com/s.nl/c.329769/sc.2/category.7/.f. my female CP got me back to work in days with tens unit treatments. yes, skelaxin and mobic are nice MD gimme’s, but electrical stimulation is enlightening

  8. Welcome Patty soon to be writing from Qatar! (The internet is just so cool!) Good luck with your transition. It sounds like an amazing adventure! Welcome also freeks. Thanks for stopping by, and for the link – I didn’t get a specific product out of it, only a general home health product site. And I’m not sure what Unit Treatments are. Can you define?

    Anyway, thanks all for the support and suggestions. I’m really doing a lot better today and think that this may be a short-term flare up rather than a permanently debilitating condition (as dramatic as I was about it in my post…) 🙂

    SG

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