Friday, February 19, 2016

Pile on

For the last several months, our coffee table, which displays Zachary's photo album and a book of sympathies C.T. received from his friends after his brother died, has been largely overtaken by therapy apparatus.  On the top of the table sits a tub of cream and a tool called a gua sha, which I use regularly to scrape at the scar tissue that has built up in my heels and in the arches of my feet.  Every morning, I bring one of my night splints to use on the couch, during the daytime, and I have to nudge and rearrange Zachary's books so that the splint, or one of my other therapy tools, doesn't sit on top of, and desecrate his memorials.  Beside and underneath the table is a towel for wrapping the ice packs which I use several times a day on both feet, various therapy balls for seated arch rolling, a walking boot, at least two pairs of orthotics and shoes which I switch out to use on an hourly basis, as my pain inflames and my ability to get around fluctuates.    

I have been living with chronic, often debilitating, physical pain for more than nine months, on top of the emotional trauma and grief that has been with us for over two years now since Zachary died.  What began as a troublesome case of plantar fasciitis in my feet in early May 2015 has morphed into plantar fasciosis ("osis" suggests that my tissue is beyond the acute inflammatory stage and has progressed to tissue degeneration and deterioration, in other words "failed healing") in both feet, and tarsal tunnel in my left foot.  The tarsal tunnel is even more difficult to treat and cure than the chronic plantar problem, though both can be extremely stubborn and persistent, if not permanent quality of life conditions. 

If I am weight bearing, I am in pain.   When I'm at rest, the pain continues in the form of throbbing, numbness and aching.  Every single day.  I haven't had a (physically) pain free day, or a day where I've been able to get around normally, in almost ten months.  It is a daily battle to simply walk. 

I stopped running in June 2015 because the pain was too severe.  Then, I also stopped walking with a fellow bereaved friend (who I'd been walking with twice a week) because I found I needed to limit my daily steps in order to take care of C.T. and to do a decent job of managing the household.  As the summer went on, my feet worsened and I found I could no longer stand to water Zachary and B.W.'s memorial garden.  I began sitting on a chair, full time, to watch C.T. with his friends, and resorted to a walkie-talkie system when their play led them away from our yard.  I began preparing meals and washing dishes on a stool so that I was further limiting my weight-bearing minutes.  I started asking B and C.T. for help in doing things I'd formerly taken care of with ease.  And although I finally, a year and a half after Zachary's death, had enough scraps of emotional strength to get out and do some things with C.T., I literally couldn't stand or walk long enough to do them. 

I resigned myself to long bike rides with C.T. by mid-summer.  And while it was depressing to feel so physically unable to walk, I was proud of myself for occasionally rising above the apathy of my grief, and what I hoped would be temporary physical limitations, to do things with and for my sole surviving child. 

My feet only worsened when B's dad began hospice care in the fall of 2015.  We fought hard to submerge our own Zachary-grief, and what were becoming chronic pain and mobility issues for me, for the sake of supporting and spending time with him in his last days.  By the middle of October, we had purchased a chair for the shower because I could no longer stand for the length of time it takes to get ready in the morning.  I could no longer walk C.T. to school or run an errand that would require more than ten minutes on my feet.  In November, I sat in a wheelchair while B pushed me around, for a shopping trip I knew would take a couple of hours.  When no one was around, I began to resort to crawling when my feet were particularly bad.  

My life has become a series of appointments with doctors and therapists, all of whom are supposedly trying to relieve my pain and get me on a road to healing.  I have been diagnosed to death with ultrasounds, two MRIs and a painful EMG/nerve conduction test.  I've stretched, iced, foam rolled, worn a night splint so much that I cannot imagine what life was like before I was forced to spend hours a day nursing my feet.  I had a month of physical therapy in September.  I've tried at least a dozen over the counter orthotics and then had a custom pair made in November.  I wore a walking boot, as prescribed by my doctor, for several weeks in the foot/ankle that is worse (although that seemed to only worsen the better foot).  I've been seeing two different chiropractors who have treated me with electric stimulation (sometimes submerged in water), ultrasound therapy, cold laser therapy, taping and acupuncture.  I've seen a massage therapist, for months, who has tried to work on trigger points that have been shown to link to (at least part of) this kind of chronic foot condition. 

On Monday of this week, the better of the podiatrists injected both of my heels where the plantar fascia inserts, using an ultrasound for guidance, with cortisone.  It was a move of desperation to get some incremental, temporary relief from the constant pain, even if we agree it's only masking the underlying and chronic conditions.  While the injections themselves were painful (all I could think about were the many heel sticks Zachary endured while his whole body suffered and convulsed in septic shock), he said I would be in more severe pain for the next three days while I heal from the shots.  And indeed, as I've literally crawled from the couch to the freezer to retrieve ice for the feet that feel like they've been hit with a sledgehammer, I was.  It is only today that I'm almost back to my normal level of pain in my feet..., and I guess that's not saying much. 

Nothing, to date, has made a dent in my pain or in my ability to stand or walk, and I am perpetually grimacing just to limp through each day.  It is all so demoralizing for none of this to be helping, to have no relief from the crippling pain, to not be able to walk freely, for so many months.  I am running out of non-surgical therapy options and the surgical route is fraught with risk and many stories of poor outcomes.      

I try to push through the physical pain every day, to just keep focused on coping with my grief, on using what little emotional energy I have to seek help for my feet, but I am in sobbing tears almost daily with the piling on of it all.  The pain in my feet hasn't abated in months and months.  I haven't been able to go anywhere with B and C.T. (other than to eat out where I can sit on my butt) because I simply can't walk or stand.  I must have 20 pieces of writing started, about Zachary, but the pain has me paralyzed, stunted, unable to focus and finish them.  I don't have it in me to respond thoughtfully (or at all) to emails and calls and texts.  And I have very little capacity to be there for others - not adequately for other bereaved parents, and certainly not for anyone dealing with the regular drudgeries of life. 

It feels like I am just barely hanging on.  Grieving and physically hurting is my every minute.