Last week, during our daughter’s February vacation, we decided against going away. Instead, as you might already know, we opted to do a pre-spring clearout. It is amazing what one person can accumulate over 20 years. Multiply that by 3 and you get YIKES. But we dove right in and managed to donate clothing, recycle a lot, and dispose of many things that wouldn’t be useful to anyone. That felt really great. And we’re not finished yet.
As I sorted through paperwork, I came across a large white envelope. It held a hard copy of Nursing 2004. Specifically, the issue containing my article on caring for patients with lupus. It was just cool to read the accompanying letter again, thanking me for my contribution. I was ecstatic to be published in a major nursing journal! And to get paid for it? Pure icing.
I found other envelopes. Ones that contain my medical files. In my hands lay pieces of the ludicrous puzzle that is my life. But there are many, many pieces. It wasn’t just one envelope either, it was about five. And that isn’t even all of it. As off-putting as it seemed, I felt that I had no choice but to start reading.
Within the first five pages, I saw doctor’s names and medications I had absolutely no memories of. Then came the procedures I didn’t remember having. I mean, I recall having had most of them, sort of, just not the specifics.
Who were these people? Where did they fit into my story? Why the heck don’t I remember them? Questions filling my head, no answers to be found. There are meds on those papers that I don’t recognize at all. I’m not even sure what some of them were intended for. It seemed like a great plan: to clean, to organize important paperwork. To start to get the early gory details of the past 18 years. Ah, the best laid plans.
It’s extraordinary the way our brains work. Apparently, when we go through traumatic events, our brains sometime “shut down” in a way. It’s the body’s way of surviving. Self-preservation at its best. Apparently, my brain has been self-preserving BIG time, for more than a decade. It was profoundly upsetting to read my own handwriting, thanking these supposedly great doctors for whatever they did for me, and find nothing familiar about it.
For about four hours, I sat, surrounded by this information. I tried to put the pages in order of date. By test results vs. surgeries. But in the end, I replaced all of the documents into their envelopes and walked away. Admittedly, a little worse for wear.
It took a while to get a handle on something else that I saw when I went digging into the past. But it requires some backstory. My previous doctor, the one who treated my RSD the longest, was always trying to get me to do smaller procedures and treatments without anesthesia. Ummm, can you say NO WAY?!?! The thought of it stressed me out to no end. When I’d go to the office to get the medtronic pump drained and refilled, he hated having to give me a local injection for the procedure. Except they never had an easy time finding the port, which was under the skin. Sure they had that guide: a clear plastic, supposedly helpful, tool that they’d lay over the pump site to try to match up where the port should be. Should being the operative word there. My pump always shifted though, and it would inevitably become a painful fishing expedition, using large sharp needles. I finally won that battle by telling him to trade places with me, let me jab him – and his minion resident – in the abdomen five or six times. When that didn’t seem appealing, I essentially told him to stop griping and give me the local. It quickly became a non-issue.
Anyway, back to the current day. I’m reading the operative reports and the first line of each one says, “Female patient with known severe anxiety disorder…… ” What?!?! When was I diagnosed with a severe anxiety disorder? Apparently, I don’t remember that appointment either. All because getting jabbed with needles repeatedly for years, while dealing with not one but multiple major medical problems frightened me? And I asked for pain relief? Wow. Just wow. That made me SO angry.
I was the patient who, as a teenager, got dental work without anesthesia. We’re talking fillings, root canals and even a tooth extraction, all to avoid getting the novocaine injection. I know, it’s extreme. I’d have a meltdown at the pediatrician’s office when it was time for our annual shots because I was petrified of needles. In some ways, I still am. I’ve just had to make peace with them. Getting at least 20 per year will do that for you.
When I spoke to a friend earlier this week about my memory loss, I attributed it to my meds. Even the RSD itself. She reminded me of something else. I was in a LOT of pain back then, way worse than any discomfort I deal with now. Things were kind of crazy at the time. I was medicated but not getting real relief. My daughter was very young, I worried about doing a my best for her. The meds made me sleepy. But I wasn’t sleeping well. It was a mess. Seriously. So it didn’t surprise her that I couldn’t remember anything clearly from back then. Plus there’s the whole trauma/self-preserving idea. Regardless, I don’t like it. Not at all. She thinks that it may not be such a great idea to look into those records. Maybe it would re-traumatize me. I think, at some point, I have to. Even if it’s upsetting. Which of course it will be.
My husband and I used to joke about my having a mind like a steel trap. I could not only remember who said what and when, but what they wore when they said it. Now? Not so much. My mind is like a sieve. I hate that.
Regardless of why I don’t remember, my path to here and now wasn’t smooth. No one’s journey ever is. While the details are unclear, I know for a fact that the source of my strength lies in those nuggets of information. The base of my fierce determination to fight is there somewhere.
I’m the woman I know myself to be because of RSD. It’s a rotten way to find oneself. But that’s exactly what happened. I know the “why” of who and what I am.
Eventually, and I don’t know when, I’ll pull out those papers and figure out the “how.”
Peace and painlessness,