Tuesday, August 20, 2013

The Most Important Meal of the Day

This morning I woke up at about 7:30 to the sound of my son chatting to himself in his crib. The Little Pierogi is over seven months old now, and he is the cheeriest baby I've ever met. Every morning he wakes up in a good mood. Today I did as well.

I rolled over and realized that Husband was still asleep. I climbed quickly out of bed, slipped across the hall  into the nursery, and scooped up my smiling baby in my arms. After changing his diaper, I laid him back down in his crib, urged my visiting sister-in-law back to the guest room to sleep in, and scurried downstairs to the kitchen.

Pierogi's morning meal consists of a bottle and a (pediatrician-approved) mixture of baby cereal, powdered formula, prune juice, and half a crushed-up Prevacid tablet. I developed this combination over the summer as the ideal way to start his day--preventing spit-up and digestive stop-up alike--while I fed him over a soundtrack of Good Morning America's latest discussion of the royal baby.

The breakfast thus prepared, I hurried back to the nursery, carried Pierogi to the family room, switched on Good Morning America, and fed him his cereal and his bottle. I felt so victorious that I called my mother afterwards.

I hadn't been able to feed Pierogi breakfast by myself in almost three weeks.

Since the end of April, a persistent pain has staked a claim on my right leg. By the middle of the summer, after a couple of doctors and prescribed stretches, I thought I had it under control, to the point that it was livable. I was quite wrong.

Towards the end of July, the pain rapidly turned into what I have only been able to describe to others as a combination of a giant invisible bruise and a brutal charlie horse that refused to stop seizing up. Pain constantly radiated down my leg and up my spine, like a fiercely plucked guitar string. I couldn't write, I couldn't sleep, I could barely eat, and by the beginning of August, I couldn't hold my son.

This is what sciatica does. It is pain with several possible causes (including pregnancy/postpartum core weakness), but the end result is the same: pressure or pinching upon the human body's largest nerve creates radiating, excruciating pain. 

In my case, it resulted in a trip to the ER, an attempt to still take a planned family road trip that resulted in another trip to a different ER, visits to a neurosurgeon, and an orthopedist, a portable electrode stimulation unit for my back, an epidural steroid shot (yes, a very big needle injection into my spine), and an MRI under sedation. Oh, and this extremely stylish pillow I ordered online:

Sciatica is a pain I wouldn't wish on my worst enemy. I might wish it on, say, Saddam Hussein, but that is seriously where the bar is set for people upon whom I would wish this pain.

However, there is an upside to being pulled down to where you can barely do anything but swallow water and wish you could sleep. When you feel as though you can literally do nothing, anything is progress.

Having planted an entire garden with Husband along our back retaining wall in April, I found victory in walking the short path to pick a handful of grape tomatoes. Having been our son's primary caregiver through midnight feedings and daytime playtimes alike, I was proud when I was able to hold him for more than a minute. Writing became a goal--not a frazzled goal on my to-do list, but a small, meaningful goal; every sentence typed while sitting up in bed was a step forward. Brushing my teeth without sitting down on the bathroom floor to rest became an achievement. And slowly, haltingly, recovery crossed swords with pain.

And there's another upside to what I experienced. This pain was a reminder of how fortunate I should consider myself, of how many blessings I had not counted lately: youth, excellent healthcare, a career path that I absolutely love, kind and helpful friends, patient and compassionate family members, a devoted spouse, and a smiling, healthy baby. It reminded me that my worth is not a calculation of how many items I can cross off my to-do list. It reminded me that changing my son's diaper and feeding him breakfast are not obligations, but fleeting and treasured moments.

Pain, even chronic pain, cannot stand up against the caring and love I have felt in the past few weeks. And it can't steal a crumb of the joy I feel when I see that baby smile.

I don't know how long this pain will linger, or if it will ever return full-force once it recedes. I don't even know how I will feel when I wake up tomorrow morning.

But I do know that when I woke up this morning, I felt good, for the first time in a long time. And (I'm aware it sounds silly to put it this way) it felt good to feel good! Breakfast today was much more than baby cereal and coffee with a granola bar. It was a victory banquet for two.

So the next time you find yourself eating breakfast--whether you're stumbling into a Starbucks, tucking into homemade French toast, or wolfing down a protein bar before sprinting for the bus--take a moment to remind yourself of the small victories. Small doesn't mean insignificant. Take a moment to be thankful for what you have. And whenever you can, have breakfast. It's the most important meal of the day.

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