In 1999, my neurologist found a couple of Tarlov cysts clinging to three degenerated vertebrae in the small of my back. He held the film to the lightboard and used the tip of one finger to trace the offending spot. He shook his head, raised the edges of his mouth in a reluctant half-smile, and told me of the controversy amongst him and his colleagues on the issue of surgery under just those circumstances.
Over the years, we revisited the issue from time to time. He’d query as to my pain level, then controlled with narcotics. He’d order an MRI, or an X-ray, or a restorative course of therapy. I’d demur, shrug, insist that I had no time for surgery. Injuries would intervene, themselves requiring a hospital stay or at least rest; and stealing whatever days might have been spared to have the pesky little cysts poked with a needle. My neurologist sighed and remarked a time or two that bad disks could be fixed and cysts could be fixed, but the two together posed risks on which he did not wish to gamble. I shared his hesitance.
The world turned.
I grew older.
Now I wake at five, an hour before the alarm rings. Fire rages near the base of my spine. I lie in the loft of my tiny house and wonder if that doctor has retired; if his film director wife ever made her fortune; what became of the brilliant son of whom he spoke so fondly. I shift and wince. I slide my feet to the floor and ease my torso into a sitting position, daring the wicked wretches in my lower lumbar region to protest. I grit my teeth and remind myself that in February of 1997, a pulmonologist threw his hands into the air and gave me six months to live. I will myself to make the most of my days in spite of the tenacity of those Tarlov cysts clinging to the crushed remains of my L-3, 4, and 5.
After work tonight my neighbor Phillip stopped by my tiny house to get the posters for Sunday’s Spring Market which I’m managing here at the park. We stood by his car and chatted about life. We turned toward the western sky. Places everyone! I sang out. Cue the sunset! Another beautiful day in paradise draws to its radiant close! Phillip laughed and told me to have a good night, to stay safe, they’d see me at the weekend.
I went inside and stood in my kitchen, grinning, gazing around my snug, cozy home. I studied the pretty trinkets on the shelves and the lovely art by my amazingly talented friends adorning my walls. I stood, just so, as the light faded, still smiling, humming a little, completely oblivious to the swelling in my back and the shooting pain radiating down my legs.
It’s the twenty-fifth day of the eighty-seventh month of My Year Without Complaining. Life continues.