Tuesday, June 18, 2013

The Diagnosis

No bumps in this road--this is my street

Another bump in the road besides relapsing on the cigarettes is it turns out my back is broken after all. My girlfriend says to stop talking negatively, it’s not actually broken. She says broken would be like if you had two bones that were completely snapped in half like a wishbone. In that case I think I would be paralyzed because the spine protects the spinal cord and that would be pretty negative but that’s not happening.

I have two fractures (T12 and L3), one “severe”, and a multitude of wear-and-tear issues—degenerative disc disease in many of the discs and some kind of scoliosis thing that’s probably from my bad posture. I’m not too worried about the degenerative disc disease and the scoliosis thing. I expected that. Most of us cowgirls have that. It’s from riding and lifting fifty-pound bags of grain and pushing wheelbarrows. You get that. I also had a feeling about the fractures. This back pain felt different. It is not the worst pain that I’ve had but it’s different. It feels like an accordion collapsing in on itself and when the doctor drew me a picture, that’s exactly what it looked like.

I have to go to the orthopedic doctor. He will probably order an MRI so they can make sure the fractures are stable. If they are stable, it’s just a matter of rest, possibly a brace, and if I could, water therapy might help. (I learned this from the Internet, not from my family doctor who knew squat. I call family doctors “gateway doctors” nowadays. You have to go to them to get referrals to go to the real doctor who will fix you.) If they’re not stable, I would need surgery. They would put something in there to hold it together so that the bones don’t impinge on the spinal cord. Trying to be positive, I assume I’d be in more pain if the fractures weren’t stable so I’m not losing any sleep over it.

But I’m afraid my barrel racing career is over before it even got started. All these years I’ve been trying to do it and one thing or another got in the way, mostly moving. Every time I got my horse ready, we decided to move again and then I had to fix the house and stage the house and sell the house (we always sell it ourselves with no real estate agent so that takes a lot of work) and pack the house (one time I packed the house completely by myself because Kurt was recuperating from double bypass surgery—he didn’t even see the new house when I bought it because he was in the hospital) and then we’d move into a new house and we’d have to build fences and build barns and replace roofs and replace heating systems…. And start our business all over again. That’s like starting a whole new business! I’d get halfway settled in and then start riding my horse again and I’d go to a barrel race or two, and then something else would happen. So all these years I never really got going. And now I don’t know if I will ever be able to get going. Those high speeds and hairpin turns really throw you around in the saddle and I’d be afraid I’d reinjure the healed fractures. I imagine it will always be a weak area and the spine is nothing to mess around with.

I’m not ruling it out though. I am looking into protective vests. The eventers wear them. Jockeys wear them. They protect your ribs and your spleen but I don’t know how well they protect your spine because they don’t stop the spine from compressing. I know of a company that makes a safety vest that blows up like an air mattress when you fall off the horse. It attaches to the horn by a cord and when you fall off, the cord breaks and the vest inflates. We made jokes when we were told how it works by the vendor at Colonial Nationals a couple of years ago. He zeroed right in on us because he thought we were an easy mark since Kelly was one of the only riders wearing a helmet, plus she had emergency-release stirrups, a real rarity in the western world. He probably thought, “Here’s a family that’s safety conscious!” But we laughed. We wanted to know if we’d bounce. We asked if there was a parachute attached to it because when Bullet bucked, Bullet bucked hard and one time Kurt landed up in a tree.

But now I’m thinking it’s not so funny after all. I’m trying to be positive but there’s nothing wrong with taking every safety precaution as possible. Because bumps in the road, or the arena, really hurt.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Tough Cowgirls

My friend, who is responsible and sensible, said that I should have gone to the doctor that night when I fell off the horse. Go to the doctor? I got back on the horse, never mind go to the doctor! Of course it hurt so bad that I got right back off again. But that’s what we cowgirls do. That’s what my mother would have done if she rode horses. That’s why her name was Cookie, as in tough cookie. Though I have no idea how her parents could have known she was going to be so tough when she was just a baby because that’s when they started calling her that. It’s right in her baby book. Halfway through her first year, her mother stopped saying, “Frances burped,” and “Frances smiled.” She started saying, “Cookie, as we call her,” and then fill in whatever milestone. But how could they have known? She was just a baby. Maybe she got tough because of the name, not she was given the name because she was tough? What came first, the chicken or the egg? Who knows? At any rate, she would have made a good cowgirl if she rode horses and didn’t dance on bars.

Nothing really bad came of it except I started smoking again because I was so depressed I was blowing up like a big fat cow in one week from not being able to exercise and it looked like my barrel racing career was over before it even began. At least for this season. Maybe even forever. Best case scenario is I need a few weeks of rest. I’m going to lose all the conditioning I worked for in the last six months. At fifty-three-years old, and after not riding regularly for years, it was hard coming back this time. At first, I couldn’t even get on the horse. It took me weeks to be able to lope a circle, I was so weak. But I was making good progress. I was almost ready to get rid of the mounting block when it happened. After this little playday show where I was just going to jog my horse through the obstacles, maybe let him run home if it felt right, I was going to start seeing the barrel racing trainer and by June, I was going to enter some real barrel races. Yee-ha! I was back in the saddle!

And then I was out of the saddle. Full force on my back. Head bounced twice. But I didn’t think I needed to go to the doctor. I was just sore.

After there was no improvement in my back after a full week of rest and I spent Memorial Day weekend all by myself because Kurt was working on a big commercial job, Kelly was in Wildwood, I couldn’t drive because I couldn’t sit so I was unable to go up to my father’s trailer in north Jersey for a barbecue with the rest of the family as planned, and I couldn’t do any projects around the house, which is the other thing I like doing—fixing my house—and I got a good look at my ass in the bathroom mirror, I decided to smoke.

I had no one to call to make me feel better. My mother is dead. It didn’t matter that I kept reminding myself that if the smoking didn’t kill her, it certainly didn’t help. Aunt Junelouise is dead. I have girlfriends who will say, “Why didn’t you call me?” But I was feeling so sorry for myself that I was thinking that if they really cared, they would have called me. Honestly, one or two did. But unless you were a full blown chainsmoker like me and then somehow quit, you couldn’t possibly understand or know what to do. One of my friends advises me to eat pretzels every time I quit smoking and I want to commit suicide or homicide—one of the cides. She quit smoking way back when she was twenty-five years old by eating pretzels. Ha! I’ve been smoking every fifteen minutes for almost forty years. I don’t think a pretzel is going to help. I couldn’t care less about pretzels! Fuck pretzels!

People don’t get it. They think I’m off it for a month, two months and I’m over it. I can’t stand it when people compare it to quitting cake. They say it’s just like how they can’t stop eating cake. Unless they are one of those people on TV who are stuck in the bed with rolls of fat and bedsores and the ambulance guys have to take out the wall to hoist them out of there on a crane, then maybe our addictions might be comparable. But if they simply stuff their faces in front of the TV at night and they have to shop in the big girl’s section at Kohl’s, well, nah, I’m sorry, it’s not really the same. Think about oxygen. Think about suddenly not being able to get any and you’re gulping and turning blue and you will throw yourself in front of a train if there is an oxygen cloud on the tracks. That’s how it feels to want a cigarette. Which is ironic because I won’t have any someday—oxygen—if I keep smoking cigarettes. And I understand that, in effect, it is like I threw myself in front of a train by smoking again.

In the end, it’s no one’s fault but my own. I can’t expect anyone to do it for me. If people can’t even be there for a close relative who is on his deathbed because our lives are so busy—Little League games are still being scheduled, graduations are happening, the grass has to be mowed, we have to go to work—I certainly can’t expect people to hold my hand for months just because I quit smoking. I’m obviously not ready. I’d said that if I didn’t make it this time, if I failed again, that was it. I was never going to try to quit again. I was done.

But I take that back. I will try again. Because I am tough. I am a tough cowgirl. A tough cookie. And this is just a little bump in the road.