Long before I enter the room, my thoughts turn toward being there. I flash on what I will bring with me to read, to eat, to wear when I leave. I console myself with memories of the thousands of other visits. In the interim while I am waiting, I encourage myself by delivering silent monologues in the form of inspirational addresses. Self-speak to stay the course. I remind myself that all that keeps me from the room is folding this one load of laundry, paying these bills or returning home from this single excursion. As potent as an addict on opium, the thought of being in that room for half an hour lures me. It sings a siren’s call like no other. And the endorphin releasing high? How long does it last? An hour, maybe two. But it is worth it. Two, three, even four times a day, I enjoy the click of latch into the strike plate of the door knob. My time begins. I shut out the world beyond the room. I am in a safe haven, alone with my pain.
I live with a genetic disorder that affects my ability to produce connective tissue. MedicineNet.com defines connective tissue as “ A material made up of fibers forming a framework and support structure for body tissues and organs. Connective tissue surrounds many organs. Cartilage and bone are specialized forms of connective tissue.” So, imagine the havoc wreaked when one’s ability to produce connective tissue is impaired. Dislocations, sprains, breaks and daily, daily, micro-tears of muscles, ligaments and tendons cause wide-spread pain. Because of joint laxity, my musculoskeletal structure is wobbly, causing nerve compression and concomitant pain. My physical therapist calls me “Jenga Woman” after the game in which players stack 54 tiles only to pull them out. Players restack each of them, one by one, upon the pile -- attempting to do so without causing the others to tumble. In Swahili, Jenga means “to build.” My moniker came about because I am constantly restacking myself, hoping to build a more stable, stronger version of me. Like an unrelenting current through all my efforts of diet, nutrition, meditation, and medicine persists the pain of daily life. I am a 5 foot 7, 107 pound warrior. I fight this disorder by refusing to succumb. Oh, so easily, I could surrender to masking the pain with ever higher levels of narcotics or giving up on caring about embracing life or pulling down the blinders on the joy and beauty around me by stewing in bitterness. To fully give voice to my blessings, I must turn away from dwelling on the hardships of life created by this disorder.
I lift the lever that causes the plug to drop. I open the faucet full force. Only the one labeled hot. As water cascades into the deep, soaking tub, I peel off layers. Sweater, shirt, slacks, underpants, brassiere, socks are folded and stacked. I loosen the clasp on my watch, laying it on the ledge of the sink. I place a tall glass of water on the edge of the tub. I sit, and swivel my legs over the side, slightly adjusting the water temp by adding a burst of cold. I have plunged a thermometer into my baths, curious how hot I run them. After I asked the plumber to remove the scald feature from the tub, I usually run a bath that is 107 degrees. Coincidentally, it matches my body weight.
Using a liberal hand, I scatter a cup of Magnesium Chloride into the water. It is beneficial for aches and pains. When the water is precisely level with the top of the water jet, approximately ten inches deep, I turn off the knobs. I ease my feet into the steaming tub, planting them firmly in the water. Grasping the safety bar that is mounted on the wall, perpendicular to the tub, I gingerly lower myself into the water. As the scorching mass shifts to accommodate my body, the pain that plays in constant background and frequent foreground, to all that I do, is displaced by the sensation of heat. That heat sears my skin, penetrating through to my bones. It is that moment of sweet relief about which I dream. I lie still, up to my neck, surrounded by a liquid pool of heat, simply allowing the heat to become what defines me rather than it being the pain. I can see my heart race beneath the thin wall of my chest -- lub-dub, lub-dub, lub-dubbing in a race all its own.My breath sends undulations through the water, such that the water is never completely still. For about twenty minutes, I have respite. Somewhere around the twenty minute mark, around when the water starts to cool, I become aware of the bony protuberance of my coccyx against the porcelain wall of the tub. My legs often develop spasms and seem to dance all on their own. The relief of the water’s heat begins to be outweighed by the discomfort of being in the tub. More times than not, I lie without moving while I allow the water from my bath to drain completely. When finally I stand, there are random puddles in the bottom of the tub, looking for all the world like a street after a rain shower. I drag myself out of the empty tub. I wrap in a towel, then take a seat. The effect of the intense heat sometimes makes me woozy, always relaxes me. Several times a week, I need to lie on the bathroom floor because I am too weak to get dressed, I am too weak to walk. I shut my eyes and enjoy the fact that I have succeeded in ratcheting down the pain temporarily. Eventually, I rise. Each time that I do, being the warrior that I am, I count opening the bathroom door as a victory.