To catch up on this story: part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4
As it turns out, the layer around Steph's spine is porous, leaking cerebral spinal fluid like a lawn sprinkler left on low pressure. The doctors order her to remain prone, lying flat on her back without ever getting up for ten days. This way, her own blood will fill the holes where the needle bit into her dura and spine. She stays ten days down, still as a statue, as determined and focused as ever she was during the 24th hour of an adventure race.
On the 11th day, she sits up slowly, looks around. She blinks at the sunlight and her head remains miraculously normal. She crawls out of bed, making her way across the living room floor, and stands upright on the floating porch. Imagine a seven year winter finally melting into spring- that is how the air feels as it rushes into her lungs.
She isn't back to ship shape, of course. Her brain has been thoroughly beaten up and tossed down a flight of stairs, after all. When friends come to visit- friends she has known for years, the neighbor next door- she introduces herself as if she's never seen them before. When she finishes a phone call, she tucks her phone away in the fridge where the butter would go. But despite these hiccups in judgments and memory, she seems to be getting better.
It is on the 11th day that her nephew is born, Molly's baby boy. And two days after that, I arrive at the door of her houseboat unannounced, holding yellow flowers. It's late in the evening but the sun is only just beginning to drop. She is moving slowly, with a strange elegance, the principle dancer of her own ballet. She has been cooking and is now walking towards the end of the dock where some friends are waiting. I speed towards her, throw my arms around her, squeeze her tightly.
....And once again, the roller coaster dips down, and things fall apart. She goes to work each day, at a health clinic in a hard neighborhood East of downtown, but she barely recognizes her patients anymore. Between sessions she lies down in her office. Despite her determination, her ferocious spirit, prayers, meditations, medications- the curtain of pain is pressing down each day with a mounting force.
I am with her at this time. Recovering from my own bad luck, I visit the Bastyr naturopathic clinic every other day. I am so submerged in my own world that I cannot recognize the depth of her nightmare. Which is not to say there aren't signs. We go out to eat in the University district, me and Ammen and her, just like we did so many times back when I was in college. Steph doesn't eat much, doesn't say anything. She is miles deep within herself, stuck in a lifeboat moored to the angry shores inside her head. She cries a lot, but in perfect silence.
She and Ammen have recently purchased a new house, and she moves slowly about the inside, showing me where the renovations will occur, pointing to the hard patch of ground where one day her garden will be planted. It's a balancing act I know well from my own migraines- try to act like a normal person, try not to lose your mind.
In late July, she is given a procedure called a blood patch. Blood is pulled from her arm and injected into her neck. The shot that caused the original injury was called a blind injection, which means it was given without fluoroscope, or anyway of viewing the inside of her body. This time the injection is administered with the help of an x-ray. Still, it is terrifying. The doctors hover and order her to lie still- meaning, lie still or you will die on this table.
After the procedure, the doctors turn towards the wall, take a deep breath. Messing with the inside of someone's neck is like is like tinkering with the electrical workings of a bomb.
The blood patch is followed by ten more days on bedrest. Outside, the season is progressing and the city is growing hot and dry. Her tiny nephew is gaining more motor control every day. He learns how to hold his head up, his lips lift into his first smile.
She is down ten more days. But when she sits up, the weight of the pain comes flooding back. As if it had never even left in the first place.