Learning when to stop pushing through the pain

By DIVA PAREKH | November 14, 2019

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COURTESY OF DIVA PAREKH

A horseback riding fall taught Parekh the value of prioritizing her health.

It’s been about three years since I fell off a horse in a village in Peru. When I went to the hospital, they didn’t have a doctor in the building, so they just cleaned up the bleeding and sent me on my way. 

A few days later, I got X-rayed at a hospital in Lima, but I don’t speak Spanish, so I couldn’t communicate “I can’t feel my toes — help!” to the doctors. But the X-ray said no broken bones — so for a moment I was relieved.

But then it got worse. I started feeling shooting pains going all the way down my right side and the feeling in my toes didn’t come back. Fifteen days later, I finally got to an ER in Baltimore.

The ER put me on some heavy-duty painkillers for 20 days. Side effects included short-term memory loss, nosebleeds, exhaustion and a lot more that I don’t even remember because of the short-term memory loss. For those 20 days, I could barely get to the end of conversations without forgetting what the conversation was about in the first place.

When that ended, I finally went to see an orthopedic, who referred me to physical therapy. At first, it seemed to be going fine, until I checked my mailbox and saw a pile of medical bills. Having lived in India all my life, my parents and I had no idea what to expect from American health-care costs. And what we got was over $5,000.

So as soon as the pain started reducing a little bit and I started to feel like I could go back to almost-normal, I just stopped going. A lot of my friends questioned that decision. Because usually, when you start physical therapy, you’re not supposed to just stop cold turkey, especially when they explicitly tell you not to. 

But my friends were dancers and athletes, so I just figured that it was different for them. They actually needed to be at 100 percent physically in order to keep doing the activities that were important to them. 

As for me, I just needed to be almost normal. After all, the only thing The News-Letter asked of me was that I could sit in one place and stare at a computer screen for 12 hours straight. 

So I went back to almost-normalcy. I’d feel weird needle-like pain in my side every so often, my bad knee would buckle once in a while and I’d just shrug it off. Why bother, right? I didn’t need my knee to study for tests or to edit articles. 

Then around a year ago, I had an “I need to start going to the gym” revelation. When I got on the elliptical, my toes would go numb again. Should I have been concerned? Definitely. But in that moment, I just figured it would eventually go away.

As you can probably guess, it very much didn’t just go away. It just got worse — and this time I understood that I couldn’t just shrug it off and be satisfied with “almost-normal.”

So I went back to physical therapy. And then everything went crazy. The more we did to stretch out my muscles and my very irritated nerves, the more parts of my leg just started going numb. And then last Wednesday while I was studying for my two tests on Thursday, I had a blinding pain in my spine along with nausea, so I ended up at the ER — again.

Six tubes of blood later, my tests came back “questionable,” so I had to get an emergency MRI. Forty minutes of pounding in a white cylinder later, we found out that two of the discs in my spine were shoved to the side — like if you had a cake with a bunch of layers and frosting in between and you just pushed the frosting out a tiny bit and then the entire cake started struggling.

So that’s where we’re at right now. I see the orthopedic on Thursday, I go back to physical therapy on Friday, and as of right now, I can’t feel my right leg. I have no idea how long this process is going to take, I have no idea if I’ll ever move from almost-normal to fully normal, but there’s one thing I do know.

This time, I plan to see it through. This time, I intend to give it my best possible shot. Because three years later, I’m finally done with putting every single other thing before my health. For once, I have made the decision to just go to the hospital instead of trying to push through the pain and study for my tests — and my professors and TAs accommodated.

Finally, I understand that the rest of the world isn’t going to put my health first if I’m not. But from now on, I will.

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