I just came across these medical images of 2015 that were made of my neck. It's one of those moments the doctor tells you that you're actually too young to be worn out like this, but also that it is irreversible at the same time. Quite a mixed bag, feeling secretly proud that you're considered too young for something, but then sad that you're worn out.
The reason for all this apparently traced back to the camper van and my travels for The Blue Skies Project. Initially, I thought using a van was the best way to complete the journey, thinking I had absolute freedom this way and didn't need to worry about finding places to stay in – what I thought would be – the middle of nowhere.
Initially, I just couldn't find a comfortable position to drive, and for the life of me I couldn't figure it out. The seat was infinitely adjustable, trucker-style, so it should have been perfect. But I couldn't drive for more than 45mins at a time without needing a quick rest, as my right arm started to hurt more and more. It turned out that it wasn't the seat, but the position of the steering wheel that put a tremendous strain on my neck (in vans and trucks they're more "flat" as in horizontal, as opposed to regular cars).
In the beginning I endured, thinking that it was just me and that my body would have to get used to this new way of driving. But it didn't get better, and after a year the pain became unbearable. Painkillers didn't help anymore, and eventually I couldn't even lie down, let alone sleep. I was desperate. My doctor prescribed me more powerful medication, which finally offered some relief, and scheduled a CT scan at the hospital.
The diagnosis was quickly made: neural foraminal stenosis, the narrowing of the opening in the vertebra in my neck through which the nerves to my right arm pass. Turned out, a common thing among... truck drivers. Physical therapy brought a little relief, but not enough. I got scheduled for treatment at a pain clinic, where I was to receive three deep injections into my neck with intermittent pulsed electrical stimulation of the affected nerve.
I could barely lie down on the operating table by then, but had to be fully conscious throughout the procedure. It was really straightforward. Local anaesthetic, then they inserted the large needles while checking a live x-ray screen to accurately position them. The electrical stimulation that followed was incredible. The pain seemed to flow out of my body and the pulses offered an instant relief which I hadn't felt for over a year. Even though it was a weird to have three huge needles in my neck, I kinda wished it wouldn't stop.
A single session did it for me, although it did take a few days for my nerves to register the procedure and stop sending my brain all these panicked pain signals. I was in the clear. The specialist said that this treatment was not designed to solve the problem, but it would take away the pain symptoms. The longer they stayed away, the better. Could be 2 months or two years. Whenever the symptoms returned, the same procedure would be repeated until eventually ineffective, at which point surgery would be taken into account. In the meantime, targeted physiotherapy (Lorenzo you are amazing) and daily exercise would be key and the best chance to stop the progression of the stenosis. I don't think I've ever trained that hard.
Fast forward two and a half years to today, and the pain hasn't yet returned. I've also become good at sensing when I'm going too far and straining my neck. I learned to stretch regularly.
The sun is shining today, even though I'm told that it was the coldest night of winter last night.
Last week I finished scanning 1,078 polaroids in high resolution, and today I compared the reproductions that I made to the originals:
A sigh of relief. Many more sighs will be needed, but little steps like this make me confident to move on, damaged and all, looking at the faraway horizon ahead and the adventures it holds.