The random thoughts of an architect-turned- lawyer from the deep south living in Washington, DC...

Thursday, December 31, 2009

My Decade

Not surprisingly with the New Year approaching, I have been in a reflecting mood these past few days. Seems that this year, I've reflected not only on the past year, but on the past decade. WOW. We are wrapping up the first decade of this century. WOW.

I feel like I have accomplished, experience, and lived through a lot these past ten years. I took some time yesterday to capture my reflections with a pen and paper. I made a list of the top ten most monumental moments of my past ten years. It was actually tougher than I thought - especially trying to decide what to include and what not to include. It really puts into perspective the events over the past ten years that have molded me.

  1. Got a Bachelor's of Architecture degree (May 2001)
  2. Left home and moved to Washington, DC (July 9, 2001)
  3. Endured September 11 living in our nation's capital (September 11, 2001)
  4. Quit Smoking (June 9, 2004)
  5. Graduated from law school (May 2007)
  6. Took and passed the Virginia Bar Exam (July and October 2007)
  7. Traveled around the world (August-September 2007)
  8. Watched the economy take down my law firm leaving 675 people jobless (November 28, 2008)
  9. Had surgery on my spine (June 4, 2009)
  10. Blogged my life (August 23, 2004 - December 31, 2009)

I am sure that last one comes as no surprise (especially considering I have not posted in 6 months). Still, I feel a twinge of sadness calling it a day over here. This outlet endured longer than anything these past ten years and I think a huge part of that is the people I have met and the bonds I have forged.

What began as an online means of whining about law school turned into so much more. I have met some amazing people both in person and on the internet. I have become closer to many people in my life becuase this blog gave me the opportunity to communicate more freely than I ever learned to in my words in person. I have expressed feelings and emotions on this blog that I kept hidden from many in my real world.

I truly hope to find time in my life return to writing again one day. But WonL was for the first decade of this century - a decade that is now coming to a close.

Thank you to everyone who has ever participating in my life through WonL - be it through comments, emails, or even simply reading. I will miss you. Please stay in touch. LawRah04@gmail.com

Labels: , ,

Monday, May 18, 2009

Dear red tape - enough already!

My physical therapist told me her goal is to make me as comfortable as possible until the surgery. I am currently going to p.t. for lumbar traction twice a week and she recommended that I get a take-home lumbar traction machine for the other days. After my last appointment, she handed me a piece of paper that had three steps (1) call insurance company; (2) give them this code; and (3) ask them these two questions. How very nice of a medical professional to make this easy on me.

Then comes the insurance.

I called with my code. The guy says he can't find anything. I ask him to try again. He does so with a sigh.

Him: "There it is. Oh, this code is wrong, it's telling me 'miscellaneous.' You need to ask the people who rent the equipment for the code.
Me: "That is where I got the code."
Him: "I don't know where you got that code."
Me: "That's what I'm telling you, the code came from the lumbar traction machine rep."
Him: "That is who you need to speak with - get the code from them."
Me: "Is there another way to look up the piece of equipment?"
Him: "No."
Me: "Really? Not by manufacturer name or description?"
Him: "No."
Me: "I find that hard to believe. You don't have a table of contents or something. I can narrow this down.
Him: "No. I need a correct code."

So I google to try to find the code - call back and get a different person.

Her: "It's not the wrong code, ma'am, it's just a miscellaneous code. Getting a new code will do no good. We need more information before we can determine if we cover it."
Me: "Phew, okay, what do you need?"
Her: "We need a letter of medical necessity from your doctor, a prescription from your doctor, the manufacuter's brochure, photographs of the equipment, a serial number, three price quotes..."
Me: "Oh my God, nevermind. I will just live with the pain."
Her: "Okay, thanks for calling and have a nice day."

I am now convinced that people turn to whacky home remedies not to avoid doctors, but to avoid insurance.

Labels: , ,

Thursday, April 30, 2009

When physical pain leads to emotional turmoil

This has all happened so gradually that I didn’t really notice it. I have been living with pain for months and was obviously well aware of what it was doing to me physically. But it was not until recently that I comprehended the extent of what the pain was really doing to me. Or at least to the me I used to be.

When this all started over 8 months ago with a shooting pain down my left leg, I stopped for a moment. I took a deep breath, grasped a chair and waited for it to pass. And it did pass. "Oh,
I'm fine," I recall myself saying. I went about my day not giving it a second thought.

I began getting these shooting pains a little more often - once or twice a day. I started to be more cognizant of how I was sitting and tried to avoid lifting anything heavy. If the pain came while someone was around and they took note of my wincing face, I would simply explain "I think there's something wrong with my back messing with my sciatic nerve. I'll be fine."
I can handle this.

Over time, the pain became more frequent and much more intense. It no longer came just when I stood in a certain position. I was getting sharp pains when I changed positions from standing to sitting, from sitting to standing, from laying to sitting, etc. (you know all those functions you do all day). The pain was shooting down both legs now instead of just one. It was coming every day, multiple times a day. To make matters worse, it was waking me up at night. None of the doctor-prescribed muscle relaxers, anti-inflammatory pills or pain pills was working. This all came at the height of major career stress (my law firm dissolving, losing my job, getting another job, etc.) I figured once the stress subsided, the pain would become manageable as well. The pain wasn’t drastically life-altering, right? I just needed to slow down a bit. I quit going to the gym; I began to recognize situations that increased the pain (long periods of walking or standing) and avoided them; I began spending some of my down time at home resting instead of out on the town.
I can figure this out.

"You have an extraordinarily high tolerance for pain," said my new orthopedic surgeon when he looked at my MRI. 'Large central herniation' was the official diagnosis. (Although the report indicated a slew of other issues and used words like degenerative, narrowing, bulging, etc.) Okay, but how do we fix this so I can get back to normal? Since back pain seems to be one of life's great mysteries, it follows that fixing back pain is just as difficult. OrthoDoc recommended surgery (he is a surgeon after all) but I nixed that idea quickly. I firmly believed that there are way too many alternatives to surgery that I should turn to first. If it takes time, so be it, but no one is cutting my spine open.
I can deal with the pain a little longer.

After my first cortisone epidural, I was in heaven. For the first time in months, my pain was a 5 on a scale of 10. (I live my life on a pain scale these days since it is every doctor’s first question.) Sadly, it didn’t last. Over the next few months, I went in for two more rounds of epidurals with little to no relief. After that, I tried aquatic physical therapy, then regular physical therapy, then just lumbar traction.

During that time, I was lead associate on a really "hot" case at work that demanded 14+ hour days. This was a blessing for me since the pain was really limiting my activities by now. I threw myself into my work and spent day, night and weekend on this case. This was one aspect of my life that the pain would not slow down. I would not let it. The harder and longer I worked, the less opportunity I had to dwell on the pain. The partners would say "take a day off" or "leave the office and get a life." I didn’t think I needed a day off. I didn’t realize it at the time, but this case had become the shield I needed to hide the pain.

The case settled on April 14. It was very soon after that my mind caught up with my body and the emotion of what I have been going through kicked in. My willingness to put in so many extra hours was not just because of some hard work ethic. I worked so much because I didn’t want to face the pain. My alternative to working is not spending a day strolling around the monuments, or going dancing with girlfriends, or taking my dog to the dog park. Those would all be too painful. My alternative to work is to lie on the sofa and drink a bottle of wine. (Which I have done many-a-nights in the past 8 months.)

I also had time now to realize that the physical pain has really taken a toll on my emotions. I am so angry and short tempered. Every little thing pisses me off even when I know it is not worth a second thought. Plus, I cry over stupid stuff. Like the time last week that my secretary asked me how I was feeling. Of course, this is all made worse by my lack of sleep. I realized I don’t even want to be around people because I am such an emotional mess. Who wants to be around such a miserable person?

I am not fine; I cannot figure this out or handle this on my own; I cannot deal with the pain any longer. I realize this now.

A week after the case settled, I went to OrthoDoc to talk surgery. He introduced me to NeuroDoc and we scheduled my spine surgery for June 4. NeuroDoc said "there is a 90% chance you will be pain free after this surgery." I started crying.

"Pain, especially chronic pain, is an emotional condition as well as a physical sensation. It is a complex experience that affects thought, mood, and behavior and can lead to isolation, immobility, and drug dependence." September 2004 issue of the Harvard Mental Health Letter


Wednesday, January 28, 2009

I popped out of bed.

For months now, getting out of bed has been one of the more dramatic parts of my day. Despite my top of the line mattress and sleeping on my side with a pillow between my legs (doctor recommended) - I still wake up in pain. The worst part is physically moving my body off the bed. I've tried rolling out of bed, sitting up and scooching to the edge, rotating to put my feet on the floor first. None is any less painful than the other.

It doesn't end with getting myself upright. There's still that whole walking thing to deal with. As I painfully put one foot in front of the other, the dog just watches me. He used to wake up at 6am hyper as can be. Now he just sits there, feeling sorry for me. Not sorry enough to hold it though. Oh no, he has to go out first thing. I painfully throw on sweats then we have our morning "you have to jump up here because I can't bend over to put your leash on" conversation. Eventually, I muster up the strength to hobble around outside and let the dog do his thing.

I spend our whole morning walk thinking "are you serious - I'm 31 years old. Am I really falling apart already?" Then I take an inordinately long shower because the hot water feels good and I don't have to move. Then I grab my coffee and pop 4 ibuprofin hoping they will kick in by the time I get to work.

So begins my day.

Not today. This morning, I popped out of bed, turned off my alarm and just stood there. I realized that I popped out of bed. I painlessly got out of bed. No rotating and scooching and rolling. I just plain got out of bed - I don't even remember how. Such a simple act to radically transform my morning.

I hope this is the beginning of me becoming me again.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009


I am having a cortizone epidural in my spine today and I am scared.

I am not scared of the local anesthetic. I am not scared of the large epidural needle. I am not scared of the fact that they have to move over my sciatic nerve to get to my herniated disc. I am not scared of my decision to forgo sedation for this procedure. I am not scared of the pain of today.

I am scared this will not work. I am scared that even after today I will still not be able to bend over and pick up my dog or clean my bathroom floors. I am scared that after today, sitting, laying down, and standing will still hurt. I am scared that after today I will still have to stop and catch my breath a few times an hour. I am scared that after today, I will still have to live with this dabilitating pain that makes getting through my days so difficult.

Friday, November 14, 2008

A glimpse inside of me

I've been miserable and whiney for months now. I won't say "depressed" - but definitely miserable. Granted, some may say I've had good reason (see, dissolution of my lawfirm). As if that was not enough, I have also been dealing with this crippling back paid.

I have actually dealt with lower back pain for years. Last diagnosis was a degenerative disc. I have had x-rays, medications and physical therapy. I invested in a tempurpedic mattress, a $1500 ergonomic office chair and I have pages of stretches to do when it acts up.

This recent pain, though, has been different. It's a pain that none of the above could make any better. It is a sharp pain that shoots through my butt and down my legs, sometime bringing me to my knees. In fact, it once flared up while I was in a partner's office talking about a brief we needed to file. I'm sure he thought I was a little "off" when my body doubled over and I had to catch myself on his chair - then followed up with "I'll be fine, it will pass." Nothing has worked to relieve this including muscle relaxers, anti-inflammatory pills, and pills for muscle spasms. (Doctor put me on them all at once. Two weeks ago, there was a day where I had to take 19 pills.)

Most people keep telling me "oh, it's probably stress related" and "you just need a good massage" and "I have lower back pain too, you just have to learn to manage it." I ignore them because this is different - really different

I had an MRI yesterday - which incidentally is a pretty miserable experience itself. The cool part though, is that they sent me home with a CD of the scans of my spine that I am supposed to bring to my doctor. Of course, before I brought it I popped it into my computer. Really cool stuff.

Now, I'm no doctor or expert on reading MRI scans, but I am pretty sure that this is not how my spine is supposed to look:

In case you are having trouble reading, let's compare my spine (with the pain point highlighted) to an image I found on the internets:

Since the stupid MRI does not come color coded, I am having trouble with my self-diagnosis. I am down to "bulging" or "herniated." Either way, I'm thinking this sucks.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Sentimental First Year

Today marks one year to the day that I began as an associate at my law firm. Time sure does fly. Most of you who know me (or know where I work) are aware, there is some looming uncertainty about the future. I refuse to allow today to be about that. Today is about the fact that I work with an amazing group of people doing things I truly love doing.

My first year has broken all the stereotypes that people warned me of: the first year is always miserable, I will be doing nothing but reviewing documents, Partners treat first years like dirt, etc. Not a single one of those stands true at my firm. (Aside from one or two partner-blips.) I am well aware that not many first years can say that they are truly happy at their firm. I can. Whatever lies ahead, I consider my first year as a lawyer to have been a great one and I am thankful that I have been lucky enough to have the experiences I have had.

Labels: ,