Alix’s Story: Chronic Pain and the Power of Stubbornness

November 19, 2010

I’m letting my bangs grow out, not because I think it will look good, but because I made a promise. Let me explain why this promise is such a big deal to me. It’s a long story, so I’ll try sum it up without too much rambling.

Me and Alix. Photo by Tui Cameron

Me and Alix in 2009. Photo by Tui Cameron

A little over 10 years ago, my dear friend, Alix, was in a terrible car accident. This was no mere fender-bender. Alix’s vehicle was struck head-on by a woman who fell asleep at the wheel. The slumbering driver got a broken wrist out of the incident, but Alix nearly died. While waiting for help to arrive, Alix was stuck upside down and nearly drowned in her own blood. They had to use the Jaws of Life to pry her out, and even when they did, they pronounced her dead – several times – on the way to the hospital.

At the hospital, she was in and out of consciousness. She was in terrible pain, but they could not give her any pain meds for the first 24 hours. She even had an out of body experience and was given the choice to return or not. Long (and fascinating!) story short, Alix opted to return to her body, even though the entity beside her warned her that it would be extremely painful.

Alix has been through so much since then, one physical and emotional challenge after another. At the time of the accident, her life was going really well. She had left an abusive boyfriend, moved to a town where he could not find her, was in great physical shape, and had a job she enjoyed with good opportunities for advancement.

Then – wham! – the car crash. Thankfully, her mother was able to devote herself tull time to take care of Alix (This was not easy for her to arrange, but she did so – another long story!) Her mom moved in with her and did everything for Alix while she slowly, slowly regained the ability to live on her own.

It’s been said that Evil Kneivel broke every bone in his body. Well, we sometimes joke that Alix has him beat, because she broke everything in one fell swoop rather than over many years as he did. I tell ya, Alix is tough stuff. She also proves that stubbornness is a key ingredient to survival, because there were many times that she could have chosen to check out, but did not.

Even in all that pain, she demonstrated some quick thinking. She woke up once immediately after the accident and heard the hospital staff say that they weren’t going to bother reattaching her foot because they had detected nicotine in her system. (So let that be a lesson to you smokers out there!) Anyway, she managed to convince them to try anyway, telling them that she was not a daily smoker, but had merely had a few puffs while hanging out with friends that day.

Another time, her mom talked surgeons out of fusing her arms at 90 degree angles at the elbows. Thanks to her mother, they referred her to a surgeon nicknamed Humpty Dumpty, who rebuilt Alix’s crushed elbows. Because of this, she has full use of her hands and arms today.

While rebuilding her body was a truly Herculean task, Alix also suffered a traumatic head injury. She did go through the windshield, after all. Even so, it took them a year to get around to dealing with this aspect of things. Patching her body together was a full time endeavor. The brain had to wait!

I used to accompany her to doctor appointments because she could not retain all the info they gave her. I would take notes and look up different medications online. She was seeing so many doctors and on so many different meds that it was hard to keep it all straight. I would look in health forums, too, to see what real patients had to say about side effects.

We saw Tori Amos together last year. Photo by Tui Cameron

We saw Tori Amos together last year. Photo by Tui Cameron

Sadly, her abusive boyfriend came back into her life and – extremely long story short – that did not help matters. Luckily, we were able to end up renting a duplex together, so I could run upstairs whenever she needed a helping hand.

I helped with other little things, too. Have you ever noticed how pharmacies are usually in the back of the store? If you can barely walk and are in agonizing pain, it’s pretty tough to get back there and pick up your medicine. So I’d do that for her. Another time, we shopped with her in one of those handicapped carts, but we wound up laughing so hard I think people thought we were drunk.

Most days, I’d pop upstairs after work to watch TV with her and do little things like clean her cat box or wash a few dishes. Alix is very independent and hated having to rely on other people’s help. Her boyfriend did nothing except trash the place, drink heavily, siphon her income, make her feel guilty for not having a job, and pass the worst gas I have ever smelled in my life. I’m not kidding on that last bit. I could hear those monstrous wall-rattling farts all the way downstairs. As I walked up the stairs, the fumes were so bad in the stairwell that I would carry a candle and matches with me!

For a while it helped her to wear 3D glasses, as odd as that sounds. One afternoon, she had them on when her boyfriend came home with a bunch of his friends. Knowing that she would be embarrassed for them to see her, I grabbed another pair and when they started making fun of us I said, “No, we aren’t stoned. Oprah is in 3D today,” which successfully shut them up. (See? I told you this was a long story, but I really am trying to be brief!)

I haven’t even gotten around to talking about that demon called chronic pain that Alix has battled for 10 years straight. Pain, pain, pain… Sometimes it was so bad, we’d just sit in the dark together, listening to quiet music, because she couldn’t handle much external stimulus.

When you have been on as much morphine as is humanly possible to metabolize, addiction is a given. And when the medical professionals decide that you no longer need that medication, they simply cut you off, and expect you to deal with it cold turkey. If you want more meds, they consider it “drug seeking behavior,” and tell you to buck up. I was shocked by this! (This, too, is another long story, in case you can’t tell!) I don’t know how many times Alix has gone through the hell of drug withdrawal as they switched her from this to that.

A couple of years ago, it got to the point where Alix was on a very low dose of pain medicine each day. They called it her “pain cocktail” (which always makes me picture her sipping the stuff out of a martini glass!) Alix asked her doctors if she could be completely weaned off this mixture, and was given a resounding, “no.” They told her all the years of pain meds had rewired her brain and that it was physically impossible for her to ever be totally clean.

Being the wonderfully stubborn person that she is, Alix kept pestering her doctors until one finally agreed to wean her off the last of her pain medication. It took a year, but this doctor stepped her down in tiny increments until – at the beginning of 2009 – Alix was completely drug free!It’s a good thing, too, because the doctors found some underlying health problems that the pain medicine was masking. (Another long story goes here!)

Absinthe makes the heart grow fonder. Photo by Tui Cameron

Absinthe makes the heart grow fonder. Photo by Tui Cameron

Now, when I speak to Alix on the phone, her voice is bright and alert. She speaks with complete mental clarity and exuberance. She is doing so well that she started cosmetology school back in August. She has a perfect attendance record and is kicking major cosmetological butt. Oh, and the abusive boyfriend is long gone, too. (Long story…)

For years, Alix has wanted to work, but has not been able to even stand for very long without hurting. Just think if they had fused her elbows like they were going to? She would not be able to cut people’s hair! I didn’t even mention that at one point they said she would never walk again. She not only walks, but she runs up the stairs 2 at a time now. She can skip and dance and it is just incredible. She fought so hard for all of these freedoms.

Alix is an upbeat, funny person, too. She has this wonderful capacity for mixing the humorous with the sage in her own Yogi Berra style. One time I stubbed my toe around her, said “ow!” loudly and fell over. I immediately felt embarrassed for my theatrics and apologized. “Never apologize for pain, Tui,” she told me. “Pain hurts.” Another time, after witnessing a fellow leap up a set of stairs 2 at a time, she sighed and said, “Gravity is the only thing holding me down.”

I always say that it’s not what I am doing that makes me happy, so much as who I am doing it with. There are times that I spent in a dr’s office with Alix that were way more fun than times spent with a sourpuss at my side while on vacation. Spending time with Alix is a joyous thing no matter what we  do. (OK, sorry. I’m rambling now!)

Alix wrote today and told me how well she is doing at cosmetology school. I am not surprised. She has always had a knack for cutting people’s hair, and when we are at the store together, strangers often approach and ask her for advice on cosmetics. She’s a natural! But the quality that really sets her apart from other cosmetologists is that she doesn’t just make people look beautiful, she makes them feel beautiful, too.

Have you ever been to a salon where they made you feel ugly? I have! I recently read about a bad beauty salon experience over at Vonnie’s blog, in fact. It’s really a terrible experience. I remember one place where the lady kept telling me my hair was slippery and “annoying as hell to cut,” and that she couldn’t get over how much “monkey hair” I had around my neckline in back, not to mention the disdain in her voice and the disgust on her face. She didn’t listen to what I wanted and shellaqued my hair so much that it felt crunchy. By the time she was done, I felt more like a failed taxidermy project than a salon customer. I could hardly wait to get home, wash my hair and put on a hat! (Oophs, I am rambling again, but it’s for a purpose!)

Alix is a gem. People will flock to her salon not just because of her incredible skills but because of how wonderful she will make them feel. Here’s a little blurb from her email to me today:

I love the fact that I am able to counsel all the people who come to my chair! The other day a woman was crying while I was washing her hair because she is scared. On Tues her Husband is having a stint put into his heart. I was able by the time I was done with her haircut to have her smiling and believing me that everything is going to be perfect and he will regain his health- it is just something I knew!

Plus, she is gonna go the extra mile:

I did a cool 50’s bob flip yesterday, that was fun! I am going to learn from the Internet how to do haircuts from other eras. I already can do pin curls and finger waves!

Later she adds:

I am loving my clients!

Her clients are gonna love her right back! Don’t you just love her a little bit from having read this post? (That is, if you managed to. I rarely post this long!)

So – long story shorter than it could have been – this is why I am growing my bangs (fringe for you folks in the UK) out even if it looks a little dorky. Alix asked me not to touch my hair so that we can have as much as possible to work with when she visits in April. I am a compulsive bang trimmer, but I promised her. Considering all that she has been through, it’s the least I can do!

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23 Responses to Alix’s Story: Chronic Pain and the Power of Stubbornness

  1. February 3, 2012 at 23:25

    Thank you for sharing this story. To me it screams “follow your intuition and never give up!” It is a source of tremendous hope for me, and probably for anyone going through any kind of difficult situation.

    Thank you.
    Tathata recently posted..How One’s Own Value Shows Itself In Many Forms and The Importance Of Seeing Many Points of View

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  3. Alix
    November 24, 2010 at 23:24

    Thank you all for reading my story! Tui- is an incredible writer and without her unconditional love and non-judgemental spirit- I could not have gotten through what I have! SHE IS A GEM!!!! SHE IS MY BEST FRIEND FOREVER! Love, Strength and Blessings to ALL! Love, Alix!

    • mentalmosaic
      November 26, 2010 at 21:00

      Oh, Alix! You are always out to boost my self esteem, aren’t you? Thanks, sweetie! I appreciate it more than you know. :) ~Tui

  4. owen
    November 24, 2010 at 11:53

    Wow what an inspiration Alix is to me and to all of us .I knew she had been through hell and back , but for her to be back in such a whole piece so Loving , full of life , compassionate with every one she meets,intelligent shes got it all going on I love her so much and Tui you are an incredible friend she is very blessed to have you in her life …….Annie

    • mentalmosaic
      November 24, 2010 at 16:01

      Annie: Thanks so much for reading this post. Part of why I wrote it is because people don’t realize what Alix has been through. She’s not much of a complainer! (Although – she and I do give each other permission to vent.) I think her story could really inspire and help others, though. Thanks for visiting! ~Tui

  5. owen
    November 24, 2010 at 04:05

    and thank you too tui for writing it, never heard it put quite that way

  6. owen
    November 24, 2010 at 04:03

    alix you rock,miss you hope to see you soon, thats a powerful story, makes me real happy and proud

  7. November 22, 2010 at 21:31

    Wow. Thank you so much for sharing your (didn’t seem long at all) stories. Alix’s and your experiences reveal an amazing friendship few ever have. Bravo!

    • mentalmosaic
      November 23, 2010 at 10:28

      Hi Steph, I’ve learned so much from Alix and still feel so close to her although we’re 2000 miles away these days… Thanks for stopping by! ~Tui

  8. November 21, 2010 at 21:23

    what a wonderful story. Thank you telling that. It sounds like Alix is an amazing person and you are an amazing friend. And once again, wonderful pictures. I miss my absinthe days…

    • mentalmosaic
      November 22, 2010 at 13:37

      Jyllian: Alix is amazing, I quite agree! :) I wanted to try absinthe at a bar ever since I “Dracula” with Gary Oldman and Winona Ryder. I like the ritual with the cool looking little server, and all. ~Tui

  9. gail bray
    November 21, 2010 at 08:36

    Thanks as always for sharing, dear Tui. Wow! Alix is AMAZING! and YOU – well, we’re all richer for knowing you.

    • mentalmosaic
      November 21, 2010 at 10:45

      Jhonson: My spam filter seems to think you’re real, so I’ll take its word for it. Thanks for stopping by. Chronic pain is a serious problem.

      Lydia: Alix has definitely given me a deeper understanding of what courage is all about, that’s for sure!

      Gail: I think Alix’s life is movie material. She is something else… But let’s not forget you, you are like a shot of Four Loko for the soul (in a good way)! ;p

  10. November 20, 2010 at 15:31

    What a wonderful story. It sounds like Alix is very lucky to have a friend like you by her side. She is so brave and inspiring, a true survivor.

  11. Jhonson Ferguson
    November 20, 2010 at 11:30

    I found online for Findrxonline, in hospitals there is a spinal cord stimulator, which is a major departure for chronic pain because it prevents you use painkillers such as Vicodin, hydrocodone, norco, which is the alternative that gives us pain management doctor but I think now people in the United States have a better option for health care.

  12. Lisa
    November 20, 2010 at 08:12

    Tui, thank you so so much for tellin Alix’s story. I knew it was tough for her and truly, I had no idea how tough. She is one in six plus billion!

    • mentalmosaic
      November 20, 2010 at 09:30

      Margo: You certainly witnessed all this, too! We are all lucky to have Alix in our lives.

      Vonnie: She is very special. And yes, networking is great!

      Romerican: Thank you. It’s a long read, but it’s just the tip of the iceberg. I think a book or movie could be written about her life!

      Lisa: She truly is! Alix is a cup full of awesome. I am so honored to be her pal (as well as yours!)

  13. November 20, 2010 at 04:30

    WOW, wonderful post, wonderful story!!

  14. November 19, 2010 at 20:46

    Alix sounds like a pretty amazing lady and a great hairstylist too! Thanks for the shout out for my blog and comment. Ain’t networking fun?? ;)

  15. Margo
    November 19, 2010 at 20:34

    You got this down to a “T”. Not too long at all. I loved reading it. It has been a long and difficult 10 years for her. She was before and will continue to be a gift to this earth. You have been such a wonderful asset to her life and a very important part of her healing. You ROCK Tui.

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