DAVE MARQUES, HOST:
And now, Uptown Radio’s Sarah Yokubaitis shares how one accident changed the course of her life.
SARAH YOKUBAITIS, BYLINE:
I have accidentally been engaged for a decade. Ten long years. It’s not what my fiance and I planned to do when we got engaged after two years of dating, but it’s what happened. We had every intention of getting married within a year or two when we got engaged in 2012. But later that same year, after I started graduate school, my plans were changed by a freak accident.
It happened on a gorgeous September day in New York City. I took my dog, Starbuck, for her evening walk as the sun began to set. We stopped at the bodega for cabernet and trash bags, but as we headed home, her harness snapped. She panicked and bolted into rush hour traffic on Columbus Avenue. I dropped the bags. The wine bottle shattered and red wine stained the pavement.
I ran into the street, desperate to get to Starbuck, but my left foot buckled under me and I fell to the ground. Still terrified that my dog was going to be hit by a car, I managed to briefly stand up again before the joint swayed in the opposite direction and I fell again. I blacked out from the pain. I don’t know how much time passed, or how I got to her, but when I opened my eyes, I was gripping the fur around her neck. She was unharmed and completely unaware of the chaos she had caused.
An MRI revealed multiple torn ligaments and severe bone bruises. I had surgery a few months later before learning that I had developed a rare neurological and autoimmune illness called Complex Regional Pain Syndrome, or CRPS. I had never heard of it before my own diagnosis, but basically, my sympathetic nervous system went into the “fight” mode of “fight or flight” when I was injured that day. Now my brain doesn’t know how to turn those pain signals off. CRPS affects how the body processes pain, similar to phantom limb pain in amputees. It causes hot, burning neuropathic pain that turns my foot red and makes my joints ache.
I left graduate school unfinished, and we moved back to the West Coast. I tried nearly every treatment I could find --- spinal nerve blocks, IV infusions of Lidocaine and ketamine, injections to my surgical scars, mirror box therapy to retrain my brain. I did desensitization exercises, like rubbing a scratchy loofah on my angry red foot. Most of them didn’t work for me. Sometimes we’d try to plan the wedding, but I had a bad limp and couldn’t walk without pain. I didn’t know how I was supposed to walk down the aisle when I couldn’t even go to Target without help.
I finally started to get better when I gave up on searching for a medical miracle cure, and learned how to manage my pain instead. I know this all sounds very Dr. Strange, but I had to stop seeing pain as something to be defeated and wiped out completely, and instead, accept that it will probably always be part of my life. That sounds simplistic, but it’s something I still work at almost every single day. I stopped seeing the pain specialists who had recommended procedure after procedure, and found a new doctor. Five years after my injury, I was finally able to stop the opioid pain medications that I had been taking since my injury.
Chronic pain has a way of streamlining things for you. When you have limited time and abilities, you quickly learn what is truly important and essential to your life. I didn’t know if my relationship would survive my illness. Sometimes, when things were really dark, I wasn’t sure that I would survive it.
But we’re planning a wedding for June. There’s a box of invitations with little blue flowers sitting on my kitchen table waiting to be mailed. The dress is ready to be picked up from the bridal shop in Brooklyn. And no matter what happens, we’re finally getting married this time — in sickness and in health.
Sarah Yokubaitis will finish her graduate degree this month, and plans to marry her longtime fiance, Jason, next month in San Francisco.