When the Pain Doesn't Go Away

A Car Accident Two Decades Ago Left Lynne Greenberg in Chronic PainABC
In her new book, "The Body Broken," Lynne Greenberg discusses living in constant pain, the result of a horrific car accident more than 20 years ago.

She was a lucky woman -- she had a doting husband and beautiful children. She thrived as a professor of classic literature.

But another stroke of luck -- surviving a horrific car accident at age 19 with injuries that could have paralyzed her, or worse -- would come back to haunt her more than two decades later.

"I had fulfilling work and a beautiful family," Lynne Greenberg said. "And really, I can't emphasize enough how it changed on a dime."

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Twenty-two years earlier, Lynne Greenberg was a passenger in a car when the driver lost control. She was thrown out of the car and broke her neck close to the brain. After a painful recovery she was able to resume a normal life.

VIDEO: Lynne Greenburgs memoir The Body Broken details her recovery from injury.Play

She married ABC News producer Eric Avram and they became the parents two Ben and Lilly. And then, one day, the pain came back -- and never left.

"I was working in a library, and I suddenly got a severe pain from my neck," Greenberg said."And it shot straight through my head, and it's never gone away."

Greenberg wrote about her journey in pain and her life as a wife, mother and teacher, in her new book "The Body Broken."

Greenberg said she's in pain "all the time."

"To get out of bed was a major event," she said, "I would sort of have to think about it for a half an hour before getting up."

Greenberg said she found out that, 22 years earlier, the neck brace she wore after the accident had been taken off too early and the bone in her neck had not fused correctly.

The nerves in her neck had been permanently seared by her injuries, making her a member of a club no one wants to belong to. She is now one of the legions of people dealing with chronic pain.

Playing the Role of Magician

To help her cope, Greenberg's doctors began prescribing medicines. At one point, Avram put together a startling display -- a list of late model Anna Nicole Smith's drug collection and Greenberg's much longer inventory.

"I became a little overly absorbed in Anna Nicole Smith's similarities to mine," she said. "It really swirled me downward. It swirled me into a catatonic state."

She tried religion, Catholic patron saints of headaches and migraines in particular. But, not being raised Catholic, that path wasn't very realistic, she said.

"I didn't realize that 30 to 50 million other people are experiencing the same thing, from suicidal thoughts to depression to not being adequately able to take care of my children," Greenberg said.

A hospital stay to wean herself off the prescription drugs led Greenberg to make a decision -- she would will herself to live, even if that meant living in pain.

In her book, Greenberg's list of day-to-day strategies, including getting one's endorphin rush, going to the beach and distraction.

"For me, it's been how to hold on to what was dear before. How to go back to work, even if the work is somewhat different. How to re-engage with those people who you've always really loved," she said. "How do you re-access your passions? I mean, I take ballet class, I'm not good anymore, I can barely move my neck -- the point being, that I still get so much joy being in those class that it's worth doing them."

And when all else fails, Greenberg said, "I go to bed and close the door."

"But I don't do it as much and I only do it when I really have to," she said.

Greenberg said her children have been "extraordinary" as their mother learned to cope with her new reality.

"They've learned compassion, they've learned patience," she said.

Avram, she said, took charge of keeping the family going.

"It's been the worst for him," she said, "because he's had to worry so much."

But instead of managing her family life around the pain, Greenberg said she manages the family around, simply, the family.

"I play the role of a magician, with sleights of hand and tricks up my sleeve, or a juggler, struggling to keep several options afloat, or a tightrope walker, balancing precariously and hoping that I don't fall again," she said, reading from her book. "Sometimes, I'm simply a clown, foolish in my efforts; other times, I'm a lion tamer. I have mostly learned that it is a three-ring circus not a one-man show."