Wednesday 4 July 2012

Health: Advocating for yourself because nobody cares

It's currently 5 am. I woke up at 4am and laid there for a bit then realized I wasn't going to go back to sleep. Why? Pain. As I've said before, not the excruciating drop to your knees wailing for mommy type of pain, just the dull, ever-present throbbing type of pain periodically interrupted by sharp stabbing sensations. I repeat what I've said in previous articles about my current health issue: if you have never gone through such an experience, you will have absolutely no idea of what I'm talking about. Yes, you understand the words but you don't have the emotional in your gut understanding from having had the same life experience.

The adjective "chronic" is defined as "(of an illness) Persisting for a long time or constantly recurring" and chronic pain has been given the meaning "pain that extends beyond the expected period of healing." Each and every day of my life right now centers on pain management. Sometimes the level is up; sometimes the level is down; but it is always present. Once in a while, sitting calmly at my desk, I have the impression that at that split second, I may be able to say that I feel no pain. However I have come to realize that feeling pain all the time has probably dulled my ability to properly quantify what I am feeling. If zero is no pain and one hundred is excruciating, it's like ten or fifteen has become my new zero. It's always there and I have sort of adjusted to this constant jabbering at my consciousness.

To recap: On April 7, 2012, due to a sports injury, I traumatised my upper left quadrant of my body. Fortunately I did not tear my rotator cuff (that would require surgery) however it would seem that as a result I now have one or more herniated cervical discs. Those bulging discs are pressing against my C6 and C7 nerves causing referred pain in my left shoulder, arm and hand. I had an EMG which confirmed nerve impingement in the neck and am waiting for the results of an MRI which will more than likely confirm the herniated discs.

One of my biggest problems is mobility. Technically I can walk. There is nothing wrong with my legs. But walking puts stress on my upper body which in turn puts stress on my neck causing those discs to press against the nerves causing "referred pain". A so-called pinched nerve doesn't necessarily give you pain where it's pinched. What happens is that you feel pain elsewhere in your body. Lower back problems like sciatica can manifest themselves as pain in your legs or feet. Nerves in your neck can result in pain in your arms and hands.

This is now week number fifteen. I have not had the simple pleasure of going for a stroll around the block because the experience is unpleasant. I manage to walk to the grocery store but I have to grit my teeth. You'll usually find me walking holding my left arm in an odd upright position. This position is well known to doctors as it seems to help in lessening the pressure on the nerves in the neck by slightly widening the gap between the vertebrae. It helps but it certainly doesn't solve everything. As I walk, I will occasionally have a wave of pain wash over my shoulder and arm and I may stop, wince and quietly mutter to myself, "Fuuuuuuucccck." Distracting? Mommy ain't gunna kiss this boo-boo away.

Feeling pain all the time means concentration is very, very difficult. Sometimes I have the attention span of a mayfly. I will frequently get up to pace up and down as the pain is so distracting, I can't sit still. I'm going to work but it is really tough sometimes. A colleague will talk to me and I'm standing there thinking to myself, "I don't care." When you have pain, little else in the world matters.

Yes, I don't care. The rest of the world getting on with its life and I am trapped in this singular world of a moment by moment existence apprehensively waiting for the next wave of pain. I now know this is going to be a long-term issue. This is going to be so long-term; I have now consciously decided to stop talking about it. Other people have been polite but everybody else has their own life and their own problems. Who wants to hear me day after day after day speak about my injury? Hell, I'm boring myself!

But, goddamn it! It hurts! And sometimes it f**king hurts. Holy s**t motherf**kin' hell, is this ever going to f**king stop? Sorry. There is no respite. Okay, once in a while after downing a couple of ibuprofen, I may be able sit somewhat comfortably and do something productive but for the most part it's getting up frequently, pacing up and down and holding a cold pack or a hot pack to various parts of my neck and shoulder. Whether it does any good or not remains to be seen but at least it distracts me.

Advocating for yourself
I was tempted to write in the title of this article that nobody gives a s**t or even something stronger. However what I am trying to point out is simply that my health is my problem and at the end of the day I must push for answers until I'm satisfied. After all, when I'm sitting across the desk from a medical practitioner for a consultation, I hopefully have his or her attention. But once I stand up and leave the room, that practitioner is going to get on with the rest of their day while I have to continue to deal with my health issue.

The same applies to family, friends, colleagues, and acquaintances. I am writing this on the holiday weekend of July 1st, Canada Day and July 4th, Independence Day. People are taking advantage of the sunny weather: picnics, trips to amusement parks, backyard barbecues, bike rides, time at the cottage, a plethora of good-time activities. I am sitting in my apartment with a cold pack pressed to the back of my neck with my bottle of ibuprofen mere steps away. In other words, while all of you carry on living your lives, I am dealing with pain. Twenty-four hours a day. Seven days a week. Cold packs. Hot packs. Pace up and down.

With all due respect to the men and women of the medical profession and the health care system, I see the same phenomenon present there that I see in everyday life. Everyone does their job then goes home to live their life. I go home to deal with pain. It is up to me to push for answers. It is up to me to follow up. It is up to me to question, research and investigate in the quest of finding the right solution. After all, my own doctor is going home to have dinner with his family, go for a stroll, play with the kids, and watch a little TV then get to bed to read a chapter of the best-seller sitting on his bedside table before turning out the light. I'm the one with the cold compress, the ibuprofen, the pacing up and down, and an evening lost in distracting dull throbbing.

This may seem like a condemnation of other people or of the medical profession. Nope. I think this is just the phenomenon of the situation and people. I stop in the street in front of a fund-raiser and put a couple of bucks in the coffer for cancer research. The big C is a bad disease and nobody deserves to die from it. I then turn away and continue walking down the street to the restaurant where I'm meeting friends for drinks and a bite before going to a show. I sympathize, I may even empathize, I will feel bad about somebody's plight but I do have my own life to lead. All the best to you in your world. Is that cruel or is that just way things work?

It's up to me to push. If we were discussing my car and I wasn't satisfied with garage A, I would go to garage B and get a second opinion. I would then go to garage C if necessary as it's a question of my car and I must keep going until I'm satisfied. However, since this issue is about my body and my health, we could say that there is an even greater purpose to finding satisfaction as now it's not the inconvenience of a malfunctioning automobile, it's the constant pain of a malfunctioning body. At least I can always rent a temporary replacement for my car. I can't get a temporary body.

Final Word
Where is this going to end? I haven't got a clue. Several so-called experts say that in the majority of cases, herniated discs heal themselves. True? False? Just about everyone is of the opinion that surgery is the very last resort and it is a dangerous option.

How long does it take? How long does my body need to heal itself? I have seen estimates that rotator cuff injuries take from 6 months to a year to heal. I still haven't found anything definitive about the length of time for a herniated cervical disc to "unherniate" itself but realize if anything is going to happen, I need to be thinking in those terms. Week fifteen is merely the start of my healing process. I think I am going to have to look at regaining my health over months, not weeks, and when I say months, I mean six to twelve. The doctor who read the MRI of my shoulder told me it may take a long time to heal as people have a tendency of using the arm and shoulder as opposed to leaving it alone to heal. I haven't exercised but admittedly, I have done a number of small things from buttoning my shirt to washing dishes to occasionally holding onto my briefcase while fishing out my apartment keys. Am I contributing to lengthening the healing time?

Life sucks right now. My life sucks. I wouldn't wish this on my worst enemy. I knew the term chronic pain but I had absolutely no idea what it meant. Now I know. And believe me it ain't fun. I'm playing games with myself trying to maintain a glimmer of hope. If I make it to the end of the work day, I can go home to ice my neck. If I can survive 2 more days, I have another session of physiotherapy. If I can make it to Friday, I'm having a nutritional assessment to see what changes to my diet may be beneficial to the healing. Anything to keep up my spirits. There has to be an end to this and if there is, I have my work cut out for me to figure how to ensure this never ever happens again.

Now if you'd like to follow along with me. Stand upright and shake your arms to loosen up. Bend over slightly and put both hands on your knees. Take a deep breath. Now exhale slowly and as you do, say quietly under your breath, "Fuuuuuuuuuuuuccccck."

See? That's one of the reasons why everybody doesn't understand what I'm going through. I can still "fake" it. I can smile, be charming, and crack jokes all while holding my left arm in a funny position as I think, "God damn it but that hurts!"


Wikipedia: Nerve
A pinched nerve occurs when pressure is placed on a nerve, usually from swelling due to an injury or pregnancy. Nerve damage or pinched nerves are usually accompanied by pain, numbness, weakness, or paralysis. Patients may feel these symptoms in areas far from the actual site of damage, a phenomenon called referred pain. Referred pain occurs because when a nerve is damaged, signalling is defective from all parts of the area from which the nerve receives input, not just the site of the damage. Neurologists usually diagnose disorders of the nerves by a physical examination, including the testing of reflexes, walking and other directed movements, muscle weakness, proprioception, and the sense of touch. This initial exam can be followed with tests such as nerve conduction study and electromyography (EMG).

Wikipedia: Referred pain
Referred pain (also reflective pain) is pain perceived at a location other than the site of the painful stimulus.

Wikipedia: Spinal disc herniation
A spinal disc herniation (prolapsus disci intervertebralis) is a medical condition affecting the spine due to trauma, lifting injuries, or idiopathic, in which a tear in the outer, fibrous ring (annulus fibrosus) of an intervertebral disc (discus intervertebralis) allows the soft, central portion (nucleus pulposus) to bulge out beyond the damaged outer rings.

my blog: Health: Learning more than I really wanted to
When your health is good, life is good. Although you probably take your good health so much for granted, you no longer are even aware of it. As a consequence, when you hear about the health problems of others, you intellectually understand it but you don't emotionally understand it. You hear the words but you do not truly grasp their meaning.

my blog: Health: You don't know what you've got till it's gone
In 1970, the Canadian singer song writer Joni Mitchell released "Big Yellow Taxi" which contained the telling line, "You don't know what you've got till it's gone." Yes, it is easy to take things for granted. This captures the idea of the centuries old proverb, "You never miss the water till the well runs dry." Day after day, some "thing" is just there like the sun or the moon and we become accustomed to it being there. However many things don't have the longevity of the sun and the moon and we can see those things come to an end and disappear and ofttimes it is not until something has disappeared that we may realize its value to us.

my blog: Health: Life comes to a dead halt
How do you spell hell on Earth? P-a-i-n. What's a two word expression for pain? Pinched nerve. On Saturday, April 7, 2012, the long Easter weekend (Bad Saturday follows Good Friday?), I managed to pull a tendon out of place in my left shoulder, separate the two bones in my left forearm, the ulna and the radius, mess up both my left wrist and elbow and do some minor damage around the shoulder blade to my neck. I am now looking at months of healing which includes physiotherapy, keeping my shoulder taped up, both my wrist and elbow strapped and some support tapes on my left leg.


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1 comment:

BigLittleWolf said...

All I can say is... I get it. Have been living with something of this sort for more than 5 years.

And you're right. No one gives a shit, unless they've been through it. Every. Single. Day.

At a certain point, you run out of money (or energy) to deal, and no one - I mean no one - wants to hear about it.

So you say nothing, and reorganize your life accordingly. And yes, chronically.

Sending you a Happy Fourth Wish from South of Your Border all the same... May your pain lessen... May you find (affordable) medical care that works, sans quirks and jerks.