It’s an old joke, but it’s not funny when you’re experiencing pain. For most of my life, pain was a loudmouthed relative at a wedding. I knew that I had to endure it but I could take comfort in knowing that it would soon be gone. I had never experienced chronic pain or for that matter, lingering pain.
Pain was also almost always something I could address. Put pressure on it, rub it, put heat on it, put ice on it, elevate it or walk it off. Something always worked. There was always a way to ease the pain. My favorite and the method that my wife and friends understand the least is to just go to sleep. To this day, I can sleep through most pain.
So, as you might imagine, I was woefully unprepared to be truly helpful the first time I was around when my wife had a migraine.
“What can I do to help? Can I rub your head? Would ice help? Can I get you some aspirin? How about a pillow? Can I make you something to eat? Do you want some soup? How about a cup of tea?”
I now know that none of those things work. I know that I need to put myself at a distance, take care of the dog and be quiet. Being quiet extends to the entire boundary of our small yard but I didn’t always know that.
Early in our marriage, my wife had a migraine. She pulled the shades, shut the door and climbed into bed. I went outside and did some body work on my truck. I used air tools including the one shown here – an Air Hammer. I was outside. In the driveway. At the opposite end of the house. I didn’t know that the sound of each one of the 2,900 impacts per minute would bounce off our neighbor’s house and rattle the bedroom windows. I have never. Done. That. Again.
About 4 years ago, I did something stupid (yes, I know the air hammer thing was stupid). I lifted a chunk of asphalt from a sidewalk we were breaking up and I carried it to a dumpster. I knew that it was too heavy but I figured that I could just do it. I didn’t think about having to lift it over the side of the dumpster. My shoulder hurt. It hurt and it kept hurting. It wouldn’t stop hurting. Nothing really helped. Advil® might have helped but I’m allergic to Advil®. Aleve® might have helped but since it’s a stronger form of the same class of anti-inflammatory as Advil®, I’m even more allergic to it. I went with the “walk it off” strategy and waited for the pain to go away. It didn’t go away.
Weeks later, I went to the doctor. I’ll skip the ineffective attempts and go straight to the thing that worked – Physical Therapy. 12 weeks of PT under the care of a woman who seemed determined to hurt me worse than I already was.
During my initial evaluation, she asked:
“So, what’s wrong with your neck?”
“Nothing, it’s my shoulder.” Thinking maybe she had the wrong chart.
“No, your neck is involved.” Then she grabbed my head and said “tell me when your shoulder hurts.”
“Whoa, whoa, whoa, you’re going to hurt me?”
“Yes, I am going to hurt you. You should get used to that because before I make you better, I’m going to hurt you a lot.”
As she pulled my head back at various angles, I let her know which ones hurt. She wrote it all down and sent me back to the doctor. Additional X-rays revealed Arthritis in my neck that was, as she said, ‘involved’ with the pain.
Since finishing PT in 2011, I’ve been a good boy. Nothing stupid. I’ve been keeping up with a regimen of maintenance exercises and I’ve been using the home traction device the PT prescribed at least once a week. Despite that, two weeks ago the pain returned. Actually it was a different pain and it was in my other shoulder. It felt like I was being stabbed (I’ve been stabbed, I have the reference point, so I can say that) and it wouldn’t go away. Well, it wouldn’t go away for about 18 hours, after which it was replaced with a dull constant pain extending from my upper arm up into my neck.
This time, the doctor gave me a prescription for a topical anti-inflammatory gel. She said “we’ve had pretty good luck with this” which I interpreted to mean “this will cure you!” A few minutes later, I was off to the drug store to fill that prescription. When I got there, I hit a snag.
“Your medical insurance provider doesn’t approve of the ointment your doctor provided.”
“What does that mean?”
“That means that your doctor has to talk to their doctor and explain why you need this medicine.”
I knew what that meant. That meant time. Time between me and my being cured.
“Can I just buy the stuff?”
“You can buy it, but you have to pay retail. It they approve it, you would get the lower cost we agreed to sell it for under their plan.”
I really didn’t care. I’d have sold my iPhone to a stranger to raise the cash to pay for that cure.
This stuff works pretty well without any side-effects but the relief is temporary. The doctor also gave me a prescription for PT. Since the pain has continued for more than a week, I have to go back and see that woman. Wish me luck.