Fast forward a few months….
Since that initial day of waking up with excruciating neck pain, the pain ebbed and flowed.
But it never went away……ever.
So, the good physical therapist in me decided it was time to see a physician. I had an MRI scan which showed 4 or 5 herniated discs in my neck. Not long after that I was sent to a pain management doctor. His name was Dr. Ronny Hertz.
On my first visit to him I tried to make the joke (that I am sure everyone tries to make) that his name is Dr. Hertz and he is a pain management doctor 🤣. In looking back I found myself trying to make light of my pain and situations at the time. Now I realize this was a defense mechanism for me.
It was easier to pretend the pain was not happening then face it head on.
My symptoms had worsened slightly since the initial day I woke up in pain. I was having:
A feeling of tightness into both my hands.
The left much worse than the right. And of course I am left-handed. I was having trouble writing because I couldn’t really hold a pen. To this day I can only write with a “thick” pen because I don’t have the fine motor skills to hold a thinner pen. My grip strength declined dramatically so I was dropping things left and right. This resulted in a lot of broken glasses, dishes and picture frames. This lack of dexterity in my hands was much worse in the morning.
But again I played it off and made the excise that I was just clumsy in the morning. More importantly (at least to me) was that the pain itself was still there. This was months and months after “the incident”.
My pain levels never really dropped below a five out of ten and sometimes they much more.
If I can talk quickly about the VAS or the pain scale. Most of you know what the VAS Scale is but you may not recognize the name. This is when you go to a medical professional and they ask you to rate your pain on a scale of 0 to 10. With zero being no pain and ten being the “worst pain you ever felt”.
Last year I saw a post in a FB group page about the VAS. The initial post was something to the effect of how to explain to a patient what 10/10 pain is? The comments were:
10 = emergency room. Might get a lot of 9s but not 10s haha
If they really have 10/10 pain how are they sitting in the office talking to me
If they really have 10/10 pain they would be hysterical or crying
Ok well, 10/10 is if I shot you in the foot
The PT in me just felt sad that this is what students and new professionals think…it means we have a lot of work to do.
And as a person living with persisting pain my first thought was this is some serious bullshit!
There were days where my pain was an 8-9 or 10/10 and guess what I did. I sure as hell did not go to the ER. I went to work and lived my life as best I could.
In my opinion the pain scale is not a measurement of just pain….it is a measurement of:
Pain and disability
Pain and how it is affecting your life
Pain and depression
Pain and social isolation
Pain and feelings of loneliness
Pain and feeling broken
Pain and..the list can go on and on!
If I am saying my pain is 10/10 I am begging you to listen to me and to help me…not try to explain my pain to me. I don’t need to be “painsplained” to. (By the way I am not sure is “painsplained is a word…but it should be!)
By doing this you are stripping away what I know to be true.
When you have persisting pain there are a lot of things in your life that you feel you have no control over…but you do have control over how you feel and to take that away from someone as the person in power (ie the therapist) to me is unconscionable.
What I learned as a physical therapist from my persistent pain experience and what the “pain number means is this:
It is the patient’s pain experience and I am not there to judge that as I don’t know what it feels like to be them and live their life with the pain they have. What I can do is try to understand where they are coming from and then use best pain science, exercise and manual therapy evidence I have to help.
And now…back to my pain story……
The pain that started out of nowhere in just my neck had now spread from my neck to my mid-back and down my arms to my hands. I had neurological symptoms and weakness. And my pain was rarely below a five out of ten and many days it was much worse.
This became my baseline…this was my new normal.
“The erosion of an effective patient-physician relationship has no place when dealing with chronic pain. Worst of all, dismissing the patient’s pain is as devastating as crushing a patient’s hope.”
― Melissa Cady, Paindemic: A Practical and Holistic Look at Chronic Pain, the Medical System, and the antiPAIN Lifestyle
If you are suffering with chronic pain and you can relate to my journey please do not hesitate to reach out to Kenny or myself. We are trained to help those living with chronic pain and are here to listen to your story and partner with you to guide you along the way.