Over the next few Years I was on a mission to sort out my pain. I went practitioner shopping on a grand scale….I went to:
Pain management doctors……
Sports medicine doctors……
And not only was I shopping for someone to help I was also shopping for something to help. I took various pain medications, anti-inflammatories, vitamins, opioids you name it I tried it! (More about that later.)
I spent a lot of time and money!
In the United States neck and low back pain is a multibillion-dollar industry. In a 2017 study by the Institute of health metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington they found that neck and back pain costs in the United States were $87.6 billion dollars. Just to give you a point of reference in this study they split cancer into 29 separate conditions. All of those 29 separate cancers costs in the US totaled $115 billion dollars. Neck and back pain costs were more than 25% more than cancer costs in the United States.
I was now a solid contributor to it.
At one of my many medical visits the doctor discovered some weaknesses in my left hand that I hadn’t really been aware of. I couldn’t flex my wrist. The doctor asked me to move it…my brain was telling it move and….nothing happened! My hand just stayed there motionless while my brain was screaming for it to move. As a PT I knew this was bad, but as a patient this was one of most devastating days of my years with pain. This meant nerve damage.
All of a sudden it was more than pain…now there was something really wrong with me.
I had an epidural in my neck soon after that evaluation, and almost immediately after the shot I could move my wrist again. In the recovery room it was back to “normal”. This gave me hope because in meant there had just been some pressure around the nerves perhaps from inflammation, the epidural had reduced that inflammation and things should be good from here. At least that is what I told myself. And although function had improved the pain didn’t subside…it was still there clinging to my every move.
About a year after that first epidural the pain worsened and some of the muscle symptoms had started to come back. I had some tremors in my forearm and hand, numbness, weakness and couldn’t fully extend my fingers. The episodes of extreme pain were also becoming more common. With the decrease in function of my hand the catastrophic thinking really kicked into high gear:
“I need my hands to work” and
“If my hands continue to lose function I can’t work, I can’t pay my rent, I can’t live”.
“Will have have to move home and live with my parents?”
I went for two more epidurals about 3 months apart. Again, they helped the functional aspects a little but the pain wasn’t getting much better.
On the recommendation of a friend, I saw another pain management doctor who was doing a treatment where they dipped these very long Q tips (I am talking at least 10 inches long) into a mixture of medications and would put them up both your nostrils. Two Q-tips on each side and when they were all the way in less that two inches were sticking out of the nose! You would sit there with these big long q-tips up your nose for an hour or two, in a little room in the doctor’s office.
I was rarely alone during these treatments. I would be sitting in this little room with four Q tips hanging out of my nose next to people in their 70s and 80s all with some sort of painful condition. The big difference was I was in my early 30s! The funny thing is…for the first time I was able to really relate to people who were going through the same things as me…just like my patients. We all had persisting pain and we were able to talk about it without judgment.
Did it help? YES!
If I went for a few days in a row my pain would actually subside enough that I could get through my days without too much trouble and I would be good for a couple of weeks. Knowing what I know now about the treatment of chronic pain I suspect it was a combination of the medicine and the conversations with the other patients in the room that helped to decrease the pain. But of course it would come back again and I would repeat the process.
Through all of this I continued to work in what is a fairly physical job. Treating people in pain all day while I myself was suffering right along with them. In public I pretended that I was fine…that there was nothing wrong.
I couldn’t be in front of my patients as a patient.
“It is easier to find men who will volunteer to die, than to find those who are willing to endure pain with patience.” – Julius Caesar
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.