The Pain Game
First off… wow, I haven’t posted in six months. Time flies when life happens. I’ll have to post a general update on things soon. In the meantime, though, I find I need to talk about pain.
I’ve got this pain, you see. I’m not usually the kind of person to talk about my aches and sniffles, but this is kind of a special, driving, all-encompassing issue. It’s affecting my life and my outlook on life, so I suppose it belongs here, even if just for a completeness of the record. This post is kind of personal, overly-long and, frankly, a boring account of a problem of mine. I promise the next one will be entertaining; you will not offend me in the slightest if you’d like to skip the rest of this one. I doubt I’ll read it again, myself.
As near as I can figure, this pain started about 2002. At first, I thought I’d spontaneously broken a rib somehow. It was a sharp stab right where my lowermost right rib touches the sternum, and it kind of came and went. When it came, though, it laid me out. I first remember feeling it while driving to Las Vegas with my wife Annalisa for a much-needed vacation weekend. I didn’t do much about it at the time; there wasn’t a broken rib, nothing was moving around in a way that it shouldn’t have been, and it seemed to go away when I sat still for a bit. I’ve had pains before, I figured this one would leave like all the rest had.
It didn’t, though.
This pain started to come more often, at inopportune moments. Standing for a long time made it hurt. Long stretches of slow, start-and-stop walking made it hurt. Things that I always enjoyed doing with my wife started to become tortuous. We always enjoyed going to large crafting fairs and home shows and the like; now the pain of slowly wandering miles of aisles of displays either slowed me down or made me forego the events entirely. I used to love going to Harvest Craft Festivals; that was a special thing that I’ve shared with Anna from before our marriage. Can’t do it, now.
The area affected by the pain increased, moving back along that lowermost rib and eventually meeting up with my spine, on the right side, just where the right shoulder-blade meets the spine at the lower inside corner. It usually involves that one spot in the chest, though.
Here, my confidence in the medical profession started to suffer. Yes, it’s 2012. Yes, it still hurts.
As the pain increased, I started a little dance with the local emergency room. Every so often, the pain would get to the point where I am knocked the heck out… whether through system shock or just my brain shutting down to avoid experiencing the pain, I’m not sure. I usually end up in the emergency room, usually at Torrance Memorial. My wife tells them that I have had pain in my chest.
The talented and highly-skilled emergency room goes into action; it’s beautiful to see. I get high-priority triage. Machines get hooked up, stat. An IV is inserted. They check the living hell out of my heart… multiple doctors, EKGs, the machine that goes “PING!” Everything. Then they look at the results, pull out the IV, tell me “your heart is healthy, mister Corum! Good-bye now!”
So, assured of my cardiac health and warm from a healthy dose of morphine, I go home, still having no idea whatsoever about the damn pain in my chest. I know one thing for sure… it ain’t my heart.
So, I talk to the first of a line of family doctors. Why more than one family doctor? Mostly the pain in my chest.
Family doctor one: “Oh, you have pain in your ribs? You have Costochondritus. You should Google that. Good-bye now!”
Family doctor two: “Oh, you have pain in your ribs? Let’s hook you up with a Cardiologist, right now… it could be your heart!’
Family doctor three: “You’re fat.”
Family doctor four: “I’m really super busy right now… if you’ll step over that guy with nine compound fractures that I’ve forced to wait in my office for three hours while I’m on duty at the Hospital, I’ll see what my nurse practitioner can eventually do for you.”
Family doctor five: “You’re fat. Did we check your heart? Because you’re fat. Oh my god… so fat. Sorry, it’s just that… FATTY FATTY FAT FAT FAT! Stop eating. Seriously. Fat. (Sigh). Yup yup yup… SO fat.”
Family doctor six: (The current doctor) “You know, medicine is imperfect, mister Corum.”
At one point, it was determined that I’ve got three herniated discs in my lower back. Painful, put me in the hospital overnight, and had NOTHING to do with the pain that runs from chest to shoulder-blade corner. That netted me some physical therapy (helpful), but because the chest to shoulder-blade pain wasn’t mentioned in the prescription, the lovely folks at Physical Therapy didn’t think they could treat me for it unless I got a separate prescription. By the time I had that prescription, our insurance company started telling us that the physical therapy wasn’t covered by the insurance. Or it was. Maybe. No, no definitely not. But it was. Totally.
After much letter-writing, phone-calling, wringing of hands and gnashing of teeth, it was determined that the physical therapy that I’d had was covered, but it wouldn’t be covered if I ever went back there. So, any form of relief that might have come from there wasn’t going to happen.
I got kind of philosophical about the whole thing, I suppose. Maybe the pain was there to make me take it easy, or to give me something to work past. Maybe I just needed to slow down. When you go ten years waiting for someone who knows what the Hell they’re talking about, and then find out you can’t actually get help from them when you find them, that may be the Universe telling you something. I figured I could live with the pain.
Then I did GenCon. GenCon was an interesting experience for me, this year. I’m not going to go into specifics, but things did not go the way I needed them to. Events conspired to have me standing, on my feet, for about six hours on three of the days I was there. There was a LOT of walking; from the hotel to the convention center, around the convention center, to different events almost a mile apart. I love GenCon, and I’m going to go back, but this trip was everything that makes my pain more intense.
On my trip home, the good folks at Lambert Airport in St. Louis watched me walk up to the ticket counter and asked me if I wanted a wheelchair to get to the gate. The folks at the gate took one look at me, changed my seating to put me closer to the front of the plane, and called LAX to have a wheelchair waiting for me when I got here.
I’ve had some wonderful times here since GenCon, but the whole chest-rib-back thing has only gotten worse.
Fortunately, Family Doctor Six referred me to a pain management specialist who did some things no one else has done yet. He had me take off my shirt. That’s a big one – most of the other doctors I’ve talked to about this pain skipped that step. He looked at the spots where it hurts, manipulated them a bit, had me move in all the ways that hurts the most, and suggested what might be causing the pain.
It may (just may) be a pinched and/or otherwise irritated nerve. I’m going to have an MRI done tomorrow evening which will, hopefully, confirm or deny that diagnosis, and give me some much-needed clarity. There’s actually a path to a solution happening, for the first time in ten years. Good thing, too.
See, I’ve gotten a few prescriptions for medications to help with the pain. I went past Tylenol years ago; now it’s Vicoden and/or Percocet at the very least. I can’t take the pain pills whenever I’d like, thank goodness… I have to be clear-headed to drive my son to school, my wife to work, to work with my co-worker and to keep appointments with friends. Driving hurts, but I can manage it. It’s a good thing that I have the driving to do, because I have a terribly addictive personality. I’ve started to really enjoy how the pain medications make me feel, and that is far from a good thing.
The pain management specialist has prescribed a separate medication which is specifically for nerve pain. It was working very well, for a while, but I’ve gotten used to it. At the moment, I take one dose a day, at night before I go to bed. It makes me pretty drowsy. The pain faded for a while, but it’s back with a vengeance now. The MRI is coming in the nick of time.
So, hopefully, there will shortly be a solution to the pain and a means of relieving it without doping me up to the gills. That would be a lovely Christmas present… anything like progress. If I seem short or irritated, it’s likely either the pain, or the caffeine I have to take in to counteract the drowsiness of the medication. I scared the hell out of my Barista, today, but I contend that I NEEDED twelve shots of espresso. Of course, I AM writing this at darn close to two o’clock in the morning…
So, to close; sorry if I’m short or irritable, sorry if I seem self-centered (more than usual) of late. I’m unaccountably fuzzy in the head and it feels like I fell on a spear a decade ago, but I’m working hard at getting better.
I want the pain to go away… there are three (count ’em, THREE) dojos in Torrance that teach Mantis kung-fu, now, and I want to be well enough to learn the form.
A guy’s gotta have goals, I guess…