So I guess I haven’t mentioned my back/neck pain and nerve pain in my hands for a while, I suppose because it’s just a constant background noise in my life that is sometimes a whisper and sometimes a small child running around screaming with an amplified Tickle Me Elmo tucked under one arm.
I have a few things that I need to do manage it; I stretch, watch my posture, do pilates and give myself breaks when I’m doing activities that aggravate it such as sitting for hours. When it gets bad I take ibuprofen, but I try to avoid that. Above all else, I try not to focus on it, I try to move as normal, forget about it and not let it stress me out. I don’t talk about it much either. I suppose over the past few years I may have developed a reputation for being a bit of a hypochondriac, worrying slightly too much about my health and getting a bit carried away with the Google self-diagnosis. As far as I can tell though, it’s only been since my car accident that I’ve been that way (maybe I was like that before, but I don’t think so).
It was 10.30am New Years Eve in Perth, 2007 and my parents were away in Hong Kong, lending me their brand new car. My brother was living overseas so when I roared away from my apartment in a flood of tears after fighting with my boyfriend, it was to head to an empty house to get away from everything. I was so worked up that as I turned right to get onto the freeway entry, I didn’t notice that the green ‘turn right’ arrow wasn’t lit up… I was supposed to give way to oncoming cars at the simple green light. I didn’t, and I plowed into a brown car being driven by a middle-aged lady, without even attempting to break. Thankfully she was OK, as I seemingly was. My parents’ car was written off, the entire front half resting on the doorstep of a nearby shop while the main chassis was cleared from the intersection by helpful onlookers and eventually a clean-up crew. I dealt with the situation by crying even harder, and the boyfriend in question returned to comfort me. Good times… good times.
But that’s besides the point. Besides my wrists and arms feeling a little stiff, I thought I got away generally unscathed. I paid my parents’ excess, insurance provided them with a new car and my relationship ended. I was at work one day when I realised that my left little finger was tingling. And it had been for days. I ignored it for a while before going to my Doctor, who asked if I was stressed. He gave me a patronising smile to go with his general dismissal. I found myself in a new relationship and at one of his physio sessions the therapist noticed that I had some problems lifting my left arm above my head. I mentioned my tingling and he urged me not to leave it alone. At the time I had just returned from travelling and was a bit low on cash… I really wish I could go back and make myself broke for as long as it took to fix it. Over the years the tingling advanced into pain, which spread across my hand. All of the muscles in my shoulders, back and neck began to take turns aching, twinging and generally taking on the texture of a piece of shipping grade rope. After a particularly aggressive private Physiotherapy session, the pain spread to my right hand and so became bilateral. Five years later, and I can honestly say I am in pain all of the time. I’ve gone through the stage of being highly distressed and telling people about it (oversharing?), the response to which (with a few notable exceptions), ranged from moderate interest to open ridicule. I’ve had an MRI of my neck showing nothing but a lack of lordosis (curve). A neurologist sent me for an MRI of the brain to screen for multiple sclerosis that came back clear, at which my GP chuckled and said “Well at least we know it’s nothing serious!” When I asked what else I could do, she smiled and said “You just have to learn to live with it”. When I told her I didn’t think my arms hurting constantly and telling a woman in her 20s that she would have to ‘just learn to live it’ was particularly funny, she stopped smirking and actually felt my neck and shoulders. She finally referred me to another, better Physiotherapist and I learnt that a) it was a long road to be pain free and b) there was no one health provider who could ‘fix’ me and I had to take responsibility and understand what was happening myself (as well as do the physical work). It is said, and I believe it’s true, that the more that people who are in pain know about the cause of it, the less painful it is, both literally and figuratively.
So maybe I am a bit of a hypochondriac sometimes. I worry if I have asthma. I worry about a whole lot of things. But I think I have a reason to be, and if I didn’t get certain things checked out, such as black chunks floating around in my vision for instance, I wouldn’t prevent certain things from happening… such as the lattice degeneration and holes in my retinas ruining my sight. If I weren’t more tuned into other people’s health than ‘normal’ I wouldn’t have noticed the skin cancer on someone’s head, or suggested they go to a Podiatrist to stop their nagging ankle pain. And hopefully when (if) I’m ever pain free then if I do think that someone is being a hypochondriac, I won’t laugh at them or feel the need to point it out… making their distress and anxiety all the worse because as well as feeling terrified, they now also feel isolated. Maybe the anxiety came before the health scare, maybe it came after… perhaps they go hand in hand. Whichever way it is, your smirking face and derision probably aren’t going to help.
I have an appointment tomorrow at the Orthopaedic Department at Guy’s Hospital, and I am hopeful but also pretty scared.
Jill’s current diagnosis is cervical and thoracic instability, leading to C5/6, C6/7 radiculopothy. Treatment to date has included very, very gentle neural work, as Jill’s symptoms are easily exacerbated, gentle mobilisation and soft tissue work of scalene, sternocleidomastoid and upper trapezius. I have also included some thoracic mobility mobilisation. Jill’s primary treatment however, has included stabilisation of the thoracic and cervical regions, through clinical pilates. I feel it is important to maintain gentle physiotherapy and feel that Jill would benefit most from exercise therapy. Jill has a substantial home exercise program, including gentle mobility exercises and stability exercises.