8/21/21- Cloudy, cool. Blessings @ 65 degrees. No rain still, but the shade feels like a blessing in the drought.
Waking this morning to rapid fire muscle spasms in my neck and down my shoulder blades, I thought I might try to detail the sensations to aid follow-up diagnosis for an upcoming visit with my orthopedic surgeon. After nearly a month using ice, heat, postural exercises, lacrosse ball massage, yoga, passive stretching, traction and acupuncture to calm inflammation in the muscles, tendons and ligaments supporting my neck and shoulders, the pain has reached a pitch again ushering me back to the doctor’s office. Since the end of July, I have not slept, worked or recreated comfortably for any significant length of time. I’ve not been able to swim again all summer. I’ve not been able to carry a backpack. I can hardly ride my bicycle around the waterfront without generating inflammation that puts me back on the floor again until my neck can again comfortably support my head. I cannot sit at my computer for an hour without tension headaches radiating nerve pain down my right arm into the digits of my right hand. Every morning for the last month, I have awoken through a cloud of pain medication to the nagging, if not outright alarming, sensations my body is producing to remind me of some danger to it.
So let us see if we can detail some of these awful sensations to help my doctor to help me to help myself. Dislocated in March, my right shoulder has still not fully healed, and we need to reassess treatment since the benefit of May’s cortisone shot to the shoulder blade has now faded. When I calm myself with deeper breathing, I notice that the recent pains are most reminiscent of the sort which occurred closer to my surgery and cervical fusion (C-7, T-1) in November of 1997. There is a stiffness where my neck meets my shoulders, where I am fused, that currently limits rotation to less than 45 degrees to each side. The tension in my sternocleidomastoids cause a constant dull aching along the collar bone. At times they coordinate with the scalene muscles to produce a nauseating jaw tension. The tightening of the trapezoid muscles pulls my head back and down, further compressing already challenged (by the initial fusion’s limitation of motion) vertebral discs. This elicits a burning nerve pain from the muscles between my shoulder blades and spine, predominantly on the right. It also signals a tension in the thoracic vertebrae that threatens often to misalign my upper back painfully enough to interfere with my breathing. All muscle groups are apparently and very painfully bracing to maintain shoulder joint stability. I must find a way to ease their vigilance.
Self-assessing further along the neuropathways re-inflamed by the dislocation, I notice a burning sensation daily down the outside of my right arm into the final two digits on that hand. Until the shoulder injury this Spring, I had not sensed this pain in years. Initially after surgery, I struggled to use this hand for a few years, often either lacking sensation or flooded by painful sensation that impaired function. With the residual nerve damage caused by prolonged nerve impaction, I still cannot write legibly for more than a few minutes with this hand. I struggle with functional accuracy on the keyboard still. I assume that knotted muscle tissue bracing the right shoulder joint has again impinged nerve root endings. However, rather than the pain I had been feeling more specifically within the shoulder socket from March through May, I have lately noticed a more pervasive upper torso tension, a chest cavity lockdown consuming much of my upper body. The sensation is one of muscle groups tightly interwoven in response to a danger to the shoulder joint…but the actual cause or solution?
This is the million dollar question. After 23 years of searching, I have no illusions about solving the riddle of my enduring physical pain and struggle in this round of battle, or negotiation rather. But I also don’t see any reason not to make some more substantial advances in functionality and pain reduction. This episode has provided an excellent opportunity to investigate and review the synergy between long compromised joints of the neck and shoulder region. The condition of my body this summer has put the most tightened constraints on my physical performance in 20 years.
The length of the protracted recovery diminishes my confidence that it will ultimately be successful. The latest affront to this region of my body has consistently limited my activity, my work habits, my sleep habits, my exercise habits, damn near every aspect of my life. And though I’ve thankfully been able to complete a few Voiceover projects in between all the modalities I’ve employed to carry me through the ordeal, I have not been able to seek supplementary work for all the time taken by constant rehab and for the simple fact that I cannot tend bar nearly as well with one functioning hand. Though a strangely familiar anxiety after so many years of struggle with my invisible disability, I wonder again through the nearly constant pain if I may continue to provide for myself. So, it is obviously time to take another look.
May my specificity in detailing the painful sensations I continue to experience bring more effective treatment. May the story bring other long time sufferers some commiseration. May I remember that everything is temporary. Onward ho!
2 thoughts on “Chronic Life”
T- this is Elaine Moreland, now Apperson. You may not remember me. However, we intersected just a bit senior year in Dothan via Jason Baker. I don’t know what possessed me to look you up but I have been trying to find some people who left Alabama for college lately as I am not active on any social media. In any event, I am struck by your past and current journey. I am a pediatric endocrinologist in Greenville, SC. If you find yourself in the vicinity, you have a bed, me and my husband, and a nice dog, Kip. More importantly, godspeed on your quest for relief. Elaine
Hi Elaine, It’s really nice to hear from you after all these years. I remember you. I did indeed leave Alabama for college. Thomas Wolfe was right, “You can never go home again.” – or something to that effect. I’ve lived out West since I graduated from the East. Thank you for reading the piece: I toss a few thoughts out from time to time, try to get it out. My adult life has indeed been a long, hard, lonely road. The sports injuries I sustained and lack of support in addressing them put the kibosh on many of my plans. I’ve adapted to a much simpler life through the years, and I’ve found some bright spots in Nature mostly, but I’ve found no adequate solution for the acute chronic pain I continue to endure. It pervades every aspect of my life, for years now. I feel fortunate to have found a creative outlet in Voiceover, though honestly many days, I can feel myself running out of steam and hope for anything better with so many hard years under the belt. Alas, I’m still pretty sturdy, so I’ll probably hang on for a while, maybe even surprise a few folks with a 3rd life comeback! At any rate, I do appreciate your well-wishings, and would indeed look you up if I were to find myself in South Carolina, though unfortunately I think it unlikely after the last few years of deception and division and the wider rift that has grown between me and many family and friends. At any rate, I appreciate your giving a damn about me, and I hope that you are living your best life. Take care.