Profiles in Pain & Love: part I

I know a number people who suffer from chronic pain and just quietly deal with it on a daily basis. I recently had someone tell me they used to get 28 migraines a month and my jaw dropped as my brain grappled with the possibility of that and wondered how they functioned as a human during that period of time. I had years of frequent headaches but nothing on that level of debilitating. I have now had a glimpse through the veil into what it is like to suffer chronic pain as I spent the entire month of February in pain.

The Physical Pain
Throughout January, my upper back and neck had been nagging me to schedule a chiropractor appointment and once we crossed the threshold into February they began to insist. The day before the appointment, they went full throttle into adamant.
The appointment went fine, but as I still wasn’t 100% I scheduled another for a few days later. Before that day arrived, I was calling for an emergency “I’ll take any opening they’ve got” as I had stretched my arms and back up, like one does in the waking ours, and there was a loud pop in my left shoulder. This time the muscles and ligaments and tendons joined in the fray, and by the first Sunday in February, I was at a 9 on the pain scale, full labor being the only worse pain I’d experienced.

What I believe happened is a few ribs popped out of place behind my left shoulder blade from a whole lot of 20 lb baby carrying on that side as I am oh-so-very right handed and could accomplish nothing if I carried Larkin on the right. This popping out of place led to my trapezius muscle getting angry, and then, as my physical therapist put it, “he recruited all his friends ‘cuz he’s kind of a bully.” When I first saw the doctor, I was sobbing from the pain, but everything was so inflamed, she couldn’t give me trigger point shots. “Everywhere is a trigger point.” There are likely some nerves pinched in those mangled up muscles.

Thus began the Kitchen Sink Approach To Care.
In this shortest month of the year, I had:
– 8 chiropractic adjustments
– 2 hour-long massages
– dry needling along my left shoulder blade and trapezius
– an anti inflammatory injection
– cupping
– trigger point injections
– steroids and muscle relaxants
– cupping with accupressure points
– add on anticonvulsant neural pain meds and opioid pain meds to previous prescriptions
– physical therapy, including at-home exercises
– salt baths (lots and lots of salt baths)
– along with ibuprofen, Excedrin, heating and icing throughout all the above

Cupping Therapy is an ancient form of eastern medicine. You can learn a lot with a quick Google search. This is what the cups looked like in my first treatment. Weird, right?!

Additionally, at some point in the mix, I developed a slight rash along that same shoulder blade, which the doctor thought could be Shingles presenting in an unusual way (rash appearing after I’d already been in a lot of pain). There is certainly a chance it could have been a reaction to the dry needling or the continual heat/ice rotation plus winter skin, but I took the meds for Shingles because I DIDN’T WANT SHINGLES.

Tonight, February 28th, my pain is way down (there are a lot of meds involved still, so–you know–a few grains of salt). I am sitting at a 3 on the pain scale. My left elbow feels inflamed, there’s and overall “tightness” in my neck and shoulders, and my left index finder is numb. So…looking for a kitchen sink….

The Emotional Pain
I could not pick up my infant for two weeks.
I could only hold her for short periods of time.
This ending nursing.
I’ve had to supplement from the beginning as I was not an overly abundant nursing mother, and we were tapering off, but what would have likely ended this upcoming week, instead screeched to a halt a month early as I simply could not hold Larkin as required and pumping was almost equally painful.

Larkin is constantly learning and absorbing; we marvel at watching her soak things up. However “Mommy can’t pick me up or hold me very long” isn’t a concept easily accepted by a seven-month-old.

We do not have health insurance, (That went out the door when I left full time teaching in 2018 as the premiums we qualified for on the Marketplace simply were not realistic) so it’s been an expensive month.

Larkin and I went to my folks’ for a few days between doctor visits and then my mom came out here for a week and again for another couple days the following week to help with the lifting.

Which brings us to
The Love
My Daddio retired a couple summers ago and my mom retired in May of 2020. This is simply an enormous gift to me with Larkin joining our story in July of 2020. Mom and Dad have had the flexibility of time to be extremely helpful to me with the baby.

My Mother-in-Law, Miss Sheri, also has some daytime flexibility, and I have been able to drop Larkin off with her for chunks of times while I was going to these many appointments. She also came to our place instead when it was 20 below zero, actual temperature. Oof.

We’d have been really up the creek without this support.

Particular recognition goes to my Mama, who, at the drop of a hat, will drive out to stay with me and help
– keep me from lifting things I shouldn’t
– lift the baby
– take the “night shift” with Larkin so I can sleep (mostly–I still wake up when I hear her.)
– do laundry
– clean any mess she notices
– sit and talk with me
– and then come out and do it all again because I call and say I’m doing better but I’m really struggling to get the work done that I need to do.

Matt has also been extremely helpful with Larkin and getting me to appointments when it was too painful to drive.
My big sister also Amazoned me epsom salts as she stayed with Larkin when I went to the appointment that led to the salt baths–epsom for muscle pain and regular kitchen salt (kosher, sea) to “tenderize my tired meat”. *The doctor noted that some patients take exception to having their muscles compared to tenderizing steak, but this made perfect sense to me.

Gramma with a lounging Larkin.

This is all to say:
Those of you suffering chronically–I have a stronger understanding of what you’ve been suffering. Please forgive me if my previous lack of perspective ever made your experience more difficult.

And I am deeply, deeply grateful for the loving and supportive family and friends with whom we are surrounded.
I know there are new moms across this country who A) simply don’t have a support network or B) can’t currently utilize their support network in a pandemic.

I am also grateful (even with the expense) to have access to these many forms of care.

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