Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Chronic Pain: or One Reason Why I’ve Been Such a Bad Blogger

Let’s face it: I’ve become a bad blogger. Not just have I stopped posting very often myself, but I’ve abandoned my friends as well, checking their blogs only once a week, discovering important events too late, offering lame advice after the critical moment has passed.

The truth is, I’m exhausted and depressed and trying to escape myself, my life. And while part of this funk is due to my perpetually childless state, a lot of it is due to my chronic pain. So far, I’ve avoided writing about it, because for some reason it embarrasses me. I feel like I’m supposed to be this interesting, vibrant person, full of energy and vitality and activity. For some reason, talking about my “bad back” (is there really no better phrase for it?) makes me feel like a hypochondriac whiner who can’t get off her ass and get her shit together. It makes me feel old, unsexy, unlikeable.

Anyway, here’s the scoop: My lower back hurts. Pretty much all the time. It’s been hurting on and off for most of my life. When I was younger (high school, college, even law school) the pain wasn’t constant. I would occasionally throw out my back and be stuck flat on a heating pad for a week. As I got older, the pain became more frequent. During phases when I was feeling better, I would try to build up my strength by exercising, doing yoga, lifting weights, stretching, whatever seemed smartest. This would work for a little while, but then one day something would go wrong, and I would overdo it, and there I would be, flat on my back on a heating pad again, planning how much more careful I would be with my exercise next time. It was a desperate cycle, and in retrospect, a really sad lifestyle.

A few years ago I saw a chiropractor—someone partially covered by my HMO. He told me the problem was my feet (I pronate) and he prescribed me soft orthotics. I’ll be honest with you: I cried when he told me that I would never wear heels again. I had to replace all my shoes, because none of them fit with the orthotics. Soon I found that I could only wear running shoes. So I would wear running shoes to work every day, and leave them on all day unless I was seeing clients or going to court.

But soon the soft orthotics stopped working and I had to go for rigid ones. So I switched to a podiatrist, then replaced all my shoes again because the rigid orthotics fit differently. Again, the orthotics helped for awhile, then stopped working. Over and over again, I found myself just starting to get into shape when I would hurt myself again, and have to completely stop, sometimes for months at a time.

This November, I finally went to see the chiropractor my podiatrist recommended. He seemed really good, but wasn’t covered by my HMO. Then again, the guy covered by my HMO had sucked, and I was desperate. This guy, the infamous Dr. K of my previous post, thinks he can actually fix the structure of my spine. He showed me an x-ray of my neck; I’ve almost lost the curve of my spine there. This means my head is being held several inches too far in front of my body, which is putting strain on my whole spine. He thinks this structural problem (called “anterior head syndrome”) is the source of my lower back pain as well as my shoulder pain.

So I shelled out more than two thousand dollars for a flat-rate plan to fix the structure of my spine. The idea is to do traction 3 times a week for 3 ½ months, reshaping my cervical spine so that my spine isn’t getting pulled out by my enormous, heavy head (that’s how it feels once I’m aware of it). But less than a month into this treatment my lower back completely freaked out. I guess I was too aggressive with the traction, and my body is just so damn sensitive about everything. I remember a day about a month ago where I couldn’t even put my own socks on. That really did me in.

Since then we’ve been trying to get my body back to the point where I can start the traction again. I have a DDS Belt, which is essentially a lower-back traction device. I wrap it around my waist really tight, then I pump it full of air and it expands vertically, separating my discs. So now not only can I wear no pretty shoes, I am having to try to hide this belt under my clothes, even though it squeezes my fat out above and below it. As long as I wear bunchy clothes or sweaters, you can’t really see it, but I feel like a circus freak. I wear the belt at least half a day every day. I thought it was only going to be for a few days, but my recovery has been ridiculously slow.

And that leads to the depression/escapist angle. Because my recovery has been so slow, and I’m so desperate to feel good again. I’ll feel a little bit better for a day or two (as long as I use the DDS belt), tender and sore but not in serious pain, but then I’ll slide back into joint-throbbing pain where I have to take percocet and lay on an ice pack and just pray that it gets better soon.

Dr. K has been a godsend. He’s basically extending my treatment plan so that when we start doing traction again (which we have to do sometime) I can still finish the plan without paying more. He also basically gave me the DDS belt, which is expensive. And he still believes that I can be healed. I wonder whether we’re both delusional.

I’m exhausted and discouraged and after awhile the pain has just worn me down. I’ve been seeing a doctor three nights a week for three months, and I haven’t even really started my structural treatment program. I feel like this never is going to end.

The strange thing is that this has so neatly replaced my IF treatment. Here I am, spending a lot of money, seeing a doctor so often I’m on a first-name basis with him and his entire staff. I’m in a lot of pain, and all I can do is hope that in the end I’m going to get something worthwhile out of it.

And like my IF treatment, I still have hope. Maybe I won’t be crippled or addicted to painkillers (or both) before I’m 40. Maybe I really will be healthy enough to do my own housework, garden, and have sex. (That’s right, I can’t even have sex.) Maybe I really will be able to handle a pregnancy and a baby someday.

Also like IF, I have fear. Because maybe not. And the thought of what I might become is terrifying.


Good Egg Hatched said...

Everything I try to think of to say seems incredibly inadequate. I wish I knew why you had to go through this AND infertility -- it would seem that one would be more than enough. But I hope the day when you are holding your baby and feeling no back pain at all is very, very near. Thinking of you.

one-hit_wonder said...

Oh gosh, the coincidence here is unbelievable. I'm also maddeningly infertile AND have horrible back and neck problems. (The pain is bad today, plus I am getting tremors in my limbs, which is scary.) I relate to everything you're saying. Similar to infertility - unless someone's actually been through the wringer with back pain, they have no idea how much it screws up everything about your life. I so hope you feel better soon.

Was wondering if you've tried neuromuscular massage therapy (St John method) in conjunction with your chiropractic treatments? I've done it along with NUCCA chiropractic, and it helped get me mobile again.

Newt said...

Oh no, how awful! Please don't ever hesitate to complain about your health here--that's what blogs are for! You don't sound at all like a whiner; you're just facing down another crap-ass health problem you don't deserve.

Traction, crikey. You're one tough cookie. Heal well.

Darya said...

(((HUGS))) I am so sorry. While I have a lot of back pain and complain about it often, it's nothing compared to what you described so I can't even imagine how awful you feel. It does seem extra cruel that you can't even wear cute shoes. :-(

Maybe there is something else you can do to feel cute. When IF turned me into a cry baby, I had to stop wearing eye make up because I couldn't handle it running all the time, specially at work. I hated how I looked witout mascara. I invested in extreme lashes (basically extensions for your eyes if you don't know. Anyway, it's helped me feel cute again. Maybe there is something you can do too. In any case, I hope your back heals and that one day you will come home with a healthy baby.

Pamela T. said...

Sorry to hear about such a difficult and chronic pain...the few times I've had problems with my back I was astounded at the discomfort. Wishing you speedy and continued relief

Pepper said...

So sorry, hun. I have back problems too and I swear by my chiropractor. It sounds like you've got yourself an excellent one (traction is The Best!) and I hope he's able to get you well again.

Sending hugs.

Andy said...

While acute pain is a normal sensation triggered in the nervous system to alert you to possible injury and the need to take care of yourself, chronic pain is different. Chronic pain persists. Pain signals keep firing in the nervous system for weeks, months, even years. There may have been an initial mishap -- sprained back, serious infection, or there may be an ongoing cause of pain -- arthritis, cancer, ear infection, but some people suffer chronic pain in the absence of any past injury or evidence of body damage. Many chronic pain conditions affect older adults. Common chronic pain complaints include headache, low back pain, cancer pain, arthritis pain, neurogenic pain (pain resulting from damage to the peripheral nerves or to the central nervous system itself), psychogenic pain (pain not due to past disease or injury or any visible sign of damage inside or outside the nervous system).

Anonymous said...

Have you seen an orthopedist?? I HIGHLY recommend one over a chiropractor. I won't get started on my rants about them here, if you want to know PLEASE feel free to email me. But I'm so sorry you are in so much pain.

Ms Heathen said...

Please don't feel the need to apologise for being a 'bad blogger'. It sounds like you're going through an unbelievably hard time.

I am so sorry that you're in so much pain with your back, and hope that this treatment brings you some relief.

Thinking of you!

Shinejil said...

Chronic pain--in your mind, in your body--is the most exhausting thing out there. And the options for treating back pain, so awfully like the treatments for IF, just blow.

I don't have any advice, but I have tons of sympathy. I hope that you can find the right combo of approaches soon, avoid the pain pills, and have that pain-free space to do what gives you joy.

By the way, feel free to give belated advice any old time. :)

Me said...

I'm sorry to hear you're dealing with chronic pain. It really sucks.

DCjosh said...

I'm sorry to read about the pain you are in (mentally and physically). I'm sure your doctor is doing the best he can, from what I read, your treatment plan sounds about right. It takes time, sometimes what seems like forever, to fix human spines. We get so used to "fix it now solutions" that anything longer than a month seems irrational. Try google-ing ligaments and vertebra online. Research the repair time of these tissues, it may make you feel (a little) better. Best of luck!

Barb said...

Aw dear. That sucks. I have a friend in a similar position who uses the chiro for the same issue. It helps her, but she doesn't seem as severe. Just thought I'd offer support. I admire your tenacity.

annacyclopedia said...

I'm so sorry you've been in so much pain, sweetie. I have some experience with chronic pain myself and I know how grindingly awful it can be. I hope you find the healing you need very soon, and that it begins to get better and better every day.

Malloryn said...

I'm so sorry that you're dealing with this chronic back pain. While I haven't experienced it myself, my husband has had episodes from time to time after suffering a lower back injury in an accident. I've seen what he goes through and I wouldn't wish it on my worst enemy. I hope that you're able to get some treatment that helps you through this.