One thing I am really really good at is making the best of things. I can take something I really don’t like and find a way to look at it in a positive light. This is a great attribute to have, in my opinion. I would not have made it this far in life without it. On the other hand, I think it sometimes holds me back when I allow things to stay the way they have been longer than necessary by convincing myself that it’s really all okay.
For example, I really hated living in Newton, MA and working in Natick, MA when that was my home 4 years ago. Just hated it. But I didn’t fully allow myself to admit how much I hated it until I had gotten away. Only when I was on the road out of there was I able to admit to myself just how relieved I was to be leaving that situation behind in pursuit of something else. When I moved to Phoenix, I was determined not to make any preconceived judgments about it good or bad. I wasn’t going to hate it immediately for being different and I wasn’t going to like it immediately either just because I would be stuck there. After a few years I realized I really didn’t like it and started thinking of ways to leave. Being relocated again to California is a result of that effort. All I can say is, thank goodness I don’t live in Arizona anymore.
I have had back pain as long as I can remember. I had it in high school. I remember having an x-ray or maybe an MRI (when did they start doing those?) and being referred to a specialist for something… I also remember the specialist dismissing me out of hand in a rather condescending manner and telling me there was nothing wrong with me, take Advil. Thus began my life long dependence on ibuprofen. I didn’t fully recognize this dependence until very recently when my new doctor told me I had to stop taking it prior to a procedure he wanted me to have. Turns out, ibuprofen has been the glue that’s been holding me together. Once I stopped taking it, my chronic back pain became basically unbearable. It has felt terrible for months now, but without the pills, it was just excruciating. I had a prescription for Vicodin but it really didn’t help anywhere near as much as the Advil, unless making me sleepy is helping.
Most of my adult life my back pain has been a flare-up sort of thing that would be very painful for a few weeks and then dissipate and be mostly fine. Some of those flare ups were so bad I had to stay in bed and not do anything. Getting up to go to the bathroom was enough to make me cry. I went to an emergency room for this when I had not health insurance around 2003ish and another x-ray, another dismissal: you’re having a muscle spasm, go home, rest, take Advil. Granted, the emergency room isn’t known for their quality of care, but what are people without health insurance to do? Lay in bed and take Advil, I suppose.
When I got health insurance and started going to actual doctors not just the ER, I started bringing up my back pain. Lose weight was the answer I always got. Now I appreciate the logic behind this, because of course you’re going to be in less pain with less weight to press on whatever is causing the pain, but I am also pissed off about it now that I’ve done the whole weight loss thing and it didn’t give me any relief from the pain. My new doctors apologized to me that people had dismissed me that way. Back pain isn’t caused by weight. There are heavy people with no back pain. I could have been doing more about this all along but all I ever got was: live with it, lose weight, take Advil.
After I lost the weight, about 2 years ago, the first time I brought up my back pain to a doctor, I immediately was sent for an MRI. Progress? Maybe a little. At that time, it was bearable pain. I was not sent to see a specialist of any kind. My primary care doctor said I had Degenerative Disc Disease- which is a catch all for something pretty much everyone has to some degree. There’s not much you can do about it, she said. Live with it until it gets worse.
This year, it got worse. Like, a lot worse. I’m not sure exactly when or how it happened, but sometime about 6 months ago, my back pain flared up and never went away. Instead of intermittent pain, it became chronic and constant pain. I was living with it though. Just live with it. Just keep going. Just take Advil. It’s alright, I can still walk. I’m not crippled. Okay, I guess I’ll stop dead-lifting. I’ll stop squatting. I’ll always bend at the knee or to the side. I’ll stop sitting up from laying down. I’ll stop lifting any heavy weights at all. I’ll stop running. Maybe I should stop doing the elliptical. Maybe I should sleep with a pillow between my knees. Maybe I should start taking Advil before I do anything else first thing in the morning- even before I brush my teeth. It started hurting when I stood too long, sat too long, laid down too long, walked too long. Then it started hurting every time I changed my sleeping position. Then I broke the towel rack off the wall in the bathroom trying to turn on the shower. My days became all raveled up in pain.
In bed, my alarm goes off, I roll over. Pain. I sit up. Pain. I stand at the mirror brushing my teeth. Pain. I bend over to spit. Pain. I have to turn on the shower. Pain. I shave my legs. Pain. I get dressed. Pain. You get the picture… and I haven’t even left my house yet.
Here’s where I think my ability to look on the bright side was failing me. I can live with it. I was living with it. Working, cooking, going to the gym. doing all the usual stuff. But I wasn’t seeing how my motivation was just draining out of me. I didn’t see how it was draining the enjoyment out of my life. I didn’t see how it was piling stress on top of stress. I was not going to be one whining and making excuses. That’s bullshit, I told myself. People live with worse things than back pain.
Then I fell and got a concussion. You can read about that incident here if you missed it. The concussion sent me to the ER, which later sent me to doctors, which got me talking about my pain. Which, finally, after all these years, is leading me to some goddamned answers. (yes, I’m emotional about this now that I’m allowing myself to be). The concussion made me extremely sensitive to stress. And for the first time, I saw how much I was being altered by this pain.
I finally have a really, really good primary care physician. She is amazing. I had my first physical with her and she talked to me for an entire hour. I was flabbergasted by this! Never in my life has a doctor ever even pretended to listen to me effectively. I brought with me to the appointment a typed document about my back pain, what it felt like, how long I’d had it, what I had done to try to alleviate it, and my interest in trying a list of things. My doctor was dismayed that nobody had ever suggested physical therapy to me before. She referred me to a physiatrist, something I had never heard of before. This is a doctor who’s an MD and also has training in physical therapy. He evaluates you and suggests specific forms of physical therapy depending on your issue.
My physiatrist immediately pinned my pain on something I’d never heard of, my sacroiliac joint. All I needed to do was Google that to agree, that area is definitely a major source of the pain.
He also suggested a new MRI since something has obviously changed in the recent past; I am awaiting insurance approval for that. But the treatment he suggested, which I have since received, was a steroid injection into the SI joint. I had this done on Thursday, and today, on Sunday, I feel so much relief. I am really only able to talk about all this pain now that I am finding relief. It hasn’t completely alleviated my pain, and I do think there’s also something else going on, but it has taken away the most significantly painful portion of it. It doesn’t hurt to sleep anymore. I can put my pants on without wincing. No painkillers. This is a fabulous improvement.
I will be following it up with physical therapy. I’ll have another evaluation in 2 weeks once the injection has been given time to work and go from there. So I don’t have complete answers yet, but I’m just so relieved to be getting somewhere. And as for that Advil, I’m going to try not to take it anymore. I’ve noticed that my dizziness has significantly subsided since I stopped taking it. I should never have been taking it so often in the first place, but like I said, it was the glue that was holding me together. Maybe the dizziness and the back pain and the Advil are all related somehow.
I feel like I’ve walked out of a fog the past few days since the injection. I didn’t see how much this chronic pain was affecting me until it was taken away. It is an emotional feeling, and not entirely a great feeling. I feel a lot of wistfulness that I have lived with this so long without any direction or relief other than Advil which may have been detrimental in other ways. I’ve told every doctor I’ve ever had that I take ibuprofen frequently, and none has ever warned against it. I feel I was unfairly judged and dismissed for my weight by doctors in the past and that I could have gotten on this path sooner if they had seen me as a whole person, not simply a BMI number. This is not to say doctors shouldn’t discuss weight issues with patients, but they shouldn’t blame every ailment on weight either nor lead patients to believe a lifestyle change is a cure all. Most of all I am wistful that I did not step up and advocate better for myself before now and that I listened when they told me to “Live with it.”
“Just living with it” is something I plan to do a lot less of in all areas of my life from now on.