Sunday, April 3, 2011

Bring the Pain

I haven't blogged much about the pain I'm experiencing since New Year's Day. Since it's affecting pretty much every aspect of my life, I think it's time for an update.

After my night in the ER, I followed up with the pain clinic I've been going to since September or October. My neurologist referred me to a pain doctor there for my constant headache, because he had exhausted all his options.

The pain doctors have not been very helpful from an emotional standpoint. Every time I asked about my prognosis or how long it would take for me to heal, they'd just shake their heads and say "I don't know." Part of me was mentally preparing for a life of chronic pain and disability, but I didn't think it was time to give up on finding a solution.

A few days into the new year, I saw an orthopedist specializing in the spine. He gave me me some very good news. My overall prognosis was good. I was just taking a long time to heal. And there was no reason to believe that I had cervical arthritis, as a nurse practitioner at the pain clinic had suggested. He prescribed physical therapy. This was good to hear after about six weeks of people shrugging their shoulders. I cried because I was relieved.

I've actually enjoyed physical therapy. I like my physical therapist. I like doing something proactive. I like having lots of time to ask questions. And for a while I was making steady progress.

The doctor in the ER told me he thought the headache would clear up as the back pain healed. That hasn't happened. A few weeks after I started physical therapy I followed up with the orthopedist. He said to continue with physical therapy, but he didn't know what else to do about the headache. He said I needed to see a neurologist. Like the one who said there was nothing else he could do. I cried because I had no hope.

My physical therapist has done some work on the headache. He calls it "joint mobilization,"* but I call it "pressing on things that hurt." We were doing this a week or two after my depressing visit to the orthopedist, when I pointed to an especially tender spot in my left eyebrow. My physical therapist said there was a nerve there. I said I knew about that nerve. It was my occipital nerve, the one they'd already done nerve blocks on. Right?

No. He said it was my Supraorbital Nerve. It's associated with Swimmer's Headache. This makes sense on so many levels. Especially since I stopped wearing glasses because they hurt my face.

I was really excited about this discovery. After talking to my neurologist, who talked to my pain doctor, I scheduled a nerve block on my Supraorbital Nerve on April 21.

Of course, now that I'm hopeful about the headache, I feel like the progress I've made with my back, neck and shoulder has plateaued in the last few weeks. I think I may have pushed myself too much with some of the physical therapy exercises, because my right shoulder was getting tighter.

On Friday, I tried to remedy this by having Trigger Point Injections on my right shoulder, shoulder blade and latisimus dorsi. I also had a spot on the left side of my neck that I pulled when I turned my head the day before. (You read that right. All I did was turn my head.)

In the past, these injections have been a miracle, although a temporary one. Right now I'm trying to decide how well they've worked. I'm still sore from the injections themselves. The spot that hurt on the left side of my neck is much better. My shoulder did loosen up for a while, and it's still pretty good.

And that's pretty much where I am. I do the best I can to push myself to do things even if they hurt a little without re-injuring myself or making the pain worse. My entire life is in a traffic jam behind my pain. I'm trying to figure out when I can go back to work. Working at a computer for any real length of time exacerbates the pain. I can't imagine using a regular desktop. Right now I'm sitting on my bed with my back against the wall while I use a laptop on some stacked up pillows. I doubt I'd be able to sit like this at a real job.

Also, I'm on a lot of pain medications. Most of the day, I'm pretty foggy. The sad thing is, despite all the medication, I'm still in a significant amount of pain. Mornings are especially hard, even after adjusting my sleeping position.

I'm also using this:


This is a TENS Unit. I got it a couple of months ago. It hasn't been a miracle cure, but it's helped me cope with the pain without additional medication. It has improved my quality of life, and I would call that a big success.

And my insurance doesn't cover it. Ever. Under any circumstances. My insurance company doesn't have a code for it, therefore it doesn't exist. My two month trial period is over now. Mom and I are debating whether we're going to send it back or spend $400 to buy it at full price.

I also have a prescription for Flector Patches. They are less effective than the TENS Unit. But insurance covers them at $2 a patch. ($60 for a box of 30.)

As I wait for April 21, I've been enjoying reading The Crafty Cripple. I surfed in while looking for Baby Surprise Jacket information, and I noticed that she mentioned using a TENS Unit in one of her entries. She has been dealing with pain longer than I have, and she uses knitting and other crafts as a way to cope. It's given me some hope and reminded me not to spend too much time thinking about my pain.

She has surgery scheduled for April 20 that will hopefully help with her issues. That's the day before my nerve block. I'll be thinking of her.

* - There aren't any joints in my forehead, but the cranial sutures count.


CraftyCripple said...

I can't believe how expensive your TENS machine is. I got mine a few years ago from a high street pharmacy in the UK called Boots. It cost £75, and they are even cheaper these days.

It's good that you have so many options to try for treating the pain. I've not really been given much other than acupuncture for a brief 6 week period and drugs. So I do understand that amount of pain that never is really controlled.

I am pleased that you are getting on with physical therapy and hope that the surgery makes all that difference.

tens machine said...

Tens machine good that you have so many options to try for treating the pain.