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Thursday, April 29, 2010

A Season of Pain

This is not a sympathy post.

This is a very brief reflection on pain.

As of 10 AM this morning when I received my official diagnosis, I am a person with a 'frozen shoulder'. Left one. I fit the profile - a woman, age 40-60 with an endocrine disorder (Thyroiditis).

I'm very fortunate. The pain has already subsided and the prognosis is good for a complete recovery.

There are people who live with intractable pain who have to learn how to manage their pain in order to make it through the day.

God only knows how they make it through the night.

I'm not one of those people.

My range of motion is seriously inhibited by pain. Sharp, white-hot, stabbing pain that feels as if my shoulder is about to separate from my body when it doesn't feel as if my arm is going to melt and pour right out my fingers in molten lava.

I went to see a 'shoulder specialist' today. Mind you, he's an orthopedic surgeon for disorders of the shoulder, elbow and wrist. This is different from an orthopedic surgeon who specializes in disorders of hips, knees and ankles.

Such is life in this brave new world.

I think he is 12, if he is a day, my fancy orthopedic specialist. Handsome. Very handsome. Blond. Blue Eyes. Highly educated. Board certified. Very sincere. Compassionate.

"My wife says my fan club consists of females who are either eight or eighty."

And, cute. Very cute.

He said, "If you were alone on a deserted island, you would be completely healed in two years. With therapy, we can shorten that to 6-8 months."

"Six to eight months??" I said, trying not to raise my voice - or curse.

"Baseball players get sidelined for a season with this."

"Last time I checked, baseball players were not women aged 40-60 with an endocrine disorder."

My handsome young doctor chortled. Out loud. Right in front of me.

"We can manage the pain with a cortisone shot into the joint."

"No thank you," I said.

"It will help you do your PT more efficiently and effectively," said my handsome, 12 year old MD.

"No thank you," I said.

"Naproxin, then, twice a day, on a full stomach will work well," he said, "I'll call it into your pharmacy. Start on it tonight. You still won't be able to sleep on your left side, but you'll sleep better."

"Sounds doable," I said.

"You can always call the office and just set it up to come in for a shot."

"Not going to happen."

"It just feels like a bee sting. Then, your shoulder will curse at you a bit that night. Ice it and, after that, you'll be fine."

"And, that will last . . . how long?"

"Oh, sometimes two days, sometimes, two weeks, sometimes two months, sometimes, the pain never comes back."

"No thank you."

"Okay. Apply heat. As often as you can apply it."

"I will," I said. And, I do. It helps. A lot.

"You'll come back in two months and we'll evaluate the need for surgery."

"Oh, there won't be surgery," said I.

"Okay, then," he said, smiling, "I'll see you in two months."


I think what pains me most is the pain that comes from out of left field.

Like, when I go to reach for the cup of tea at my bedside and the pain is so excruciating I drop it. I've broken two mugs in the past two weeks in just this manner.

Like, when I make a sharp right turn and can't negotiate the wheel as I once did and for a few seconds, wonder if I'm going to cause an accident.

Like, when I try to elevate the elements at the Eucharist and can only get so far.

I'm trying not to be a baby about this. I know lots of people suffer this and much worse pain.

As I've begun to talk about it, I'm absolutely amazed at how many people have had this. How many manage to get through it "for a season".

I have no patience for this "season of pain".

I suspect that's why it has come. Because pain has much to teach me about patience. These are the lessons I need most to learn.

I suppose, stubborn and willful as I am, I couldn't these lessons bout patience any other way.

So, to distract myself, I've been watching some of my favorite old films. Tonight, I watched one of my all time favorites, "The Princess Bride."

My kids and I have seen this so many times we can actually do the different parts - like Rocky Horror Picture Show.

I had forgotten about this scene, which is, in an of itself, a whole brilliant meditation about the nature of pain.
Prince Humperdinck: First things first, to the death.

Westley: No. To the pain.

Prince Humperdinck: I don't think I'm quite familiar with that phrase.

Westley: I'll explain and I'll use small words so that you'll be sure to understand, you warthog faced buffoon.

Prince Humperdinck: That may be the first time in my life a man has dared insult me.

Westley: It won't be the last. To the pain means the first thing you will lose will be your feet below the ankles. Then your hands at the wrists. Next your nose.

Prince Humperdinck: And then my tongue I suppose, I killed you too quickly the last time. A mistake I don't mean to duplicate tonight.

Westley: I wasn't finished. The next thing you will lose will be your left eye followed by your right.

Prince Humperdinck: And then my ears, I understand let's get on with it.

Westley: WRONG. Your ears you keep and I'll tell you why. So that every shriek of every child at seeing your hideousness will be yours to cherish. Every babe that weeps at your approach, every woman who cries out, "Dear God! What is that thing," will echo in your perfect ears.

That is what to the pain means. It means I leave you in anguish, wallowing in freakish misery forever.

I'll take a frozen shoulder any day - and twice on Sundays.

Six times before breakfast.

I'll take that with a side order of patience, please.

Make that a double.


suzanne said...

You need to head south for a little R&R.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

That's where I am right now. Otherwise, I wouldn't be able to reflect, much less write about this.

I expect to feel MUCH better tomorrow.

June Butler said...

Elizabeth, I'm so sorry. I started to say, "I feel your pain," but that would be a fib. You're going right on my daily prayer list. Wait! You're already there because of your brother, John. But I'll add your shoulder to the mix.

I must tell you I laughed out loud at your 12 year old doctor. The newbies all look 12 to me. It's humbling to put one's trust in and follow directions from a youngster.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

thanks, Mimi. My shoulder could use the prayers. You could pray for my 12 year old doctor, too. I'm sure he knows what he's doing, but his "quick draw" on the cortisone shot makes me a bit nervous.

IT said...

I teach. The horrible thing is that the students are always 12. The faculty get older. It's like Dorian grey.

I'd get the shot.... ;-)

Göran Koch-Swahne said...

Sorry about your shoulder, dear Elizabeth! Prayers ascending for healing!

PseudoPiskie said...

Prayers for the shoulder. But plastic mugs for tea for the time being.

MadPriest said...

a woman, age 40-60

For a woman, that's almost scientific accuracy.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Well, Jonathan, it begins when women are taught to read maps drawn by men and learn that a line an inch long equals one mile.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Plastic mugs, Psuedo? You can't be Anglican. I can drink coffee out of a paper cup, but I still have a hard time drinking tea out of anything but a mug - when I can't have a proper China tea cup.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

IT - I will get the shot if I need to. I'll see how it goes after the PT. Ms. Conroy gets great relief for 6 months when she gets the shot for her knee. It's her last resort before knee replacement.

I am a terrible, terrible patient, but she's probably one of the worst.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Thanks for your prayers, Goran. My shoulder is feeling better already.

keith nethery said...

I feel that I can say I feel your pain, as my shoulders seem to cause the same level of misery. I can share the 40-60 thing in age. I have never been officially diagnosed with frozen shoulder, but I fit what others have told me. The worst for me is when you just brush something with your elbow and the pain sears from wrist to shoulder.
What I wanted to say is thank you for the thought about patience. God only knows (literally) how much help I need in the patience department. You have given me something to think and pray about.
By the way, the reason I don't go to see Dougie Howser is cause I don't want anyone to mention the "s" word. I might be willing to go the cortisone route, but 12 year olds with scalpels scare me

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Keith - I would never EVER have shoulder surgery. Ever. I'll take illegal drugs first to manage the pain before I consider shoulder surgery. Not because I'm afraid of the surgery. I'm not. But, everything I read and everyone I speak to says that the surgery is simply not effective. I'm not even sure why insurances cover it. So, go get diagnosed and treated for it and forget about the surgery.

Misery does love company. Thanks for writing.

Paul said...

I join with the prayers of others.

IT said...

My mother (83) has a t shirt: Old Age is Not for Wimps.

(I should say that my students aren't 12, they are in college. THey just look 12, these days).

Elaine C. said...

Prayers for you continue -- with more detail ;-)

As for shoulders, about 8 yrs ago I allowed myself to be bullied into overworking for a book sale -- moved too many books in too short a time. Both shoulders erupted in intense pain, I didn't sleep at all for 4 days. And, you'd think I'd learn, I did something similar 20 years earlier involving a too long canoe trip.

The doctor insisted I do physical therapy, and that just made the pain worse. The current wisdom is that the kind of overuse I had would turn into unmovable shoulders if I didn't do pt, immediately. After 6 months of terrible pain, I decided to ignore the shoulder specialist doctor, and do what the college health service doctor had advised the first time I hurt my shoulders.

I stopped pt and didn't hardly move or use my shoulders for two weeks. The level of pain became to decline. My shoulders didn't get locked into one position. Still it took a couple years before I could lift very much, and over five years before I could sleep on either side again. Clearly, this isn't at all the same cause as your shoulder stuff, but your description of the pain sounds SO familiar!

All of which is to say, thank God I'd forgotten how much it hurt. And my prayers for your healing are intense and sincere.

And doctors may know a lot, but the "current wisdom" is sometimes right for a given individual and sometimes not ... but of course you already know that ;-)

JCF said...

I have to stop doing this---the Envy Thing, I mean.

It's just that---when one hears of someone with health insurance (Talking about options. Talking about shots, talking about surgery)---it makes those of us without health insurance (with pain) SCREAM. Scream LOUDER!

It's not personal. A couple of weeks ago, I was talking to my dad, about my foot pain (bone spur in my heel). About how the pain medicine only works, temporarily. "Well, if the medicine doesn't work, why not talk to the doctor about surgery?" (He's a retired state worker, who probably hasn't been uninsured a *day* in his almost 90 years)

"Dad, I don't have health insurance. I don't have 'a doctor' [simply whoever will see me at the Free Clinic]. I CAN'T 'get surgery'!"

He doesn't get it.

I don't really, either.

How long till Obama Care kicks in? (Not soon enough---and then, probably NOT enough, anyway. Sigh.)

Caminante said...

A had both her shoulders freeze eight years ago but with PT was able to get both of them working again... but it was diligent PT. Judging from your comments, PT is not for everyone but it worked for her and she regained full range of motion without surgery.

Good luck.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Ouch, JCF. That REALLY hurt. Thanks so much for the reminder that not all of us have the privilege of Health Care Reform. It's a most important reminder. I only wish there were something I could do to speed up the process for you and all those like you.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Thanks,Caminante. I had a therapeutic massage yesterday with some good effect. My range of motion is still crap but it only really hurts when I move it out of "range". Otherwise, its just a constant dull ache.

I'm not getting any better at patience, either. Sigh.

Janet Detter Margul said...

"God only knows how they make it through the night." God does know, FOR SURE, because I talk to God most every night and give details. Telling God does help, as you say, misery loves company or a good ear, and I usually can fall asleep before I remember all the details to tell. And that's really all I ask for.

I had the frozen shoulder, took the shot which made my blood sugar levels about 200 higher than normal, so no more shots for me. The shot helped about six weeks, the PT didn't help at all. I tried to tough it out but ended up with the surgery about a year later, I REALLY didn't want the surgery. It did help, for sure it really did, but it's no cure. I've decided that once you break or freeze or otherwise screw up a shoulder, there is no cure, just varying amounts of pain.

You need to hit some estate sales and buy mismatched teacups. At least for a while. Then when you break one, it doesn't hurt your heart the way a broken favorite mug does.