Sunday, July 22, 2012

No pain, no gain, but pass the Advil anyway

"Come on baby, make it hurt so good."

My arm hurts.

Not that that is anything new. It has hurt now for at least two years and no amount of doctoring has helped it, more than temporarily.

Let's see, I have been to see a hand specialist, who diagnosed carpal tunnel syndrome, even though the symptoms I have do not match up with CTS, at least not in the world according to Google. She referred me to a neurologist, where I underwent a series of nerve and muscle tests that attested to the robust health and well being of my nerves and muscles.

Despite empirical evidence to the contrary, the hand specialist stood by her CTS diagnosis and offered me a hand brace and a shot of corticosteroids. I asked how fast she could get that sucker ready and as it turns out, it was pretty fast. I remember her comment was that if nothing else, the shot was a diagnostic measure, and that if I got no relief, then we could rule out CTS. Then she jammed that needle into my wrist.

I got some relief, although I suspect there was a placebo effect in play. But since the next step would have been surgery and I remained stubbornly unconvinced about a CTS diagnosis, I didn't go back to the hand doc.

The next thing I tried was chiropracty. A girl chiro, possibly younger than my daughter, which is why I didn't call her a women chiro, "adjusted" my neck and prescribed electrical impulse and ultrasound therapy. I went for three treatments but that feeling of genuine voodoo hit me when they strapped electrodes across my shoulders to electrically stimulate my muscles. And it hit me again when a technician rubbed mentholyptus lotion on my forearm arm and rolled it in circles with an ultrasound device, ostensibly to micro-massage my soft tissues. Nice as that was, my natural skeptic cried foul. I went home none the worse for wear, but no better.

Acupuncture was my next resort. I actually stuck with it through half a dozen treatments, because I was told that it might take several sessions to buy relief. And OK, because my husband implied that I couldn't expect a remedy if I didn't stick with a treatment. The acupuncturist came recommended by Asian friends and turned out to be an Anglo woman, a former nurse licensed by a local academic institution of acupuncture and oriental medicine. I might have felt better with a wizened Chinese doctor who had studied in the old country, but I decided to give her a fair chance.

Years ago I sought acupuncture therapy for depression that was resistant to mainstream treatments. I saw a Chinese doctor then, one who, in an amazing instance of Jewish Geography, had studied in China with a Chinese doctor in Chicago who had been successfully treating an internet friend for depression with herbs. Dr. Xu, pronounced Shoe, told me depression was complex to treat with acupuncture, requiring many needles and multiple sessions. Since I was working for corporate America at the time, 3 sessions a week during business hours was essentially impossible, given that I was still in the closet with regard to my mood malady.

Interestingly, Dr. Xu told me that acupuncture treatment for quitting smoking was much simpler than for depression, 3 needles, 2 sessions, or something like that. Since I bagged the tar and nicotine bit cold turkey when I was 23, that was nice to know but of no clinical value to me. I did go for 3 sessions the first week and came home with a bag of herbs to mix with water and ingest. The herb-water combo went down like a coffee-ground water combo would and tasted possibly less good. I did try, really, but whether by chance or by connection, I was sick as a dog that weekend.

That was the end of my first acupuncture experiment. Acupuncture for my arm did not involve exotic herbs and lasted a bit longer. During this time, I began losing range of motion in my neck. Turning my head to look for vehicles in my blind spot was a losing game. I can describe the feeling best as a stiff neck, the kind you might get if you slept in a funny position. Except mine didn't go away.

The new acupuncturist practiced in a small home in an older neighborhood. Deed restrictions allowed her only a discreet sign in the front window. The bedrooms were the treatment rooms and at times I was not the only patient in the house. After the needles were inserted, I would rest for 30 minutes or so, during which time I typically dosed off. On my last appointment, I was lying face down, my head on a massage headrest, and I woke from a catnap to realize that my neck was torqued painfully backward. With needles in my body from scalp to instep, I was trapped and helpless. I tried calling out but I have no vocal power at the best of times. And this was not the best of times. I had to wait until the good doc came to check on me.

Nothing pisses me off like going for therapy and leaving in more unnecessary pain than I came with. I figured this time I had given acupuncture a fighting chance and it just wasn't going to be my drug of choice. I cancelled my next appointment. That was that.

In the meantime, my kids had given me a spa gift card for my birthday and in doing so created a monster. I used it for one massage and was so lucky to find a gem of a masseuse that I signed up for the program, the one where they automatically bill your credit card on the first of the month and your massages are about half price. Once a month, Teresa worked on the muscles in my upper back and upper front, and I have to say, my arm started feeling better. A massage with Teresa was no soothing relaxation job, it was a deep tissue massacre, and she hurt me really well.

That little honeymoon lasted a few months, until Teresa turned in her notice at the salon and moved out state thanks to her husband's job transfer. I tried a new massage therapist, but while her spirit is willing, her style is different and I'm just not reaping the same benefits. In fact, I'm not sure I'm reaping any benefits. And now I'm afraid that even if I find someone I like, they will leave me, just like Teresa. I cancelled my contract.

Which leaves me living on Advil, hot baths and a suck-it-up attitude toward my arm agony. No doubt the ergonomics of bead making play a part in this pity party, but I'm pretty sure there is no acupuncture treatment for quitting lampwork. Until there is, I'll keep adjusting my torch position, keep reminding myself to hold my neck straight while twirling glass, keep downing the ibuprofen and keep soaking in those cheap Ulta bath salts.

And keep whining. But you already knew that.

"Hurt so good, come on baby, make it hurt so good,
Sometimes love don't feel like it should, you make it hurt so good."
John Mellencamp

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