Friday, January 9, 2009
Getting my Life Back
Where did it go? Who took my enthusiam and my zest for life? I looked high and low and no where could it be found. I was lifeless, yet I knew I was alive. Alive and miserable, turned into a hermit, when I once was the life of the party. What had happened to me? Life with chronic pain is what happened. About 6 years ago, I fell out of chair and hit my head on a weight bench. At that time, I didn't realize the damage that had been done, but about 2 1/2 to 3 years later, it hit me hard. I developed a burning and stabbing pain in my left shoulder and trapezius. I went to see the orthopedic and he recommended rest and anti-inflammatories. When that didn't work, he referred me to a chiropractor. She did all she could, trying to reset my neck. She could tell exactly where the problem was, she could feel the tension in my neck near the C-5 through C-7 vertebra. But no matter how much she tried, she could not make the pain go away. This went on for about 6 months and hopefulness was beginning to wane. I was nearing my 41st birthday. I was still young and still had a lot of living to do, but chronic pain made it almost impossible to carry on with my daily life. I became very depressed and would cry at work, at home, in the car or even possibly in restaurant, because the pain was so bad with no relief. It was a constant chronic burning stabbing pain. Then it started in my right shoulder. I knew I had to do something. I couldn't live my life in pain like this for possibly 40 or 50 more years. After X-rays and an MRI, my orthopedic referred me to a neurosurgeon and a pain management specialist. The pain management specialist said that he felt I should have surgery right away because he could see a significant amount of disc bulging and what they call "osteophytes" that appeared to be dangerously close to possibly piercing at nerve roots or even the spinal cord. However, the neurosurgeon had a completely different perspective. He saw no need for concern and felt that we needed to exhaust all options before any type of surgery was considered. I wasn't sure if he didn't believe that I was actually in pain or if he was just a very conservative doctor. He said that if he was even going to think about surgery he would need to order myleogram, so that was set up, but he recommended in the meantime, I go back to the pain management specialist and try other alternatives. The pain management doctor prescribed Vicodin for the pain, which only took a slight edge off. It never truly relieved the pain. He also said he could try a series of three steriod injections which were scheduled immediately. I could feel the anticipation and the hope slowly coming back, but after the third injection with no change in the pain level, my hopes were dashed once again. I went back to the neurosurgeon and pretty much begged him to do the surgery. He finally agreed and after one year of chronic pain, I was finally going to get relief. Unfortunately, this was not the case. I should have had immediate pain relief because he was taking out the disc at the C5-C6 that was putting pressure on the nerve. So no pressure, no pain...Right?? He advised me that sometimes when a disc is replaced the other discs are moved or displaced slightly and they could be causing the pain. He said he could try to remove the disc at C6-C7 and I was ready to try again. I got the same results, no change in pain level. He advised me to wait for the healing process to complete and the inflammation to reduce. Then, I would probably and most likely get the desired results. This was now a full year and half of chronic pain that seemed to be determined to imprison me forever. I still kept up with my regularly scheduled follow-up appointments, but nothing was improving. Six months later, I burst into tears in his office, begging him to take the pain away. He told me that there was really nothing he could do for me. He didn't think another surgery would be prudent. I got a second opinion and this doctor confirmed what my original neurosurgeon had told me. I had permanent nerve damage and would the pain would have to be addressed differently. He recommended a different pain specialist, one that was known to be one of the best and had a reputation for being one of the first doctors to research and try the newest pain therapies available. He was especially known for his knowledge and skill with technological therapies such as "pacemaker for pain" implant. This of course was done only after all other pain techniques were exhausted. We tried muscle relaxers, various doses of Vicodin, other types of nerve pain medications such as Lyrica, which only served to blur my vision and did not help the pain in any way. My pain management specialist sent me to a neurologist to make sure there wasn't something they might possibly be missing. This doctor did an MRI of my shoulder and it came back showing what he considered to be bad enough to refer me to a sports medicine surgeon specializing in shoulder injuries. I walked in the office and the doctor took one look at my MRI, said that the shoulder injury was not serious at all and would not be anywhere near enough to be causing the pain. He was sure it was coming from the C-5 to C-7 nerve root areas, just where the previous surgeries had been done. But in order to confirm this, I would need to have a nerve block. They had it set up within a couple of days. I was told that I should have relief for at least a month. I remember being in the surgery room and small needles being inserted into my neck until the doctor hit the "sweet spot" and immediately ALL my pain was gone. It was like I had died and gone to heaven!!!! I was thrilled to have at least found out that it was nerve damage and that it was were my initial neurosurgeon had suspected. I sat in the recovery room wanting to jump up and do cartwheels. I hadn't felt this good in almost 2 1/2 years. Unfortunately the nerve block didn't last up to a month. In fact it didn't even last all day. It only lasted about one hour and then I was back to the pain. I went back to my pain management specialist with this information and he agreed, that it was probably not the shoulder causing the pain, since I had such an immediate and positive response to the nerve block. Because of this, he wanted to try another set of steriod injections. After the 2nd injection, I began to get some relief and then by the third one I was feeling much better. However, this only lasted for about 3 months, but it did make me a perfect canidate for the implant "pacemaker for pain". We scheduled the trial, which was somewhat successful, so I went forward with the procedure. I took me longer to recover than I initially anticipated. I thought I would be back to work within one week. Well, it was more like 3 weeks. Some days were good, some days were not. I wasn't sure if I had done the right thing or not. In fact about 5 or 6 weeks after the surgery, I was still having pain and extremely distraught about it. I began crying in the doctor's office, and the doctor very diplomatically told me to "pull myself together and get a new take on life". I left that day from the doctors office feeling like a teenager who thought that her parents were the stupidest people on the planet, angry at the world and furious that he would tell me to "get a grip" and try to learn to "deal with the pain". I didn't want to deal with the pain. I wanted it to go away. But I did begin to think about what he had said, and suddenly it began to make sense. If I could have a more positive attitude, I would be able to handle the pain better and maybe this would make a difference. I did begin to take these words to heart and as I did, the "pacemaker" seemed to work a little better each day. As I became more open to this method of pain relief, I found that it did work and how to set it to make get the most optimal relief out of it for me. It has been almost 4 months since my last surgery, and I am for the most part "PAIN FREE"!!! My whole life has been changed. I am a different person, a happier person, a more hopeful person and a much more loving & patient person. I have my life back and it's getting better everyday.