Chronic pain patients have good days and bad days. On bad days, our lives can be an amalgamation of garbage and sewer water held in place with duct tape. We are rickety. Our bodies are temperamental. A change in routine can hurt us, the weather can devastate us, and procedures can set us back. A “bad day” can be more like a “bad month” once all is said and done.
My cervical fusion went as well as could be expected, though recovery was set back by a series of T12-L1 bilateral spinal injections. Like, seriously set back. Those injections were March 21. It is now more than a month later, and I still have to wear Lidocaine patches on that area because it got so irritated by the procedure. It wasn’t long before the pain in my mid-back radiated up to the relative injuries in my neck and low-back.
After injections, I generally give it about a week before I make any hard calls. You have to. Sometimes it’s three days before the initial pain of the injections themselves is gone; sometimes it’s longer. So I waited a very long, very bad week. And kept feeling worse. I had a positive attitude because I know that sometimes it has to get worse before it gets better. This area hadn’t been touched in years, so any change — even a change for the worse — has to mean something, right? I mean, we’d been hoping for a positive change, but what the hell. You take what you can get.
So I colored positive phrases, did my range of motion exercises prescribed by the PT, tried to keep up walking every day, and made sure I did my daily stretches. I started wearing my Jawbone again so it would remind me to get up and move around every 15 minutes. I wore the Quell every day. I took my meds on the dot every time they were due. And then, all of a sudden (a phrase my high school English teacher told me to use very rarely, because as a general rule most things don’t happen “suddenly”), everything in my arsenal stopped working. Yes, Mr. C., I do mean “suddenly.”
After two and a half weeks, I wasn’t able to sleep longer than fitful naps without pain waking me up. My Tramadol stopped working, even at twice the normal dosage (not without the permission of my surgeon, of course). Tylenol on top of that? Stopped working. Cymbalta for pain relief and situational depression? Nope. It was like I wasn’t even taking anything. PT was suspended. Nobody could explain the spike in pain.
Even getting my surgeon to listen was a challenge. I understand he’s very busy and that I look composed (pat on the head to myself.) Fusion looks good? Check. Incision looks good? Check. See you at the next follow-up appointment! I had to drag him back into the room to say, “Hey, so I’m losing weight really fast and not sleeping?” His suggestions: Gabapentin (made me pass out at work into my previous boss’s arms, not fun) and a TENS unit (which I already have). That and seeing both my pain specialist and a GI specialist as soon as possible. The second X-Ray showed the same bulge of scar tissue blocking my esophagus. I’m still eating baby food two months after the initial surgery. I’ve lost upward of twenty-five pounds. At first that was rad; now the fact I can’t eat normal food without serious preparation is definitely more than an irritation.
So I got emergency appointments for both the GI and the pain specialist. My pain doctor was not able to explain why the mid-back procedure went so badly, and instead he said, “Why don’t we do low-back and C2-C3 injections because we know those work?” That was not comforting. I felt as if we were throwing spaghetti at the wall to see if it’d stick. It’s like the mid-back is a writhing ball of snakes that got poked by needles and have been biting and snarling for the past month in response.
So is this breakthrough pain — pain that temporarily “breaks through” the barrier of pain medication — or am I getting worse? Is the hardware in my throat shifting? Are my shoulders on fire again just because of all the stress? Is my mid-back ever going to calm down? I realize it has only been two months since the surgery, but still.
The GI doctor had me do a barium swallow. The result, besides drinking disgusting liquid with the consistency of bird poop and standing on a tilt table in front of a live X-Ray? The hardware is pressing against my esophagus from one side and the scar tissue is pressing from the other, creating the narrowest esophagus situation. Food and liquid hit that point and go down, hit that point and go down — and then come back up. The nausea has been intense. I had to reschedule a follow-up with my primary just to deal with that part alone. Now I have an upper endoscopy on Monday and shots on Tuesday. This is going to be a stellar week.
And you know what? Screw it. It is going to be a great week, despite all of this nonsense. I’m going to get some answers from the endoscopy, and those shots do help. As for the mid-back, we will keep working on it. That is an enormous problem almost 12 years in the making, so it’s not going to be quickly solved.
ONWARD AND UPWARD, FOLKS!