I woke up Sunday morning with a pain on the front, right side of my neck. It started up under my chin and radiated down to my collarbone. I felt like I had pulled a muscle, but I wasn’t aware that you could even pull muscles in that part of your neck. The pain eventually subsided a bit, and I forgot about it for the rest of the day.
Monday at work, though, every time I turned my head a certain way I felt it again. That afternoon, my shoulder and the rest of the right side of my neck started aching. As someone who sits at a desk all day, I’m no stranger to neck and shoulder pain. I see a massage therapist every month to help alleviate my usual aches and pains, so I figured this was just a common shoulder ache and tried to massage it out.
But that—combined with 1200mg of ibuprofen, heat and more massaging over the next several hours—didn’t work. I woke up this morning and realized my right arm had started to go numb and my hand was tingling, so I figured I needed to go see a doctor for some relief since my home remedies weren’t working and I was still in a world of hurt.
(Side note: I have never been to the doctor because of muscle or joint pain before outside of the time a wreck totaled my car, and I am pretty sure my fear of looking like a junkie by saying “I’m in pain” to a medical professional stems from the six years I spent as a certified pharmacy tech at CVS, dealing with people daily who employed various tricks to game the system and get a ridiculous amount of pain medication and muscle relaxers to sell or use themselves. The fear of being seen as a drug-seeker is still with me, seven years later.)
My primary care physician is impossible to see without booking an appointment at least three years in advance, so I headed down the street to a walk-in clinic I’ve gone to several times before for various seasonal illnesses and the occasional bladder infection. The staff has always been very pleasant and efficient, and they seem to stick with prescribing medication that is known to work on symptoms, not whatever a drug rep has been peddling.
The nurse practitioner I saw today was one I’ve seen before, most recently back in June when a sinus infection turned into bronchitis. She is pleasant, explains her reasoning behind what she diagnoses, and goes out of her way to answer any questions I might have.
She surmised that I had a pulled muscle in my neck, which in turn was somewhat pinching (“tweaking” is the term she used) a nerve in there, and the pain was referring down into my shoulder. But because it was “cervical neck pain,” she wanted to be safe and do a quick couple of X-rays to make sure I didn’t have anything else going on in there.
This is where things got weird.
A tech came into the room to escort me to the X-ray room, and as we walked in she shut the door and immediately apologized. I realized her eyes were red and puffy, and she seemed a bit agitated. She had just had an “emotional breakdown” in the room, she explained, and apologized for crying and not being prepared to take the X-ray right away. Not being sure what to say, I just blurted out, “Oh, it’s OK.”
She then explained that she had a breast augmentation done on Friday and was not able to take her pain medication while she was at work. She said she was supposed to be working the front desk, but other employees had called out sick so she had to work in the back with patients. She said being in severe pain must be making her emotional, and teared up again.
I honestly was at a loss. I was standing there, in pain too, feeling like an asshole because I’m sure it was nothing like the pain this poor woman was in. But at the same time, I am not exactly a proponent of breast implants and what they represent, and I’ll admit cringed a bit as she told me she’d had this surgery.
I tried to make small talk as she lined me up for my X-rays, asking if she could at least take Motrin or Tylenol, feeling really bad for her as she described how the two days after her surgery were the worst pain she’d ever felt, and how she’d wished she had never done it. She kept saying how bad she hurt and how emotional she felt, and being a Midwesterner living in the South, I kept trying to think of a way to comfort her. I finally asked how long her recovery was supposed to take, thinking maybe there was a light at the end of this tunnel, or an end to this awkward conversation. Two weeks, she told me.
And then she asked me if I was thinking of getting implants myself.
A few thoughts crossed my mind immediately, but because I genuinely felt sorry for this young woman, and because she was aiming a large radiation cannon at my body, I held my tongue, frantically and silently scrambling for an appropriate way to say that no, I definitely was not planning on surgically altering my body so that I could fulfill some fucked up demand engineered by a male-dominated, male-placating society.
You know, without making her feel even worse.
I finally settled on the reason that I was afraid of being put under anesthesia, though I threw in “for an elective surgery” for some reason. She smiled and said she didn’t blame me.
After she finished taking my X-rays, I went back to the exam room to wait for the nurse practitioner and tweeted a bit about the exchange that had just happened. The reaction was incredulous and amused, much as my own was.
And you know, I’m not offended that she asked me if I were considering surgically altering my body—as she performed a medical procedure on it. Nor am I upset that she cried and discussed a personal issue with me in a professional setting. I know what it’s like to have a bad day but still have to work with the public. And I know how grateful I’ve been for a stranger’s smile and kind words at a time when all I’ve wanted was to curl up into a ball instead of having to help everyone else with their own problems.
But I do feel sorry for her. I think she asked me if I wanted to have the same surgery because she was in pain and looking for a way, any way, to validate her decision. That she did the right thing. That it was worth it.
In response, I could have gotten up on my feminist soapbox and explained that I think getting breast implants caters to sexism. I could have tried to discuss with her the danger I see in believing a woman’s body is defective if it doesn’t meet a certain mold. I could have asked her how she was going to tell her kids (she told me she has two) with a straight face that they are perfect the way that they are.
But we are all fighting our own battles. So I smiled, told her I hoped she felt better soon, and walked myself back to the exam room.