Pain and Progress: My New Life Story, Apparently

I started physical therapy last week, and my second appointment—on Thursday—was so brutal that I ended up having to duck out of work early Friday afternoon because of the pain. (And as someone who already works from home, I only take sick time when I absolutely cannot focus on my job.) I spent the entire weekend on the couch babying my ankle, feeling sorry for myself and wondering if I’d ever recover.

Last night I told my therapist to take it easy on me, and explained my reaction to the last session. We backed off the weight-bearing exercises and focused on stretching and range-of-motion stuff, as well as strengthening my core and glutes (apparently if you do nothing but sit on the couch for two months, your ass gets weak).

But she also put some tape on my ankle—the kind that has a pre-tape and then the actual tape goes on top of it—along the foot, right underneath where the separated bone fragment is still hanging out.

I’m not even kidding, as soon as she put it on my ankle felt stronger. The pain I usually felt when standing up went down a bit, too. How could a piece of tape could make my ankle feel stronger than an actual stabilizing brace? I am still not sure what kind of sorcery this stuff is, but I hope it stays on until I can get to my next appointment and figure out the trick.

I iced my ankle when I got home, as recommended, and then realized I could walk fairly easily around the house with no brace. The tape really does stabilize my ankle. I have no idea if it’s all in my head, but I don’t care. I still can’t twist my ankle or bend down, and I walk with a limp since I can’t bend my ankle in normal walking fashion yet—but a limp without crutches is a definite improvement.

On Friday morning I was convinced I’d never recover, and now I’m starting to feel like there’s a chance I’ll fully recover in time for all of the fun spring/summer activities I’ve got planned. (Cross your fingers and toes, y’all, because I really need to get out of the house again.)

The light at the end of the tunnel

I had my 8-week follow-up at the ortho doc last week, and unfortunately I’m not entirely healed yet. He said he could see the bone fragments were “trying to heal back” with the rest of the bone, but there was still one chunk that wasn’t cooperating. It’s likely why I’m still having a decent amount of pain, especially when touching that specific spot.

The doc (well, PA) said that it’s likely the bone chunk will stay put, but should smooth out and hopefully not cause pain forever. Or it might cause pain forever. It might just be when something presses on that spot (you know, like a SHOE). We’ll just have to wait and see how much trouble it’s going to cause me. :/

In better news, I was told to start transitioning out of my boot into a brace around the house, with the intention to start physical therapy and transition from the brace to nothing. Armed with the info that it’s not likely I’ll injure the ankle any further at this point by trying to walk on it (carefully, though, as it’s still weak and could buckle), I started using the brace around the house. I quickly discovered that I could walk easily with the brace and one crutch, and after a couple days of doing that I’m able to sort of limp around with the brace and no crutch. I was even able to walk to the mailbox with the brace! I had to use a crutch to help me, though. I’m still not good at stairs or uneven terrain, and I’m trying to take it slowly. It’s hard to tell if the tendons are still injured or if everything is just tight because of lack of use, but I definitely don’t want to push too hard.

I start physical therapy tonight, which I’m excited about. I’ve always had relatively weak ankles that have plagued me while hiking (basically I’m slow af going over rocks or other uneven spots because my ankles would roll easily), so I’m hoping that in addition to rehabbing this ankle I can learn how to strengthen them both so I can get back out into the woods without having to worry about injuring myself again. (Because apparently now that I’ve broken and sprained my ankle it’s more likely it will happen again. Yay.)

After two months of what felt like little to no progress, it seems like a lot of improvement has happened in just the past two or three days. I’m not sure if that’s normal, but I’ll take it.

They just know

The way animals sense things is extraordinary. Most of the time I see it in action when the cats know there’s a bug on the ceiling, but I haven’t seen it yet. They’ll claw at the wall and meow, I’ll get annoyed, and then finally I’ll see the spider and realize why they were going nuts. As I squish it (or, more plausibly, yell for Ian to come squish it), they’ll look at me like I’m a simpleton for taking so long to acknowledge the impending danger they were warning me about.

Last night, I was having some really bad ladyparts cramps. All ladyparts cramps are bad for me since I rarely have them, but last night was horrible. I spent most of the night with a heating pad on me, but when I fell asleep and turned on my side at some point, it slipped off me and onto the bed and was lost to the covers.

I woke up this morning on my back with BK laying on my abdomen, positioned so that the warmest part of her body was on top of where the worst cramp had been. She was purring and staring at me through slightly closed eyes.

Not surprisingly, I felt much better.

I’ve heard that a cat’s purr has healing properties, and last year when I had kidney stones BK spent a lot of time laying on my abdomen, too. Maybe there is really something to it. Either way, I know someone who’s getting a can of tuna tonight.

Sick kitty on the mend (hopefully)

By Saturday morning it was clear BK was getting worse, not better, so we took her back to the vet. While she wasn’t entirely sure, all signs pointed to her having had an allergic reaction to the two vaccinations she got on Thursday. Her belly was bright red and she cried when the vet touched her abdomen, so her best guess was that she had developed vasculitis in reaction to the shots.

Poor baby kittySo she got a shot of cortisone and antibiotics (in case she had developed a UTI; we hadn’t seen her pee in almost a day and she had laid down in the litter box, which is extremely out of character for her), and then some fluids for support. We brought her home and she immediately ate some wet food I put out for her, so we felt comfortable enough to leave her for the weekend since we were going back to Murfreesboro and Mt. Juliet to celebrate Christmas with Ian’s family (we had missed it originally because he was sick with the flu over Christmas).

The whole weekend I was worried sick. I barely slept Saturday night, afraid we would come home and find her dead. Fortunately, she greeted us at the door Sunday evening when we got home. She ate some more wet food and was more affectionate than usual. She wasn’t able to jump up onto her condo, though, and later that night when we went to bed she couldn’t jump up onto the bed so I had to put her in it.

BK is still sick, but getting betterBut yesterday morning I woke up and she was in the closet, sleeping in the corner where she sometimes likes to sleep, but usually not overnight. She did get in the shower after Ian got out, which is part of her normal routine, but I found her in it a bit later looking like she couldn’t get comfortable. I had to put her up in her condo later in the morning because she fell when she tried to jump into it, which was a really sad thing to watch.

So I called the vet’s office and they told me to make sure she is getting enough food. She ate two cans of wet food and a bit of dry food, and seemed to have perked up by the time Ian got home from work. She hung out with me while I packed up some of our kitchen stuff, and then she slept in the bed almost all night. She still wasn’t able to jump into the bed, but once I put her up there she seemed comfortable. When we woke up this morning she was sleeping in the cat condo in the bedroom, which is usually where we find her in the mornings.

On the mend, hopefullyI canceled the appointment to bring her back to the vet today because she seemed improved enough to not need to go in. Packing her up in the carrier and carting her over there in 10 degree weather would probably just make her feel worse, so I’m going to continue to keep an eye on her today and see if she continues to improve. She’s sleeping in the closet instead of in her cat tree right now, which makes me a little nervous, but when I’ve gone to check on her she’s been more alert than in previous days. The vet’s office told me that if she seems to be regressing again to just call and they’ll get her in to be seen.

You know, there are many times I’m glad to be able to work from home, but this situation is one that makes me especially grateful. Being able to watch her all day and night without missing work is a huge relief, as is knowing I could run her to the vet immediately if I needed to. Hopefully she will continue to get better and will be back to her old self very soon… and then I’ve got to have a conversation with the vet about not having to vaccinate her again. I am not going to put her through this every year, that’s for sure.

I am suddenly allergic to Nashville

Ever since I moved to middle Tennessee 16 years ago, I’ve had allergies year-round. Itchy, runny nose, sneezing, coughing. It’s worse in the fall and spring, but even at its worst I have always been able to control it by taking Zyrtec on a daily basis.

But since I’ve moved to Chattanooga, every time I’ve been back in the middle Tennessee area I’ve had ridiculous allergy attacks. I come back once a month to spend a couple of days working in my office, and after just a few hours I find myself sneezing, sniffling and my eyes start itching up a storm (which is strange, because itchy eyes have never, ever been a symptom of my allergies until now).

At first, I thought it might be something in the bedroom of my friend’s house where I stay when I’m in town. So one night, I slept on her couch instead of in the guest bedroom. No change. Then last month she was going to be out of town while I was in Nashville, and my in-laws had invited me to stay at their house in Mt. Juliet. It was a great chance to visit with family while conducting an informal experiment on my allergies, too. But after one night at their house, my eyes were killing me and I was sneezing up a storm. So I am obviously not just allergic to my gracious friend’s house, which was a relief.

I’m at a loss, though. The only thing that makes my trips somewhat bearable is taking Benadryl around the clock and using Opcon-A eye drops every couple hours—all on top of my normal Zyrtec every day routine. But even then I’m still sneezing and sniffling and have itchy, red eyes.

I lived in this area for 16 years and have never had allergies this bad. And I’ve spent plenty of time at both my friend’s and my in-laws’ houses. I’ve only lived in Chattanooga for three months, so why am I all of a sudden having these allergy attacks? It’s happened four times now, so it can’t just be a coincidence. This time my nose and eyes started itching as soon as I hit Rutherford County; I noticed it after I stopped at a bakery in Murfreesboro to pick up some cookies on my way to Nashville.

And I guarantee, as soon as I get home to Chattanooga I’ll be back to normal within a few hours.

Can you become allergic to an entire region? It’s not like I’m completely allergy-free in Chattanooga; I still have to take my Zyrtec every day. But I sure as shit don’t spend my days there sneezing and rubbing my eyes. I guess it’s time to hit up an allergist in Chattanooga and figure out what I can do. I come back to Nashville at least once a month, and with Thanksgiving and Christmas coming up I’ll be back in town more often. I’m lucky that Benadryl doesn’t put me immediately to sleep anymore, but this situation just isn’t tenable. I can’t take it when I have to drive, and it doesn’t help nearly as well as I would like it to.

I need help.

Get moving

I live a fairly sedentary life. And by “fairly,” I mean I sit in a car for two or more hours a day, in front of a computer for eight to nine and then on the couch for the remaining hours in the day that I’m not laying down in the bed.

Last fall, I decided I wanted to start working with a personal trainer since I wasn’t challenging myself in the gym. I met with him and explained that I wasn’t looking to lose weight, but rather tone some of this jiggle I’ve picked up in my 30s and work on my endurance. So I could have a better chance at surviving the zombie apocalypse, I explained.

At my first meeting with him, after realizing he and Ian knew each other from high school, we discussed my diet. “Nutrition is a big part of exercise,” he said. “You’re a fatty,” I heard, despite that was neither the truth nor what he was telling me. Reality dictates that eating cheese and bread three meals a day isn’t the best way to build lean muscle, and he believes that if you eat healthy you’ll have better results in the gym.

But I wasn’t ready to hear it. I was all, “I have value even if I’m jiggly!” — completely missing the point that regardless of body type, we all need to eat well. Even more so if I was going to build muscle. I resisted his advice to replace my sugar and carb festival with friendly fats and more whole foods, and I found myself nearly passing out during our workouts.

I stopped going to the gym during December and most of January, but during that time I thought a lot about my body. About why I had joined a gym, why I wanted to get healthier in general and why I hired someone to help me achieve that goal. Eventually, I realized that eating well and exercising and trying to shape my body doesn’t mean that I have no value as-is. It means that I want to feel better when I wake up in the morning, and have that feeling continue throughout the day. It means that I want to be able to run up the stairs without getting winded. Or be able to run if being chased.

But—and this is probably going to sound really shitty—I have been thin my entire life. “Slender” is how my trainer and my doctor have described me, and while I can eat like an asshole and drink like a fish without gaining any noticeable weight, I realized I am going to have to work hard to get into shape. And never having worried about this before, it’s really fucking difficult. (Please play me your tiny violins now.)

But I’ve jumped in head-first and am actually seeing results. I’ve been on a low carb, low dairy, low sugar, no alcohol (ok I cheat there) diet for about six weeks and I can already tell a difference. I no longer almost faint during workouts. I’ve seen some jiggle disappear and I’ve discovered muscles I never knew my body possessed, let alone used.

While weight loss is not my goal, I am weighing myself daily to get more in tune with how my body reacts to this routine, and I am still finding myself disappointed when I gain and happy when I lose—a mindset from which I need to figure out how to extricate myself. Especially since my weight fluctuates five pounds either way on a weekly to bi-weekly basis, and has done so pretty much my entire life.

I’ve found my clothing is looser yet I basically weigh the same, which should tell me right there that I’m on track for achieving my goals. But as a woman, I’m bombarded daily with messages that tell me I’m not worth anything unless I’m constantly losing weight. I know that’s not true, but the tapes play over and over in my head. It’s a battle I continue to wage.

But at least I’m up off the couch. At least I am moving.

Well then.

Turns out the stabbing pain I had in my abdomen for three weeks (!!) was kidney stones. After speaking with a specialist and a friend who’s had chronic kidney stones for years, I learned that unfortunately, I had a typical first-time experience for a woman trying to pass a stone.

Medicine is still very much based on the symptoms of the male body, and with kidney stones men have back pain and blood in their urine. Women, however, tend to have pain in their abdomen and no blood in their urine. My PCP missed it (even after I asked twice if I could be x-rayed for them), telling me I needed to see a gynecologist, but I passed a pretty big stone the day of my appointment with the specialist. He gave me some medication to calm down the bladder spasms that came with passing the stone, and I felt better in a couple days.

Oh well, at least now I know what is going on the next time it happens. Because it’s likely that it will. Hooray, genetics.

Anyway, so I had one day of pure, unadulterated health before I woke up with the cold that Ian had just gotten over. Yay. That manifested as pink eye for a while, too (nothing like green goo oozing out of your eye while at work), but luckily Ian had gone to the doctor to get eye drops when he had it so I was able to get that cleared up pretty quickly.

I’m now mostly over the cold, but I have a cough that just keeps hanging on. It bothers me mostly at night, which is annoying now that I’ve run out of “special” cough syrup, but it’s not as terrible as it was. I couldn’t sleep more than three hours a night for about a week and I started to go clinically insane.

The amazing thing of it is that I was sick for literally six weeks straight but only missed one day of work (the day I got the ultrasound). I guess that’s the beauty in having a job you can do from anywhere that has an Internet connection (and understanding co-workers).

Good news. Progress.

Last week I found out that my birth control pills are now free, thanks to Obamacare. Today, I found out that I will not have to pay anything for the ultrasound I had the other day.

It’s nice to have insurance, but it also feels good to work for a company that pays for it, and that picks a provider that doesn’t aim to avoid paying for women’s health coverage.

It’s also inspiring to feel like this country is maybe taking baby steps toward recognizing that a woman’s health is an integral part of her being. And of her ability to be able to work, and, therefore, take control of her life and be a full member of society, not someone dependent on the laws made by a room of men telling her what she can and cannot do with her reproductive organs.

I wanted to post “SUCK IT HATERS, MY SLUTTY ABORTION PILLS ARE FREEEEE” on Facebook, but I decided against it. So it goes here instead, more grateful and less confrontational.

2013 is not starting out very well in our house

It started last weekend with a stabbing pain that I initially thought were menstrual cramps but then became sure it was something more sinister as I was unable to move or talk for a good hour. The attacks kept on coming throughout the day, and the next day, and the next day… And still.

I had an ultrasound Wednesday to see what might be going on, but the results were inconclusive. No news might be good news, but I’d still like to know what the hell is causing me to feel like I’m getting stabbed in the abdomen with a cylindrical object every couple of hours. And nothing helps. So now I get to try antibiotics for a week, and if that doesn’t work I’ll be getting a CT scan. Can’t wait to get the bill for all this.

On top of this, Ian’s had a really bad cold for about a week, and the other day he realized it had turned into pink eye. In both eyes. And now I feel like I’m coming down with it, too.

We are a sorry lot, that’s for sure.

I didn’t know what to say

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.