My shoulder hurt for a month and I ignored it. Like a macho fool, I thought I could bear it. It was a contest, me or it, or him or her. I lost. I went to the doctor - too late.
My family physician gave me anti-inflamatories, pain killers, and morphine derivative. I chucked the latter. I could beat the pain, but it beat me. Oh, the inflammation went away, leaving my shoulder partially paralyzed. I knew what it was, a winged scapula. I had spent hours trying to get it right in a computer animation on shoulder problems. I knew what it was, but I wanted to ignore it.
"Your C5 is affected." The cervical nerve number five.Like a machine, all our body parts are numbered. Part of my brachial plexus - don't ask me to recite the sphagetti tangle of nerves that make it up - had been damaged by a bad inflammation. My shoulder was partially paralyzed, but at least I had some movement. Did I pity my self? No, I had brought it on myself by my obstinance, by working too many hours on the computer for months. No one was to blame, but myself.
Was is my Protestant upbringing? If I suffer, I have been taught that I must have done something to deserve it, and then I wrack my brain for the reason. God knows why.
My Calvary was just beginning. At least my physiotherapist was caring. I didn't cry out in pain as she turned me into a pretzel. Her male colleague shot me daggers of jealous from his eyes. She called me later to ask how I was. I don't know why. But then I am a male and I don't spend hours on ruminations on a word or a look. Life is too short, to pass it in the past.
I finally had a orthopedic surgeon look at me; C5. No question and no cure. But we can never be sure so he sent me off to neurologist. Dr. Pain.
I don't know if child birth is the worst pain mankind has suffered, women tell you it is, even when they are full of natural endomorphs. Scientists have discovered that they are naturally doped up. Pregnant women's brains are full of natural heroine/morphine. Then Ocytoxin fills their bodies; the drug of love. And they immediately want to have more kids after hours of labor, an episiotomy and publicly accusing their husbands of forcing them. Such is the mystery of women.
My mystery waited for me behind a hospital door. Was I in denial, or ignorant? Or both? I could have looked it up. I could have researched what was waiting for me. No, ignorance is bliss, better to go to the guillotine with your head held high, not seeing the heads rolling Torturers do that, they kill a few people to scare the hell out of the others. Kill a few chickens to scare the monkeys, as the Chinese say.
She looked harmless, the lady in the white lab coat. A grandmotherly type. She told me to take my shirt and T shirt off. I did. I got up on the exam table, and she put a pillow on my lap. "Some people faint" she warns me, and I am perplexed. First she puts the electrodes on my back, to pick up my nerve responses. Oh they will respond, She knows how to elicit their attention.
"This will hurt" she says, knowing it will hurt like hell. Thank God, the first time is not bad, just a tingle. Like putting your finger in an electrical socket. The next one is worst, like wetting your finger and putting into the socket. The others are worst, my whole arm is in the socket, jumping and twitching as she finds my nerves. I almost faint. I think I smell burning flesh, but she is too good, she puts some kind of cream, it creates a better connection point. I am in the bath tub and the hair dryer has fallen in. I think it can't worst than this. A low moan escapes my lips. I go into the pain. My muscles jerk spasmodically, she pulls them like a puppet. In the back ground I listen to the doctor dictating his notes, or making calls to set up botulism shot appointments. Women, or men, will pay for the pain to look young again. I would pay to have the pain stop. And it does. Finally.
But it was only the warm up act. The main event is next. He takes out the needle from the sterile packaging. I make a joke about making sure it is sterile. Wrong move. He doesn't take it kindly. He is the master of pain. And I am his victim. What I remember, other than the worst pain of my life, is the crackle of the machine that records my nerve responses. I want to hear the sounds, because it means I am alive, my nerves are working.
He takes the needle and starts with my hand. Should I tell you this? I keep thinking it could be worse, it could be my penis or my eye. I make excuses for the pain. My eyes flutter, and after he takes the needle out of my flesh, there is an aftershock of pain. As if my nerves like it, they want it to have it again. The needle leaves a burning sensation. The needle brings forth blood, as he goes up my forearm pricking me with the long needle.
Right, I forgot the nerves are deeper in my biceps. The needle plunges into my muscle. He twists it around, making sure I am awake. He wants me to move my fingers, my arm with the needle in me. What fun. I think I now know what prisoners go through. A tear runs down my cheek, but I refuse to cry out.
Then he finds the nerve that is dead on my back. No sound from the machine. My muscle is flat. The doctor explains that he might puncture my lung with the needle if he is to find the nerve - there is a possibility of pneumothorax and I could end up in the hospital for a couple of days (or worse). If I had only known this before. Oh what fun, I have illustrated it, now I can experience it. He tells me it is my choice. (I know there is the possibility of complications; maybe death, and maybe paralysis. I don't want to over dramatize it and most patients are ignorant, but we know it, we don't mention it, but it is there between us, unspoken.)
Go ahead, I tell him.
Afterward, I make a joke that he didn't kill me. He puts bandaids on my arm, and I make it to the car. I should have come with someone. My right arm aches all over, ghost pains shoot up my arm. As always, I am alone in my pain, like an animal that goes into hiding to lick it's wounds.
© Stephen McDonnell updated April. 2002