Oct 6, 2016

Posted by in Life & Musings | 0 Comments

Ouch! Saga of my Left Arm

Pain is something that I’ve grown rather accustomed to, at least in regards to my stomach, because of having IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome). When I had my wisdom teeth extracted, I did so with only Motrin as needed, I never took anything stronger, and I was never in anything more than mild discomfort (unless I tried to open too wide and pulled the stitches…). Not only that, but I’m female, and I’ve had cramps that have practically crippled me they were so strong. Yet these things did not ever prompt me to seek urgent medical attention. No, I’ve always simply soldiered on, and toughed it out. I was never that concerned.

Saturday, September 17th in the year 2016 (that’s just shy of a month ago), I started my weekend off with a flurry of excitement. That morning my boyfriend Peter and I were riding up north on the motorcycle to meet up with his club for a charity ride. We were raising money and awareness (and collecting some donations) for Toys for Tots in the early afternoon. It was a blast, as it always is, and the ride was fantastic. After that, we journeyed back home where I took a power nap, and then dressed myself in my Lolita frills so I could go out to a “Bring Yo Weird Self Roller Skating Birthday Party” for a friend of mine. I hadn’t been on skates in YEARS, but thanks to the aid of friends, I did not fall down! No, I frilled it up, skated my heart out, and knew that Sunday was going to be a day from Hell itself for my hips and legs. They’re not used to that kind of activity, after all.

Sunday saw my cousin’s baby shower, of which I was due to attend. That morning was normal enough. My legs and hips were stiff, as I expected them to be. So was my upper body, but the shocks on the motorcycle are pretty much spent at this point and not doing their job well, so I figured that’s all it was. Half-way to the baby shower though, and I’m having issues just sitting in my car. We’re talking an enormous feeling of discomfort. I arrive at the shower, and walking is kind of difficult. No worries, I expected that.

Get in, find a seat, and keep quietly to myself. After all, I’m pretty good at being a wallflower, and right now my whole body is slowly descending into pain, so I really didn’t want to talk anyways. After maybe half an hour of sitting, shifting my weight, trying to get comfortable; I finally take 200mg of ibuprofen and call it good. Well, sort of. It kind of took the edge off things…

Managed to make it through the baby shower though, despite the mounting pain in my body. It’s only a 20min drive between where the shower was being held, and where I live, but going home I swear it was an hour drive it felt so long. When I got home I popped more ibuprofen, and I laid down to nap. I felt utterly terrible. That night, after my nap, Pete and I just curled up on the couch to watch Azumanga Daioh (I had seen it a few times already, but he had not). Pain is still mounting at this point.

Monday arrived, and I felt even worse. Still, Monday means the beginning of the work week, so I gathered my shit and hauled my tired ass off to my place of employment. Throughout the day, the pain is increasing, and I am just miserable. So I’m taking more and more ibuprofen at this point, just trying to get ahead of it. The odd thing now though, is that the pain is concentrating into my left arm. All of it, for the most part. It’s hard to bear weight on it, and it’s not comfortable to move it. So since we’re going to be moving our office this week to a new room (we outgrew the old one), I mention this to my boss and let her know I’m going to need some help.

One of my coworkers suggests going to see a doctor, and I shrug her off. I don’t go to see doctors. I just am not fond of doing that, and besides, I figure this will go away soon enough.

By the time I arrived home that night, my arm was worse than ever. It throbbed, it ached, it hurt to the touch, and I was fairly certain it felt warm to the touch (but Pete calmed that one by reminding me that I was starting to protect it and hold it close, so it was likely just body heat). Regardless, there was a decision to be made. Do we go to Urgent Care or not? After all, it’s going on 6pm, and they’re only open until 8pm. Plus, if they prescribe something… So off to Urgent Care we go. I was in enough pain to admit defeat. At this point I was also losing range of motion in the arm, and that was really concerning me.

At Urgent Care I was seen by a [gorgeous] doctor who listened to my concerns, and carefully felt my arms, comparing one to the other and generally trying to get a feel for what might be wrong to try and help me. She did the best she could, with her knowledge and my description of the pain. In the end, she figured it was likely a muscle spasm since I was complaining that the pain seemed to be in my bicep. She prescribed a muscle relaxer in a low dose after we discussed my tolerance levels and concerns, and I was on my way. Her only other bit of advice was that if the pain persisted or worsened, an ultrasound would probably be the best next step, to actually look at the muscle. But there were no blood clots or anything, so I wasn’t in any life-threatening danger.

So Pete and I picked up the prescription, went grocery shopping, and returned home where I promptly took the pill (as best I could, I’m terrible at swallowing them). For a while it actually seemed to be helping, and since it was making me a bit drowsy like she warned, getting to sleep was no issue.

I would sleep until about 2:30am on Tuesday, September 20th. At this point I woke up in excruciating pain. Pain so bad I wanted to cry, but I felt like crying would hurt too so I didn’t. Pain that was being caused simply because my breast was lightly against my bicep. The first thing I did was take more ibuprofen, and try to go back to sleep. When that didn’t work in an hour, and the pain was nagging at me something fierce, I knew I needed a different option. I was in really rough shape. I didn’t know what to do, so I woke up Pete, who came to my aid immediately. The first thing he did was get me a heating pad, which seemed to help it. It hurt to have it on the bicep, but as the heat worked its way in I felt a lot better. We did this for fifteen minutes, let the arm cool a bit, and then iced it. The ice felt good too. So the pain that had mounted to a 7 or 8 eased back down into the tolerable 4 or 5. During this we were discussing the possibility of going to the ER right then and there, but I was hesitating badly, and Pete wasn’t going to force me. In the end I opted not to go, because we got the pain back under control, and I’m so anxiety-laden that I was afraid that I’d be taking up valuable space in the ER or something for a minor issue (it was not minor, but my mind man…) Well, that and the fact that I had no idea how I was going to put clothes on when I could barely unbend my left arm.

It wasn’t until around 5am that either of us would get back to sleep. When my alarm went off at 6am for work, I called in. The night prior I had informed my boss about going to Urgent Care, and I let her know now that things were worse, and if they didn’t shape up I was going to the ER.

That morning, when we finally woke up again, it was decision-making time. We knew that the Urgent Care doctor had said I’d likely need an ultrasound. Essentially, more than they could do there. I could go to a GP (I’d have to quick find a new one, because my previous one moved away… no, I really don’t go to the doctor ever), but they wouldn’t have the equipment necessary there either. So in the end it was to the ER that I would go. Pete assured me that I wasn’t going to take up space for a ridiculous reason, which sort of eased my anxiety. Riding in the truck to get there was painful, with every bump and every turn causing me pain and discomfort.

At the ER, it took longer for them to get all my information into the system and review HIPPA and the like with me, than it did for a physician’s assistant to see me. That’s right, I did not see a full-fledged doctor at the ER. He did exactly the same thing that the doctor at Urgent Care did, and concluded that I just needed a stronger dose of the muscle relaxer. I informed him of my concerns that it made me drowsy, and how would I get to work, and he then wrote me a note excusing me from work for that day, and the next (which would be Wednesday). Pete brought up that the Urgent Care doctor had recommended an ultrasound, and he said at best they’d do x-rays, but since I said it hurt in the muscle it really wouldn’t show anything. Essentially, no, they weren’t going to do further testing, goodbye. He was definitely more concerned that I might be having a heart attack than anything else, which I suppose is understandable since the pain was in my left arm. Still… would have liked something more since it ended up being a more expensive Urgent Care visit essentially… So with that, and a referral to an orthopedic doctor, we left to fill the new script. Got home, set the pills down, and then proceeded to call my father as he has seen an orthopedic guy he really likes due to having a lot of bad joints (and a knee replacement, elbow fix, etc).

The doctor that the ER recommended, and the doctor my Dad saw were not the same person, even though originally I thought they were. So the first office I called was for the doctor my Dad sees, because I know his work based on how my father is faring (and he by no means is gentle on his body, so this man does a good job). They cannot see me until Wednesday, September 28th. That’s eight days away at this point, and I’m in pain now. Regardless, I take the appointment figuring I can always cancel it if need be, and called the office for the doctor that the ER recommended. They can get me in the next day, so I schedule that appointment too and lay down for a nap.

That night I took the muscle relaxers again. Again they seemed to help. Again, that night, I wake up in excruciating pain. This time though I didn’t wake Pete, because he had to do some serious traveling for work in the morning and I felt guilty about wrecking his rest. So I was up from 3:15am until about 4:45am where I finally fell back asleep.

I had offers from many people to go with me to my appointment on Wednesday, but I turned them all down, figuring I could be an adult and handle this myself. I would come to regret that decision.

From the moment I walked into Dr. O’s office (I’m abbreviating names to be polite), I was unimpressed. I had to wait to sign in, I had to actually ask for the lady at the reception desk to do her job (she almost didn’t give me the paperwork I needed to fill out), and I needn’t have gotten there early to fill out the paperwork, because I wouldn’t be taken back to an exam room until I had sat in the waiting area until about 30min past my appointment time.

When I finally got into the exam room, I would then be left alone for another 15min until a nurse came in to take me to a room to get x-rays done. Without asking me specifically where the pain was, he took a couple of x-rays of my elbow and lower bicep, and then brought me back to the room. The room that I would sit in for another 15-20min until the doctor finally showed up.

Dr. O proceeded to ask limited questions, did the exact same thing that both the Urgent Care doctor and the ER PA did, and then added in some mobility tests. Minor mobility tests, but it was something new at least. Overall though it took maybe ten minutes, and then he was out the door for another 15min to go look at the x-rays. He came back in to tell me that it looked like there was some inflammation, could just be a hematoma, maybe just a bad strain, and that the best thing for me to do was to keep it in a sling and not use it. He didn’t answer my concerns that the muscle relaxer might be making it worse, he didn’t try to answer why my range of motion was decreasing, nothing. Wear a sling, and follow-up in three weeks. If it gets really bad, come back in a week. And then he was gone. I saw the doctor for no more than 15min total.

So, I went to the check-out window (which I had to find myself), and there was someone ahead of me. No worries. But then I notice there’s only one girl at the window, the phone is ringing for her, and she looks frazzled beyond belief. When I get up there I tried to be as pleasant as possible, as she’s muttering that she can’t keep doing this shit, and I understood completely. Clearly they were understaffed in this area, and she was feeling the pressure. Been there, done that. So as she’s checking me out, a line is forming and they have to finally have those people take a seat in the waiting room instead, because it’s easier that way. She goes to get my sling, and I shit you not, hands it to me in a box. No one offers to fit it on me, and I am sent on my way.

Upon arriving at home, I realize that even though it should be simple, I have no idea how to make this thing work, nor can I adjust it to fit myself. So when Pete gets home, I have him help me. He also had to explain to me that a hematoma is a muscle bleed, among other medical-terms because no one explained anything to me there. I honestly felt like they figured I was a hypochondriac and they really wanted nothing to do with me. Which is sad, because he was supposed to be a good doctor. I take the rest of the day to rest, and finally I sleep through the night. Mind you, I did not take any more muscle relaxer, either.

For the rest of the week I wear the sling to work, feeling terribly foolish in it (I don’t like to broadcast these things, and the sling is hard to miss), and explaining to everyone who passes me by what’s going on. It’s exhausting. Even though Dr. O said to keep it in the sling and rest it, I cannot, as my whole job revolves around me being able to use both hands at my computer. I literally cannot perform all the functions of my job without both hands, as that’s how the program works (Corel Draw). So I cheated, a lot, so I could try to keep up with my mounting workload. It was slow and painful.

Throughout all this, I have been taking ibuprofen like it’s candy; though being careful to never go over the daily limit.

That weekend, on Saturday, things are finally feeling better! My shoulder is stiff from the sling, but that can be fixed at home because I’m not wearing it there. Well, I also didn’t wear it to my hair appointment that morning, either, and it didn’t seem to bother me. By now though I have this odd phenomenon going on where I’ve taken so much ibuprofen that my teeth feel a bit numb. I don’t like this sensation, and my arm seems to be doing better, so I decide to lay off the meds a bit and take less.

Sunday we had a get-together at Pete’s patents’ house, and I was back to full-body aches with the pain mainly in my left arm. So it’s back to ibuprofen, and now we’re loosely considering getting tested for Lyme disease. I mean, even standing still was painful at this point. Sitting hurt. Everything hurt. The only thing that didn’t was getting my legs laid flat on a bed or a couch. I was miserable.

Come Monday though, it was back to work, without the sling. My range of motion is getting worse, and worse. The pain is there, and working is only making the aches increase. By Tuesday, I am literally counting down the minutes to my appointment with Dr. A. The appointment I thought on Saturday that I would be cancelling.

On Wednesday, September 28th I go to see Dr. A, and Pete is kind enough to take PTO to go with me. It’s a good thing, too, because at this point I had so little mobility that he had to help dress me, which was embarrassing to say the least. My mother warned me up-front that with him, he’s no-nonsense. He’s going to tell me like it is, he’s going to yarn on my arm, and he may interrupt me to ask a question (but she explained that it’s more like he has to ask as he thinks of them, because he lets you continue afterward). So off we go. This time around we get in, and everyone is on-the-ball here, and I don’t have to request paperwork. The funniest thing though was as I was filling out the family medical history, Pete was finally realizing why I said I was doomed. On one side or another, I have a history for just about anything you can think of. It’s depressing, really. So I get the paperwork filled out and handed in, and within 10min they’re calling me back.

Pete and I head to the exam room, where they take the typical vitals and all that, and as the nurse is leaving, Dr. A is essentially entering. He starts by asking if I had anything done previously, which I mention the x-rays and his assistant goes to try and pull them up out of the database (digital technology rocks!). We discuss the issue at hand, and then he does start yarning on it. But not in a bad way, really. It was more he wanted me to try to keep him from moving the arm, how far could I move it, don’t let him twist it, etc. He was checking to see how it was functioning. This wasn’t much issue. It hurt some, but not that it was unbearable. Then he started to feel the arm, like the other doctors had done before. He’s not just feeling it though, oh no. He’s pressing on it, and asking if it hurts. And as he hit the elbow, well, I came right up out of the chair and about went through the ceiling. He pushed on it again just to be sure… same reaction. At this point the assistant comes back in to inform him that they cannot get the database to load the x-rays, so he deems it necessary to do their own. off I go to the imaging room, where they do what seems like a much more thorough job of it. I can’t really describe why, but they just seemed more on-top of their game with how they positioned the arm and such. So I get the x-rays and it’s back to the exam room to wait for a moment. Maybe ten minutes later, after reviewing the x-rays, Dr. A returns, and performs the press test again, though a bit more gently this time.

His diagnosis? Severe tendinitis. Which explained a lot.

Why did the muscle relaxer seem to make it worse? Well, when the muscles relaxed, the support for the tendon disappeared, and it hurt more.

Why did my whole body ache? Stress. I was so stressed from the injury, and anxious, that my entire body reacted. Minus that first Sunday, when some was from the roller skating.

Should I wear a sling? Absolutely not. Dr. A explained that he was concerned the sling would cause the muscle to atrophy, which was probably partially why I was losing range of motion so fast. I wasn’t moving the arm, regardless of whether or not I was wearing the sling.

Unlike the rest of the doctors, he recommended icing the elbow instead of heating it. His reason being that I needed to reduce the inflammation to let it relax. Heat wasn’t going to do what I needed it to.

So his instructions for care were to keep taking the ibuprofen at about 1800mg a day in order to keep a therapeutic level in my blood. Then he had an assistant come in to show me exercises I could do at home to regain my flexibility and range of motion. I had the option to do physical therapy or exercise on my own, and because I’m falling behind at work I opted to try it on my own instead. They gave me a big elastic band to work with, and Dr. A said I should feel essentially back to normal in about three weeks. Try not to strain it too much though, and always ice it after the exercises to protect it. If it doesn’t feel better, or feels like it’s getting worse, call and follow-up. Otherwise, he said I should be good to go.

The only thing we couldn’t pin-point was exactly what caused it. Since working made it worse (hell, even typing this causes some aches), we can only gather a guess that logically, this tendinitis is caused by my job. So it’s recommended that I file for worker’s comp, too.

I headed on my way after this, and I’ve been back to work steadily since. I’ve been trying to do the exercises here and there, and I’m happy to say that I am getting my range of motion back. The biggest concern through this whole thing, honestly, was the fact that I was to photograph my cousin’s wedding.

She got married this past Sunday, October 2nd. I did in fact photograph that wedding, and I never had any intentions to do otherwise. I just knew I might be setting the camera up on a tripod if the arm wasn’t up to it. It wasn’t the smartest thing I did, but I’ve already bounced back from how tender the arm was after that, so I’m not worried.

Just knowing what’s wrong with it allowed me to stop stressing, and has helped immensely. It’s not Lyme disease, and despite what my over-active-paranoid-anxiety would have me believe, I’m not going to lose my arm to some mysterious disease that’s yet to even be named. The exercises seem to be helping, and every day I notice a little improvement. I mean, it was a big deal for me when not only could I dress myself, but I didn’t have to push my shirt onto my arm nor take my jacket off funny. I really am getting back to functioning like a normal person, albeit with a shortened range of motion still. We’re working on that.

During this I was posting updates on Facebook constantly, too, and it was heartwarming to hear from my friends and family who were wishing me well and offering advice. I’m not typically one to post such things because I hate to seem like I’m looking for sympathy, but I have to admit, it felt nice to know so many people cared. I think all the caring comments, thoughts, and well-wishes helped a lot, at least psychologically. And I’m truly blessed to have such a support group in my life. ♥

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