I have pain: a vent

I have been suffering. I mean, more than usual. I know I’m always suffering a little, but lately, it’s been worse.

I have pain. I have chronic pain and also, I have compassion fatigue. Compassion fatigue, or my version of it, is when you sit in the exam room and a patient with a legitimate ambulatory complaint is giving you their history, and you are just not feeling it; you don’t feel bad for the patient because you’re thinking, “Whatever, dude, mine’s worse.” This sort of thing is definitely not conducive to being the kind of sensitive physician my medical school charged money to train me to be.

The source of my pain is my back and my neck.


I think it’s insane now that I’ve talked to people about this, but the first time I remember having low back pain, I was nine. We got off the bus after a couple hours’ ride, and I had this weird feeling in my lumbar area, like an itch, or a throb… a weird feeling, that made me want to rub my back and stretch. Over the next–what, thirty years?–the weird sensation percolated, galvanized, crystalized and finally got to the point where I just assumed that this pain I had was part of the human condition. When I finally sought help, I was seriously shocked: do you mean to tell me that there are people in this world who don’t always have pain in their lower back?

The low back thing is like an old friend. I’m used to it.

But now there’s a new sheriff in town: my neck. I don’t know what the heck I did to it. One day I got up in the morning, stretched funny, heard a little crack, and suddenly couldn’t move. After that, even though the acute portion was over, I always had some neck pain and stiffness.

And then, because I had something to prove, I started working extra long days. So I was doing procedures for eight hours straight because I needed to prove to my male partners that I could. So this neck thing then percolated, galvanized, crystalized, and now I’m a fucking musculoskeletal disaster. So, I now have my old friend the lumbar region, and my upper back, neck, shoulders etc etc etc are in a state of constant distress, made only worse by the thing I do at work three days a week, a shortened 6 hours a day, which is still a lot. I have migraines, the TMJ is freaking ridiculous–I sound like I’m chopping wood when I chew–my scapula doesn’t wing out, my arms can’t meet if I raise them over my head, and when I went to get a massage, the lady told me that my pelvis is all jacked up, my IT band is shortened, my ham strings are baby sized, and my legs are different lengths because they’re being pulled in different directions.

The pain is so chronic that for the longest time, I thought I had fibromyalgia. I’d joke about it: “I’m my own worst patient haha IBS and fibromyalgia and migraine headaches and depression and insomnia haha.”

But this neck pain thing got really real really fast when I started having radicular symptoms: numbness and tingling in my fingers. That really freaked me out, and I got an MRI, which helped diagnose disk disease. “MILD” it says in the report. Let me tell you soemthing. If this is mild, I don’t even want to think about what non mild is.

So of course PT/OT, chiropractor, physiatry, massage, acupuncture all recommended to me to be done twice a week each.

I feel like I need to take some time off to take care of this, except… there’s the small matter of, like, paying my bills…

I could cut down my schedule, but what will my male partners think? Will they think I can’t hack it? Will it be thrown in my face that my volume is lower than everyone else and will I be accused of being a slacker?

I remember when one of my “educators” said that I should do capsules because “It’s physically non challenging…” and how pissed off I was because what the fuck. But is this like a thing?? Am I all fucked up because I’m doing these procedures, and I’m just a little female with a weak little upper body that can’t take the heat?

(The ergonomics of my job have never been looked at, I know, I searched. And I’m fairly certain that the set up and the tools were designed and created not with feeble females in mind, but with dudes who lift weights in mind. So, if there is truth to my internal fear, it’s not my fault, it’s the situation, and it needs to be managed. Calling all female human engineers and medical inventors: Invent a scope and a harness and a holder and a support system to help prevent this type of injury.)

I’m worried. I’m only 39 years old, and god willing, I still have like thirty years of work I need to stay healthy for. And those patients, for whom I felt no compassion. The ones who cause me to realize that I have compassion fatigue. I see them. I see them walking into my office, with their cane, their back brace,  their NSAID addiction, and on disability in their 40s. I’m legitimately terrified it’s going to be me.

This post has no point other than to vent. Being in pain sucks ass.

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