My Chiropractor has a sign on one of his walls: “5 Dangerous words: Maybe it will get better.” At first blush, such sentiments seem rather starkly pessimistic, even for one who sees the world with glasses that are far from rose-colored. Yet this statement is not meant to convey a particular worldview, or suggest a particular mindset, but instead to illustrate the dangers of procrastination, particularly when dealing with injuries to the back or neck. Quite often, when these problems are left unattended, with little more than hope of improvement, they have an awful tendency of getting worse.
Such has been my unhappy lot as of late. It all began early in the month of November, when my department was rather abruptly informed that we would be largely responsible for the transport of approximately 14,000 Thai language books from their current storage space in our library to new storage within our department while they await cataloging. (Needless to say our newly-hired Thai language cataloger probably has job security until she retires just wearing down this backlog!) While this was a huge job (approximately 28 ranges of bookshelves, for those of you in the trade) it could have been worse, we got the assistance of three students from Stacks Maintenance, and the books in question were not stored in any particular order, so they didn’t need to be moved in any particular order, just grab put on a truck, push it to their new home, and unload. Simple right?
And indeed it was, all too simple. We worked with a frenzy worthy of the damned and manged to move the lot (all 14,000 of them) in a little over three and a half hours. Yet in the simplest of tasks there often lies the potential for catastrophic mistakes, and I made one. As I have chronicled earlier, I have previously suffered from a pinched nerve in my left arm, caused by a bulging disc between vertebrae. Had I been mindful of this old injury I might have worked with less speed and a greater attention to the strain I put on my body. Unfortunately, as has often been my particular downfall, I got myself caught up in the frenzy of work, and was for the time being blissfully beyond pain, even when bending and tweaking my left arm in a position that while efficient for the moment, was disastrous in the long-term.
I began to notice the symptoms the very next day. The tell-tale stiffness in the neck, pain radiating down the shoulder-blade. The only difference between this time and my last injury some three years ago was that this time I knew what it was. I started taking anti-inflammatories right away and babied my neck as best I could. I even made an appointment with the Chiropractor, for the following week. (after all, the last time it took nearly a month for the pain to become unbearable, I was ahead of the curve this time… famous last words.)
As I ought to have known from other painful experiences (no, this is not my only recurrent injury) the aggravation of a previous injury tends to accelerate both the damage and the attendant levels of pain far faster than the first time. Thus, by the following Monday, I barely gutted it out through a day of work, and felt so awful that I called in sick on Tuesday. As fate would have it, Tuesday happened to be the appointed day for my visit to the Chiropractor, an appointment I missed. The pain was so bad I decided to tag along with Mrs. Carton to one of her pre-natal appoints, and check myself into urgent care.
Decisions made solely in response to pain are rarely good ones, and this was no different, after sitting for an hour in an more-uncomfortable-than-usual waiting room chair I got a shot of toradol and a prescription for Vicodin and muscle relaxants. The shot wore off in less than a half an hour and I was all the worse for wear. Instead of beginning to deal with the problem, I had wasted a day getting tools to mask the pain, and ended up spending much of the evening convulsing in pain with muscle spasms that brought me to the edge of sobbing, there was literally no position in which I could sit, recline or lie where my pain did not run from an “8″ to a “10″.
I improved with a blessing, chiropractic visits and medication, but my procrastination came with a price: I spent four days feverishly pondering the patterns in the ceiling of our home, while saddling my poor, morning sick Lucie with the added burden of caring for me, while our little Isabelle had worry-inspired nightmares due to her daddy’s sudden transformation into a pain-wracked invalid.
That was the week before Thanksgiving. Since then, thanks to modern medicine, better living through chemistry and prayer in such copious amounts that I might credit my healing to my being an intolerable nuisance, I have begun to return to normal life. In doing so, I marvel at the sublime pleasure that comes of just being able to sit upright, stand, walk or go to work. When one’s life has been a murky haze of pain, it amazes how sweet the day-to-day tasks of life become. I still feel some pain in my arm in the mornings, and have yet to be able to sleep with the same level of comfort as before, but every day is better than the last and that, if nothing else is something for which I give profound thanks.
With that in mind, I would offer the following:
If you can get out of bed in the morning without pain, give thanks.
If you can pass through your day without chronic pain, give thanks.
If you can travel any distance without worrying if your stash of painkillers are within easy reach, give thanks.
In short, if you have your health, if your body works as it ought, if you can move all that ought to move without tormenting waves of stabbing, throbbing pain get on your knees and express gratitude to whatever you believe in, for there are those of us who would give almost anything for your worst day.
But more than that, take care of yourselves. That’s what I’m trying to learn to do, in the hopes that if the next dreadful time can’t be altogether avoided, I can at least take swift and decisive action to avoid another lost week like my last sojourn through hell.