“What about under here? Did they give you a cortisone shot back here, under the scapula?”
My right shoulder throbbed, sending slicing pains up into my neck. My arm was bent down and backwards in such away as to expose as much of the inside of my right shoulder blade as possible, a conformation I had avoided adopting for nine months. The orthopedist pressed his finger into the gap between my scapula and my chest wall. “Right here.”
I shook my head, “No.”
“OK, you can put your arm down.”
The whole right side of my upper torso ached and burned, a cacophony of needles, sandpaper, and hot pokers rattling in my back, shoulder, and neck. I had ridden the subway to his office, both to avoid dealing with morning rush traffic and to ensure I was in as much pain as possible by the time he came in to examine me. I wasn’t interested in a repeat of my experience from a few weeks ago; if I had to engineer a facsimile of the pain I was usually in by 4 PM at 8:00 in the morning for his benefit, so be it. Whatever it took to make sure I was taken seriously.
“OK, so first off, there’s nothing wrong with your rotator cuff,” he began, ensuring that he now had my complete and undivided attention. Finally, someone who understood exactly where my pain was coming from. Things were looking up.
He went on, “What you have going on pretty rare, and I only see it in women with your narrow, lanky build. Your shoulder blade is rubbing up against the back of your chest wall. That’s what’s causing all of your pain and inflammation, and that’s why none of the other treatments around your shoulder have worked.”
“So I’m going to give you a cortisone shot in there, to see if it’s inflammation only or if there’s some arthritis that will need to be scraped off surgically, and we’ll go from there.”
Fine with me. Stick another needle in my shoulder blade. What else is new. Aren’t you enjoying the lovely weather we’ve been having this week? “Sounds good,” I replied.
He fussed around and made a big deal out of the injection, which for me was the current equivalent of a mosquito bite. (Better, actually, since it didn’t itch afterwards.) I don’t know how his patients usually respond, but after the joyful experience of having a nerve ablation, if he hadn’t told me he was injecting a pile of medicine under my shoulder, I barely would have noticed.
The upshot (sorry, couldn’t resist) of his diagnosis is the following: if the cortisone shot works, then it’s simply a matter of physical therapy and anti-inflammatories to put a stop to the pain. If I’m still in pain after in a few days, I’ll need another scan to see if there’s a physical problem that will have to be surgically addressed. But either way, if he’s right, by this time next year, this whole experience will be nothing but an unpleasant memory.
Fifteen minutes to change your life.
I’m not going to be permanently disabled. I didn’t do anything wrong. This wasn’t my fault. He can fix it. He has fixed it, apparently, dozens of times.
Nine months in vain pursuit of the correct diagnosis, bouncing from treatment to ineffectual treatment. Nine months of constant pain. Nine months of insomnia, anorexia, doubt, and despair. And then, suddenly rescued, comically easily, by a comically young and handsome orthopedist, in a matter of minutes. Roll credits.
By the afternoon, I can barely contain my elation. I called Momma Ape. I called Sister Ape. The words were spilling out of me so fast I barely left them time to respond. I’m going to be OK!
This isn’t over, I know. And it doesn’t change anything else that I’ve discovered about myself and my limitations with regards to injury and fatigue. But for now, even the pain doesn’t bother me as much. I’m undoubtedly doing a number of things with my right arm that I have no business doing yet, injured as it still is. I will undoubtedly pay for it in short order. But I don’t care. This news and ensuing release from my dank prison of desperation is worth a few days on my back with an ice pack.
Is it worth everything else I’ve gone through? I don’t know. Once I come tumbling back down to reality, I’ll be facing nine months’ worth of anger and resentment that I will have to figure out what to do with.
But not right now. Right now, after the first night of more than three hours’ sleep in a week, I feel reborn, wet and shiny, loose and smooth, no creases yet from having bent or folded myself into or around anything.
And I dare say, I think I’ve earned it.