Another visit to the pain management doctor. Another handful of prescriptions, after another diagnostic scan that showed nothing. Nothing. I received a detailed MRI, called an arthrogram, of the entire underside of my scapula and surrounding tissues, and it revealed precisely zero structural abnormalities in the muscles, ligaments, bursa, or scapula itself. As in, nothing to explain my pain. Not one single thing.
I should have been crushed.
But I wasn’t. I am so used to suppressing tears in doctors’ offices that I automatically searched for them, but there were none. I wasn’t even upset. It felt predictable. I might even go so far as to say it felt normal. You did a scan and it didn’t find anything? What else is new? But my response was anything but. I actually, strangely, felt as though somehow, somewhere, a door had cracked open through which I could just barely perceive a thin needle of light.
The doctor has decided to pin the tail on the labral tear, proposing that referred pain from that injury, likely brought on by the swimming, could very well explain my symptoms as well as suggest an explanation for why the cortisone injections and anti-inflammatories improved my range of motion but didn’t stop the pain. He gave me a couple of new prescriptions to try and a note for the university’s health department for me to submit for my medical parking pass. I walked out of there in a better mood than when I walked in.
I feel as though I am slowly waking up from a nightmare and discovering, to my relief, that the world around me isn’t so bad as that nightmare had led me to believe. I have a diagnosis which is plausible, if not provable, and I’m going with it.
I’m done. Done with the searching. We’ve done all the searching we can do. I don’t have to keep looking. It’s over. We can stop. I can stop. I can stop.
The scavenger hunt is being officially suspended. Night is falling, and it’s gotten too dark out here in these woods to be able to find anything useful – if we find anything else at all. There’s no point in continuing to bark up tree after tree only to keep finding them empty. It’s time to call off the dogs and send everyone home. Including me. Especially me.
The alarms have stopped clanging. I still have pain, but I’m so used to it at this point that its occasional decrease is more noticeable than the pain itself. I also have a motley crew of side effects that have now attained the distinction of being more troublesome than the pain itself. I said as much to my doctor as I sat in his office yesterday, pressing myself upright in a straight-backed chair with a lumbar support behind me. “So, about the tramadol…it really only takes the edge off…”
“So you want to stop taking it.” He doesn’t play around, this guy.
“Can I? Can I stop right now?” I was surprised by how eagerly I agreed. I did want to stop taking it. But until this moment, I hadn’t realized how much.
Unfortunately, I can’t go off of it cold turkey, because my current dosage is so high. But with the addition of an anti-depressant that also reduces pain, I can start stepping down, if I want to.
And I do want to. I really, really, really want to. I don’t care about the pain any more. I do care that I have been stuck in this displaced state of being not-quite-in-touch with the world around me, flaky and forgetful, disconnected not just from other people but sometimes even the thoughts in my own head, for ten months and counting. I do care that I can’t just eat what I want. I do care that my skin is a mess and my mouth is so dry that I have to chew gum all day long. And there are other side effects, too, not the least of which are the effects on my GI tract (that I will spare the general public from) which have been extremely unpleasant.
If I’m to have pain, then fine, I’ll have pain. It’s a small price to pay for getting my brain and body back. I want to get back to my life, or any life, at this point. Whatever I can get is fine with me. I’ll complain about it later, but at least I’ll have one to complain about.
There’s a subtle difference between giving up and moving on. I’d been afraid of giving up too soon, and it’s still possible that I am. But in order to do the latter one must first do the former. They’re two adjacent steps in this (more or less) linear progression that I’ve littered with leavings and tears. And I have a sudden clarity about the one thing I’ve been simultaneously hoping for and fighting against for so long.
As long as I kept searching for a solution, a diagnosis, and/or a treatment, I could not get to where I am now, which is – dare I say – something like acceptance. But with this last MRI, another dead end and turn around the cul-de-sac, I finally feel like I can give myself permission to let it all go. I and my accumulated medical practitioners have looked everywhere and tried everything. There’s nowhere else to go. There’s nerve pain, but nerve ablations fix that, and with no physical cause found to explain it, further diagnostics seem pointless. I’d rather just take stock of my existing treatment options, pick what works best for me as best as I can tell from the inside of this body (whose treachery I am finally beginning to forgive) and discard the rest.
It’s been a long time since I’ve been on paved road. Last October I swung off into a ditch and have been struggling through tangles of weeds and unkempt trees ever since. But I can see pavement ahead. I caught a glimpse of it out of the corner of my eye in that doctor’s office when he told me the MRI arthrogram was normal. Now, with new resolve, I’m making my way towards it.
I don’t know where it goes and I don’t know whose it is. I’m tentative to call any road “mine” any more, since I’ve not had much luck in sticking to one. But I have a direction again. I have a goal. I’m going to make some sort of life out of all of this, knowing what I know, what I feel, what I can and cannot do. I’m going to use my recent education, both the B.S. degree and the life lessons so rudely thrust upon me at this relatively young age, and start laying a new foundation to replace the house I lost so many months ago.
I’m sure this brief period of clarity will soon be replaced my usual resentment and frustration at the world and at fate for doing this to me. But for now, I’m fixated on that piece of asphalt I caught sight of and I’m working my way towards it. For the first time, I don’t care if I’ve left some piece of this wilderness unexplored. I’m done with being thwarted and teased at every turn, with being heedlessly pulled through the uncaring wilds with no idea where I’m being pulled to and wondering if there’s even any purpose for it at all. I’ve slipped the harness and I am getting the hell out of here, for good or for ill, the sooner the better.
And who knows what will happen next.