Today is the four month anniversary of my eighth arm/shoulder surgery.
An unexpected car accident, four and a half years, eight resulting surgeries – and now four months of recovery.
Well, life is oftentimes a very different experience than you expect it to be.
I don't write as much about my non-functioning arm as I did previously. I try not to whine too much when I have a bad pain day, or experience a flare-up that lasts for days on end.
For one thing, I read a few blogs written by chronic pain patients. As much as I understand every single word the authors write (and oh, do I!) … even I get tired of hearing nothing but negativity and – yes, whining.
Don't get me wrong, I do my fair share of griping, complaining and whining too …
I just work very hard to keep it to a minimum.
I really believe, when you find yourself in a situation like mine, you have to force yourself to concentrate on whatever positives you can find. I realize that isn't going to happen every moment, or even every day. Let's be honest, there are many days when it's really a struggle to just breathe when you live with intense pain.
Pain is so overwhelming.
Sometimes, it really is therapeutic to write about it and/or just vent.
There's also an abundance of negative people who are perfectly healthy. Finding positives in life can, at times, be difficult for all of us. It's so much more difficult when you have to live with ongoing pain.
But still ….
I think there's a lot to be gained by turning my personal focus outward as much as I can, vs. dwelling on "my situation."
Maybe that's why photography resonates with me so much. With a camera to my eye I become focused on finding the positives surrounding me. I find myself searching for beauty, and discovering it in even the smallest of things. It's better to stay distracted from what my own body is doing and saying.
I also know you, my readers, jumped through hoops to help me get my bionic arm. The outpouring of support and love you gave me was amazing. If I write a post saying how much pain I'm in, I feel I'll just come off as ungrateful for all you've done for me.
And I'm not ungrateful.
Not at all.
In fact, I feel forever indebted to everyone who made an effort on my behalf.
At the same time, I feel like you deserve to know my progress because so many of you have been involved in my story.
So, here I am … four months post-surgery.
I have twenty four electrodes in my arm and shoulder. Wires inside my body run down my spine and a mini-computer in my abdomen operates the whole contraption.
Is it helping?
The neurostimulator (because that's what my bionic device is called) doesn't improve the function of my arm. I knew that would be the case before the surgery was ever performed. The whole purpose of the neurostimulator is to decrease pain, not magically make my damaged arm work again.
Since my physical therapy was discontinued, I've actually lost some of the function in my arm. It scares me. I know I should be in ongoing physical therapy, at least a few times each month. At the same time, I doubt if that's going to ever happen.
I do what I can on my own.
I worry a lot about losing more function.
It weighs heavily on my mind, all the time.
So what about the pain?
I always have pain. Every single moment of every single day, I'm in pain.
The difference, with the neurostimulator, is that a good deal of the time I can now "manage" my pain level.
Not always, mind you – there are many days/times/moments when I don't feel like I'm managing it at all. (Like this week, as a matter of fact.)
But overall, the neurostimulator has brought down the intensity of my pain a very important notch or two. What that means is, I can deal with my life a little bit better. When I take pain medication, the medication is now more effective because my pain level isn't to the point where nothing can touch it.
I still need pain meds. I most likely always will. I had hoped I wouldn't, but I do.
Towards the end of each day, by around 3:00 or so, my arm has had enough and begins protesting louder and louder. The pain escalates in direct proportion to how much I've attempted to use my arm during the day.
If I make it to 4 or 5:00 without any type of pain medication, it's a good day. It also means I probably had a day of doing next to nothing. Using my arm, or attempting to use it, aggravates the damaged nerves.
For most of the last several years, I would try to "tough it out" through as much pain as I could. I was afraid of becoming addicted to pain meds. I felt like I "should" be able to handle life without them.
What I've learned from my pain specialist, is that it's a lot more effective to nip pain in the bud before it spirals out of control. (It has something to do with rapidly firing nerves and blah, blah, blah.) That means I use pain meds more frequently now, but overall I'm consuming less of them. Instead of waiting until I'm in such bad shape I need ten pain pills a day, for multiple days – I now take a much smaller amount, but on a regular basis.
He has taught me many other ways to "manage" my pain too, so I can live a better quality of life.
My life isn't remotely close to being a pain-free life, but it's a better life than I had a year ago.
If I use my arm a lot (or try to) my pain level will increase rapidly. I still have pain flare-ups which are intense and can last for days. However, they're often less intense now that I have the neurostimulator. A pain flare-up that might have lasted two weeks before, will now last a week.
Basically, everything is the same, except now – it's a little LESS SO.
Frequently, the sensation the neurostimulator makes irritates my arm. I rotate having it on, and off. I change it's frequency and intensity sometimes several times in a day. It's not perfect and it's not the end-all solution to pain. As my doctor has said to me repeatedly, "It's just one tool in the arsenal we need to fight this with."
Still … there was a time when I was popping ten pain pills a day, curled up in a ball whimpering, and hoping someone would please put me out of my misery.
Things are better.
Things aren't perfect.
Things won't ever be "perfect."
Things are, however, better.
© Twenty Four At Heart