Chronic

A number of years ago I was in a pretty ugly car accident. It was almost midnight, I was on my way home, and some criminal was leading a high speed chase of at least 30 police vehicles from three different departments (two separate cities and the highway patrol). He ran a red light in a residential area going about 60 miles per hour and slammed into my car, T-bone style. I spun through the intersection, he kept going, cops in pursuit. I found out later that he had stopped a few blocks down the street and tried to escape on foot, only to be caught by an enormous German Shepherd, the crook was taken to the hospital to treat his dog bites, and then to jail, where he languished for weeks. The dog was given a police treat and loaded back into the K9 truck to catch the next criminal. The news reports said the driver was evading police, who were only trying to pull him over for a headlight violation. Uh, that’s not true. The only thing I really remember pre-impact was two headlights coming right at me. But, whatever, I guess it’s good that a) he was caught and b) he miraculously had insurance, not that I knew that for another 6 weeks (because, who calls their insurance agent from¬† jail), but whatever.

Anyway, as you can imagine, there was quite a bit of damage done to my car (totaled! RIP Daisy, the adorable yellow VW bug!), and to myself. I had pretty severe whiplash, bulging discs in my neck, I felt like my spine was compressing into my chest cavity, my pelvis—which is supposed to be a nice, even, triangle shape—got twisted almost off the base of my spine (yes, really), and my ribs were so far out of place they were literally cutting off circulation down my left arm, which was slowly going numb while I waited for an appointment with a spine specialist.

The day of that accident I was in the best physical shape of my life, I had run 12 miles without stopping, my last long run prior to a half marathon I was signed up for a few weeks later. After the accident, I could hardly walk, and anything more than a block left me in a sobbing heap. I couldn’t sit, sleep, or stand without incredible pain. I spent months packed in ice and going to two (or three) different doctor’s appointments a day, I was in and out of neck traction, trying to prevent my neck from corkscrewing itself into my chest. I lost my job, learned what a jerk my boyfriend was, and–for the first time–about my Dad’s incredible bedside manner.

Fast forward 8 years. I can run again, but haven’t quite made it back to that 12 mile mark. My neck bothers me fairly regularly, but it’s usually something a trip to the physical therapist or chiropractor can fix. I sleep with an orthopedic pillow and often with a wedge under my knees to keep my spine in alignment. My pelvis is…well, it’s a process. Make a “gun” shape with your thumb and pointer finger on both hands, now put your thumbs together and your pointers together, the latter pointing to the floor, palms towards you. See that nice, even triangle? That’s what your pelvis is supposed to look like. Now, take your left hand and rotate it 90 degrees, palm parallel to the floor. That’s what happened to my pelvis. Your pelvis is a joint—granted, one that isn’t supposed to move all that often—in women it is supposed to unhinge a bit for birthing babies. So, I didn’t shatter my pelvis, I just hyper-extended it in a major way. And sometimes, despite YEARS of physical therapy, it slips out of place and needs to be popped back into place. Yes, it’s as painful as it sounds.

That experience aside, post-accident my biggest problems come from my ribs. Ribs are also joints, but again, not ones that are supposed to move very much, just enough to allow you to take a deep breath without anything breaking. During my collision-induced spin I managed to yank my emergency break hard enough to stop myself before I slammed into any other vehicles. But, the combination of the spinning car, spinning body, seat-belt restraint, and sudden, violent stop popped my ribs out (8 of them) and tore and stretched the muscles in my back in unnatural ways. My muscles were no longer strong enough or tight enough to hold my ribs in place, and again, despite years of therapy, my ribs do not stay put. I have anywhere from 3-6 ribs put back in place every time I visit the physical therapist. The ones that are particularly horrible are the ones that are underneath my shoulder blades, they pop out towards my shoulder (not in towards my lungs), so every time I move my arms there is what feels like bone grating against bone. Washing my hair is out of the question, simple tasks like doing the dishes or vacuuming bring me to tears, breathing hurts. I can usually find one position, carefully padded and supported by pillows, that will not hurt, and it is not unheard of for me to spend two full days laying there, not even picking up the remote to advance Netflix to the next episode, I just wait for it to advance itself.

Last Thursday my ribs and back were so out of whack I could not brush my teeth, or comb my hair, or sit up by myself. It was excruciating, perhaps the worst episode I’ve ever experienced, and it pisses me off that the reason they popped out was because I rolled over and slept on my side for a few hours one night. That’s it. Seriously. And, my ribs popped out like comically too-tight shirt buttons after Thanksgiving; my pain was at an 8 of a 10 point scale. And, of course, my physical therapist is 700 miles away at the University of Utah. Of course.¬† I have a couple of foam rollers that I’ve learned how to use to help nudge my ribs back in place. I tried, I really did. But I couldn’t even get myself in position on the roller without sobbing. I was a complete wreck. Luckily, thanks to a recommendation by Kayla, I got into see a chiropractor who managed to force a few of the worst ribs back to where they were supposed to go. I still have a few out, but I can function like a normal human (showering, brushing my own teeth, etc). I have a follow up appointment tomorrow where I hope he can get these last ones back in place.

You want to know the suckiest part about chronic pain? The chronic part. At least for me, there is no real permanent solution. Short of slicing open my back and fusing every single rib to my spine, there is no way to keep them in place (and, uh, that sounds horrifying in and of itself). This is something I will deal with for the rest of my life. A few weeks of general discomfort followed by a couple of days of horrifying, excruciating pain. Rinse and repeat.

Harriet sig