Chronic: The Pain We Don’t See, Chapter 4

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Top illustration by Tim Forkes

Chapter 4: Flying Solo 

Thursday: March 19, 2020 

Like most everything else, TMS is on hold and who knows when I will get to it. Isolation combined with all the closings of businesses has the capacity to make dealing with flare-ups of pain challenging. 

Massage, something that helps me relax, is not an option for the time being. Acupuncture, which has done wonders for my headaches, is off the table. Chiropractic adjustments which keep me aligned are not available. This leaves me with pain meds or living in pain. And as if all this is not enough, I learned the other day the hand surgery I had last summer for the trigger finger on my right hand has not worked. My right ring finger locks in a curled position again and straightening it out hurts like hell. 

All non essential businesses are closed for the time being and all non emergency medical problems no longer matter. As long as I can continue getting my Vicodin and Robaxin refilled, the rest of my non drug treatments have to wait. 

I have to keep reminding myself this on days like today when my body hurts all over. My arms are feeling like they are being ripped from my body, elbows are tender to the touch, and my hands and fingers are numb, except for that damn trigger finger. My neck and shoulders are tied in knots from tension, my headache has returned along with the loud ringing, popping, and banging sounds. 

It’s only 10:30 in the morning and all I can think about is can I knock out this pain by distracting myself or should I go pop some pills? 

There are others stuck at home worse off than me. Some are fighting off this virus. Some have verbally, physically, or sexually abusive family members who themselves are on edge. There are kids who rely on their schools to feed them a couple of square meals a day because their parents can’t or won’t. There are elderly folks, alone and wondering who might take them to get some much needed groceries. 

I think of others and the challenges they face and no matter how debilitating my pain gets, I’ll take it over the difficulties they have. 

Tuesday: March 24, 2020 

I have been pretty fortunate while stuck at home like the rest of the nation as a result of this pandemic. It has affected the lives of everyone in the country in some form or other. For me, it has been a minor annoyance to date, but it could become much worse depending on how long it drags on. My pain has been pretty well under control. I managed to knock it out after my previous entry, but today, I can feel myself about to be slammed with a big flare-up. 

Maybe it was caused by the half hour I spent using a hula hoe and rake in the backyard. I didn’t even break a sweat doing it, but the angle of my torso and the strain it placed on my neck may have been enough to cause the back of my head to feel like it was clubbed by a sledge hammer. My neck and shoulders have tightened up and the burning down my spine tells me I need to recline soon or I will be a total wreck. 

Then again, maybe it is the cold Alaskan front we are just beginning to feel. Big weather changes where the temperatures drop and the moisture level increases can be a trigger, although those usually result in my entire body aching. Right now, it is my upper torso which tells me the source of my discomfort is in my neck. 

I have been more cautious with what I tackle now that I don’t have access to my usual sources for pain relief. I am holding my running pace back a bit and instead of running six days in a row before taking a day off to do rehab and recovery work, I am scaling back to three successive runs and a rehab day. It has been almost three weeks since my last chiropractic adjustment and the same since I last received acupuncture. I am holding up well, all things considered. My last massage was about two weeks ago, and I feel like I could use one again, but this virus has made it impossible to get one. 

My supply of Vicodin and Robaxin are plentiful so I know I can use my medication if I need it. However, I do not go to the pain clinic for another three weeks which I must do before getting my meds refilled. This virus has the capacity to overload our pharmacies and I would feel better if my stock of medication was on the high side until things calm down, whenever that might be. 

I have also been monitoring my level of depression and anxiety. My mood is doing well. I know these are trying times for all of us and I actually enjoy knowing it means we all need to do whatever we can to help others out. It seems silly, but I feel a little more useful knowing I can do things like post daily home workouts for people who do not have access to their gyms. It made me feel good knowing the other day I helped my neighbor with her lawns because her husband is stuck in Hawaii and will have to be quarantined when he returns soon. Feeling of use helps my mood. 

However, I am also more anxious than usual and I think this is because I know I can’t come and go as I please. I also worry about my children, and the people I know who are unable to work now that the country has shut down. It concerns me to see my wife head off to work, even though I know she is usually working alone. Soon, that will change when her boss reopens her business which will expose Charlene to greater risk. 

Then there is the not knowing. Do I already have it and am not showing any symptoms yet? Will I come down with it and if I do, how severe of a case will it be? I fear the same for Charlene as well, even more so because this virus attacks the lungs. I like to think I have very strong lungs thanks to decades of endurance training. Charlene, while a much healthier eater than me, does not workout like I do and it concerns me if she gets something that attacks her lungs. 

But today, I am back to feeling the multiple levels of discomfort that come with my pain. Perhaps if I can knock it out, I can get back to feeling less anxious again. It’s still March and already it has been a shit storm of a year. I hope for all of us it improves soon. 

Thursday: April 2, 2020 

This virus has paralyzed the nation in a way nothing has before in my lifetime. Life is mostly at a standstill for everyone and it is no where close to peaking. The death toll of this thing is still in its early stages and every day the news gets worse. It does not help that an increasing number of people are losing faith in the president and his ability to make any headway on this. It has been left to each of the states to figure out how to deal with this virus and with a shortage of supplies and lack of hospital beds, many people will die who might not otherwise have had our president and his staff taken this illness more seriously. 

In California, like most other states, we are all pretty much confined to our homes and left to cross our fingers we are spared of this illness. Unfortunately, my wife is working at the medical office she has been at since last fall. Her employer has cut back on staff and I would be perfectly happy if she sent Charlene home. However, I do not see this happening for now so I worry about her being exposed to this virus. 

As for my depression, it feels better controlled, most likely because of my heightened state of stress. However, while my depression is less of an issue, I am far more anxious. Other than working out, there just is not much to be done around home. The yard is in good shape and the house is small enough to where maintaining it does not require much work. I have plenty of time to read, but with my anxiousness, I find it hard to follow a plot line. Everything in the news is all COVID related whether it is news, sports, entertainment, science, or anything else. There is only so much I can absorb without becoming completely consumed by it and nothing else. 

As for my chronic pain, it is still there and flares up from time to time. However, I can’t do much for it other than swallow pills. I tell myself if this is the worst I have to sacrifice because of this virus then I have no reason to complain. Millions of people are out of jobs. Yesterday, I received my pension check on time. My oldest daughter is out of work. My other daughter lives in Brooklyn, right smack in the middle of the worst area hit to date. My son has a wedding planned for early September that may not happen if this thing still hovers. I am lucky and as long as the people I cherish most remain healthy, I have no reason to complain. 

I am spending more time in conversation with my friends on Facebook. I am worried about a couple who are experiencing hard times. There is nothing I can do other than lend an ear because we are all asked to remain at home as much as possible. A trip to the store could kill you all because you come into contact with a virus spread by someone infected who most likely has no idea they are contagious because they have yet to show signs of any symptoms. If cancer is a silent killer, COVID is an invisible one and from the reports I have read by those who have gone through it, it is not one to mess with. 

And despite all of this, I find myself wanting to be around people more and it’s not because I am an extrovert. Part of me feels it is just a matter of time before we all contract this virus so why not get it now when my local hospital is not overwhelmed? Once this thing hits my area full force, we will be no different than anywhere else and be left to fend for ourselves. 

I’d love nothing more than a relaxing massage today. That’s not going to happen for a while. Now that spring has arrived, I wouldn’t mind checking out a few stores and shopping for clothes. It would be nice to be able to do more than just wave hello to my neighbors. Mostly, I just want us all to return to normalcy so we can get back to living our lives. At this rate, I won’t be surprised if it’s another year before this happens. 

Thursday: April 9, 2020 

Other than the death count rising, not much has changed in the past week in the fight against COVID-19. If one thing is clear it is no one is clear just what is going to happen. Predictions seem to change daily and there is a political tug of war going on between keeping citizens at home and moving to open up the economy. It does not help that there is a presidential election in November and our president wants to create the impression he has single handedly defeated this threat and deserves another four-year term. I could not disagree more, but because I never set out to write this and make it about politics, I will refrain from going into greater detail and let this thing play out. 

There continues to be an ebb and flow with my pain. Today, I am pretty well lit up with discomfort and hit the medicine cabinet before noon. The weather has not helped with storms coming and going and the failed surgery for my trigger finger continues to hurt worse each day. Tomorrow, I have an appointment with the pain clinic and I am hoping they can inject it to ease my pain. 

I have to remind myself there are scores of people across the nation who have had to put their own medical issues on hold while we are on lockdown mode. Most days, my pain is manageable with meds. While I get a lot of help from my chiropractor, acupuncturist, and the occasional massage, I am managing without them. However, there are too many people in this nation going without treatments far more important than mine and it seems we need to find more ways to make these treatments available. 

Today, I had to force myself to complete all of the circuit workout I planned. Being on lockdown has made it too easy to procrastinate or not complete some workouts in their entirety. My pain and discomfort become excuses not to do some things and I have to stop this practice. So today, I got through six three station circuits, each of which I completed three times. I know I will feel it tomorrow, but I also know I can step things up a notch or two with my strength work. I have leaned too much on my new treadmill and run more often than I need to and because I have, I have neglected my strength work. I have to remind myself I have to continue to do things that may be more uncomfortable now than they were before this arm weakness and pain struck me. It can either be an excuse for not doing things or a motivation to keep trying to move forward. 

Like everything else in life, if I stop moving forward, it won’t be long before life passes me, or worse, runs my ass over. I am not ready to let that happen.