There is a Canadian TV series called Heartland that has run for about a million years. It takes place on a ranch and follows the lives of a family who put their hearts and souls into raising and training horses. At the head of the family is an old guy, Jack, who almost passes for Sam Elliott. On the outside, he seems a bit gruff, but on the inside is a kind man with a heart bigger than his ranch.
In one particular episode, the day goes to hell in a handbasket. One bad thing after another happens when finally, Jack snaps. Since there is no swearing on this program, a frustrated Jack states, “This day just keeps getting better.”
I called a neurologist’s office the other day and asked why I had yet to hear from them since my primary doctor submitted a referral a month earlier. My headache had gone from bad to worse and was now a constant presence. It comes in three forms. The first is what runs right up the back of my upper spine and into the back of my head. Then there is the pressure I feel that starts in my temples and runs down into my ears, creating a sense of pressure that I expect will pop and bring relief. It never happens. Finally, the third one runs around the front of my skull and down into my eyes. Best of all, they come with an incessant ringing that never lets up. I am also light sensitive to the point I often resort to wearing my prescription sunglasses when I am in stores.
The woman I speak to runs a check and tells me their office never received my referral. Without it, I can’t be seen. I then called my primary doctor’s office again. The previous calls from the two days prior resulted in being placed on hold forever. Frustrated, I hung up after waiting ten minutes.
A similar call to the ENT she wants me to see results in the same response. I tell myself I ought to be glad that at least my blood work went through even if I never heard back from the doctor.
A couple hours later, while at work, I finished making a delivery to a home that is about a mile from my doctor’s office, so I decided to stop by and speak to a face. When I got to the door, it was locked, but I could see people working at the front desk.
I then headed next door to the adjoining Urgent Care which has its lights on in the waiting room. I patiently wait for two others ahead of me to be helped. When it is my turn, a nice woman asked me what she could do for me. I replied,“I’d like to know what it’s going to take for me to talk to one of those people on the other side of the office you share so I can find out why my referrals have not been sent.”
Sensing my anger, she nicely apologizes for what will be the first of several. Eventually, her computer search claims the referrals were sent the day I was in for my check-up. Someone is lying which only makes me more pissed off. Since this nice woman also told me the office phones had been down for half a day, I know she is the liar because I haven’t gotten through to a human for two previous days. When she apologizes for the final time, in that same nice tone of hers, she assures me the referrals will be sent again. I leave understanding why some people go postal and shoot up places. My pellet gun is of no use, so I drive off.
I have just enough time to return to the store and clock out before I head to the pain clinic. Inside the examination room, I am asked what percentage of improvement I received from the epidural I had the previous month. When I tell the doctor about 25-30%, he says, “That’s not what we like to hear. Since the epidural we gave you for your mid back did not work and this one for your neck did very little, we would be wasting our time and your money to do any more.”
In just a year, I have gone from receiving three months relief from a neck epidural to hardly any. On top of that, my headache has both spread and increased to where I feel it 24/7. My finger dexterity is worse, and my grip has weakened. However, my neck rotation remains excellent, which baffles my doctors. This leads the doctor to say, “It’s time for more tests to see what is going on.” This means more MRI’s as well as nerve conduction tests. In my head, I hear, ˆCha ching, cha ching, cha ching.” I am a human ATM for the medical industry while they try to figure out the sources of my constant discomfort. I get why they call it practicing medicine. It’s all guess work.
My doctor then suggests I see a specific neurosurgeon as well as seeing the doctor who performed low back surgery on me five years ago.
I am asked how Lyrica is working on my pain since I switched over to it a month earlier from Gabapentin. I tell him it is either making me sleepier than the Gabapentin or it is my fatigue flaring up since my pain has increased. He then explains why other procedures the pain clinic offers won’t work on me which leaves me with just my hydrocodone to keep my pain in check.
My bladder is about to burst. I made sure not to pee before the appointment since I am supposed to be drug tested. When I am told they won’t drug test me this time, I seriously wonder whether I will make it back to the store in time to pee.
When I get in my car, there’s a text waiting for me from my boss who I do not remember the last time I saw because he finds he can miss coming to our store since he knows I can run the place. “Hey Jim, I know this is short notice, but can you cover the store for the rest of the day? I can’t get in today. Thanks.”
“This day Just keeps getting better,” I tell myself and I visualize myself dressed in western garb with a big mustache as I drive off to the store.
You miss a lot of things when you deal with constant pain. It doesn’t matter the source of it or the duration it lasts. Concentration is hard when your mind is reminded you are hurting. Oddly enough, for those with chronic pain, it is suggested to try concentrating on other things to distract your mind from the pain. Unfortunately, for many, they resort to abusing their prescribed opioids, alcohol, or any other vice they can dream up.
For me, I miss a lot of verbal interaction. Even with hearing aids, unless it is quiet and someone is speaking directly to me, chances are I won’t have a clue what you say. I’ve learned to laugh at myself over what I thought my wife said to me. I can’t imagine what others must be thinking when I take a wild stab at responding to what I think they said.
I am lucky. I know others with much worse chronic pain than mine. The funny thing is, they tell me they can’t imagine what mine is like. With most anything else that happens to us in life, eventually, we learn to adjust and in time our pain becomes relatively normal. We think our pain level is a three on the pain scale, but we are unaware we do not smile or laugh at things, we look pale from our discomfort, and most any “normal” person would respond to similar pain as an eight.
The worst thing is realizing your life is back to the point where as soon as you get out of bed, you are greeted with pain and are reminded it will only get worse as the day unfolds. For the fortunate, when their days unfold, they really do get better. However, for many silent sufferers, it’s an exercise in frustration, pain management, and an understanding that today’s pain is likely to not be as bad as what the next day will bring.
The store I began working at two months ago has gone out of business. It happened quickly. The owner was informed on Monday the rent was being nearly doubled and he decided he didn’t need the grief. He has other stores that turn a large profit so why eat away at it by paying more rent at a store that is lucky to break even each month? By Friday, the place was empty and I was out of a job again.
I tell myself this is a good thing. Now I will have the time for all these appointments if the referrals ever go through. However, I also worry about what will happen with me if I have nothing but free time and all this discomfort? Even though I come home from work exhausted and am usually asleep before 8pm, working does keep me busy and focused on other things despite my pain Without work, I am concerned my depression will take over as my pain becomes increasingly present.
Then again, maybe the break is what I need to get ahead of what has the best of me. Either way, I am about to find out.
Jim is a life long resident of California and retired school teacher with 30 years in public education. Jim earned his BA in History from CSU Chico in 1981 and his MA in Education from Azusa Pacific University in 1994. He is also the author of Teaching The Teacher: Lessons Learned From Teaching. Jim considers himself an equal opportunity pain in the ass to any political party, group, or individual who looks to profit off of hypocrisy. When he is not pointing out the conflicting words and actions of our leaders, the NFL commissioner, or humans in general, he can be found riding his bike for hours on end while pondering his next article. Jim recently moved to Camarillo, CA after being convinced to join the witness protection program.