It’s been 366 days since I pulled off what has proven to be the most unbelievable self-inflicted injury on the record books: I closed the back of a Toyota 4-Runner on myself while camping last Labor Day. I’ll wait while you re-read that and then try to picture exactly how I pulled that off. It’s ok. I’m used to the incredulous stares.
In the past year, this journey has taught me many things — some good, others not so much. Here are a few of my favorites:
1. Our healthcare system is a mess. I know this isn’t surprising to any of you. Navigating the red tape of the medical community, especially when it became entangled with the insurance companies, was quite honestly, the most painful part of this process. I have been personally seen by nine different medical professionals, including three orthopedic surgeons with a shoulder specialty, two physiatrists and two physical therapists, five of which referred me around just to avoid surgery (which is what I ultimately wanted). There were a few moments where I genuinely felt like my quality of life and well-being were the deciding factor, even when it got to the point of being highly frustrating to me as I waited for relief. For the most part, I felt like I was at the mercy of doctors whose schedules were too busy to fit me in.
In the middle of everything, my company switched insurance plans with very little notice and the new plan didn’t cover the same care team I had before. While the surgeon I got stuck with turned out to be pretty good, the whole HMO thing sucks ass. If you want to hear how I feel about my company dictating my medical decisions, it starts with this far before I get to the Hobby Lobby case.
And don’t get me started on the insurance run around.
2. I’m stronger than I thought I was. Believe me, I have never had a high tolerance for pain. But after giving birth without pain meds, I realized something – while pain is very real, it can be mitigated with the power of your mind. Don’t get me wrong – I’ve had more than a few days where it felt like the Wolverine was coming out of my shoulder socket. Up until surgery, I was able to manage the pain and inflammation mostly with diet, ibuprofen and a topical ointment. I did have three injections, two of which helped the pain, and the third caused such excruciating pain that I thought I was going to rip my arm from my socket just to beat myself over the head with it.
It was really important to me not to become a victim to my pain and feel like I needed hare core pain meds. I know how easily those things can become addicting and that’s the last thing anyone really needs. Perhaps if our doctors wouldn’t be so quick to dole out the meds, this wouldn’t be such a prevalent issue.
3. The shoulder is a complex joint. I never realized how much work your shoulder does until I had managed to incapacitate mine. Fortunately, I injured my non-dominant arm, but even then, I grew a whole new respect for those that live with disabilities. Basic tasks like getting dressed, opening a jar, buckling your seatbelt become ridiculously challenging when you don’t have full use of that joint. Even after surgery, when they cleaned the whole thing out so I was like new again, my poor rotator cuff complex, which had managed to escape unscathed, was so atrophied that most of my PT has been focused on strengthening those muscles first, then getting mobility back into the joint.
I still enjoy freaking people out by all the anatomy I’ve learned. “Well the doctor is pleased that I have no damage to my the nerves in my brachialplex, but there is definitely some synovitis in the acromial-clavicular joint that they’ll remove arthroscopically before addressing the tendonesis in the bicep.” I’m ready for my residency now.
4. I have the most amazing support group. Aside from Dale shuttling me to and from surgery (along with the comical attempt to help me get dressed afterward) and picking my mom up from the airport at 1am, I was amazed at all the other friends that jumped up to help and comfort me in my time of need. I still can’t believe it. I really do have a bunch of truly amazing people in my life and for that, I am beyond blessed.