An Elegy on Pain (aka the kinda-sorta diagnosis)
Today’s story, kiddos, is about pain.
As a masochist, I’m not unaccustomed to pain. Hell, I seek it out — but only under informed, consensual circumstances. That’s not what I’m talking about right now.
The kind of pain I’m referring to is the other kind, the kind you never seek out yet sometimes you can’t escape. I’ve been in that kind of pain for more than three and a half years.
Mine was a non-traumatic injury, and it came on over a period of months, so I can only speculate as to its origin(s). Was it the years-long habit of only sleeping on one side? The months of futons and deflating air mattresses in lieu of proper beds? The pinched nerve from my first day at a temp job where I didn’t have proper equipment — or maybe just my giant bewbs?
Until today, I didn’t even know what it was. Give a person enough years of agonizing abdominal pain and they can become inured to it, and even the sight of blood. Periods turn you into a warrior — in no small part because you usually suffer in silence. Female pain is improper, an unsuitable topic for public discussion.
So it made sense to ignore the pain in my shoulder as it settled it. I didn’t have health insurance, obvi, so I did some recommended stretches and hoped it’d go away. I had bigger things to worry about: my beloved cat got sick, and shortly thereafter Master’s harasser popped out of the woodwork like a pustulent, gibbering waste of space.
Years passed. Life went on. My shoulder nagged me, but I learned how to work around it. I learned to sleep differently (if more restlessly), moved differently. Every so often I’d rouse the pain to a point of it being unbearable, but there was always something more important than how I felt. Shit, I mentally beat up on myself for being a weenie.
My PCP was understanding, but she was realistic about my options. Physical therapy to strengthen my shoulder — and potentially take steps toward a proper diagnosis — would be expensive. I really needed stable health insurance before starting down this road.
Deep down, I figured it was a little tear from sleeping on my side so much. Shit happens, y’know? When I finally got health insurance and a referral to an osteopath, the first guy seemed shocked that I didn’t have a pinched nerve in my neck. The second guy dubiously referred me to physical therapy — but for some reason, that only made things worse. Three weeks ago a heat-and-stim session led to nerve pain so bad that I was out of work for two days.
The third specialist actually listened to me more than her predecessors. She moved my arm in a few ways that made the ol’ shoulder feel (as my tattoo artist would say) spicy, and suspected a labral tear. It made sense.
Two days ago was the MRI. Yet more agonizing pain from the shots and the dye shot right into the joint. More missed work because it hurt to do anything but prop myself diagonally on our battered couch.
Only a gif of furiously flailing seals can express my frustration.
Today I was so ready to hear the answer. I couldn't wait to hear the PA tell me that she’d figured things out, and the next step was to patch me up. I was already planning how to maximize any missed work time, figure out how to use talk-to-text and crank out a few stories.
Instead, she said, “Well, we did find something.” As in, not the thing they’d expected. Something that turns out to be a mass of soft tissue between three and four centimeters in diameter.
I thought she meant millimeters at first, the size of the nodules in my throat. It wasn’t until after I’d gotten back to work, when I measured out four centimeters on my cheerful pink plastic ruler that I realized that’s the length of the longest bone in my index finger.
Yes, there’s a chance it could be cancer. Probably not a significant one, thank Cthulhu — it’s likely just a lump of fatty cells, just like on my cat. I already told Master we were starting our own gang called the Left Side Lumpers, since he’s got a benign chonk on that side.
But holy fuck that is a big berg o' stuff. No wonder I’ve been in pain; the damn thing’s been squishing me from the inside out. Suddenly I don't feel so bad about bitching when my fingers tingle and my shoulder feels like it's going to fall off.
I'm in pain. So there. It's not going to stop me or hold me back, but it's a fact.
So the next step is a CT scan. Hopefully this’ll just prove to be my own bebe Adipose, but I think I’m going to go a bit easier on myself. For so long I thought I wasn’t even entitled to say, “Ouch,” when in truth there’s something larger than a silver dollar lodged inside me where it shouldn’t be.
In the meantime, I'm just going to keep things even-keeled as ever. I need a name for this evil little sucker. Pustulio? Ouchie McFuck? My last two neurons are saying hi to each other over and over instead of helping me think up something clever, so shout at me on Twitter or in the comments if the muse of fatty lumps inspires ya!
Until the next time, thanks for listening…