I have a new huge level of respect for those of you living with chronic pain. It’s not that I didn’t have respect before, but I suddenly GET it a little more. Chronic pain is defined as pain lasting more than 12 weeks. I’m less than 3 weeks in and miserable.
I got out of bed a couple weeks ago and pain shot through my right shin. “Well, that’s weird,” I thought. I went ahead with my day, throwing on some clothes and heading to Target to meet up with my friend at the Starbucks there as planned.
We drank coffee made with love by our favorite baristas Karen and Sarah. (Hot Americano with a splash of heavy cream is my current kick.). Then we did a lap around Target. It hurt. Bad. It felt like my shin bone was separating from the muscle. My friend joked I had a shin-jury. I went home and parked myself on the couch.
It still hurt Thursday. I had to do some work at the college to prepare for the class I teach. I needed to pee. I was moving so slowly because of the pain I didn’t quite make it to the restroom, tinkling a bit in my pants. I tried to dry my undies the best I could with toilet paper.
The pain worsened as the day went on. I teach preschool teachers on Tuesday and Thursday evenings. I ended class early and hit the walk in clinic.
I thought they’d laugh at me being so clumsy I didn’t even remember hurting myself and tell me to stop being such a baby. I was hoping they’d have advice for easing the pain.
Instead I got, “You need to go to the emergency room right now. This could be a blood clot.”
ER Visit #1
Being told to go to the ER was unexpected and scary. My daughter insisted on going with me so I went home to get her. She drove us to the hospital. There are definitely benefits to having older teens (she’s 18).
I texted my sister on the way. “You just got a tattoo last week and then you got it wet on a cruise. I bet you have cellulitis.”
She asked if it was red and warm to the touch. It wasn’t.
“Don’t swim in poo with a fresh tattoo,” her boyfriend chanted.
I said, “That’s going to be the title of my memoir.”
We arrived at the ER at 8 pm. We were still in the waiting room at midnight so I made kiddo go home because it was a school night. I finally got called back right after she left.
My ankle and foot were so swollen I could hardly bend them.
The doctor said, “I think you have cellulitis and I’m going to start you on a heavy dose of a strong antibiotic,” as soon as he saw me.
He ordered an ultrasound to rule out blood clot and had the nurse deliver four aqua colored pills before the ultrasound tech arrived. That’s a full day’s worth of heavy duty antibiotics at once. Plus two extra strength Tylenol because the ER doesn’t give out anything stronger.
The ultrasound hurt, but showed no blood clots. The doctor came back and pointed out my ankle below my new tattoo was now turning red and warm to the touch, as was my shin. I was released with an RX for the aqua antibiotics at 3:30 am and ubered home.
ER Visit #2
I followed up with my primary care physician the next week after finishing the antibiotics. The swelling and redness were gone, but the shin pain was still very bad. He suggested I go back to the ER for X-rays when I pressed about next steps, unsatisfied with his “wait and see” approach.
I cried in frustration when nothing showed on a second ultrasound or on xrays. They didn’t know why I was still hurting. I was given an RX for 600 mg ibuprofen and a referral to see an orthopedic specialist.
My friend drove me to the specialist two days later to check on my shin-jury. The doctor reviewed the images and reports from both ER visits as well as my photos of the swelling. After examining my leg he said he thinks two things are going on. 1. That I did have an infection, but the antibiotics seemed to have done their job clearing it up before it spread to bone or blood. 2. That I also have some sort of injury to my shin. He suspects a stress fracture, but ligament or tendon issues are also possible.
He ordered an MRI, bumped me up to 800 mg ibuprofen with instructions to take it every 8 hours and ordered me to stay off my leg as much as possible. I spent the next 3 days watching Schitt’s Creek on my couch.
I had the MRI yesterday. It took a week for insurance approval. Rest and continuous ibuprofen helps, but it still hurts. I’m currently on a flight to Palm Springs, California for a conference (Alt Summit) booked months ago. My leg is throbbing in my seat from walking through the airport. I won’t get the MRI results until after my trip.
Hats off to those of you living with chronic pain. I am new to this and crossing my fingers it’s temporary, but it is awful. I am sorry to anyone who deals with constant pain.
Here’s what I’ve learned about chronic pain so far:
- It’s exhausting. Being in pain all the time is draining. But sleeping when in pain is very difficult. Then other body parts start to also hurt from fatigue, stress and overcompensating for the original painful parts.
- Answers are hard to get. I have been very proactive in trying to get answers because I want the pain to stop. I’m the one who suggested Xrays and then asked the ER what’s next when they didn’t see any reason for the pain. My primary care physician suggested I drank so much on my cruise I forgot I took a fall. I was never even tipsy. I felt brushed off.
- Pain medication is just as hard to get as answers. A walk-in clinic, two ER visits, a primary care physician and a specialist – and 800 mg ibuprofen is the highest pain assistance I’ve been given.
- A support network is crucial. My daughter accompanied me to the ER both times, has chauffeured me around (driving quite hurts) and took over all pet care and lots of household tasks. My friends near and far have checked on me. Friends have entertained me, taken me to appointments and pulled up chairs so I can prop up my leg when we go out. My bestie boo checked in from his Paris vacation to make sure I was taking the ibuprofen with food. The love, care and support has made the last few weeks easier. If you deal with chronic pain I hope you have a great support team. If not pop over to the lovely people on the Rambling Rach Facebook page and group. We’ll cheer you on.
So what’s my theory?
I suspect the infection occurred from soaking in a cruise ship hot tub. Hot tubs are full of germs. Or…from swimming in pig poo.
I wore red Mary Jane heels to dinner with some friends the night the cruise ended. They hurt. I walked a good distance on pavement in downtown Orlando. The shin pain hit 36 hours. I blame the heels.
But…damn…they are sexy.
And so not worth this pain.
If you see me limping around Palm Springs, come say “hey!”