Arm on fire! Arm on fire! Three or four times a night, flung into a cage with live electrical wires lashing my arm and back. Screaming in the never-long-enough shower like a prisoner, “Stop the pain! Please, God! Please, Mama! Stop! Stop!” Flinging the damned useless arm against the wall in hopes it will fall off. I’m an animal in a leg-hold trap.

In the few moments of relatively pain-free sanity each day, I try to figure out what the hell can be happening. Certainly these pain sessions are not helping my underlying condition. If my thesis is anywhere near correct, it can’t help to have these huge, unstoppable waves of adrenaline coursing through the body. I’m wearing out—even heard myself scream, “Let me die!” a couple of times. How long can this last?

Finally I trot off to Dr. T with my half-baked theory, that my super-high CRP, still at 100 instead of 2, has triggered the old injury from a quarter century ago. Is there anything in the world of painkillers that will help with nerve pain? Without devastating the liver or kidneys?

I first ask Dr. J. and then Dr. T. Both docs come up with amitriptyline, the “little blue pill” used to calm edgy housewives of yore and give them blessed sleep. I am so desperate to escape my right arm that I try the stuff. When you’re in this much pain, you’ll try anything, even prescription drugs.

The little blue pill convinces my stomach to hurl up dinner, which happens to be the first regular meal I’ve cooked in weeks. Oh, well, chalk it up as another bit of weight loss. The important issue is, will sleep happen?

Well. Six hours’ sleep is better than under four hours but hardly the result I am looking for. I still wake up screaming, if only once or twice. Maybe what is really needed is something to bring down that pesky CRP score, which is supposed to be 1 or 2 but has now crept up to 104, meaning the entire body is in flames.

Time to do a little research online, which yields two answers: Omega threes (which happen to reside, somewhat neglected, in the fridge) and acupuncture (which I’ve been considering anyway). So, down the hatch with the not-too-icky Omegas and off I trot to my friendly neighborhood acupuncturist. Many years ago, acupuncture was the ONLY thing that would lift the terrible nerve pain emanating from the L5-S1 disc. I can hardly wait for similar relief this time.

Our acupuncturist is so generous that the MSP insurance actually pays for up to ten sessions a year with him. What a relief! Maybe ten sessions will do the trick.

The first sessions is peaceful and soothing, in a room with up to four other people in recliners, all with a few needles sticking up from various bits of anatomy. Some lie blissfully asleep. Five minutes after leaving the office, however, I feel the pain return. Streaming with tears, I turn the car around and go back; E. sends me home with a needle in one ear, which gets me through the night.

Then the pain begins to happen during sessions. I can hardly scream or even sob in that room of blissed-out patients; so I press the panic button E. provides each of us. He restores harmony with reiki or different placement of needles. The pain subsides and the mind calms.

The third time the pain attacks during a session, as the tears continue a quiet flow over my face to sarturate the linens behind my head, my mind turns to why this is happening. Astonishing thoughts arise.

I was a lawyer when the accident happened a quarter-century ago. A personal-injury lawyer. Yet I never analyzed my own injuries as was my habit with all my clients. Neither did my lawyers in the lawsuit that followed the accident.

The broken left leg—sure, that was a given; there’s a ton of case law that tells you what a broken leg is worth.

The bunged-up back—that was fought over, for four long years, until the orthopedic doctor who had fixed the broken leg admitted missing the back injury.

The fibromyalgia that developed within a couple of years—another big fat fight over that, because, as we all know, ambulance-chasing personal-injury lawyers know how to fake that mythical illness and who could blame “Miss van Loon”, anyway, for wanting a permanent holiday from practising law with her jackass partner? There’s the case in a nutshell.

Notice: not a word was expended on the injured right arm and shoulder—I fell onto my right side—or the potential concussion or brain injury, although my head banged the concrete and I was out cold for at least 45 minutes.

A good lawyer presents the client’s likely future pain and suffering, care expenses and income losses. None of that was ever discussed in the context of a messed-up right arm and shoulder or the loss of consciousness. I had good lawyers—once I’d booted my husband off the case—and yet nothing ever happened with those issues. Nobody said, “Your Lordship, our client has an x% chance of her right arm and shoulder going crazy if that upper disc blows, and that is also a result of the accident.”

For the first time in all these years, I’m questioning how the case was handled, and why.

To understand the accident, imagine walking your favorite Barbie doll down a sidewalk as she chats with Ken. Suddenly, there’s a deep hole in the sidewalk right in front of Barbie, a hole just a little wider than one of those lovely long legs. They don’t see it. Barbie’s right foot steps right into the hole and down she goes, her leg in the hole right up to the crotch. Her other leg breaks at the ankle under the strain. She lands on her right shoulder and bangs her pretty airhead on the sidewalk. Ken notices Barbie has stopped talking and is lying like a dead doll on the concrete. He doesn’t realize there’s a hole until he notices Barbie now has only one leg. He must act! He must get her out of that hole! With heroic strength, he pulls on Barbie until her right leg clears the sidewalk level. Wow, what a hole! At least 15 feet deep.

To accomplish that feat, Ken, who is fortunately a foot taller than Barbie, must hook his arms under hers, haul her dead weight high enough up into the air to clear the hole before somehow letting her gently back down onto the sidewalk without giving her head another thwack on the concrete. Once she is lying down again, he rushes to the nearest business, a convenience store a block away, buys a bag of ice, rips off his expensive 100%-cotton court shirt and wraps the rapidly swelling broken left leg with a makeshift icepack. By this time, nearby residents are arriving on the scene and Ken, regaining his brain, begs them to call 911. (The cellphone age had not yet begun.) It takes forever for the ambulance to arrive. Barbie doesn’t come to until well after their arrival. She’s clearly in shock.

What would you have done in Ken’s plastic shoes? Move the patient or call for professional help?

How much of the injuries are attributable to stepping into the hole? How much to yanking the maiden in distress out of a narrow, deep aperture?

I haven’t crept close to this thought before. At the least, the rescue must have torqued the back and shoulders a good one. Then there was that expert engineering report that my husband ordered up—was it designed to absolve him by proving that the hole was 100% at fault? It was thrown out of court and no one would tell me why. Hmm….

There was a whole lot of bungling going on in this case. Today, 25 years later, I get to suffer the fiery consequences. Nice.

It’s not the legal issue that’s making me cry even harder although the pain begins to abate. After all, courts generally don’t blame good Samaritans for bungling a rescue. What is so sad is that my Ken didn’t stop to think about the consequences to the Barbie he presumably loved—and then never owned up to his part in my injuries. His lack of courage in never once raising the subject hurts—a lot, even after all these years.

I let the tears go and gradually peace creeps over me like those warmed blankets you get in the hospital just before surgery. It’s going to be all right. It is all right. Ken couldn’t be anyone but Ken. My Ken’s nature had him forever leaping into the breach to save people from perceived disaster; sometimes his actions worked out well, even if not thought out well. Other times, not so much. If I’d fallen into a more conventional cavity, his actions would have worked out fine. With this peculiar hole, I was dealt one of the not-so-much hands.

I could waste yet more precious lifetime blaming myself for being a less pro-active patient than I am now. Why didn’t I persist in asking that the head and arm injuries be investigated?

Simply put? The defense had me cowed. I somewhat agreed with their argument that I should be more stalwart, less of a wuss. I should stick to the main problems—the broken leg and the messed-up back. I was a personal-injury lawyer and should know better.

I do know better. Today I know that it pays to note down everything, even the symptoms that your self-talk tells you are probably irrelevant, or a sign of weakness. Tell your inner critic to shut up—you just jot it all down. Be fearless. After all, neither your Ken, your inner critic or even your doctor knows what will come back to haunt you in twenty-five years.


Image by RomitaGirl67 on Flickr and used under a Creative Commons License.

This post and others made possible with help from generous contributors to the Wellness 4 Wolffy campaign. If you enjoy this blog and want to see more posts like this one, please help support Wolffy in her quest to get well.

An image saying "Wellness 4 Wolffy" in blue text. Two wolves stand howling on either side of the text, and the number 4 rests over a paw print.


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