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Physical Therapy that Wasn't

Trying to reboot as 2017 begins, I attempted physical therapy for my pinched spinal nerve. The therapy appointment lasted only 30 minutes as I discovered the horror that is electrical stimulation and heat on an inflamed spinal cord.

Diagnosed with radiculopathy, a pinched and inflamed nerve root in my lumbar column, the treatment is physical therapy, anti-inflammatory medications, and time. My therapy schedule was to be every other day for six weeks.

The first session began with the therapist measuring range of motion and asking the basic questions.

How long have I been in pain? Since birth.
No, how long has it been bad? Since birth.

Doctors can dismiss it and people assume I'm okay because I walk about and work, but I am always in severe pain. My lower back, shoulder, neck, hips… they all ache. The brachial-plexus injury at birth, the years in a back brace, and somehow doctors still don't believe what isn't in an x-ray or MRI. I hurt. A lot.

The therapist placed two patches with stimulators on my lower back. He said to let him know when I could feel the tingle. Then, I was supposed to recline on a bed. That didn't work. It hurt a lot, like my leg being pulled out of my hip socket. He decided to have me sit. Sitting for more than a few minutes starts to hurt, too, but I agreed.

It wasn't long before I was gripping my knees with white knuckles. The pain in my lower back increased dramatically. I felt sick. I started coughing, feeling nauseous. Nobody responded when I called for assistance. Nobody was around.

I removed the patches myself and walked to the front of the clinic. I said I was leaving.

I texted my wife to come pick me up, because there was no way I could drive the two miles back to our house.

The therapist met me in the lobby and offered several cups of cold water. I was shaking and sweating, feeling like I was about to pass out. This was not a good experience.

And so, the reboot for the new year isn't quite off to the start I had hoped.

People often assume my short temper and rushing about are from autism. Chronic pain is much harder to manage and deal with than people realize. As with migraines, which often follow the back, neck, and shoulder pain, there is no good "management" for pain that doesn't impair my mind. When the pain is reduced, I sleep. Pain leaves you exhausted, unable to tolerate the least of annoyances. When that pain recedes, sleep is almost instantaneous.

Many of the autistics I've met or interviewed have other chronic conditions. When you are uncomfortable, you are not going to be charming. Much of the time, I simply want to escape pain. I'm not socially skilled, but when my pain is at its worst, I really don't want to deal with interactions.

Physical therapy will have to wait. For now, time is the best treatment for my back issues.

Comments

  1. I'm so sorry you had this awful experience, that the therapist want nearby to assist you. Chronic pain is quite a challenge and you explain some often missed effects from it quite well. I hope you get some relief soon.

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