Update as of October 2013

I look back through this blog and wow, it’s been almost a full calendar year since I last wrote.

It’s emotional actually – I see where I was, what I was doing, and of course the theme/topic of this blog (my day to day with chronic back and neck issues) still gets to me.

I’m not really sure where to start, so I guess I’ll just provide some insight into what life is looking like now…

In August 2013, I moved to Madison, WI for a consulting position with an insurance company. Never in a million years would I have predicted this – and by “this” I mean pretty much everything. As of now:

– I work in a corporate office 8:30-5:30 each day (which brings lots of physical challenges, which I’m sure I’ll write more about soon).

– I live in Madison, WI — Chicago was the only place in the Midwest I’d ever been to; and I’d already ruled that out early in my job search due to the Winter – did I mention that Madison is actually slightly farther north than Chicago? Uhh, yeah. We’ll see how my body handles the cold, though the fall has been lovely and reminds me of where I grew up in New England.

– I am still in the midst of personal injury litigation in Texas.

– I stayed in Physical Therapy (PT) in Texas from Sept 2012 – May 2013. Then I worked with a personal trainer (highly recommend this) from May – Aug 2013, and have been getting regular massages throughout. Now (Oct 2013), I get a massage once a month, am working with a new Physical Therapist and am seeking a trainer, though the one at the gym at the office has been somewhat helpful. Not to sound dramatic, but I’m honestly wondering if PT is going to be an ongoing revolving door for me for the rest of my life. I know working with a personal trainer will be, as will massages.

– Dan and I separated in January 2013, and oddly, we both ended up taking new jobs in Madison. I could probably devote an entire blog to that alone. It’s still something that I’m trying to understand and process.

– I returned to partner dancing (and tap dancing) this fall, though I’ve amended it to a beginner tap class for 30 min, and private ballroom lessons tailored to my abilities. I have ventured out on occasion to try some West Coast here and there (am going to try again this weekend). Surprisingly (to me anyway), I miss West Coast and Country the most of all the partner dances.

– For the first half of 2013, I worked really, really hard to improve my interpersonal relationships with my family (Mom, Dad, brother and relatives). I’ve learned a lot and still have more to do, but it’s progress.

– In the summer of 2013, I started working with a nutritionist my counselor recommended. Both my counselor and nutritionist have been incredible – very supportive, easy to relate to, and knowledgeable. Support really can’t be overrated it seems.

– My photography came to a standstill in the late Spring 2013, as I did shoot a few weddings in 2013 and then just did not feel very inspired. I shot my favorite Country dance competition in August, and those photos I’m still working on editing. I miss creating art, but learning and doing my new job, as well as keeping afloat physically, is taking up a lot of my energy right now.

– I miss Austin and my friends there, every day. I left on good terms though; I felt complete about my experiences there.

So, I know all that was a tad scattered and varied in topic, but that’s the update of late. I’ll reblog this on Regulardaze also.

Hope everyone out there in the blogging community has been well!

S

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Status Update: December 2012

Hi all,

I haven’t written in awhile. That’s largely because things have taken a bit of a turn.

To put it in brief, in November I decided to hire an attorney for my more recent accident (the August one), which has meant that now I’m back on a path I am less than anxious to repeat (re: personal injury litigation). This time, it’s a different set of circumstances in a new city and place, but the emotional toll is not particularly light. Fortunately though, I have been through this process before and I can use that as a source of insight and also a source of sanity – since I’m at least somewhat prepared for the different stages to come.

Physically speaking, things have been up and down. I was in physical therapy from late September through late November. There was some improvement in my neck but my back was not responding as hoped. I write you now as I await the results of an MRI from about a week ago. I’m not sure what it will show, I just hope that it will help my team of care providers move forward. On the upside, I did recently find out that my pre-existing condition “termed,” or ended, so my COBRA health insurance provider will now cover some of my care. Medical costs have definitely been starting to climb.

Socially, as one might suspect things have been tricky. I still haven’t been able to participate in partner dancing which has left Dan out on a limb in many cases. I have been able to visit with friends and attend some events, with my assortment of back pillows as my ever vigilante sidekicks. I’ve continued photographing some dances which has been fun, but also a bit physically tricky. I also tried co-shooting a couple of weddings which I was able to do with lots of adjustment/accommodation (not to mention massages afterwards).

Professionally, things are a tad up in the air right now. I’m starting to look for full time work again (because I’m needing the intellectual stimulation and the income), which has led to its own set of challenges. Working at home for the last couple of years really allowed me lots of flexibility (both in terms of schedule and in physical accommodations). I’m not sure what my next venture will be, but I’m reading job postings carefully for physical requirements (e.g., lifting, twisting, bending, sitting), and hoping that I’ll be able to work something out with my future employer. (Not to mention, that one of my hopes is to continue building up the photography while doing something interesting from 9-5).

So I’m back in a certain limbo of sorts. Legally, physically, socially and professionally, things are a bit topsy-turvy. Thankfully it’s the holiday season and our Christmas Tree along with copious amounts of holiday music streaming on Pandora, have helped brighten my mood some. Dan, my close friends and family, and care providers, have of course been very supportive and encouraging.

If you, or anyone you know, finds yourself in a similar state of unknown – know that they’re not alone. Sending hugs to all of you dealing with these sorts of things and hope your holiday season still has magical moments amidst the ambiguity of the future.

P for Pain, F for Frustration

In my experience, pain management is a big topic amongst chronic orthopedic patients (or possibly those with any sort of chronic issue orthopedic or otherwise). Not to sound trite, but it’s a bit of an ongoing dialogue between your body, mind, and modern medicine (or in some cases, alternative medicine techniques) – trying to answer the seemingly unanswerable question of: what’s the magic potion for relief?

Soon we’ll have an awesome guest post on Quantum Touch (stay tuned!), and combine that with other discussions on homeopathic and non-medicinal remedies, but for now I want to talk about the frustrations of pain management.

From my perspective, nothing is more irritating than being unable to do something due to nagging physical pain. And what makes it even more frustrating is that the pain is the result of an injury caused by someone else (re: not my fault) – and well, that leads to all kinds of emotional mess inside, at times.

For instance, as you may know from my personal blog, I’ve been delving more seriously into photography as of June 2012, and Dan and I have continued progressing in partner dancing of various forms. And unfortunately, both of these activities (photography and partner dancing) have been impacted by my issues with chronic pain.

With photography, especially since the August 8th accident, I’ve been unable to stay in any one position for very long (sitting, standing, crouching, for instance), nor twist/bend with ease. This was especially maddening after I co-shot a wedding this past weekend, and as a result spent the entirety of the next day in awful pain (which I should add, has decreased to some extent but is still there as I type this). All I could do was turn back the dial from “intense pain” to “sore ache” with my cocktail of massage, Alieve, heating pads, exercises and rest. Maddening – because, 1) I lost an entire day of potential productivity to pain, and 2) it hurts (!) and, 3) it’s not my fault (!)

With dancing, the situation is somewhat similar. Since the 2009 accident, I’ve been unable to wear heels over 1″ so for partner dancing, I have flat suede-sole shoes. However, my posture since is always more forward which, in partner dancing, is difficult to navigate – you and your partner form a combined unit and if your posture puts the entire structure off-kilter, well, then you dance off-kilter. Frustrating. However, I had been adapting to that in some regard, when the August 8th accident occurred and robbed me of the ability to partner dance entirely. Why? Well my posture worsened immediately after (because my neck was in pain and much farther forward, which then translated to pain and strange alignment down my spine), but in general my whole back/neck was greatly agitated, causing pain during sudden movement, twisting, and prolonged standing and sitting. Yeah, so that kind of ruled out dancing, especially with a partner.

Hopefully my physical abilities relative to photography and partner dancing will improve somewhat (or hopefully return to the baseline prior to August) due to my current round of physical therapy and strengthening, but man, is it frustrating to have to continually be: 1) in pain, 2) reminded of accidents that caused the injury that caused the pain, and 3) be unable to do things without pain and/or reminders of the accidents.

So that’s the latest – P for Pain, followed by F for Frustration.
I guess it’s an opportunity for me to work on another P: Patience.

What are your experiences with chronic pain like?

Thanks for reading,
S

 

Rain and Shared Humanity

Sleep is a precious commodity, and it’s changed quite a bit for me since my first accident in ’09. (For more on how I sleep with back discomfort, check out this post.)

Unfortunately, I’ve had renewed difficulty sleeping since my August 8th accident, especially the last few weeks. Between the intensity of the physical therapy, the attempts to ween myself off of muscle relaxants, and my search for the best OTC pain-killers (Advil was my pill of choice, but I started noticing a ringing in my ears similar to when I was on prescription pain killers) – my sleep is suffering.

As a result, each morning is a bit more of a struggle than previously. Today in particular, I saw the light peeking through the blinds and groaned thinking “I really hope it’s cloudy today; I am not in the mood to face the sun this morning.” And to my delight, it was overcast.

In fact, as I stepped outside for my morning walk, a light, warm rain began. So I grabbed my raincoat and continued onwards.

Central Texas has somewhat unpredictable weather – not quite the fickle climate of the Northeast, but – there can be unexpected flash foods, strong winds, and scorching temperatures at times. So this bit of rain wasn’t particularly surprising, especially since it’s October and we’ve been getting occasional storms and showers for the last couple of weeks. But, because it’s often unclear whether a few raindrops mean a light sprinkle or an impending deluge, I figured it might be the former and I kept walking – dry inside my raincoat.

Well, within about 15 minutes, the gentle drops became a strong storm. I personally enjoy rain – it’s refreshing and makes me feel like I’m interacting with the environment/Earth – but this was A LOT of rain.

Suddenly, I noticed a lawn maintenance worker huddled under the awning of a carport, and a biker calling a ride from his cell phone taking shelter underneath a tree, and a runner trying to divert roadside puddles which were quickly becoming rivers. And I felt my pants, unprotected by the raincoat, soaked and sticking to my legs; the water seeping into my sneakers and dampening my socks.

And I was struck by the ability of the rain to suddenly place all of us – the lawn maintenance person, the biker, the runner, me – into this immediate shared experience. We were all thrust into being present and, well, wet.

In that moment, while I lamented the inconvenience of the weather and its wetness, I felt a sense of togetherness. The rain had effectively brought each of us into the same point in time. I wasn’t the girl with back pain who can’t dance, and they weren’t whoever they embody, we were all just people caught in the rain getting wet.

I felt happier at that feeling of commonality; Not the shared misery (though some might see it that way), more like shared humanity. It didn’t matter than I haven’t been sleeping properly for weeks, that my neck and back felt sore, that I woke up cranky, that I have chores to do, or that any of the other folks had whichever traits and tasks on their minds, too. All that mattered is that we were humans and trying to navigate a rainstorm.

Sometimes nature has a way of reminding me about what really matters, and to give up on what I can’t control. Have you ever had a similar experience?

Thanks for reading,
S

Modified Travel

One of my personal goals is to travel as much as I can before the age of 50.

Travel has been an ongoing part of my lifestyle (and jives well with my inner free spirit) for quite some time, and I did not want to give up on my dreams of adventure and exploration after my injury.

In fact, here is a list of the places I’ve traveled to (for business and pleasure) post my initial injury in September 2009. (Locations are listed in alphabetical order by city name.):

– U.S.A.: Anchorage, AK; Austin, TX; Boulder City, NV; Chicago, IL; Dallas, TX; Denver, CO; Ft. Lauderdale, FL; Ft. Meyers, FL; Henderson, NV; Houston, TX; Las Vegas, NV; Long Island, NY; Los Angeles, CA; New York City, NY; Phoenix, AZ; San Antonio, TX; San Diego, CA; San Francisco, CA; Tampa, FL

– International: Bangkok, Thailand; Berkshire, England; Chiang Mai, Thailand; Lampang, Thailand; London, England; Oxford, England; Salisbury, England; Shanghai, China; Sukothai, Thailand

And probably a few more locations which I can’t recall at the moment.
At any rate, as you can see, travel is very possible after a vertebral compression and/or burst fracture (at least in my case).

However, travel post-injury is a bit modified. Here are a few tips I’ve learned over the course of my travels:

  •  Always carry at least one supportive pillow with you.

I prefer the oval lumbar support for airplane flights and to use on chairs in restaurants, libraries, buses, trains, etc., but if you know you’ll need additional support, bring pillows of a variety of sizes and shapes. If you sleep as I do, with one pillow under/between your knees, you may need to call ahead at a hotel or other accommodation, to request an extra pillow, or bring such a pillow with you.

  • Pack pain management supplies.

For me, this includes Advil, Aleve (anti-inflamatories) and Tylenol, and has sometimes included prescription medications (either pain medications or muscle relaxants, or both – though only when I’m under doctor supervision, and I only take them when I really need to).

Beyond medications, it can also be helpful to bring hot/cold supplements such as a heating pad or a cold compress.

  •  Bring supportive shoes.

I’ve found my lower back can be aggravated without proper footwear. Since my injury, I’ve been unable to wear shoes with heels over 1″ in height, so for more formal occasions, I’ve turned to flats or dress sandals. Sneakers and supportive athletic sandals (such as my sandals made by Teva, for instance, though I’m not endorsing any particular brands here), have been great for casual situations. Another option is to bring innersoles for your shoes. After running from landmarks and sites, or from meeting to meeting, you’ll be thankful for supportive shoes.

  •  Use modified baggage.

After my injury, I’ve been unable to wear backpacks, carry weighty shoulder bags/purses, or carry luggage with a shoulder strap. As such, I’ve invested in rolling luggage bags (both carry-on size, and a few rolling duffel bags of differing sizes), as well as very light weight across the shoulder bags (for instance, this Tranquility Shoulder Bag from REI – again not endorsing brands here, but the bag is small which limits the amount of items I can pack in it, thus limiting the overall weight. Plus the bag itself is made of very, very lightweight material and the strap allows me to carry it diagonally across my shoulder blades and hang it in front of my body, vs. on one shoulder, or on my back).

  •  Plan ahead as much as possible.

This includes both in packing things like good shoes, medications, and pillows, but also consider the following:

– If you’re going on a group tour, find out what the tour entails physically (will you need to do extensive hiking? will you be walking up areas with steep elevation?, etc.), the rigor of the itinerary (will there be opportunities to take breaks/rest?, are alternatives available – for instance, can you rent a taxi if you’re unable to do a 50 mile bike tour?, etc.), and your accommodations (will you be sleeping on the ground in a tent, in a cot in a cabin, or in a 5-star hotel? etc.)  – with accommodations and physical demands possibly being the most important. Think about it – if you don’t sleep well, your back will suffer (or at least mine does), and if you’re like me, that will make you irritable and cranky; not the best combination for an enjoyable trip.

– If you’re traveling for business or on a short trip (less than 1 week), find out if exercise facilities will be available. I can only speak for myself, but if I don’t get daily exercise, my back becomes more stiff and sore. I’ve been greatly thankful for hotels with heated swimming pools, or accommodations in neighborhoods that I could walk around in the morning or at night to relieve muscular tension.

– I have talked to some post-injury folks who are avid outdoor explorers. These folks have found ways to adjust their backpacking and adventure trips to their injuries. Places that specialize in outdoor adventures (e.g., L.L. Bean, REI, North Face, etc.) can help you pick out gear to make sure your trip is fun and pain-free.

Those are my initial reflections and thoughts. Please feel free to comment if you have ideas to share!
Thanks for reading,
S

Quick Injury Update

As you may have read in an earlier post, my most recent car accident occurred at the beginning of August 2012. Initially the doctors in Texas thought I sustained another fracture, though minor and stable.

However, after a visit with my spinal orthopedist in NYC (he oversaw my treatment for the 2009 accident but I’ve continued following up with him  whenever I’ve been in the City over the last few years), it appears as though the August accident did not cause a new fracture but merely exacerbated my preexisting condition. And obviously, causing additional pain/discomfort.

This is good news! It means I will likely be able to avert a personal injury lawsuit in Texas, and it speaks of a much smoother recovery this time around. In fact, I start a new round of physical therapy today for both my neck and back. I will write more once I follow up with the various involved parties (lawyers, insurance) to share my thoughts/experiences.

And so the journey continues…

Lumbar Pillows & Sleep Positions

Due to the fact that my injuries have been to my lumbar spine, I’ve had to invest in lumbar pillows. These pillows provide additional support for my lower back while sitting.

If you’re in a similar situation, where you need the extra support, but you’re not sure what to buy, the following discusses what I’ve found useful, along with the situations they’ve been best suited for.

Oval lumbar support with strap: McKenzie Super Roll

This pillow is very versatile. I use it on my desk chair, on airplanes, in chairs at events (hotel conference chairs, folding chairs, etc.), and in the car. The elastic strap is useful, as some chairs/benches/seats, may have open backs, in which case the strap can be used to position the pillow where needed on the chair. Also, the strap allows you to carry the pillow in different ways, such as over the shoulder. I often use the strap to attach it to my luggage when I travel.

Foam support: NapForm Mini Lumbar

This pillow I’ve found to be best for movie theatre chairs, couches, and other softer padded surfaces. It’s heavier and bulkier than the Super Roll so I’ve found it less ideal for travel. The foam makes it feel soft and squishy but supportive.

Small standard pillow

I keep a small generic pillow in the rear seat of my car as a back up. It is roughly the dimensions of a 15″ laptop with standard polyester stuffing, so it can be squished into luggage, or carried in a small bag. This pillow provides less overall support than either the NapForm or McKenzie pillows, but it’s there in case I forget one of the other two, and it has definitely been helpful on a couple of occasions.

I’ve shopped at various places for lumbar pillows and found the products I currently use at Brookstone and Relax the Back (though by no means do I endorse one retailer over another). Online retailers (e.g., Amazon) tend to have a wide variety, and while that might be a great way to score a pillow on the cheap, I would suggest testing a potential pillow in person before purchasing (unless of course, you find a pillow so inexpensive that you don’t care if you only use it now and then, or if you don’t like it).

Also, beyond the portable pillows that I use, I also sleep with two standard bed pillows. I position one under my head, and the other under my knees.  When I sleep on my back, the second pillow stays under my knees, and when I turn on my side, I slide the second pillow between my knees. I learned this positioning from a physical therapist, but again, I’m not a medical expert so you may want to check with a doctor or physical therapist for options tailored to your needs .

I was a stomach sleeper prior to injury, but since stomach sleeping sends my back into slight extension (which is painful), I now sleep on my sides and back.

Beyond pillows, I know others who have had success with foam rollers, and other accessories. Readers who have bought support pillows, or other items, what would you recommend? What has worked best for you?

Thanks for reading,

S