Thursday, February 26, 2009

Scattered Impressions of Injury and Recovery

I'm not an athlete and I don't take physical risks, but I've always had a disregard for the positioning and protection of my body. I might whine about painful shoes or a sore throat, but that only happens when I'm feeling self-absorbed or when the pain has become excruciating.

So it's galling -- but unsurprising -- that I've buggered up my right shoulder with a series of small injuries, boundary-testing, half-baked corrective techniques and general lack of concern. Over two months I progressed from an aching joint to acute tendon inflammation, atrophied muscles, and a possible cartilage tear. By gradually restricting the usage of my right arm to the half-dozen movements which don't cause me pain, I've managed to forget -- both mentally and physically -- how a healthy arm actually moves.

When I try to do certain everyday things with my right arm -- rotate my palm, put my hand over my stomach, reach to the right, or even THINK about putting it ANYWHERE behind my back -- I am met with either shooting pains or total weakness. The pain is bad but the weakness is just plain disconcerting...the muscles simple stop working. I begin to feel like I'm pushing my arm through a concrete wall, even though there's nothing visible in the way. I have, quite literally, withered my shoulder muscles.

An interesting thing about this injury is what it does to your sleep. I've gotten to the point where I finally CAN fall asleep without too much pain, but during the night my tendons strain and tense and bunch up, and by 3am I wake up in agony and have to do my exercises again. Then I sleep on the couch, whose shape keeps me in a position which doesn't hurt my arm too much.

The good news is that my ailment is relatively common and it is possible to fix it, but it takes a lot of time and work. I am amazed at the skill of my physiotherapist as she twists, shakes, and wobbles my skeleton and says "Aha, this is the exercise we'll do next." And after a week of exercising, that invisible concrete wall moves another few inches and I can bend my arm just a bit more.

Often I'm left standing at a machine with two handles at the sides, like an exercise bike for the arms. I have to pump away at it for ten minutes or so while staring at the single framed newspaper article hung on the wall, a story about a local boxer who benefited from physiotherapy. Each time I use this machine I pick one word from the article at random, and I read the article slowly until I find a word which starts with the same letter. Then I continue reading until I find another word which starts with the letter that the previous word ENDED with. I can do this three times before I'm ordered to use another machine, something more stimulating with pulleys and weights.

Sometimes a co-op student puts lubricant on my shoulder and rubs a small metal object over it, an ultrasound device which is incredibly painful when it somehow resonates the bone in my forearm. Once the physiotherapist wrapped a belt around her waist, then put my arm through the belt and rocked it back and forth as though she was comforting it. Unfortunately that caused my arm to freeze up in excruciating agony for several minutes -- a sensation I've previously described after slipping on ice or falling down while drunk -- so I don't think we'll do the belt thing again. When this "freeze up" happens it is followed by two days of dull ache in my bicep.

Usually, however, I leave physiotherapy with an extraordinary feeling of relaxed well-being. We always end with fifteen minutes of electroshock...well, they hook electrodes up to my shoulder and I gradually turn it up until my arm is jumping around like a fish in a bucket.

Today I made overtures to the Guelph hospital in order to get an MRI, since the therapist (and by extension me) is concerned that the cartilage in there is torn. Apparently it can take up to five months to secure an MRI so I have plenty of time to prepare myself for the giant needle they'll be sticking INTO my shoulder, though the figure-skating worker at the medical supply store told me that "there are ways to get in faster." She didn't tell me more...she just sold me six feet of rubber tubing for my daily exercises.

I also got an X-ray in a tiny, deserted, run-down clinic that appears to be run by a husband and wife comedy duo. I got undressed in a closet and then stood in a dark room in front of hundreds of pounds of equipment. The man put a rubber girdle on me and ran back and forth taking pictures, occasionally slipping them into a cupboard marked "Exposed." Terrible scrabbling sounds came out of this cupboard even though nobody was around. I turned to the left and came face-to-face with an enormous poster of a muskrat, the only decoration in the entire place.

The prognosis so far? Months of exercising, expensive physiotherapy appointments, and drinking WITHOUT falling down. In the meantime, frenetic drag shows at Club Renaissance are strictly verboten: quick-changes involving zippers between my shoulder blades and slipping dresses over my head are simply not going to happen. But I'll still be doing shows in Guelph near the end of March, since they're relatively sedate and I'm sure I can wrangle a dresser from the chilled-out organizers.


R.M. Lupo said...

I think it's one of the more harrowing things, having your body emphatically not do what you expect it to.

I hope you feel better.

Anonymous said...

Cheer up! It's time you started weight training - otherwise you are going to loss the battle to osteoporosis!

P.S. Do you follow the Oscars? Even if no, you must have loved seeing Anil Kapoor behaving like a kid who has just discovered power windows. :)

Adam Thornton said...

Thanks Tricky! Every day it gets a tiny bit better, though I'm constantly shocked that my muscles can simple disobey.

Adam Thornton said...

JJ, I AM cheerful! As painful and terrible as this ordeal is, I refuse to be beaten down.

Weight training, however, is a long way away. Anything over about one pound simply cannot be lifted or moved.

Anonymous said...

That's a good attitude - be brave, soldier on, but don't do what's painful.

When a relative of mine received physical therapy a few years ago following a broken arm, I was really amazed how true that old saying is: You've got to be cruel to be kind.

The therapy worked, but only after a lot of pain. Some therapists suggest taking Tylenol or similar drugs before a therapy session, as they know it's going to hurt.

Feel better soon!

Kimber said...

Have you tried acupuncture? I know it sounds way out, but it has helped my husband a bit with his shoulder troubles.