Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Tools and drugs

So yesterday I showed you my toolkit. Things keep being added to it and I actually have forgotten to photograph some items, like my green latex theraband for physical therapy and Yasu's baseball for painful spine massages against the wall.

In January the doctor officially diagnosed me with Lateral Epicondylitis, more commonly known as tennis elbow, and De Quervain Syndrome, or thumb tendinitis as I like to call it. My arm and wrist had been hurting for months before I realized it was caused by my constant handstitching and before I finally got diagnosed.
The doctor told me there and then that the most common treatment was an injection with the steroid cortisone. But he told me that cortisone is pretty serious and you can only get it 3 times in your life in the same spot before the muscle atrophies or something scary like that, so he wanted me to try physical therapy first. I wholeheartedly agreed, because the whole injection idea had me panicked and I'm extremely scared of needles. I had also just finished taking 5 pills a day for almost 4 months for my stomach problem, and I didn't want to burden my body with more scary chemicals if it wasn't really necessary.

So I started weekly physical therapy: strengthening exercises with the theraband, ultrasound heat, painful massages, and most importantly and disappointingly a 6 week break from sewing. I got a hot and cold gel pack for my thumb/wrist and elbow. It can be made hot in the microwave for heat therapy and cold in the freezer for treating pain and swellings.
Treatments and my sewing break were improving my De Quervain's and I got this thumb splint to prevent my thumb from making certain movements while sewing that would make my De Quervain's reappear.
Even though one problem seemed to be taken care of my elbow was only getting worse and I was experiencing newly acquired nerve pains all over my right arm, and those were making life (especially sleeping) a lot less comfortable. My physical therapist was advising me to go and get a cortisone injection and combine it with more physical therapy, I still didn't really like the steroid idea so he asked me to get a second opinion from my regular physician.

The day before my appointment with the doctor I tried some light and short sewing again, using the thumb splint and being extremely careful. It went well and I was so happy to be sewing again... But during the night my elbow and arm started hurting, like it never had before. It was excruciating. Everything I did hurt, even sitting down and writing, all I could do was whine and cry.

The doctor told me to get cortisone injections, and the pain was so unbearable that I didn't even want to protest anymore. He also told me to get a tennis elbow strap to put pressure on my elbow, which helps a lot more than I thought it could.
He also prescribed me much-needed painkillers, he wanted to give me Ibuprofen, but my stomach doctor told me to never take those again (and my stomach hasn't healed completely yet), so he gave me Vicodin, a strong narcotic (which doctor's in my country aren't even allowed to prescribe) to help me survive the pain until my appointment with a hand doctor.

But the Vicodin didn't really do the trick, it just made the pain a little less and only for a short time, problem was that I could only take 4 pills a day. That night I sat in bed (because lying down was too painful) whining, crying, waiting for time to pass to be allowed to take another Vicodin and trying to catch some sleep. Yasu and I both had a terrible night of no sleep.

Waiting a week for the appointment with a hand doctor wasn't an option and my health insurance agent advised me to go to the emergency room. They gave me Percocet (even stronger than Vicodin), which made me incredibly stoned, because I'd taken a Vicodin two hours earlier (they knew), I hadn't eaten or slept and I have low blood pressure. It made the pain bearable but it also made me giggly, talkative, superbly dizzy, and cry (not sure why). It was an interesting experience, but I decided not to fill the Percocet prescription they gave me, it's too strong and too scary a medicine for me. I did get the Tylenol the hand doctor told me to get for when the pain I'm trying to kill would be too weak for a Vicodin.
The hand doctor was very clear and positive, he told me I needed three cortisone injections, one below my thumb and two in my elbow. I had a huge panic attack when he made me lie down and showed me the needles. I couldn't breath and couldn't stop crying, and I wished hard that Yasu was there with me and not in class like he was at the time. The doctor suggested me to come back the next day with Yasu, but I knew I couldn't stand the anticipation which would make everything worse.

So I did what helped me in the past at the dentist, I turned on my iPod and focused on the music and sang along (very badly). And the doctor went ahead with the very painful shots which made my singing louder and more off key but a couple of minutes later he was done! And the effect was immediate! The Novocaine in the shot made my arm numb and so much less painful and me happy.

He gave me a huge bag of ice to hold against the injection areas and told me to rest and start physical therapy again next week. My elbow is extremely stiff and he says I may need another injection for that in a month, I hope not. He also says that I'll be back to sewing soon... I truly hope so.

One more tool for my kit is the wrist brace the ER gave me. To make sure my arm rests well, especially at night, because I tend to cramp my hand in weird positions during the night, which makes the morning pain even worse. Sometimes I wear both braces and strap at the same time and it make my arm look like a robot arm ;).
Right now, I'm doing everything with my left hand, like eating, writing, typing, brushing teeth and hair, getting dressed, etc. It's difficult and sometimes frustrating but my right arm won't bend well and can't be used for now, so poor Yasu has to do almost everything for me. But most importantly, what I can do is sleep, with a little help from Vicodin, my strap and wrist brace. And so can Yasu :). We slept so incredibly well and long last night! It was like heaven.

This could have been an expensive condition, luckily we have excellent health insurance from Japan that's paying for everything. Not just the steroid injections or doctor's fees, no literally everything, even for my over-the-counter Tylenol, my braces and my bi-weekly bus trips to the physical therapist. So it's all good.


Kristy said...

OMG the needles! I have that same fear so just the mention was cringe worthy! I'm so happy that your treatment is going well and you'll be back to sewing!!! AND that insurance is footing the bill!

dimi said...

I'm so glad you're better! And I'm so happy you have insurance - smart girl!! What a nightmare! The worst is over I hope.