Monday, April 30, 2012

The Other End of the Stethoscope

“I was praying that no clients saw me... They would have called an exorcist.”

With my job, I’m usually the one doing the diagnosing and surgery for other people. Recently, the tables have turned, and I got to see what it was like on the other end of the stethoscope…

A few weeks ago, I woke up having slept in an odd position. My shoulder felt a little funny, but I didn’t think much about it. I went to work and did my normal job all morning.  I did surgery, picked up dogs, wrestled angry cats, etc.- nothing was out of the ordinary.  The problem started when my wife and I left for lunch that day.  As we turned left out of the clinic parking lot to head for one of my favorite Odenville haunts, Charlie’s Barbecue, I felt a tightening in my neck as I held my head in place against the force of the turn.  One of the muscles clenched in a spasm, causing incredible pain in my neck and shoulder. The pain took my breath away.

Startled, my wife pulled over and I worked things out. The muscle relaxed slowly as I stretched it. I thought that things were going to be OK, so we went on to Charlie’s.  The restaurant has an open porch that you can eat on, and we were enjoying good food and nice weather when the spasms started again.  It wasn’t too bad at first- a spasm every five minutes or so.  It was painful, but I was doing my best to hide the issue.  My wife tried to convince me to go to the doctor, but I resisted.  I thought I could wait until tomorrow- I was wrong.

Before I could finish my food, the spasms were coming every minute. They were more and more painful, like the muscle was being torn every time the spasm hit. I was praying that no clients saw me writhing in pain in the Pig Sty (the official name for the deck area at Charlie’s). They would have called an exorcist.  I relented and told my wife that it couldn’t wait. To the doctor we went.  We were waiting in the doctor’s parking lot when the staff came back from lunch.

I have been to a doctor exactly 2 times in the last 10 years. I make it a habit to stay away if possible, but I was desperate.  I got lucky this time: the staff was able to get me into an exam room quickly.  While I was still in pain, the spasms were slowing… right up to the point when my doctor opened the exam room door.

Dr. R hadn’t even made it through the door of the exam room when a spasm hit and twisted me sideways, grunting with the effort to straighten myself back out.  In the midst of it, I couldn’t help but notice that he took a short step back from me (If you had seen that happen, how close would you want to stand?).  This happened several more times in the room while we talked.  Once, in the middle of a spasm, he grabbed my arm, planted the palm of his other hand just off the center of my chest, and folded my arm across my chest. The relief was instant. I sagged forward like a puppet with the strings cut.  Dr. R showed my wife how to put tension on the muscle to stretch it out.  He recommended rest and stretches.  But then came the tough part: treatment options. 

The ideal plan was to use a drug that would relax my muscles, but as a side effect, might leave me fuzzy-headed. I had a business meeting that night that couldn’t be rescheduled, and needed to be mentally sharp. Fuzzy-headedness wasn’t an option. Another part of the plan would be to give me a shot in the rump to get some fast relief. I had two problems with that one:

  1. I’m not a big fan of needles.  They are fine when I’m vaccinating a dog.  They are downright scary when sticking me.
  2. My doctor is a client. The nurse assisting him was a client as well. If I had to drop my pants in front of these people, I could never look them in the face again. When someone sticks a needle in your backside, your relationship with them is changed forever. You can quote me on that.

In the end, Dr. R had mercy on me and worked around my hang-ups. They gave me some tablets in the office. The ride home was rough, but two hours, one nap, and a lot of stretching later, I was almost pain free and had recovered enough to go to my meeting without incident.  Dr. R even called me the next morning to make sure that I was functional. I was, and I was grateful for it. I was back at work and doing well, but because I was on meds, I didn’t allow myself to do surgery for a few days.

 So what did I learn?
  1. I learned a new level of sympathy for animals in pain. Pain is the opposite of fun.
  2. I learned that being flexible with treatment recommendations is important, even if I don’t understand why people don’t want to go with my first recommendation. My doctor had conviction about what was best for me medically and stuck to his guns about it. I appreciate that tremendously. I also appreciate that he was able to find alternatives that I could live with.

My plans for the immediate future? To stay on my preferred end of the stethoscope.