Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Why am I so good at taking care of everyone but myself?

"I wish I could take my left arm off," I thought when I woke up yesterday. My shoulder was hurting, badly, as it has every morning (and most of the day) for the past few months.

Given that I do not have Mrs. Potato Head parts, removing the arm was not an option. So I went downstairs, grabbed the ice-pack wrap from the freezer and put it on. The cold numbed the area and for a few minutes, it felt better.

My left shoulder started hurting several months ago, seemingly out of the blue. At first, it felt a little strained when I reached behind my back to hook my bra. Then it got harder to make a ponytail. Then I could no longer even reach behind my back.

For weeks, I did what I typically do with myself in these sorts of situations: ignore it. Remember that old commercial lyric "I haven't got time for the pain?" That's me.

I am totally (er, mostly) on top of everything and anything having to do with the kids—their activities, school and event forms, homework, clothing needs, food needs, whatever it is that will make their existence healthier, happier or just plain better. I am downright masterful at organizing and juggling Max's doctor visits. I make sure Dave has a steady supply of clean clothes and a good stash of almonds (his fave snack), and that we make plans with his friends. And I'm on top of his doctor appointments, too. I clean and declutter the house, hire people to fix stuff as necessary, pay bills, coordinate the kids' birthday parties, buy presents for other kids' parties, plan vacations, and, like any mom, do approximately eleventy billion other things.

Oh, yes, I AM ON IT. "It" being everything but me. I don't work out enough. I eat fine, but not as well as I should be. I try to ignore discomfort over dealing with it. Caring for myself is usually last on my to-do list.

When my arm started aching even when I wasn't doing anything with it, I dragged myself to an orthopedist. An X-ray revealed...nothing. But given my limited range of motion, the doctor said I was on my way to a frozen shoulder if I didn't deal with it. She advised me to get physical therapy, and recommended several PTs she knew.

One of the physical therapists was conveniently located around the corner from where I work. The office looked neat and clean, and the PT seemed knowledgeable and nice; he showed me some exercises to do. On my next visit, an assistant said she'd watch me do the exercises. No thanks, I said—I wanted the physical therapist there with me. But as I soon learned from observing his practice, this guy was having his unaccredited assistants do his work. I didn't feel comfortable with that. When I called Cigna to ask about it, the staffer basically said they didn't care who did the therapy.

I hit another PT center, which looked run down. The physical therapist sat me down in the middle of the exercise room for our initial consult. When I asked for privacy, she explained that she had to stay there because she needed to keep an eye on a client working on a machine behind me. I walked out. I do have pretty high standards for physical therapists, given the awesome ones I have met over the years who have helped Max, but finding one who'd give me his or her full attention didn't seem like too much to ask for.

Back to: ignoring my shoulder.

Things got worse. A lot worse. Reaching up or to the side became a challenge, too.

Sabrina's ball rolled under the car while she was playing in the driveway and I tried to grab it, using my left arm. OUCH!

I slipped a dress on. OUCH!

I pulled Max's pants up when I got him dressed in the morning. OUCH!

I shampooed my hair. OUCH!

I grabbed a jar of pickles from the refrigerator. OUCH!

I got smushed into a subway car like a proverbial sardine and couldn't reach a pole with my right hand, so I held on with my left. OUCH!

I started to rake some leaves. OUCH!

I handed my cell phone to Max in the back seat of the car. OUCH!

I helped Max up the stairs. OUCH!

I pulled open a drawer at work. OUCH!

I rolled over in bed. OUCH!

I sneezed. OMG. OMG. OMG. Really? @$&!!!

Now my arm didn't just ache all the time, it hurt. I started putting my bra on with the clasp over my stomach, then gently twisting it around back. I popped a lot of ibuprofen and tried to use my left arm as little as I could. The injury came in handy for excuses like "Dave, can you give Max a bath? My arm is hurting." But it actually was.

A coworker recommended a chiropractor. He noted that my neck was completely out of whack, most likely due to years spent hunched over computers. That may have contributed to my shoulder problem. So did the work shoulder tote I've lugged around for years, which the chiropractor lifted and said, "This isn't a bag, it's a weapon!" In talking with him, I also realized that the two hours I spent hacking away at forsythia bushes in May could have strained my shoulder. 

After three sessions, the chiropractor said he couldn't help me, and referred me to the PT department in his office.

Meanwhile, desperate and in pain, I tried acupuncture. Yes, that therapy in which a practitioner pokes needles in you. Very skinny needles, and you usually do not feel them going in. It did help alleviate pain for a few hours after the session. Until, say, I'd sneeze. OMG. OMG. OMG. @$&!!!

Yesterday, I had a session with the new PT. He stretched and manipulated my arm for a good thirty minutes, and by the time I left it felt less stiff and I was able to raise it higher than I had in weeks.

Maybe, just maybe, I'm going to get my left shoulder back.

But I'm going to have to carve out time to do the at-home stretches. And keep applying the ice-pack. And make it to the PT appointments. And I have to put myself first because that left shoulder and arm really do come in handy, and if I don't take care of them nobody is going to do it for me, not even if I hire someone off Craig's List.

Me, me, me. This is all about me. 


  1. Yeah, some me-time is definitely in order. Good luck with your arm and try not to sneeze.

  2. Hope your shoulder feels better, and remember - me time is always okay!

    1. It's so Not Fun spending me time at the PT! Thank you.

  3. Sending healing energy and kudos for the wonderful way you take care of your family.

  4. My niece is a physical therapy assistant. She has an AD, passed a certifying exam, has a license and works under the direction of a physical therapist. She is certainly not unaccredited.
    PT assistants would be similar, I think, to paralegals who I know do the bulk of the actual work in a legal office

    1. Julie, that's great! The assistants at the office I visited had not passed a certified exam, i.e., were not accredited. Although one of them DID have a biology degree, as she informed me when I asked. !!!

  5. Ellen, For God Sakes! Take care of yourself.Physical pain only gets worse when it's ignored which you now know! Common sense, friend. It takes a village of comments to remind you of this! Feel better soon.
    Laurie Hollman

  6. I am suffering from a similar ailment, Ellen. And boy does it hurt. My chiro said I must be under stress. And I guess I am from Nick's recent surgeries and Lindsey's recent neediness (totally understandable). But boy does it hurt. I was thinking of writing a post about this today too. I think it would be interesting to share what the chiro said. Maybe I still will. Sure hope you get back to normal soon because at this point, I understand your pain and am hoping I get back to normal soon too!

  7. Just curious. Did you get your ROM back? I'm in month 10 of frozen shoulder. Solidly in the frozen stage. Finally gave up on PT, and just stretch at home. Sucks. I loved your post and just wondered about the outcome?

    1. Hi, Sarah. I feel your pain, and I'm sorry you are dealing with that. I am going to tell you something that could change your current painful existence: GET A CORTISONE INJECTION. Months of PT (and it was excellent PT) did nothing. But the cortisone shot kicked in really fast, and by the next day, for the first time in forever, my shoulder felt better and soon after the pain was gone. GONE. It took maybe a few months to regain full range of motion, but I did. The key thing with a cortisone injection is finding an orthopedist who really knows what he/she is doing and has experience treating frozen shoulder with a cortisone injection. Don't delay, just do it.


Thanks for sharing!