Doctor-Go-Round, Prescription Cornucopia, Chronic Pain, the Cause of Depression

My week. Monday: surgeon. Tuesday: neurologist, acupuncturist, and hand rehabilitation therapist. Wednesday: MRI. Thursday: acupuncturist and dentist.

My daily prescription regimen: Lexapro (for depression), Elavil (for sleep), Ambien (for sleep), Requip (for sleep), Vicodin (for pain), Feldene (for inflammation).

Yesterday, the surgeon declined to operate on either shoulder because he thinks I have a vertebral problem that will require surgery first. This is why I saw the neurologist today. The neurologist ordered an MRI and a nerve conduction study. I will have the first done tomorrow night and the second next Wednesday.

The hand rehab therapist blamed the failure of my wrist to heal from carpel tunnel surgery (last April) on the impingement in my right shoulder and the unnatural way I hold my body in order to avoid pain.

My acupuncturist suggested that I sleep with several pillows under my head and my chest so as to suspend my shoulders above the mattress, and that advice represents the most I got for my $550. That very night, I slept ten hours. The trouble was that the chest pillows hurt my ribs more with each passing night. I substituted various combinations of blankets, foam wedges, and air mattresses, and I even tried compromising so that some weight remained on my shoulders, but to no avail. Since my back long ago became too painful to sleep on—even in a recliner—I am in an unenviable situation.

I can no longer bike, and I can only walk without shoulder pain if I keep my hands in my pockets. When that doesn’t control the pain, I fold my arms. When that fails, I cross them atop my shoulders. Housework is a nightmare, and I don’t know how I’m going to rake the leaves, yet inactivity and feeling like I am not pulling my share of the load is even more difficult.

Yet, I cannot say that living with pain has been a total loss. I haven’t gained in compassion—as one might expect—but I have gained in a more immediate understanding of how flimsy and temporal our lives are. Only the very young are without wounds or ailments, and oftentimes not even them. Yet, despite this—and even because of it—beauty and meaning are possible. As I write, I am listening to Loreena McKennitt. How sweet her voice is, and how such grandeur as my race can achieve sustains me through the long nights. Pain reduces a person to elementals.

The Lexapro has been such a boon that I can almost imagine it being worth the thousand dollar a year price tag. Without it, I don’t know how I would get through this….

Few people presume to tell those with cancer or a bad heart that their problem will go away if they count their blessings or stop taking life so seriously; but I have received much such advice over the years, and I would compare it to telling a person who is drowning that he needs to swim.

Years ago, I was in an informal support group, and was surprised to learn that a great many of my fellows actually did believe that all manner of mental and physical ailments were entirely a matter of troubled thinking, so that all a paraplegic, for example, needed to do to walk was to envision himself as being able to walk. Such a belief is like religious faith in that it is impossible to argue against it because its holders—who tend to be young and healthy—see it as coming from a higher plane than mere evidence or logic and therefore unassailable by mere evidence or logic. It is also like much religious faith—and much advice to the depressed—in that it is smug and insulting. If I can think like a “normal” person simply by taking a pill that alters my brain chemistry (while a “normal” person would not be affected by the same pill), this surely implies that my brain chemistry might have been the cause of my depression.

I’m aware that everyone from the excessively timid to the grossest overeaters wants to be thought of as having a disease, partly because it takes away the moral stigma and the onus of personal responsibility. But what if they’re right? I know I couldn’t be a drunk if I tried just as I couldn’t weigh 400 pounds if I tried. Besides, the fact that such problems might not be entirely a matter of choice doesn’t diminish the responsibility of the person who is suffering from them anymore than the fact that my shoulder problems were not a matter of choice diminishes my responsibility for dealing with them. Even if a person should deny his own responsibility all the way to the grave, he would be no less dead.