I’ve had terrible pain in my upper back on the left side for about three weeks now. I went to a chiropractor to try to determine the cause and he said I had a small tear in a muscle in that location. That, combined with a general tightness in the muscles which were overcompensating to make up for it, was all there was to it. Good enough for me. I hate doctors and only grudgingly go to a chiropractor (who aren’t really doctors)* to keep my spine in line or else I am in constant pain from nerves being pinched -a condition dating back twenty-five years.
In this case, after three weeks there has been no improvement. Any motion of my head to the left or right hurts like hell. Turning it hurts pretty bad, but if I try to tilt it to one side or the other it’s unbearable. It’s actually kind of a fun game to play. It hurts worse the more I tilt it, so I can tilt it further and further to see where my pain threshold is -trying to beat my record each time. I wish I had the tolerance to actually get my head all the way to my shoulder, but I simply can’t do it. I don’t know if it’s me actively being a pussy or if my brain is hard-wired to keep me from knowingly causing myself enough pain to render me unconscious. Seems like something that shady bastard would do; he’s always scheming against me. It’s one thing if I grab a hammer and smack myself in the head with it -I can totally sneak up on my brain and he’ll never see it coming- but it’s different if I have to try to get my brain to be complicit in causing aforementioned pain. That bastard just doesn’t care about science!
So after three weeks, I finally decided I’d better go to a doctor for a second opinion (or first, really, since chiropractors aren’t really doctors)*. Not able to get an appointment with a primary care physician on short notice, I had to go to urgent care. The one I chose uses the website InQuicker.com to allow you to schedule your visit in advance. I was quite pleased to find that the appointment I scheduled for noon on Thursday meant I walked in the door at 11:51, was in triage at 11:59, in the exam room at 12:05 and actually saw a doctor by 12:10. That is nothing like any experience I’ve had with a medical facility to date, so kudos there.
In the brief time I was alone in the exam room, I took time to look at the pain chart posted on the wall so as not to overstate my condition. That chart looked a lot like this:
The verbiage on the particular chart I looked at was slightly different, but the gist was the same. After careful examination of the chart, I locked in my pain levels: level 3-4 constantly with spikes to 6-7 when I try to turn or tilt my head. When the doctor arrived, the first thing he asked was the pain levels, and I gave him my numbers. After I did, he asked for clarification. I said, “It’s a dull ache at all times, like someone is pulling or stretching at it. When the pain spikes, I have to close my eyes, clench my fists and face and concentrate on breathing for a couple of seconds while it passes.” He said that others would rate that pain higher. Looking back at the chart, I think others are overstating it. How much worse than “Cannot focus on anything except pain” can you get? I can’t possibly rate it a ten. I’ve never experienced a ten. I’ve broken bones, been in multiple car accidents, had a thumbnail ripped completely off (attempting to remove the leafspring of a car when a jack stand slipped), experienced dozens of cuts and burns requiring medical treatment, but I could always imagine a worse pain.
I’d have to say, of all the pain I’ve experienced, having the thumbnail ripped completely off hurt worse than anything else. So imagine if you had all ten fingernails and toenails ripped of simultaneously -that would obviously hurt worse, but still not a ten. Because, what if while all those nails were being ripped off, someone grabbed both your nipples with a vise grips and ripped them off, too. Still not a ten, though, because what if, while all that was going on, they were also slowly breaking each of your ribs with a railroad spike and a hammer? Still not a ten, though, because what if, while they were doing all that, they were also simultaneously, and slowly, pulling every single hair out of your body with thousands of tiny little tweezers? Still not a ten, though, because, what if, while doing all of that, they were also forcing you to listen to Nickelback? All right, that might be a ten, but I certainly wasn’t at that level when I got to the doctor on Thursday.
That digression aside, the doctor asked me a few questions and felt me up a bit. After that, he put on some rubber gloves to start the exam. After describing the location of the pain and bouts of numbness and tingling in my back and left arm, he began by feeling around on my upper back. He noted that I have a lot of scar tissue in the muscle there, but wasn’t able to identify a cause of the pain and numbness/tingling, so he ordered some X-rays. He said he didn’t see anything wrong with my spine, but followed that by saying that they were going to have a radiologist look them over for a diagnosis – which made me wonder why he said anything at all if he wasn’t qualified to do so. Then he gave me copies of the X-rays and sent me on my way.
I don’t know why they gave me copies of the X-rays. I think I may have overstated my credentials when I chose to wear my “I’m the one they call Dr. Feelgood” ball cap to the appointment, but you’d think they would ask for something more than a ball cap as evidence of my medical training. After all, it said ‘Dr Feelgood’ not ‘Chiropractor Feelgood’*. But give them to me, they did. So I’ve spent several hours going over the images trying to determine the cause of my pain (which, in many states, would be enough to certify me as a chiropractor*).
The thing is, the images are fucking terrifying. Take a look at this one (the left is on the right and vice-versa):
I’m obviously not qualified to be making any sort of a medical diagnosis, but what the hell is that spot about a third of the way down from the top and a third of the way in from the right? It looks like that rib is snapped in half. But that’s not the side with the pain, so I’m ignoring it. Follow that rib across to the other side and look at the one above it. This one I have in both the cervical spine X-rays and the thoracic spine X-rays, so I have a better view of it:
About halfway down and two-thirds of the way across, what is that? Is that normal? It puts me in mind of when you crack a pencil but not all the way through; the top is splintered but the bottom remains intact. Of course it could also be (and probably definitely is) just a trick of the light, which is why radiologists have to go to school for this instead of starting out with basically zero medical training (like chiropractors*).
So now instead of thinking I probably have some minor problem causing a nerve to be pinched, I think my entire ribcage is crushed, broken and splintered. Thanks for giving me the X-rays, guys!
*I make a lot of fun of chiropractors in this post, but it’s just that: fun. I don’t mean to in any way diminish the profession or the countless minutes of online schooling they had to attend to get their licenses**
**Damn it, I did it again.
Cross-posted to DonnieJBurgess.com