The Pain Game: When Will I Play the Violin?

Friday, June 8, 2012

Roman Background: Painful Travels in Italy

My regular readers know that my recent posts have diverged from the usual subject matter of food and cooking due to the back injury I incurred in Rome more than three (!) weeks ago. Sure, I saw the Colosseum and even had an unexpected brief evening out at local hot spot. Despite this, the injury was severe, and I’ve fallen quite behind in my work and writing, which is incredibly frustrating. Two and half weeks post-injury, I finally saw a spine specialist last Friday. (More on this below.) Following the visit, I decided in the eleventh hour last Friday – read: one hour before we needed to leave for the airport – that I would rally to attend a family wedding in Chicago with my husband. (You must remember that after what I lived through in Rome, my bar for what I’m able to accomplish has been ineffably altered.) I thus hobbled around as quickly as possible, grabbed my cane, and off we went. I was instructed to be “as active as possible,” you see, and it had already been more than two weeks of immobility. Not easy for a fitness enthusiast like me. I therefore interpreted this advice, which was not further qualified or quantified despite my requests, as walking to the best of my ability.

I do indeed plan to post some nutrition and foodie pieces soon. In the meantime, I wanted to share the graphic my parents and I happened upon in the waiting room of the doctor’s office. I hope you will find it either informative or amusing or both. (Click on the image to open up a larger version if the print is too small.) I’ll first provide the written intro to the piece. Next, look at the graphic, and then I’ll share with you a few of the Newby reactions.

Waiting Room Reading Material: The Road to Recovery

Introduction. “When you are injured, your anxieties, fears, and knowledge will powerfully influence your recovery. Starting at injury, look at both roads down which you can travel. Where are you now? Can you recognize some of the places? What experiences have you had? Where will you end up? Wellbeing? Discuss the map with your clinician.”

(Adapted from Butler DS, Moseley GA. 2003. “Explain Pain” from the NOIgroup, dedicated to explicating healthy notions of self through neuroscience knowledge.)

Newby Reactions: What Is This, Stand Up?

Honestly, I’m not sure any of this will translate. And, frankly, if you don’t find parts of the graphic somewhat amusing without further explanation then you should probably stop reading altogether and read my (much funnier) post on Moxie instead. If you do keep reading (kind soul) then remember that this conversation occurred in a very quiet waiting room, with a few other people peacefully sitting in their chairs while my father and I bantered for about 5 minutes in a fairly gregarious fashion at 7.45 in the morning.

PKN is me, NIN is my dad.

PKN: “Yup, that’s me, hunched over, holding a cane. What am I, 80? Seriously.” (Continues.) “But look at that, if I continue on this road here, I’m about 30 years younger and look fabulous! AND I can play the vioiln. Awesome. Of course, I need to become a man first, but whatever – at least I can play tennis.”

NIN: “This thing is supposed to be helpful and understandable to patients. “Bravery Chicane”? What the hell does that mean? And what is “chicane”?

(I actually didn’t know the meaning of the word either. Do you? And I really still don’t understand the context in which it appears on this graphic.)

PKN: “No clue. But there’s ‘Freakout Corner.’ People get that.” (Yup, I know it well.)

NIN “Castration?!?!” (my dad says alarmingly)*

PKN: “No, dad.” (Chuckles.) “Ca-tas-tro-phi-za-tion.” (Guffaws. Several people look over, scowling.) “You know, worrying about bad things happening?” 

(Like, am I ever going to be able to walk again, let alone run the Boston Marathon in 2012, I think to myself. Or is this a tumor? How long do I have left to live?) 

Both continue staring at the graphic, laughing. More quips are made. You get the gist. A little impromptu waiting room comedy. At least, we thought so; I believe other patients were less than amused.

* I’m sure my dad was kidding. Pretty sure.

Chicago Postscript: One Week Hence, 3.5 Weeks Post-Injury

I began writing this post one week ago after reading this graphic, following a day of several doctors’ office visits. I’m finishing it today after our quick jaunt to Chicago. So, let’s see, to recap briefly so as not to bore you, let’s just say that in the past three weeks I’ve been through anxiety town, freakout corner, and fearville; had a fair bit of both helpful and unhelpful information; have seen a long list of professionals (which will continue); and have sat for some time contemplating life from Mount Nowhere.

Nevertheless, I set out to Chicago feeling hopeful, and was even able to stand up (almost) straight and proud in my gorgeous sari from India on the wedding day. No better way to see a city than walking, my husband and I traversed the streets of Chicago for a few days to take in the fabulous food, art, architecture, and music, albeit at a slower pace than usual. (Want to hear more about things like that in real time? Follow me on Twitter or Facebook.)

However, by the time we arrived at the airport on Wednesday evening after what I considered light activity (e.g., my husband enjoyed a 10 mile run alone while I begrudgingly worked from the hotel) I was having great trouble walking. This marathoner doesn’t do well with implementing moderation without further instruction, apparently.

By Thursday morning, I was in extreme pain while I headed to my physical therapy appointment – yet another health professional. Clearly I had overdone “as active as possible,” arriving at “Re-injury Central” and right back to “Pain City.” Here I currently reside and feel much like I did 3 weeks ago. Incidentally, I bypassed the train-track loop of “compo railway.” What the hell is that?

I later chatted with one of my doctors, who suggested I might consider visiting “Cortisol Corner.” (No he didn’t actually say “Cortisol Corner.” Come on. The graphic may be cheesy but the spine specialist isn’t Mr. Rogers.)

I now sit quietly. Well, lie, really. And I wonder yet again: When will I play the violin?


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Dr. P.K. Newby is a nutrition scientist, speaker, and author with expertise in all things food, farm to fork, whether preventing obesity and other chronic diseases through diet or teaching planet-conscious eating. As a health expert and food personality, she brings together her passions for food, cooking, science, and sustainability to educate and inspire, helping people eat their way towards better health, one delectable bite at a time. Healthy Hedonism (TM) is her philosophy: Because healthy food shouldn’t suck.

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