A Short Story of a Long Enduring Pain
It felt like a knife in my hip. It stabbed and twisted in the area that joined my upper thigh to my lower torso. In April of last year, this was the best way to discribe the pain concentrated in my right hip/buttock area. My right foot wasn’t in pain just yet. It had just gone numb. And I could hardly move it. I was in the ER for my fifth time that week. Writhing on the gurney with tears streaming down my face, I implored the medical staff to do something. I wanted them to take the pain away, I had been asking for days. At the beginning of the year they would inject me with an opiate painkiller and possibly a steroid to calm the muscle in my buttock.
They made it known that this time there would be no steroids to loosen the great wad of inflamed and irritated muscle in my ass. It was the pain in my hip that hurt the most at that moment. I didn’t want the narcotic pain reliever, but I was told there was nothing else to be done. They gave me a shot of oxycodone, then a prescription of the same. I was to pick up the meds at the pharmacy in the hospital.
The pain in my hip, pelvis, and thigh was too much for me to walk. I would have to crawl.
“Fuck all of you!” I emotionally spat through snotty tears. They gave me weary looks. They had tried to help me, said the ER doctor that swore he saw me earlier that week. There was nothing they could do if I wouldn’t see the primary doctor I had chosen when I had a car. There was nothing they could do if I couldn't find a place to rest.
I continued to crawl down the hall. Awkward stares from other patients and patrons as I clutched the floor, moving slowly along, made me grateful that I didn’t have the bags that I carried everyday because I was homeless. I had just one bag with me. It had a change of clothes and some toilettes in case I had time to freshen up and change.
I couldn’t stand. It was just too painful. The doctors and nurses had withdrawn as I made it around the corner away from the UW Emergency area. They had left me in the company of the security guards.
“Ms. Thompson,” said an exasperated male voice, “do you remember me from the other night?”
“How in the hell can I remember you when I can’t see your face!” I sarcastically bit back at him.
“Why don’t you just stand?” Insisted the shiny pair of navy work shoes in front of me. There were pairs of them circling me in the square of tan and cream tiles that formed a larger square along the walls in the hallway.
I laughed with bitter tears stinging my face. An unfortunate realization had come to me.
The other morning, earlier that week I had made no effort to curb my anger. I howled and cried in pain, refusing to move. The doctors had told me they would put me in a chair to remove me. I had lain out in the parking lot a few hours before dawn on Tuesday in a vain attempt to force them to let me stay. They made it clear I wouldn’t be staying this time either.
“It is too painful for me to stand. It is too painful for me to walk.” I replied calmly.
Well, calmly enough. The group of uniformed men offered to help me to the pharmacy then to the bus stop. I let them coax me back into the wheelchair. It was too painful to sit directly on my bottom. I turned my body to the left and brought my right leg over my left. Snuggling down in the chair, I made my chin rest where my left arm should be. Instead I tucked that arm under my body.
They wheeled me to the pharmacy. There was another woman waiting for her meds. Her movements were slow and steady. I felt a twinge of shame in my deliberate indignation at being put out of the hospital in such pain. I could tell she was in a lot of pain. This woman had an aide though. She also had flowers and balloons, clearly gifted from loved ones, tethered to her wheelchair.
I took my meds, and the smart-ass comments from the security force that was to accompany me out to the bus stop. I just kept my lips sealed. The shot of painkiller wasn’t kicking in. The men had brought me out to the street in the wheelchair and took it with them. I laid on the concrete in agony waiting for the bus. Not for long, but there was a puddle of tears on the pavement.
On the bus I writhed in pain, but I didn’t cry out. I knew there was no point in it anymore.
Like millions of Americans, I was having problems with my lower back. Unlike a lot of them I had to suffer even worse because of my living situation. That week of excruciating pain taught me a lot however.
According to the Mayo Clinic, four out of five Americans will experience back pain in their life. The costs to the United States is an estimated $100 billion a year. Low back pain is the most common of all back injuries. People who suffer from low back pain frequent the doctor the most. This pain is the major cause to call off work and collect disability as well.
I had been doing things to counteract the possibility of my body suffering from a debilitating disease. I quit smoking cigarettes. I cut down on processed foods, cutting them out as much as possible. Unfortunately, I had gained a bunch of weight after I had quit cigarettes.
I had lost the weight a couple years earlier when I frequented the gym, and did yoga in my house. However, the year before I was homeless I lay around and ate homemade cookies and ate tons of store-bought candy to keep the nicotine cravings at bay.
All of the weight I had lost over the course of three years I had regained in just months.
I didn’t realize then that I had set myself up for failure. From the moment I became homeless I carried heavy things everyday. On top of carrying bags and suitcases of my belongings, I decided I should start working out again. I started my workouts like I had never taken a break. It was just a recipe for disaster.
A few interesting facts about back pain:
- Low back pain is the single leading cause of disability worldwide, according to the Global Burden of Disease 2010.
- One-half of all working Americans admit to having back pain symptoms each year.2
- Back pain is one of the most common reasons for missed work. In fact, back pain is the second most common reason for visits to the doctor’s office, outnumbered only by upper-respiratory infections.
- Most cases of back pain are mechanical or non-organic—meaning they are not caused by serious conditions, such as inflammatory arthritis, infection, fracture or cancer.
- Americans spend at least $50 billion each year on back pain—and that’s just for the more easily identified costs.3
- Experts estimate that as many as 80% of the population will experience a back problem at some time in our lives.4
As I write this I sit in a room I rent at a boarding house for women, I can look back and see where things went wrong. It baffles me how I made it through the summer. I look back and see my smiling face throughout the pain of the necessity to carry heavy bags. I marvel at the memories of my compliant nature, even through the pain with the hardships of working a retail job, or doing different cleaning tasks for some people who allowed me to live with them.
That day back in April I found a ride to the Salvation Army shelter from the library where I had gone to continue to rest for the day. While watching the Capitol slide by my view I reflected on an incident that had happened that Tuesday.
I hadn’t found a ride earlier in the week back in April. I hadn’t found time to rest, and the pain was too great to subside just from not carrying things and taking meds. I was in too much pain to walk as well. That time I had to crawl two blocks to get to the shelter. As I approached the shelter, a fellow resident walked over to meet me. That day I had a few bags with me and I voiced my gratitude that she had come to help me.
“Do you need an ambulance?” She asked instead.
“What? No, I don’t need an ambulance! Will you please carry my bags?” I asked with a high-pitched tone.
“No. I don’t think helping you right now is what you need.” She answered, and continued to walk beside me as she lectured me on what I should do to regain my independence from others’ help. I don't remember what she said at all, really, there was no sense to it. What was clear was her refusal to help.
What I do remember is staring at the pavement, feeling the warm, wetness of my knees as I crawled slowly along. I had undertaken this bout of homelessness in clear conscious of the consequences. As much as it would hurt, bleed, bruise, or stiffen; I knew then I had to get my life together on my own this time.
Tips to Prevent Back Pain
- Maintain a healthy diet and weight.
- Remain active—under the supervision of your doctor of chiropractic.
- Avoid prolonged inactivity or bed rest.
- Warm up or stretch before exercising or other physical activities, such as gardening.
- Maintain proper posture.
- Wear comfortable, low-heeled shoes.
- Sleep on a mattress of medium firmness to minimize any curve in your spine.
- Lift with your knees, keep the object close to your body, and do not twist when lifting.
- Quit smoking. Smoking impairs blood flow, resulting in oxygen and nutrient deprivation to spinal tissues.
- Work with your doctor of chiropractic to ensure that your computer workstation is ergonomically correct.