Perhaps it was the dancing at the wedding. Perhaps it was the new shoes. Or maybe it was just an extension of that slight crick I had in my neck when I woke up Sunday.
Whatever the cause, I’ve been experiencing some pretty serious back pain for the last couple of days. Somewhere between the bottom of my neck and the blades of my shoulders, something is terribly wrong.
I went to the University clinic yesterday to find out what. Information helps me to navigate pain. Since the pain was getting worse instead of better, I thought I’d better take the opportunity to do so, while I could still drive. I relied more heavily than usual on my car mirrors. Gosh! Objects are closer than they appear.
I got there at 9:30 a.m. A nurse interviewed me out in the waiting room. I was told that my doctor had patients, but that they would try to work me in. I let her know that I would see any doctor that could be made available. Then I sat. For a really long time.
After about twenty minutes, I was told that I could see my doctor at noon.
I went in the bathroom to cry.
Then I came back out, and read most of a book. Then, when I couldn’t read, I went outside and cried again.
I approached the desk:
“Um… I’m here for an urgent pain situation. Don’t you have an on-call doctor specifically for walk-ins?”
The two women at the desk semi-glared at me. Ok, my tone was a little ugly. I admit that.
However, this time there was someone behind the big desk who seemed to care. He asked me how long I had been waiting, and what was going on. After I told him, he explained that I really would just have to wait, but that he would check me in and get me into a room so that I could lie down while I was waiting. I was very grateful for that. It made a huge difference, and it let me get through the experience without bursting into tears again.
By the way, I tend to be a bit of a stoic. I don’t cry that often. It really, truly hurt, and my frustration level intensified the situation.
Well, I finally saw my doctor. She didn’t order an x-ray. She felt that it was a muscle issue, not a skeletal one. Yes, the vertebrae were all messed up, but with the deep muscle spasms that were by this time affecting much of my back (and radiating to my shoulders and arms, and not allowing me to turn my head very far to the left) had to be calmed down before an x-ray would make any sense anyway.
There was an amusing moment when she asked me how I would rate the pain from 1-10. I hate that question. Pain is so subjective, and I always have the tendency to under-rate it (stoic, see?). I said that if I hadn’t experienced a ruptured ectopic pregnancy, I would put it at a 10. She smiled at me. She got it. That was a whole different kind of scale – at that point, I’m not sure it’s even pain anymore, but we don’t really have another word to describe it.
This back pain is the worst muscle pain I’ve ever felt, though.
Evidently, using the hot tub was the wrong thing to do. She said I could try that later, when the muscles were healing. As it was, it probably disturbed the muscles even further.
She prescribed me a muscle relaxant so I could sleep at night, and told me to take ibuprofen during the day. She also advised ice packs. “Cold, not hot.”
Ahhh, the ice feels really, really good. It seems to be doing more than the medicine.
On the way out, I went back to the desk to thank the man who had cared enough to take what action he could to make things easier for me. He said that he thought I had a point, and asked me if I wanted to make any suggestions for the clinic. I bit back my immediate response. However, I did say that some sort of back-up was clearly needed for the urgent care situations that didn’t necessarily require a visit to the emergency room. I said that I would be glad to make myself available to talk to any decision-makers about the issues involved.
Then I went to fill the prescription, but evidently my coverage had changed and I had the wrong card. Sigh. So I drove back – just in time to pick up Ben from school – extricated the necessary information from J, and went back. That wait was only 20 minutes. By the time I was able to rest, I felt like I’d been run over by an 18-wheeler.
Well, guess what? I got a call today. The clinic is in the process of rethinking some of the procedures, so it was good timing. Perhaps they could have a doctor on-call who wouldn’t make appointments for the time – if there wasn’t an immediate need, such a doctor could still use the time to catch up on patient case records and follow-up. I mentioned the model of the pediatrician’s office, with well-waiting, sick-waiting, and so on. That might make sense for infection control too. She thanked me and said that my feedback would be taken into account. I hope so.
I have the feeling that medical groups like this are dumping patients on emergency rooms more than ever. I think it’s unethical – it doesn’t make economic sense and it certainly doesn’t give the best care to the patient. Moreover, I’ll bet that most emergency rooms are kept very busy with real emergencies. I’ve seen studies about their lack of preparedness for community-level emergency situations. Wouldn’t managed care facilities then be called upon as well?
There have been times when I didn’t seek medical help because I was too sick to face the daunting prospect of sitting there waiting for hours, and I didn’t want to infect anyone else. I had a really bad flu a few years ago, and I actually felt that I would be a danger to others if I left the house. With flu, you can do that, but the doctor needed to see me for this kind of situation.
Today, since I haven’t had to sit in an uncomfortable waiting room chair for hours, my back is not punching me with the excruciating level of pain that it was yesterday. It’s still a bit intense, but the ice packs and medication are starting to have some effect. I still can’t move my head, but the pain is more localized. I know exactly where it’s coming from now.
So that’s progress.