Chronic pain has been a constant companion ever since I was hit by a car nine years ago. And it’s funny that something I know so well has been so good at concealing itself. I knew where the pain was. I just didn’t know where it was coming from.
The traffic accident injured my brain and required months of recovery. The thing I never got over, though, was the chronic pain in my feet, legs and backside. Since the accident in 2007 I have taken oxycodone every day. Sometimes as many as four Norco or Vicodin pills daily. As to why this pain wouldn’t go away, my rehab doctor… well, he basically didn’t know. Though he theorized the nerve damage in my head was causing my brain to send the wrong messages, telling me I had pain in places where there was no actual injury.
Maybe you’ve heard stories about phantom pain, in which a man feels great pain in his left hand even though his left arm has been amputated. The hand doesn’t exist. How can it hurt?
I was referred to a story by Atul Gawandi that gave examples of how pain or discomfort were not the nervous system responding to the reality of an injury but it was something perceived in the brain that seems to make no sense. But that didn’t matter because the brain is calling the shots when it come to all sensations.
But my experience and my pain theory took a turn when I started visiting a chiropractor, eventually started seeing a chiropractor named Richard.
The first few times I went to a chiropractor in my neighborhood. I had gone through two acupuncturists with no effect. But chiropractic actually seemed to make a difference. It reduced the pain and the relief actually stuck around for a while.
But the effects weren’t dramatic and, following treatment, I’d be back to where I started once a couple of months went by. I was still convinced that I’d have to live with the pain for the rest of my life. Then I got wind of Richard from my wife. Richard gave monthly presentations at the library branch she managed to educate people about alternative medical options. Sounded more like marketing than education, but what the hell.
Richard is a short Jewish man with a round belly and half glasses. He speaks in an even tone that sounds pedantic and a little long-suffering. Once he heard my story from my wife, he insisted that he could make me better.
The first time I went to his practice, Richard insisted I read a half-dozen brochures about chiropractic treatment. I told him after years of no improvement to my condition he had to expect me to be skeptical, regardless of what his brochures said. Part of the problem was that his claims sounded unrealistic. Part or the problem was my health plan didn’t cover his services, so if I hired him it would be out-of-pocket.
After the introductory visit, months went by before I finally called him and said I would give it a try. How could I not, after nothing else had worked? If it ended up being a couple thousand bucks down the drain I could live with that.
The theory of chiropractic holds that my problem is the result of subluxation, the misalignment of vertebrae that causes constriction of blood flow and nerve passages. But if you get everything lined up right, they say, you’re good. Instead of my brain being messed up and sending the wrong signals, telling healthy body parts they hurt, the problem was my spine, which was doing a poor job of relaying the proper signals because it was being pinched by the bones that surround it.
You can argue with theory but it’s harder to argue with results. And since I’ve been visiting this chiropractor my pain has improved dramatically. I’ve gone from 3-4 Norco a day to just one a day. The pain… I really can’t call it pain anymore. The discomfort is still there but it doesn’t run as deep. It’s always been most severe in the feet. Now it surrounds my feet but doesn’t penetrate them.
I remain doubtful that I will ever feel like I did before the accident. Taking the edge off the pain? I’ve gotten there. But making it disappear? That’s more than I can allow myself to expect. I’ve lived with the pain for so long it feels like it’s part of the aging process. So getting rid of it seems as unlikely as restoring my youth.
We’ve found the hiding place of my pain. I may not expect but I do hope that means we’ll be able catch it and kill it.