by Pallas Hutchison
As a massage therapist, I specialize in pain management. I enjoy the challenge of identifying the specific muscle(s) involved and find fulfillment in removing that pain for my clients. No one should have to live in pain. I believe that statement to the very core of my being but sympathy for my client's pain is not empathy. As with many things, I learned empathy the hard way.
In January 2015, I ended up in the emergency room with unexplained and excruciating pain. I didn't cry or scream during the birth of either child; I did both now. Despite the care of the EMTs, I screamed and passed out when transferred from their gurney to a hospital bed. After multiple tests, three different doctors prescribed different sets of medication but none could explain the source of the pain. Minor issues popped up but none should have left me completely debilitated, even when combined. Through all of this, fear permeated every cell of my body. I couldn't follow logic through the maze of pain. I had not injured myself; I simply woke up unable to move.
Despite the doctors' willingness to prescribe medication, they kept asking if I was a junkie. Their insistence filled me with anger and embarrassment. The fear had intensified. If I couldn't find a cause, how could I fix it? The pain would never go away or I would become dependent on painkillers to function.
For the weeks following, I needed help to walk. Using a walker at 30 brought feelings of shame and humiliation. I felt pathetic. Thankfully, this occurred during brutal snowstorms so client's were snowed in and school was cancelled. I had an excuse not to leave the house. The few occasions I did venture to a store, I felt the young clerks eyes following me. I don't know if she felt pity or disgust. Inwardly, I cringed, imagining she felt both. I had not realized how much pride I had.
Since the doctors offered only pills and no answers, I turned to what I knew: alternative medicine. A friend and colleague used a combination acupuncture and massage to reduce the pain. A month and eight sessions later, I could move without a walker or a cane but the cause remained unknown. Next came physical therapy to help strengthen weak areas in hopes of preventing a relapse; it is still ongoing.
After receiving a crash course in chronic pain, I am surprised to discover that pain is not my biggest problem. The feelings of helplessness, anger, fear, and shame are harder to combat. What I feel I should be able to do doesn't align with what I am actually able to do. Accepting my physical limitations will take time. Eventually, I may be able to return to martial arts but most days I'm happy to be able to carry laundry up the stairs or weed my garden.