There will be nothing deep today because I’m in pain. The kind of pain I can’t describe to someone who’s never experienced it. Shoulder pain. Rotate your arm with your elbow straight out and your hand pointing down. Easy enough? For me, that movement feels like being stabbed in the shoulder, then having the knife twisted. I can feel the movement grinding, then a twinge sharp enough to make me feel faint. The pain makes me obsessive about it.
Easy enough to avoid it, you say — after all, who walks around with their arm making a square with the ground, anyway? Except that that rotating motion is something you do all the time in the normal course of living. You’re not conscious of it until it hurts. And then you’re aware of every slight movement. Even breathing can hurt.
I tried to keep my shoulder moving because that sometimes seems to help, but this time it got worse overnight. Now it hurts constantly, and my arm and hand are achy, yet numb. To move my hand, I have to pick it up with the other one; it is that weak.
I don’t know what’s wrong with it; I forget to mention it to my doctor when I see him because it’s usually not bothering me then. I must remember in May . . . Once it was so bad, though, I went to him especially for it, and he sent me for X-rays, that showed the shoulder is fine, but I have arthritis in my neck — my neck, which doesn’t hurt and remains strong and flexible.
Bursitis? Rotator cuff? Pinched nerve? I don’t know; I do know it used to be mostly my left shoulder that felt it, but last weekend, my right shoulder was aching, too.
Today, this isn’t an ache, though, in my left shoulder; it’s stabbing pain, weakness, and numbness all rolled into a debilitating package. I know I did something to cause it; for one thing, I tend to rest my head against my hand, like the Rodin sculpture, The Thinker, and that jams the shoulder and seems to cause it or exacerbate it.
They say shoulder pain is among the worst types. I believe it; an acquaintance once dislocated his shoulder sliding into second base and promptly slipped into unconsciousness. I am not at that point yet, however. Sleep is impossible because the pain keeps waking me up. Unconsciousness would be a blessing.
Appreciate your joints when you are pain free. I pulled a hip muscle a few years ago; I don’t even know how, except that it seems to have happened in my sleep. It took at least 10 minutes to walk a block to catch a cab to the hospital. Muscle relaxants and a strong prescription for ibuprofen were an immediate help. But during the two days I spent in agony before seeking help (hoping it would heal on its own), I realised how much we rely on things like hips and knees and shoulders and how much work they do — and what it’s like when they can’t work.
The last time my shoulder hurt this badly, the pain lasted 10 days, and the whole arm was so numb I couldn’t move it. After three days, when nothing worked, I told my brother that if this were an incurable/untreatable condition, I would kill myself. I couldn’t sleep and I couldn’t function. I had to do everything one handed, but every movement still caused pain. It suddenly started to fade, through no intervention, and then I began to wonder if that wasn’t an infection of some kind. The timing seemed right, as did the onset and disappearance . . .
If this is what my dotage has in store for me as a “normal” part of aging, I am beginning to wonder if a 45-year lifespan isn’t such a bad idea . . .
Postscript added 23 May 2003: This problem turned out to be what the orthopedic surgeon described as a “relatively common” condition known as impingement syndrome that can lead to tearing of the rotator cuff. He gave me a cortisone shot in the left shoulder (which was not as bad as I anticipated), and I had physical therapy for a while. The pain has come back in both shoulders once in a while, but not as badly, and aspirin helps. Now if I could just be disciplined enough to do the physical therapy regularly to strengthen the rotator cuff . . .