In 2014 I stumbled on a staircase, reached out to balance myself against the wall, and was rewarded with a breathtaking pain in my left shoulder that I tried to ignore for a year. For all that time I was unable to raise my hands over my head to wash my hair, but because of the chronic exhaustion that colored my life for a good two decades, the idea of simply arranging a doctor’s appointment was overwhelming, never mind a series of physical therapy sessions.
By the summer of 2016 I had moved out of my moldy apartment and regained enough mental and physical stamina that I felt I could tackle the issue. I went to the local pride-of-the-town clinic — globally-recognized, POTUS-praised, and nicknamed “The Machine” by my acupuncturist — where a doctor explained that the offending muscle was either just tweaked, or actually torn like the meat on a piece of bacon separating from the fat, drying out, and shrivelling up. She also said that “the policy” was not to use an MRI to determine which type of injury was involved, because the treatment for both injuries would be the same, mostly stretching.
I found this disturbing. To keep such information from a patient seems shitty to me. I paid for the MRI myself in order to know what I was dealing with and to minimize the mental energy I’d have to expend on wondering how bad it is or will get. Luckily the muscle was not torn.
I was sent to a compassionate, patient and articulate physical therapist who ran me through exercises that revealed that the majority of the muscles were tight and needed stretching, but two in particular produced a different kind of pain and felt more wrong with each session.
After receiving a bill for $700 for just two of the sessions, I bailed on the PT and looked for a new acupuncturist, since my old one had left town. Such a search is usually pretty frustrating, especially when your state government has a history of changing certification laws every other year. I lucked out and found a good one ten minutes from me, who trained at hard-core acupuncture schools and has a calming zen kinda vibe.
At $90 an hour, I could afford to follow the recommended treatment schedule of twice a week for six weeks. In the first treatment, I realized that the focal point of the pain was underneath the left shoulder blade, which I believe is one of the spots on either side of the spine where a bunch of nerves traverse like a huge freeway interchange. That pain turns out to be a not-uncommon complaint amongst the mold-afflicted. I can remember it bothering me for at least 25 years.
Stabbing sharp pointy things into that messed-up cesspool of nerves felt horrible and good all at the same time — one of the joys of acupuncture. You give the acupuncturist directions to where it hurts the most and when the needle gets to the right place you’re all, “KILLLL IT KILL IIIIITTT KILL OHHHHHH aahhhhhh.”
Within the first five treatments, I learned to recognize and release tension in my shoulder and neck area as I went about my day. I changed my sitting habits so that I am as symmetrical as possible, with both feet on the floor, elbows not resting on anything, and leaning back a little rather than forward. On airplanes I use a rolled-up blanket behind my back and sit as symmetrically as possible for as long as I can in the torture chamber known as Economy. These changes had a definite effect on the shoulder pain.
18 months later, I wouldn’t say I was limber or strong in the shoulders, but I’m not favoring one side any longer, and there is no pain. I was supposed to keep stretching at home and to get regular massages, but I was pretty lazy about the former and my two experiences with the latter were at a franchise retail massage outfit staffed by idiots and reeking of microwaved fast food so I quit that.
If I take a large dose of the anti-inflammatory herb boswellin, my other various aches and pains go away completely for a day, but after two days on it, the frozen-shoulder-related area starts to hurt as if things were rubbing against each other. This is one of the reasons I’ve concluded that the big-picture view of my health is that I’ve got major inflammation in a lot of places and have for years, but it has since been reduced on a large scale. Knock on wood.
*Ten points if you get the reference.