I Have Learned How to Make Two Hours of Misery Fun
I’m living with severe dystonia from a stroke I had 20 years ago. This means that the muscles in my left upper extremity have abnormal muscle tone. They never receive the signal from my brain to relax. Constant muscle contraction is very painful. You can imagine this if you make a tight fist and hold it that way for 24 hours. My left hand has been in a similar state for 20 years. My elbow is often bent with no intention from me to do so. The back of my shoulder has developed into a solid brick which no amount of massage can break up. The only treatment that has shown a modicum of success is Botox injections every three months.
We think of Botox as being a cosmetic procedure. This is because when used cosmetically, it temporarily paralyzes muscles in the face that produce wrinkles. When injected intramuscularly into large muscles, it weakens them until the nerves are regenerated, usually in about three months. This makes the muscles more comfortable and in some cases, more functional.
I’ve been going for these injections every three months since 2007. I need about 20 injections at a time because so many muscles are affected. The procedure is lengthy and extremely painful.The doctors have to use an EMG needle which provides feedback regarding the level of activity in the muscle once it is inside the muscle. This is the only sure way to know that they are injecting the medicine in the right place. The needle is connected to a monitor which provides an audible signal to indicate how active the muscle is. I have developed a technique to get through this arduous process.
I start by making jokes with the nurse who calls me from the waiting room. I ask if they have gotten the designer patient gowns I requested. When she moves me from one treatment room to another, I ask if I’m getting an upgrade because I’m such a loyal customer. She replied that she is taking me to the penthouse suite. This is amusing because we are on the underground floor of the hospital.
After I change into the ugly cotton gown, I pretend I am at a spa in my robe. The doctors have learned to play along with my game because I do it consistently. I request softer lighting and spa music. They are not able to accommodate my requests. I complain bitterly.
During my most recent treatment, I practiced the breathing techniques I learned long ago in childbirth classes to help deal with the pain. I keep my eyes off the menacing looking needles as best I can, but sometimes I can’t help but look and am shocked to see how deeply they are stuck into my arm. The spasms in my arm get worse as a result of the painful stimulation. So while the doctor is aiming for the right spot, my arm resists. This looks particularly awful when I see the needle buried inches deep in my arm and it is trying to pull away; completely out of my control. I start talking to the doctor whom I’ve known since 2007. I tell him about how my oldest son recently disappeared to Canada for three days without telling me. He tells me stories about his younger kids asking about things like what lust means. Anything to distract me from the pain which I imagine could be used as a torture technique. I sing out loud. Anything. When the two hour procedure is done, I get up and say, “That was fun.” Some of it actually was. A good bit of it actually sucked very much. Attitude is everything.
If you are faced with an unpleasant medical procedure, I hope you can take my distraction techniques with you to help make it seem quicker than it is.
Thank you for reading :)