By Cory Bilton
In mid-December I woke one morning with severe numbness and tingling in my left arm. Initially, I thought the sensations would quickly subside. Within a few minutes of stretching, some feeling had returned to my left arm. But my pinky and ring finger continued to feel completely numb. In the month since this happened, I have had ongoing pain, discomfort, and dysfunction in my left arm and hand. I have recently seen an orthopedist and will undergo diagnostic testing and some occupational therapy in the next few weeks. At this time, my recovery is hopeful, but uncertain.
While my injury was not the result of someone’s negligence, my path to recovery shares something with what many accident victims experience while recovering. I am very fortunate that my injury is slight compared with the injuries of most of the people I have represented. But the sequence of experiences—injury, symptoms, diagnosis, therapy, and ongoing evaluation—is similar.
Although I had some scuffs, scrapes, and bruises as a kid, my injuries were always visible and I recovered in a predictable fashion. But this injury seems different. The problem is completely invisible to me, the symptoms are largely discomfort and dysfunction, and the outlook for recovery is uncertain. These factors make an injury harder to cope with and explain to others. From what I know right now, what has happened to my arm may be permanent. So there is a psychological impact in addition to a physical one. Because this seems like a useful opportunity for a personal injury lawyer to walk in his client’s shoes, I will share my experience dealing with my injury, medical treatment, and recovery in a series of posts. My hope is that my experience will help advance the discussion on injuries, medical care, and the ways in which people cope and recover.
The First Day
After spending five to ten minutes stretching my left arm and hand on that morning in mid-December, I realized the numbness and tingling was not going to go away quickly. A faint panic set in, similar to feeling trapped or pinned-down. The two outer fingers on my left hand felt like they were asleep. As I started to go about my morning routine, I noticed pain was pulsing up and down my left arm. It felt like someone turning a volume knob of pain from 0 to 10 back to 0 again. In addition to this symphony of unpleasant sensations in my arm and hand, I had difficulty moving my fingers and making a fist. My hand felt unexpectedly weak. For example, I could not twist the lid off a jar (I tried using it to alternatively hold the jar or the lid with my left hand, both attempts failed). Instinctively, I started favoring my left hand and attempted to keep it still at my side as I finished getting ready for the day.
When I sat down at my desk later that morning to work, the waves of pain seemed to become worse. My two numb fingers felt swollen and would not punch keys on the keyboard. I noticed that if I was completely still, there was nothing to distract my mind from the pain I was feeling in my arm. So sitting at my desk to get work done seemed to make the discomfort worse. Some waves of pain made me wince. At times my arm felt like it was being electrocuted and other times like it was on fire. If you asked me at any one moment if I was coping ok, I would have said yes. But by mid-morning, the relentlessness of the sensations was starting to fray my patience and mental well-being. My arm did not improve and I slogged through the rest of the day in discomfort.
Toughing it Out Before Asking for Help
For the first few days, I continued to think I could tough it out. Whatever was wrong with my arm would surely heal with time. But my arm did not seem to improve, despite rest and disuse. The pain woke me up after an initial hour or two of sleep each night. Then I’d lay awake for 2 to 4 hours, unable to get comfortable enough to slip back into slumber. After three days of fitful sleep, I started to feel like a zombie during the day. My left arm and hand continued to throb with pain constantly. I had trouble thinking any thought that took longer than a few seconds to formulate because my attention was always disrupted by shooting pain. I tried every conceivable position, both resting and moving, to alleviate the discomfort. I had no success.
By the fourth day, I felt close to my wits end. I decided I need to go see a doctor about my injury. I contacted a local orthopedists’ office. I figured I could easily make an appointment, explain my symptoms, get a diagnosis, and get on with getting better. Not so fast, it turned out. I could make an appointment within a week if I wanted to see a physicians’ assistant (“PA”), but the symptoms I explained to the receptionist sounded complex enough that she thought I should see a hand doctor. I agreed. The earliest appointment to see the hand orthopedist was over a month away. I tried to add some urgency to my request by explaining that my symptoms were really uncomfortable and having a pretty significant impact on my daily activities. She understood, but a month away was the earliest appointment I could make. Since the holidays were coming up and I was going to be out of town, I took the mid-January appointment. I’d just suck it up and bear it until then.
Next up: the first month and my first doctor’s visit…
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