Labels can be so limiting, yes I know. Especially as a teacher, I am mindful not to define a student by a designation (label). However, becoming knowledgable about symptoms/characteristics/challenges that are part of a diagnosis for an individual can help better meet that person’s needs. So if we use a “label” to inform us for best practice then it can be incredibly empowering and even humbling when used as a tool to enhance one’s learning environment.
That preamble was needed for me to frame my recent experience with a Chronic Pain Specialist in Vancouver, Dr. Hyams. (I reflect back on this encounter with the sincerest gratitude and warmth, seriously just writing his name makes me feel warm and fuzzy.)
I waited 4 months for this appointment, that I had actively advocated for with my GP (the one who thought it was time to go back into the classroom while still juggling the chronic migraines, pain and other slew of symptoms in addition to the various health appointments I was attending weekly to manage the symptoms). She agreed to refer me, to the wrong place initially setting me back a few more weeks, but I corrected her mistake noting that waiting 2 years on the wrong patient waitlist would not be very beneficial to my progress (this is me containing my cynicism:).
So on Friday, the long-awaited appointment with Chronic Pain Specialist, Dr. Hyams came and went. (I had even considered cancelling a few weeks ago because my migraines had subsided, but my therapist strongly advised against it, reminding me that the chronic pain was still very present and this appointment was fundamental in getting the support I need.) My husband joined me for this at my request, because I needed him there (he is the calm when I am not, he asks questions I may not think of, he hears differently than I do). I am so glad we were able to share this important moment as the team we are. I didn’t know I would feel that appreciation, but it was a significant moment in our relationship.
It didn’t take long for the good doctor to identify where my most preeminent pain resided. After palpitating muscles in my legs and arms he moved up to my shoulders and stopped with a definative, “Oh.” I agreeing with a, “Um. Ya.” (wincing at the pain the pressure from his fingertips triggered.)
He had all my medical background of what I had been doing to this point as well as two very up-to-date reports kindly written at my request by my therapist and naturopath. He took in all the information and like an old wizard who has seen every oddity and challenge of the past 1000 years, synthesized and came up with the necessary antidote for this particular context – my everlasting neck pain. My neck pain is like Sleeping Beauty’s constant slumber; it doesn’t appear to be offensive or uncomfortable to an onlooker but if you really know whats going on, its a terrible, unnatural place to be in 24 hours a day!
Here are the Coles Notes of the appointment. After noting the ropiness of the muscles in my trapezoids, especially my right side, he laid it out for us. Firstly, that is NOT how your muscles should be “at rest”. Secondly, the right is so rigid he said it was in a near state of dystonia (at this point I added, I had just had a micro-current treatment 2 days prior…so this was a “good” condition for me…he raised his eyebrows above his wire-frame glasses). Thirdly, he said the nature of the muscle pain has a direct correlation to the migraines and many of the other symptoms I am experiencing. Fourthly (I am making these transition words up now), he acknowledged this is a very real condition I am experiencing at a chronic level and expectations need to be adjusted to what I can and can not do. And finally, he labelled what I am dealing with as “Chronic Myofascial Pain Syndrome“.
So we have identified, labelled and are now prepared to go into what can be specifically done about this physical and neurological condition. What a psychological leap this is for me (as well as others in my circle) to know this isn’t just in my head, an act or excuse for not doing. Most people in my circle knew this already, but me and my default wrongness was continually in and out of doubt as far as how debilitating my physical condition really was.
On top of it all, it was validating. After nearly a year of active management and wellness steps of my own volition, without much support or involvement of my GP, I hope to close this gap with the help of the specialist. Dr. Hyams expressly said, “much of my job is bringing education to chronic pain diagnosis like yours and better informing the doctors and insurance companies of what is actually happening for patients in your condition.” He went on to emphatically state that I should not be working right now as I have to understand and adapt to the limitations of this condition. With everything I have already been doing and adding in some other options based on his report he said the goal is to manage and hopefully improve my symptoms over time.
Even though I am not teaching in my classroom to a new class of students this September, I am still very much in a learning environment. My body is my own classroom where sometimes I am the teacher but most of the time I am the student. I will continue to practice mindfulness, I will continue to learn how to advocate for myself, I will understand and honour my new “label” so that I may grow as a human, a mother, a wife and one day again as a elementary school teacher. The learning is still profoundly important just in a different context. I am feeling empowered with this new information, and this is healing in and of itself.