Falling Apart At Forty-Two
Back /Arm Pain
From Fatherhood to Photography, Computers to Cooking
Back /Arm Pain
It’s been a crazy few weeks and, unfortunately, not in a good way.
Three weeks ago, I suddenly got a bad neck and back muscle spasm. It hurt to move, turn my head, sit down, or get up. I’ve gotten these before. They usually appear in stressful situations and disappear in a day or so. Unfortunately, for whatever reason, the pain continued for an entire week. Just when I would think it was gone, the pain would return and pain medication only helped a little. The pain would even spread down my arms. One night, the pain across my body kept me up so late that it triggered a late night panic attack. Still, as difficult as this was, it was nothing compared to the next event that turned our lives upside down.
Friday June 12th was my mother-in-law’s birthday. It was also the day when she was retiring. Needless to say, we went out with B’s parents for a celebratory dinner. We ordered our food and began talking, but B’s mother kept rubbing her upper chest area – just under her neck. She explained that her chest hurt bad. We were worried, but she assured us that she was fine. B began looking up some symptoms on Google while mom also noted that she felt sweaty. She thought it was indigestion and took some medication for that, but the pain just got worse. NHL, sitting next to her, was getting worried (as were the rest of us) and kept rubbing her back and asking if she was alright.
By the time the food came, she was pale and looked like she was going to pass out on her plate. We finally decided that she needed to go to the hospital. She tried to argue but we countered that we’d call 911 if she didn’t go immediately. Besides, we would rather she go to the hospital and have it turn out to be nothing than not go and have it turn out to be something! My father-in-law exited the booth, followed by NHL, and my mother-in-law slowly exited. (NHL kept trying to hurry her up so she could quickly get the help that she obviously needed.) My wife saw them out to their car while I sat at the table with the boys.
With their food served and their grandparents gone, the boys dug in. B came back but (for obvious reasons) didn’t feel like eating. I was worried but had the opposite reaction. When I’m worried, I stress eat. Even more, I wasn’t sure if we would need to run out of the restaurant so I gobbled my food down quickly. (Given that I eat quickly to begin with, that’s saying something.) We got B’s food and her parents’ food wrapped up to go, paid the bill, and hurried to the car. B went to see her mother in the ER while I took the kids home to get them ready for bed. That night, B didn’t get in until well after midnight.
The next morning, B went back to the hospital. By this point, we knew what was going on. My mother in law had had a heart attack. It was a mild one, but a mild heart attack is still a heart attack. We knew that she would be in the hospital for quite a few days as they observed her and ran tests. Those next days went by like a blur. B’s brother came into town to visit his mother. I kept the boys busy while B stayed by her mother’s side. The boys and I even visited mom in the hospital a few times. (Since they saw her looking so weak and sick during her heart attack, we knew it would be important for them to see her feeling better even if it was in a hospital bed.)
Finally, after some confirmation that her heart was alright, she was released on Tuesday. Of course, she’s still going to need to take it easy for a bit, but she’s already doing better.
There are a couple of lessons here. First of all, Dr. Google can often get a bad rap. Yes, looking up random symptoms can lead you to hypochondria or make you think you have some disease that you don’t have. However, it can also help you discover the symptoms of something serious when you would otherwise just write it off as nothing important. Secondly, heart attack symptoms in men differ from those in women. The classic "movie heart attack" is a guy clutching his chest, perhaps complaining of pain in his left arm, and then collapsing on the floor. The real life symptoms of a heart attack can include heartburn/indigestion, sweating, arm pain in either arm, toothache, and even general malaise. Knowing the real symptoms and getting help quickly can be the difference between life and death. Finally, never be too proud to seek help or write off your suffering as not important enough to get medical attention. Time can be a big determining factor in the outcome of heart attacks and many other medical issues. The quicker you get medical help, the better.
Once B’s mother was on the mend, you’d think that our lives could return to normal, but B developed a sinus infection and then an ear infection. The pain and the antibiotics took their toll on her. She’s still in pain and having trouble hearing out of one ear, but hopefully she is getting better.
After a month of medical issues, I’m ready for a nice, quiet, boring stretch. Stay safe, everyone.
NOTE: The "Heart ECG Logo" above is by juliobahar and is available from OpenClipArt.org.
There’s a great debate going on in our society today over vaccination. Some say that everyone should be vaccinated. They point to evidence showing how vaccines prevent disease and how they are much safer than the diseases they prevent. Others, claim that vaccines are filled with "toxins" and sometimes even raise questions about whether vaccines cause Autism. Unfortunately, in this debate, there are some big losers: Children too young to vaccinate, people whose vaccines didn’t "take", or people with valid medical reasons not to vaccinate (for example, immune system disorders).
This "debate" has been going on ever since Andrew Wakefield published his report implicating the MMR vaccine in the development of Autism. Unfortunately for Wakefield, his research was debunked repeatedly, shown to be an outright fraud (he not only manipulated results and took unethical steps to gather "data", but was attempting to discredit the MMR vaccine so he could market his own replacement), and his medical license was stripped from him. Unfortunately for the rest of us, some people still hail him as a hero and decided that this debunking/license-stripping was just a witch hunt by "Big Pharma" and its supporters in retribution for telling the truth. As the anti-vaccination crowd gained followers, outbreaks of diseases all-but-defeated started flaring up.
The debate really heated up a month ago when the public was warned that someone infected with measles visited Disneyland between December 15th and 20th. As a result, nine people were infected. Eight of those nine were not vaccinated. As the days passed, the number of cases tied to the Disneyland outbreak rose to 50. Now, they’ve topped 100. Some of the workers at Disneyland came down with measles and Disney considered mandating vaccinations as a condition of employment. Some people lauded this decision and some decried it as an unneeded imposition on a person’s right to choose what happens to their body.
After this, some politicians decided to voice their opposition to mandatory vaccination. Rand Paul was notable for saying he has heard of "many tragic cases of walking, talking normal children who wound up with profound mental disorders after vaccines." Though he didn’t come out and say it, the implication was clear. Rand Paul was saying that vaccinating your child could lead to Autism – the major "mental disorder" that some people think is caused by vaccines. (Autism isn’t a mental disorder, but that’s a completely different discussion. Suffice it to say that many people think of it as one even though it isn’t.)
Finally, there was a decision from Autism Speaks. We love supporting causes related to Autism. Given that my son is diagnosed with Asperger’s and I’m likely an undiagnosed Aspie, it’s a cause that’s close to my heart. However, we couldn’t, in good conscience, support Autism Speaks, because they kept supporting the notion that vaccines cause autism. Though they encouraged vaccination on their FAQ page, they always kept wording stating that it was still possible that vaccines and autism were linked. I was very happy to hear that Autism Speaks had come out in support of vaccinations. There is no more quibbling or "in rare cases" loophole-wording on their website. Instead, it’s a simple statement: "Vaccines do not cause autism. We urge that all children be fully vaccinated."
How did we get to this point?
In a way, vaccines were a victim of their own success. When previous generations grew up, many diseases that are now vaccine preventable were instead prevalent. People then not only knew other people who had come down with measles, mumps, rubella, polio, whooping cough, and other diseases, but lived in fear that they or their children would be next. Vaccines eliminated that fear. Unfortunately, as generations pass, people with first hand knowledge of how bad these diseases are dwindle. I myself have never seen someone with measles and only know of the horrors by reading of it. As terrible as the accounts sound, I’m sure living it was much worse.
As the diseases faded into obscurity, the threat they seemed to possess lightened. The horrors of weeks of coughing that prevent the person from breathing or result in vomiting were replaced with the idea that "it’s just some coughing – no big deal." The dangers and side effects of measles (deafness, pneumonia, encephalitis, brain damage, or death to name a few) were reduced in people’s minds to "you get sick with some spots for a week and then you’re all better." With this minimized threat in mind, the stage was set to question whether the vaccines were really needed at all and scare tactics about ingredients or disease links could take hold.
Even after all of this, though, I might agree that vaccinating your children is a personal choice if not for one simple fact: A person who decides not to vaccinate their child affects more than just their child. If it was only a matter of opening your child to preventable diseases, I’d argue that people should vaccinate, but shouldn’t be required to. If someone doesn’t feed their child healthy food and instead relies on a steady diet of junk food, I might argue against their choices but I’d never say they should be compelled to serve broccoli at every meal. This is because one child’s bad eating habits don’t result in other children suddenly gaining weight. However, when someone doesn’t vaccinate, they open the door for other people to be infected – for example, infants too young to be vaccinated or people with medical conditions that preclude vaccination. This turns it from a "individual liberty" issue to a "community health" issue.
To those who might argue that it still comes down to individual liberty, I’d give one simple answer: Typhoid Mary. Mary Mallon had a problem. Every where she went, she would find work as a cook until a typhoid outbreak occurred. Then, she would leave town quickly, setting up shop somewhere else. Eventually, it was discovered that she was a carrier for typhoid. She carried the disease, but didn’t get sick from it. Unfortunately, the people whose food she prepared weren’t so lucky. She was held in custody and told she could go if she didn’t cook for people again. She initially refused to agree to this or even to take basic steps to improve her hygiene, but finally she agreed to the terms and was released. It didn’t take long before she began cooking again under an assumed name and not long after that more people got sick. Two people died as a result. Mary was again taken into custody, but this time she remained in custody for the rest of her life.
Some people might decry the government for infringing on her right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness (her chosen career of cooking), but the problem with this argument is that rights have limits. The common expression is "Your right to swing your fist ends at my face." One cannot simply do as one likes, ignoring all consequences, and chalk it up to "rights." Just as with Typhoid Mary, people who don’t vaccinate puts others at risk. In the case of Typhoid Mary, it was by direct infection. In the case of people who don’t vaccinate (for other than valid medical reasons), it is because they weaken herd immunity.
A quick aside for people who don’t know what "herd immunity" is. Diseases spread from person to person. They survive not by killing their hosts, but by keeping the host long enough to spread them to as many people as possible. With the natural immunity that people obtained from surviving the diseases, there was a group of people that the diseases couldn’t cling to. Unfortunately, this number was too low to impede the spread of the disease. In addition, contracting the diseases might mean you’d get the immunity, but you would also risk horrible side effects or even death. With vaccination, the number of people with immunity climbed to such an extant that diseases found it impossible to find someone to use as a ride. With their paths to spread limited, the diseases were held back or even (in the case of smallpox) eliminated.
Herd immunity protects those who can’t be vaccinated due to age or illness. It also protected in case someone’s vaccine didn’t take. (Vaccines aren’t 100% protection. Even 99.99% protection means that a lot of people will get the shot but could still get sick.) When the first anti-vax folks decided not to vaccinate, their kids didn’t get sick because of herd immunity as well. Herd immunity was able to withstand a few people not getting protected. As the numbers spread, though, new paths opened up for the diseases. They found themselves able to spread to more people again. Thus, we get a resurgence in measles, whooping cough, and other vaccine-preventable diseases.
And here we come to the consequence portion. When someone chooses not to vaccinate, they not only make a decision that affects their own child, but they make one that opens thousands of other people to possible harm. Not vaccinating is not only listening to bad advice (vaccines have proven their effectiveness many times over) and is not only bad risk assessment (the risks of vaccines are minimal and the risks of the diseases they prevent are immense), but it is putting others in harms way in the name of exercising your own liberty. I wouldn’t condone someone driving drunk because "they should be allowed to drive however they like" because doing so puts more than the drunk driver in danger. Similarly, not vaccinating puts many other people at risk – as the Disneyland outbreak demonstrates. Sadly, it might take a high profile outbreak like this to give some people some perspective.
As a parent and as a human being, I urge parents to vaccinate their children. If you have concerns, talk with your doctor. Don’t listen to celebrities or people whose research was shown to be a fraud. Don’t listen to people who talk about "toxins" like formaldehyde in vaccines (you get more by eating a single apple) or who rant about "Big Pharma." Talk to a trained medical professional to get the real story and then make sure your child gets vaccinated. Don’t let the diseases spread. Don’t let more people get sick and die. Let’s get herd immunity working again so more diseases can join smallpox and be eliminated for good.
NOTE: The "needle" image above is by DodgertonSkillhause and is available via morgueFile.
After my surgery, normal life ground to a halt. Immediately after the surgery, I wasn’t strong enough to get up and move for long. In fact, when I initially woke up from the anesthesia, I had the most peculiar experience. I became quickly conscious and aware of my surroundings. I could hear everything going on and could think clearly. What I couldn’t do was move. It was like my mind was separated from my body. It took great effort to move my body just a little bit. Slowly, I began to regain use of my limbs and the effort returned to normal levels.
Later, I had to rest in bed. I could move around, but moving too much would leave me out of breath. This meant that my usual tasks of going to work, driving, making food for everyone, getting the kids ready for bed, and more had to be done by B. You might think that sitting around doing nothing while someone else does everything for you sounds good, right? Well, maybe for a short while it might be, but I found myself longing to do something. In fact, I still wonder if part of my insomnia issues stemmed from not following my normal routines. At 2am, I felt like I just had to be doing something, but there was nothing for me to do.
As I got stronger and recovered more, I was able to venture outside. You don’t know how much you miss taking a simple walk around the block until you’re medically forbidden from doing it. The feeling of the sun on me, the gentle breeze, and simply moving my legs felt great. Again, with the insomnia, I felt like I just wanted to run around our house at 2am. Unfortunately, our house is not designed for people to run around within it. At least, not without waking everyone else up.
Finally, there is work. I don’t talk about my work life here much because I prefer to keep my professional life and blogging/social media life separate. Still, I missed going to work. The intellectual challenge of it all and talking with my co-workers is a big part of my "normal life" and I missed it. Thankfully, I’m going back to work for the first time in a week today. I’m sure there will be plenty for me to catch up on.
By now, I’m feeling almost fully recovered. I still can’t bend over without feeling bad pressure in my nose. I also need to be careful not to lie on my face or touch my nose too hard. I’m also not supposed to lift heavy objects. There’s also the matter of the packing and blood clots that I’m still occasionally passing. That’s not pleasant at all. But all of this is getting less and less frequent and my life seems to be returning to normal. Actually, it’s even better than normal because now I can breathe out of BOTH of my nostrils. I think I’m going to like normal version 2.0.
On Monday morning, we dropped the boys off and header to the hospital. I was nervous, but my surgery day had finally arrived and I just wanted the procedure over with. They led me right to a room for me to get changed into those oh-so-fashionable open-in-the-rear gowns. I’ll spare you a rear view photo (partly because I didn’t take any rear view photos). After awhile, I got my IV in and then B was allowed in to see me. After a bit of a wait, I was given something to lower my anxiety and was wheeled off. I remember being led down some halls, into the OR, and told to get onto the table.
The next thing I remember was coming to in recovery.
This was quite an odd sensation. My mind came to but I had no control over my body. I could hear everyone around me, but I couldn’t open my eyes or signal to them. Slowly, I recovered more and was led back to a room. I was given some ice water and popsicles, took a nap, and finally headed home.
The recovery process has not been easy. With my "moustache bandage" on and all of the swelling/drainage from the surgery, I can’t breathe through my nose. This leaves just my mouth to breathe through. I get winded doing the simplest of activities and have had a few panic attacks over this. Especially when I woke up at 2am, couldn’t go back to sleep, and was pacing nervously around the house. (Even writing about it is raising my anxiety.)
This recovery is going to be a slow, difficult process, but I know that – in the long run – this will be for the best.