I'm sorry for leaving you for so long after such a depressing start to this series on healing! I'm back this week with the second of twelve installments based on Dr. Epstein's book The 12 Stages of Healing. I'm using this book to give me structure as I tell the story of my process of healing from a music-related injury.
So following the first chapter, which was about suffering and being in a place of brokenness, the second chapter is about our initial reaction to that feeling of hopelessness. Dr. Epstein calls it "Polarities and Rhythms", but to me it seemed more like "The hunt for Magical Solutions". You'll see why soon!
After being paralyzed by the realization of what was happening, I moved to inward self-blame. I broke myself, I injured myself, the oboe hurt me. The oboe is bad. I am bad. I turned from victim to judge, self-pity to anger. Desperately I began to see every doctor I could, hoping that one of them would give me a diagnosis, tell me what was going on, and how to fix it. My attention shifted from inward hopelessness to an outward cry for someone to solve my problem. However in both of these stages I was not accessing my own power. I was relying on the power of doctors to tell me what was wrong and how to 'fix' it. And this is really how modern medicine is designed to work. We have come up with thousands of different labels for almost every physical and psychological ailment known and have just as many prescriptions waiting for us, promising to make our issue disappear in no time.
But that's not how our bodies actually work and soon I found that out. It was actually this same kind of separation from the different parts of me that had contribued to my injury in the first place. The answer to my problem was not isolation but integration, joining my arm which was trying to go numb and stop working back into the rest of my body.
I searched high and low for these heroes who were supposed to help me and I thought many times that I had hit on 'the one'. I went to an Orthopedist who was supposed to tell me what was wrong, but instead scoffed at my questions (how dare I take an intelligent interest in my body) and sent me home with a handout on carpal tunnel, plus a referral for an MRI and nerve conduction test which his office didn't schedule for over a month. In the meantime, I went to a Chiropractor who told me I had all sorts of alignment issues (which I sure did, those x-rays were scary!). But after seeing him three times a week for six weeks, I was still in massive amounts of pain and the adjustments weren't holding. Around this time I finally had my MRI and nerve conduction tests. The MRI came back normal, telling us why the adjustments weren't easing my pain - I didn't have a disk problem so adjusting my back was not the answer.
Then, the neurologist I saw for the nerve test completely lost his marbles over how much muscle mass I was losing in my right hand and how weak my arm was compared to the other (I'm right handed and the injury is in my right arm). He even brought in another nurse so they could both gasp and gape at what an awful condition I was in! This doctor did, however, finally provide a diagnosis, telling me I had a pinched ulnar nerve and potentially thoracic outlet syndromme. This means that my ulnar nerve was really inflammed, causing the pain all down my arm and the numbness in my right hand, and that my thoracic artery was getting compressed between my clavicle and first rib, causing a lack of bloodflow to my arm and thus, the muscle loss. I left his office hysterical, still wondering how this could have happened! He said I was slowly losing the use of my right hand and that the only solution was a surgical procedure. The Orthopedist agreed, telling me that if I didn't get the surgery I would never play the oboe again.
After about 20 minutes of googling this 'minor outpatient procedure', I was convinced it wasn't for me. The surgery, which would simply move my ulnar nerve into a different position, comes with a 20% risk of permanent nerve damage and a possibility that it could aggravate or worsen symptoms, in which case they have to try again. These were not risks I was willing to take, not when the full use of my arm is so important to me.
But each of these medical professionals was supposed to be my hero. After seeing each of them I would be so excited about the new findings and new possibilities, only to have my hope quickly fall away. I wasn't receiving much advice or support from my music community either. I realized that I needed to become my own hero. No one was going to do it for me and I needed to gather my resources, pray, and decide for myself what my body needed in order to heal. And this is something that now permeates my philosophy of healing: we must take responsibility for our own health, become more in tune with what our bodies are telling us, and together with the advice of wise and trusted experts, decide for ourselves what it means to be well and attain wellness.