August 2009 – January 2011
Introduction To Pain
It all began in 2009 when I first dislocated my left shoulder.
I didn’t even know it was possible to dislocate a joint! I just noticed one day that I could “pop” my left shoulder in and out of its socket, without any sort of pain . It was just something Manasi could do. My friend used to freak out seeing me do that. Things were perfectly normal – I was studying Design, dancing and performing, and having a pretty normal life of a 19 -year- old.
One day I was at Design School, happily working on a clay model of my face. I still remember that day so well – my friends and I were laughing about how I would mould out my curly hair using clay and just then, (I can’t put this in any other words because this is exactly what happened) my left arm dropped on my working desk and I felt acute pain shooting down my arm from my left shoulder joint. I had NO freaking clue what had happened and I almost stopped feeling my left arm after. It turned completely numb and I felt as if I was carrying dead weight. I pulled out my scarf and made it into a sling type of a thing to hold up my left arm. I just left class right away and went over to see my family Doctor.
My family Doctor thought it was just some sort of a muscle pull so she gave me muscle relaxants and told me that I only needed rest. Since I was in Design School, it was very common for Doctors to think that I was only straining my muscles. Just as I was about to leave, I showed her how I could “pop” my shoulder in and out. That moment when I did, the pain was so terrible that I almost had tears in my eyes. She saw that and knew something was wrong. I think that was the point where my life took a major turn and I was in the hospital the very next day, running for X-rays and MRI.
The MRI showed major subluxation in my left shoulder joint. It was a strange kind of dislocation they said – because till before that day, I was able to “pop” it in and out without any pain. What was totally weird was that it happened without any accident or physical trauma as such. It just slipped out of its socket. They somehow didn’t think that I needed a surgery and I was told to go for Physiotherapy to strengthen my shoulder joint. And, I was also told to not overuse my arm at Design School and make sure I didn’t use it too much in my dance.
So I started going for Physiotherapy and with each session, the pain just got worse. The Physiotherapist would tell me I was getting better, and that I should continue to do the rubber band exercises and use my left arm to push against a wall (all the strengthening exercises basically). I didn’t believe her because I could see that I wasn’t getting better. I hated having to go to Physiotherapy when after each sessions instead of feeling any relief, my pain just increased. With that level of pain, I needed muscle relaxants and pain medications in order to complete my projects at school. I started needing my family to help me with my projects, I needed help to carry my Design tools etc, and it didn’t feel good- till that time, I was be able to do everything myself. I loved doing everything myself. My family could see that I was in pain, but I don’t think they could imagine the severity of it.
One day while I was busy tying up my arm, a lecturer came up to me to have a small chat. She said she had been observing me for a while and could really see that I was in pain, and that she knew a Chiropractor (never knew what that was!), who I should really see. Because Physiotherapy was doing nothing but adding to my pain, and because my work was getting a little affected, I was ready to try anything that would take the pain away. By then I was taking about four muscle relaxants a day! So I went to this Chiropractor with a lot of hope. We all know what Chiropractors do – all the cracking, and manipulation of joints and moving things around – yes, all of that was done on me. I was told that I would need about three sessions per week of whatever he was doing so that I get better. I believed it and went through all of it, because I just wanted it to be fixed. I saw this Chiropractor for close to a year, going for three sessions per week. I would come back home feeling ready to work on my Design projects and within an hour of so, my shoulder would feel loose and painful again. I was still taking my medications because I couldn’t see a way out – if I wanted to get through the work I genuinely enjoyed doing, I had to take my tablets. If I wanted to function like a 19-year-old, I needed to take the pills. Not that they took the pain away or helped push my joint back in.
By then, my life was starting to turn a little bit abnormal. Just a little bit, in comparison to the unbelievable change it went through over the years since then. I was starting to feel tired more easily, I couldn’t dance as freely and things slowly started to seem different. My parents and I were still under an impression that this was just a one-off thing and that I would be okay soon.
Part 1 :Left Shoulder Surgery
I was on a family holiday at Ramthambore (a place in India well known for tiger spotting) in December 2010. I was so excited to be able to see wild cats around me!But even through that excitement, I couldn’t distract myself from the throbbing pain that I was feeling. We were out in a jeep one day when my left arm fell right off the socket again! I had my scarf, so I tied my arm up again. I remember crying that day. I don’t think I had cried in pain before that. I used to write about it, but I never cried. No matter how painful things were, I could deal with it. But that day, no. That was the time I felt that things were getting a little bit unfair — not being able to enjoy wildlife was extremely unfair. Not being able to easily complete my Design projects like before was unfair. Not being able to use my left arm in dance was unfair.
We really didn’t think that the jerks from going on a safari jeep could hurt me so badly. But it did. It totally rattled my shoulder joint out of position. I didn’t need to be hospitalized, but my shoulder was sort of hanging off my body.
So as soon as we got back to Singapore, I went over to see the Chiropractor. When he heard my story, he said, ” Yes, that can happen. I told you, you have to come to see me every other day. Your condition needs servicing. Your shoulder needs maintenance. You have to continue to see me regularly.” That’s when I asked him a question, which I should have asked long back – WILL IT EVER GO BACK INTO POSITION AND STOP HURTING ME SO MUCH? He said he didn’t know.
That was it. If someone told me I needed to see that him thrice a week without any sort of a guarantee that I’ll be okay, then I didn’t need to see that person anymore.
I didn’t know what was going on.
So the very next day, my parents and I went to see another Shoulder Specialist. We had already gotten a second opinion, so this was for a third opinion. I really needed to know what was happening to me. I didn’t want the pain anymore.
I was still thinking that this would be a one-off thing.
When I saw this Specialist, things started to make some sense. He explained to me how multi-directional shoulder instability can cause it to “pop” out etc. and gave me two options – either I continue doing the rubber band exercises and wait for my shoulder to strengthen up some day (not sure when) or I go for a surgery which would practically tie the joint up internally. He let me make the choice, but I clearly remember the look on his face that said I needed a surgery. I remember him telling us that my shoulder had become really loose.
I had also started developing some knots around my neck around the same time. My neck felt bumpy and the knots used to cause a lot of pain and discomfort. At times they would swell up and that’s when I literally couldn’t do anything. It felt like I was in a neck brace, a bumpy neck brace .The Specialist had no clue what this was but he didn’t think it was harmful. He was quite sure that would be okay after the surgery.
My parents suggested that I give yet another shot to the rubber band exercises before I opt for open surgery. My pain was unbearable, but I decided to give my body one last chance before going under the knife.