So, I’ve been seeing a physiotherapist for a problem with my arm, but at my last appointment a Bad Thing happened.
My physiotherapist has generally seemed pretty nice and knowledgable, and my arm has been improving. The only quibble I had was that she’d move my arm all around trying to assess (or improve?) its range of motion, and sometimes it hurt, and every time I said “Ow” she’d tell me to relax. I never did figure if she literally meant “what I’m doing only hurts if a person is tensed up” or something else. I wish I’d asked.
Anyway, she wanted to try this thing with needles that’s supposed to release locked muscles. I told her I have a needle phobia and she gave me a pamphlet and said to read it and think about it.
Y’know, if this were acupuncture, I might have been able to deal with it. Acupuncture involves sticking needles in the skin and just leaving them there for a while. The thing my physiotherapist spoke of is something else, though. It’s called intramuscular stimulation. You jab a needle into a muscle that’s all clenched up, and this somehow makes it release. Also the teeny little needle stabs (micro-traumas) might encourage the muscles to heal themselves.
The pamphlet says: “Penetration of a normal muscle is painless, however, a shortened supersensitive muscle will ‘grasp’ the needle in what can be described as a painful cramping sensation.” And then I guess once the needle is pulled out, the muscle relaxes – not just to where it was before, but to where it was supposed to be in the first place.
I wanted to try this. I did. It sounded like it might fix my problem way faster than the manipulations this chick was already doing. But:
a) NEEDLES ARRRRGH
b) She would have to stab the needle all up my side and shoulder like a billion times
c) Apparently every needle prick would be accompanied by some massive horrible cramp
d) The consent form she made me sign talked about how she might stab me in a nerve ending by accident and I’d end up with pins and needles for a few days, or stab me through the chest wall and cause other issues
e) YOU NOTICED THIS IS DONE WITH NEEDLES, RIGHT?
I was like “I’m willing to try this if you promise I can say ‘stop’ at any time and you’ll stop.” She said of course. I signed the form and she showed me what one of the needles looked like and told me a bit more about what exactly would happen…and then I had a panic attack and burst into tears. Awkward.
She was really nice about it. She handed me some Kleenex and assured me that there are lots of other things we can do to fix my arm, and if needles freak me out that much then obviously we just shouldn’t do the intramuscular stimulation and we’ll focus on other methods, instead. I was embarrassed as shit to have cried like that, and still wondered whether the needles might fix things faster, but yeah…I couldn’t stand to try it. I was glad there were other solutions to try.
So then the physiotherapist had me lie on the padded doctors’ table thing so she could “manipulate my upper back.” Last time she did that, she reached underneath me and pressed her fingers into my back until something went crack. It felt kinda squicky, but not a big deal. This time she had me on my side with my bad arm wrapped around my front, and was pushing into my fucked-up shoulder in different places. First there was good pain and then there was bad pain (she responded to my ouchy sounds by telling me to relax) and then she shoved down on that shoulder hard and it was so excruciating that my brain pretty much exploded. My vision went white. I know I made a horrible, panicked noise of some kind. I’m pretty sure it was a scream. And she didn’t stop and it hurt so much I couldn’t remember how to make words and after what felt like an eternity I finally managed to gasp “Stop! Stop! Stop!” and then I burst into tears again.
She stopped putting pressure on the spot, but her hands were still on me like this was just a temporary pause and she’d start going again any minute. Like she was just waiting out my silly histrionics and then it’d be back to business. And the pain in my arm didn’t stop when she stopped pressing. It’s partly a nerve issue, and nerve pain isn’t always a rational cause-and-effect sorta deal. So my arm was still flaring up like it was on fire – an unbelievable, inescapable wall of pain, pain so huge it almost shouldn’t be called pain anymore – and I sobbed and convulsed and sobbed and swore and sobbed. And her hands were still on me, waiting to continue.
After maybe thirty seconds I managed to say “I can’t…” and gingerly rolled onto my back. She finally got the message that she would not be doing any more of that particular fuckery to me that day, and withdrew her hands. “Boy, I can’t seem to do anything right today, can I?” she said mildly, and brought me some Kleenex again. The pain was slowly starting to subside. She moved my arm through the range of motion exercises like she always does, and once again admonished me to “relax” every time it hurt (what the fuck does that mean?!?). I kept sobbing, off and on, during this whole thing. I was trying to stop, but I just couldn’t. To top it off the little room we were in wasn’t soundproof so it’s entirely possible that people in the waiting room or common area heard me screaming and/or swearing and/or crying.
The range of motion stuff ended and it was time to stand up and show her how much I could move my arm this time around. I had somewhat composed myself by this time. I swung my arms out to the side and over my head and back down, put them out in front of me and over my head and back down, bent my elbows at ninety degree angles and tried to swivel my forearms outward at the waist. To her credit I was able to go way further with most of these movements than last time.
When we were wrapping things up I began to cry again and just. Couldn’t. Stop. She asked me why I was crying. I can’t remember what I said. Probably I couldn’t really speak. She said that the idea of the needles had probably made me so anxious that I was kind of overanxious about everything after that. I told her that I do indeed believe I have an undiagnosed anxiety disorder.
Then the appointment was over and she left me alone in the examining room to collect myself. It took a stupid-long time, and I was very aware still that people outside the room had probably heard all manner of shit from me over the past half hour or so. I was also aware that I very much looked like I’d been crying. And that eventually someone else would probably need this examining room. I clenched down on my emotions, put on my sunglasses to hide my bloodshot eyes, and somehow managed to pay for my appointment and make it home without breaking down.
When I was safely at home again I cried again. I mean, majorly. Maybe for half an hour. Then I was numb and sluggish and had to sleep. Thank god I didn’t have to work that day.
I woke up a few hours later and discovered that the part of my shoulder that the physiotherapist had shoved down on felt bruised and swollen. It still does, and it’s two days later. I have a feeling that’s not supposed to happen, but I don’t actually know.
But now that I’ve had time to process everything, I’m getting more and more pissed off.
I’m pissed off at the physiotherapist for not telling me the adjustment might hurt (I’m wondering if it might have been one of those deals where it hurts like fuck but afterward things are a whole lot better, like putting someone’s dislocated shoulder back in – if it was, and I knew that, maybe I could’ve mentally prepared for it!). I’m pissed off that she didn’t take her hands off me the minute I screamed in pain, but rather kept doing the painful thing until I specifically said stop, and even then stood there waiting for me to stop screaming and crying so she could keep going. Who does that?!
I’m pissed off that every time something hurt during any of our sessions, she’d say “relax,” with a bit of laughter or condescension in her voice, as though the pain was happening because I was tensed up and not the other way around. As if the pain was my fault because I wasn’t being perfectly limp and docile. As though tensing up in response to pain is this weird thing that she’s never even heard of and I need to just get over that, already.
I’m pissed off at myself for telling her – even as I was convulsing on the table in agony – not to take my swearing personally (because yeah, that happened. I was in such pain that my vision was whiting out but I still mustered the energy to be polite and accommodating like a good girl). I’m pissed off at myself for telling her about my anxiety issues, because the physiotherapist probably feels justified now in blaming my anxiety for everything. I’m pissed off that in blaming my needle anxiety for everything, the physiotherapist was basically telling me that my upset was all in my head, which, no, it fucking wasn’t.
I do have some kind of anxiety disorder. No doubt about that. But what happened near the end there was not some random anxiety attack, it was the physiotherapist flat-out hurting me so badly that I cried. Hurting me badly and continuing to hurt me until I specifically told her to stop. My fight-or-flight reflex was triggered hard, my body was all fucked up on endorphins and adrenaline, and I felt unsafe. I felt like someone I’d trusted to heal me had hurt me instead, and callously sat there waiting to hurt me some more. I don’t need to have issues with anxiety for this situation to be upsetting or tear-making.
I’m sad because I wanted to feel like the physiotherapist and I were on the same team – Team Get Cowgirl Better – but we’re not. Not really. I’m on Team Get Cowgirl Better and she’s on Team Hide My Mistakes Because I Don’t Wanna Get Sued. Because I’m really pretty sure I shouldn’t be feeling tender/bruised/swollen right now; I think she fucked up. And I know she’ll never, ever admit it.
I had two more appointments with her for next week, but I’ve cancelled them. I can’t see her again. I’m kind of feeling so traumatized that I don’t think I can go to that clinic again, period. Which sucks because the initial consultation at a place is always more expensive than the subsequent appointments; switching clinics will cost me.
If the physiotherapist had taken my pain seriously instead of trying to minimize it, I might have been able to get past this. But as things stand, no.
My family dentist, when I was growing up, used to tell me at every damn appointment that I was a complainer. Meanwhile (I realized later) he actually was kind of incompetent; I mean he’d do things like poke the inside of my cheek with the novocaine needle when he was actually aiming to put it into my gums (funny story: when I flinched over the needle-in-the-cheek thing, he bounced my head off the back of the chair and screamed at me that I was the worst, most whiny kid he’d ever treated. Wheeee!). One time the hinge of some plier or calliper-like tool he was using pinched the inside of my lip and when I squawked in pain he was like “Oh, don’t be a baby” but I later saw that the pinch had been hard enough to leave a blood blister.
I had to put up with that dentist because I was a kid and had no say in the matter (and my parents suck). I feel like I’ve had to put up with entirely too many people hurting me and then being dismissive about it, actually: telling me that I’m just a crier, a complainer, a wuss, a difficult patient. But I damn sure don’t need to put up with it now.