Sunday, April 06, 2008

Excruciating pain-ting

For the past week I have been in agony. The most excruciating pain I have ever experienced, in fact.

You know how in my last post I said my back hurt, my arm hurt, everything was hurting? Well - maybe I should have listened to my body way back then, because I've really gone and done it now. I have given myself a very very bad case of RSI/OOS, and now I'm pretty much incapable of doing anything.

Last weekend Alice came round to help me with finishing off the painting of the downstairs flat, and we were really up against it time-wise, because the new carpet and lino were due to be fitted on Monday. I'd taken Friday off work and painted all day - and by the end of the day I had finally finished all the walls - three coats in some rooms because the original colours were so dark. I painted for 12 hours that day.

Over the weekend we continued with the woodwork - and oh my god you have no idea how long woodwork takes to paint! Three coats again in some places, all fiddly, time-consuming stuff - skirting boards, door frames, cupboard doors, window frames... it was never-ending.

We absolutely had to get the skirting boards and door frames done as quickly as possible so that the paint had a chance to harden before the carpets went in. I pulled up the old carpet round the edges of the rooms so I could paint right down to the floorboards, and for the whole weekend we seemed to be going round in circles, going over and over each piece until the old dark paint was completely covered.

By Sunday evening we still hadn't finished, but at least the areas at floor level were nearly done. And I noticed that whenever I reached forward to paint yet another piece of skirting board, I was getting some quite major pains all up my right arm and into my shoulder. After painting through the pain for a few more hours I finally called a halt and we tidied up in readiness for the carpet and lino dudes the next day.

I didn't sleep well at all. I just couldn't find a position where my arm wasn't agonisingly painful. Neurofen didn't seem to help - it didn't even really dull the pain, even though I took a couple more than I should have...

Monday morning - showering was agony, I couldn't brush my teeth properly, and there was no way I could wash my hair. The lino guy turned up and I took him down to the flat to show him the floor. Having pulled up the lino in the hallway, he saw we had quite a major problem. Wonky floor. More than wonky, in fact - the floorboards are bowed upwards, creating a very uneven surface.

He wasn't happy about it, cos he has to lay hardboard sheets down first, with the lino on top. He suggested I get a builder in to fix the floor first. But I don't have a builder! And we have no time! Peti and Tane move in on Friday! Just do it! I don't care if it's not completely perfect...

Ten minutes later the lino guy is back up to talk to me. I've just finished my shower, and I'm in so much pain I can't think straight - I can't even stand still, it hurts so much. He tells me there's no way he can lay the lino with the floor as bad as it is, and that I will definitely have to get the floorboards fixed first. I burst into tears on my doorstep. Poor lino guy! He didn't know what to do at all, and all I could think of was that I wanted him to go away so I could collapse in an agonised heap on the floor.

I head off to work, and call my acupuncturist, John Xu. He's the only guy who can fix me when I have a bad back, and I'm hoping he might be able to help. I'm in tears on the phone to him - "I'm just trying to hold it together until I can come and see you," I whisper into the phone. He tells me to come over right away.

An hour later, John has done what he can. Half an hour of needles (longer than normal), and half an hour of pretty painful acupressure. A herbal Chinese plaster stuck onto my shoulder blade, and instructions to call him in the morning.

I spend the day at work with my arm stuck up in the air, or resting it on my head. It's about the only position I can find that's even slightly bearable, and the pain is still extremely intense. Building websites with only one hand is slow going. Thank goodness I'm a left-handed mouser (a consequence of a bout of OOS about 10 years ago).

Another very bad night. I wake up at 4am and just lie there in agony for the next 4 hours, telling myself to breathe through the pain, breathe through the pain. This is crazy. As soon as the doctor's surgery is open I call up and get an appointment for later that morning. I go to work, and spend a couple more hours working with my arm up in the air. Back to see John Xu, and this time my arm is so painful I actually can't lay it down by my side. He sticks needles in my arm as well as my shoulder and back. The acupressure session afterwards is incredibly painful - I'm not sure how I got through it actually.

Next stop, my doctor. She poked and prodded at my arm a bit, and I burst into tears again. Too much pain! I ended up with prescriptions for an anti-inflammatory, a pill to protect my stomach from the nasty side-effects of the anti-inflammatory (!), and paracetamol for the pain. Paracetamol? Is that it? Are you sure this is going to work? Neurofen (and Neurofen Plus) didn't do a thing... she assured me that, once the anti-inflammatories started working, it should settle down and the pain would subside - probably by the evening.

Except it didn't. Back at work that afternoon, and I was getting slower and slower. The anti-inflammatory pills made me really dopey, so I had a little lie-down on the sofa. Peti woke me after an hour, gave me a taxi chit, and told me to go home. No, no, I can't! I have to finish the website! I carried on for a couple more hours, and then gave in and went home.

Pain, pain, pain and more pain.

Stress, stress, stress and more stress. I can't lift a paintbrush, and there's still tons of painting left to do. The lino's not laid and I don't have a builder I can call, and I have no idea if I can get one at such short notice even if I can get one recommended. Peti and Tane have booked the movers, given notice at their old house, and they move in on Friday. And there is no way I can get any of this finished, because I can't do anything!

Enter my knight in shining armour and the Lady who rescued this damsel in distress in her hour of need.

Let's back-track for a moment. Remember how I needed to Get A Man In to fix the ceiling? And the first guy turned up 23 hours late so I fired him?

The second Man was much better...

Mike is a painter, decorator, handyman, builder, gardener, plasterer, and everything else-r. He was able to replace the jib board in the ceiling, plaster it, seal it, skim it and then paint the whole ceiling so you'd never know there'd been any work done at all. Brilliant.

We were working alongside each other for a few days, as he was fixing the ceiling while I was painting (this was before my arm fell off). In his down-time while he was waiting for things to dry he helped me sand down and prepare the window frame and door in the living room. He fixed a hole in the flashing outside the window so it wouldn't leak when it rains. He had a look at the saggy kitchen ceiling and gave me some idea of what he would need to do in order to fix it. He had a look at the damp cupboard in the bedroom and advised me what to do in the short-term so that he can come back and deal to it later.

And when my arm fell off and I couldn't paint any more he juggled his very busy schedule so that he and his workmate Chris could come back and help to finish off all the woodwork before Friday. Absolutely fantastic. I could not have finished the job without their help. I am so completely grateful for all the extra work they did!

And the other person without whom this project would never have been completed is my best friend Alice. She has been amazing. She spent hours painting with me last Sunday when we were racing to get stuff done before the carpets arrived. Then pretty much every night this week she's been at my house doing more painting while I sat upstairs trying to keep my arm still and going ow ow whenever I moved. And when all the painting was finally done on Thursday evening she came over and cleaned up the flat for me.

She took me to the doctor on Friday when I decided that enough was enough and that the pain was just too much to bear without some stronger pain-killers. I'm now on codeine which works for a couple of hours and then stops working, and sleeping pills which aren't really helping me sleep. She picked me up after my appointment with the X-ray machine. (I cried during my X-rays as well - having to put my arm down by my side at one point was just too much to bear!)

Last night she dispatched Iain to come and pick me up, he vacuumed the house for me (because I can't even vacuum and the dust bunnies were beginning to multiply), then he took me back to their place and they cooked dinner for me, which was the first decent meal I've had in a week. And today she took me to Mitre10 to get a few more things for the flat, and then to the supermarket to pick up some food - and insisted on carrying everything for me and not letting me do anything.

It's been very hard for me ask for help this past week, or accept it when it's been offered. I'm such an independent person, so self-sufficient and self-reliant, that the concept of needing help, or asking for help, or accepting it gracefully when it's offered is really quite alien to me.

I've felt frustrated with myself because I can't do anything. I've felt guilty asking for help, and I've worried that I'm asking too much of people. I've felt beaten down by the pain, and by the endless problems with the flat (the toilet blocked up the day after Peti and Tane moved in and there were COCKROACHES in the kitchen, which made me feel very ashamed and embarrassed).

I've felt stressed and guilty that I haven't been able to do much work this week. I took Wednesday off work, tried working from home on Thursday and decided it was too painful even doing that, so didn't work on Friday. My doctor has now said I have to be off work all next week too, which stressed me out even more (didn't want to let the team down, didn't want to put more pressure on my workmates having to finish off my work).

It's been a tough week.

I have realised two things.

The first is that the old cliché is true. Your health really is one of your most precious possessions, and one which we all tend to take for granted until something goes wrong. People who have to cope with endless acute pain are completely heroic, IMHO. I've been in pain for a week and I am SO over it. I don't know how people in long-term pain manage to keep going. I think I'd want to shoot myself.

My arm is nowhere near better, and it still hurts pretty much all the time. I'm being really naughty writing this blog post (even with one hand), because doing pretty much anything hurts like hell right now. I think I've trapped a nerve or something because all week my fingers have gradually been going numb. Now half my hand, my thumb and two-and-a-half fingers are completely dead - and I think my arm above my elbow has gone numb too. I'm gonna have to go back to the doctor tomorrow and figure out what we do next.

The second thing I've realised is that, if you give them a chance, and/or if you ask for help, all sorts of people will come rushing to your aid, in the kindest, most unselfish ways. Mike didn't have to help me finish off the painting. He barely knows me! And yet he made time to come and help, in his spare time, and in his down-time, and whenever he could scrounge a few hours from the job he's currently working on. And he brought another pair of hands in Chris as well!

Alice didn't have to come and paint my flat every evening. She didn't need to come and clean up afterwards, she didn't have to be my taxi service, or cook me dinner, or call me every day to see how I'm feeling - she has a family of her own to take care of - but yet she did all these things for me, and more, because she's my friend and she cares about me.

Graeme the carpet guy didn't need to find a builder to fix the floor for me - but he did. He didn't need to come round in his spare time to bring a bit of carpet for the hallway while we're waiting for the lino to go down. But he did those things for me anyway, because he's a nice guy who goes the extra mile for his clients.

Peti and Tane didn't need to be as understanding about the somewhat unfinished nature of the flat as they have been, and they didn't need to try as hard as they did to minimise the stress I was under - but they did it anyway, because they are Good People, and that's what good people do.

From excruciating pain has come the realisation that some people are just pretty bloody awesome, and that all kinds of people will come to your aid when you need them. I've found out that it's not really so hard to ask for help, and I'm learning to accept it gracefully. It's been very touching to realise just what people are prepared to do for you when they see you really need them. And that's a very cool silver lining to this dark and cloudy tale.

Now if someone could just wave a magic wand and fix my arm up, everything would be just perfect...

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