Dr. PainBeGone

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In the past year I have seen five surgeons, two sports medicine doctors, and one physical medicine doctor. Nothing prepared me for Dr. PainBeGone. The thoracic surgeon insisted I visit the pain clinic for a nerve block, a procedure in which a local anesthetic is injected into the nerve to relieve pain, to better determine the source of my pain. He set up an appointment with Dr. PainBeGone, a pain specialist.

Sitting in the waiting room at the pain clinic, I felt oddly out of place. Surely I did not belong there. I thought of the events that brought me to this particular place and realized that, yes, I am a chronic pain sufferer.

This was an interesting revelation. Triathletes are used to pain. We embrace pain. We encounter pain on a regular basis in our workouts and races. We constantly push ourselves to the next level, and let’s face it, going hard generally comes with a fair share of discomfort. Injuries that are incurred cause pain. But, here is the difference between training pain and the pain I have had from this injury. One is controllable while the other is not.

During training, when your body aches and your lungs feel like they might burst, you always know that if you back off you will feel better. You always know that when the interval is over there will be a respite before the next one begins. You always know that when you are injured, if you stop training the ache goes away. In the instance of my ribs, the ache is always there. Backing off, stopping, and resting do not help. And that has been the problem. The lack of control has left me with a feeling of helplessness.

But, I digress.

I was escorted to the exam room. There were two chairs side by side and a chair at the desk. I sat in the chair next to the desk. Dr. PainBeGone’s associate came in for an initial fact finding mission; he sat at the desk and took fastidious notes. When he left, he promised that Dr. PBG would be there shortly.

Finally, Dr. PBG burst into the room. He was the antithesis of any other doctor I had ever seen. He had perfectly coiffed dark hair that would make Patrick Dempsey jealous (it looked like he used an entire bottle of gel and he must have a wind machine stashed in his office). His outfit, black pants, a white button down shirt opened at the collar and a matching black jacket, made him look like he was going straight to the disco after work. His laid back demeanor said, “Hey, let’s be friends.” His first words were, “Do you mind if I sit next you?” He then proceeded to move the jacket, purse and water bottle I had strewn onto the chair. When he sat down, he slouched like an indignant teenager. I liked him instantly.

When I recovered from my initial shock we had some benign banter. Before I left, I said to him that I was probably the healthiest patient he had ever seen. He wholeheartedly agreed. On the surface, I look perfectly normal. It is a perplexing dichotomy: on the one hand I am quite fit from running, but on the other I am still very injured. And, for all intents and purposes I look fine, except for the occasional day when things are really bad and as one of my co-workers astutely pointed out, “I can see the pain in your eyes.”

The nerve block itself is no simple thing. It is performed under IV sedation with X-ray guidance. At the very least, it should give me some relief, though. I’ll post an update after the procedure.

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