Sitting in the waiting room waiting to see yet another new doctor, this time a pain management specialist, you heard me…that’s right…my sarcoidosis has led me to a freaking pain management specialist, but I digress, I’m trying to fill out the new patient forms and I don’t have even the vaguest clue how to fill out those stupid pain scale questions. You know the ones…”What’s your pain on a scale of one to ten right now”, “what’s your pain level when you wake up in the morning”, “what’s your pain level when you do this or that thing”… blah, blah, blah. I have utterly no self awareness regarding my pain. Why? BECAUSE I AM IN PAIN ALL THE TIME! It’s just become part of me, no different than a limb or a finger nail or a tuft of hair.
I let out a heavy sigh. My husband, who usually attends my medical appointments for the extra moral support, asked what was wrong. I told him that I wasn’t sure how to fill out the pain scale questions. I said and I quote…”Pain is so normal for me.” He said, in the most loving way possible, “I am sitting here right now and I am not in pain. Pain is not normal.” Not normal? Come again? What did you say? Maybe I heard that wrong!
I found it both reassuring and slightly alarming to hear that pain is not normal. I found it reassuring because it means seeing a pain management doctor is probably the right specialist at this stage of my disease process. I found it alarming because I realized at that moment, that I have been in some kind of pain so long that I don’t have a “new normal”…I have a “this isn’t normal at all” thing going on. But, I’ve been, at the very least, uncomfortable in my skin so long that for me burning sensations, sensitivity to touch and feeling like my bones are about to break are all routine. How horribly sad is that?! It’s awful. No one should have to live like this and yet…
Doctors sometimes say stupid things about sarcoidosis. At this point, I’m sure I’ve heard it all. One of the worst things I have heard doctors say is that sarcoidosis doesn’t cause pain. Cover your ears if you don’t want to hear me cuss because, that right there is simply bullshit. When you can’t breath and you gasp for every breath, guess what? That’s painful. When, because you have sarcodiosis, you’ve also developed something called small fiber neuropathy, guess what? That’s painful. When you had to be diagnosed with sarcoidosis through an open lung biopsy and now your rib cage is caved in, as is the case for me, guess what? That’s painful. When you frequently lose your balance and fall a lot because you have sarcoidosis, guess what? That’s painful. When your sarcoidosis gives you arthritis, guess what? THAT IS PAINFUL! So, doctors who tell you sarcoidosis isn’t painful are, in a word, idiots.
Earlier this year, my right rib cage caved in. It’s concave. It’s not supposed to be concave. My entire right side is sensitive to touch, burns and my ribs often feel like they are about to break. This is most certainly not normal and it hurts. It’s exhausting to hurt all the time. My pulmonoloigst said this happened because I lost weight and blew me off. My primary doctor sent me for a bunch of tests because he was sure it was my gall bladder. How your gall bladder makes your rib cage cave in is beyond me but, there you have it…typical. Doctors blow you off or take you down a rabbit hole you know darn well you don’t belong in. I even tried to check in with the surgeon who did my open lung biopsy because that’s the area where it hurts the most so that made the most sense to me…He refused to see me.
As is so often the case with sarcoidosis, because I am sure this rib issue is somehow related to my sarcoidosis, I took to the internet to diagnose myself and, I spoke with other sarcoidosis patients. We learn more from each other than we do from most of our medical professionals. I’ve also gotten good enough with internet self diagnosis, that I don’t waste time on sites that aren’t reputable or have valuable information and, I don’t get freaked out by everything I read. I’ve probably read more research papers about sarcoidosis than most MDs. Sure enough, I found a diagnosis that fits and sure enough it is related to my sarcoidosis. I have intercostal neuralgia. I’m sure of it and it is related to my sarcoidosis because it is a complication from my open lung biopsy to diagnose my sarcoidosis. I took this diagnosis to my primary care doctor and he thought it could be that but then sent me to a surgeon to see about having my gall bladder out…there I was stuck in that stupid rabbit hole.
Fortunately for me, and maybe because I was due for a small miracle, this surgeon didn’t think my gall bladder was the problem and, after listening to everything I had to say AND doing a thorough exam of my rib cage, she sent me to a pain management doctor. She truly believes I am right about my diagnosis of intercostal neuralgia. Hala-freaking-lua! So, there I was in the waiting room waiting to see my new pain management doctor for the first time, gut punched with the reality that pain is NOT NORMAL. I know…I’m shouting a lot…sorry…I’m just a little worked up. I’m due to have an MRI of my thoracic area this week and I will meet again with the pain doctor after that to discuss next steps in addressing what’s causing my pain but even he agreed that it’s likely intercostal neuralgia. BINGO!
Sometimes it really helps me to ask my husband what’s normal and what’s not. It’s so easy to settle into my pain, to accept it as just another part of me, to not realize that I should and I deserve to seek comfort. I suspect pain will always be part of my life but doing all that I can to try to minimize it needs to be just as big a part of my life. I do not have to, nor should I accept a “this isn’t normal at all” kind of life. It’s a constant battle when you live with chronic illness. You battle the medical community to be heard, you battle constant fatigue, you battle your own emotions and you battle that sneaking feeling that “not normal at all” IS normal. I’m here to tell you that it’s not and while I don’t know how successful seeing a pain management doctor will be, I know one thing is for sure…I will keep seeking to find a better definition for normal for myself.