Part 4: July and August — more needles, less tape, new drugs

I’ve been writing on chronic pain I’ve experienced for the past twenty years. Here is the latest entry:

From the end of June for the next 6 weeks, I had acupuncture once or twice a week. I took curcumin — an herbal anti-inflammatory recommended by my acupuncturist — twice a day. At every appointment, he would ask how I was and I would say, “the same.” Treatments on my back seemed to relieve me more than others. There is a meditative quality to acupuncture. The needles are set, sometimes a mild current is run through them, and you’re left in a darkened room with new age music for 30 minutes. The points of tension where needles caused dull pain when inserted ease and relax. The electric current stops vibrating. Your body is forced to relax.

But it isn’t painless. Often the needles cause a dull pain like you’ve been knuckle-punched right in the spine. A tiny twist can send a shock through your whole body. I left some treatments feeling wrung out — either the treatment had released a lot of tension or my body had fought the needles for half an hour and wore me out. But I generally liked the experience. Still, I had to say, “the same” when asked how I was. I would still wince in pain if I brushed my nuts the wrong way. And nothing was restoring my virility.

The acupuncturist asked me to see him for 4 weeks to try his methods. The treatment was positive enough to continue over that time frame but I know he was frustrated that I wasn’t getting more relief and I began to think that fixing pain that had been around for 20 years wasn’t going to be as simple as lying on a table in the dark with needles in me. I thought, this might be two different problems: a mental problem causing the depressive mood and lack of spunk which had to be treated through intensive psychological therapy and a physical problem that required a lot of hard physical therapy work.

I started seeing a psychologist. I appreciate the process of talk therapy. It has been helpful to me in the past and I liked the new therapist immediately. I convinced myself that this was what I needed to resurrect my moods and desire.

Then I saw Dr. G again. He asked about the results of the last nerve block and was discouraged that I wasn’t getting more relief for longer periods but he was also happy to attribute that to having the physical therapy two days later. “Don’t do physical therapy for a while,” he said. He wanted to proceed with another nerve block but I asked about the connection to my back. He asked if I’d ever had an MRI. I haven’t. So he prescribed one and decided we’d await the results of that before trying another nerve block. It could be cysts in my back affecting the nerve and causing my pain.

Then he told me my TSH was extremely high meaning I have hypothyroidism. Thyroid Stimulating Hormone levels are measured this way: a 1 indicates a normal thyroid; a 2 indicates that the thyroid is producing only 50% of the needed thyroid hormone and the pituitary gland has to produce twice the TSH; a 3 indicates the thyroid is only producing 33% of the thyroid hormone; et cetera.

My TSH was 5. So my thyroid is only doing 20% of its job.

Dr. G prescribed Levoxyl which should balance me out. Hypothyroidism could explain my mood. It’s another complication. What it means is that psycho-therapy may help me cope with my moods but my problem isn’t just mental.

I’d been on the Levoxyl for two weeks when I wrote this report and nothing had really changed. I was actually in more discomfort. I think the acupuncture was providing a lot of benefits even if it wasn’t fixing the main issue. My back was often sore in August. I was still incredibly tender in the balls and my mood and lack of desire was no different.

When I dedicated a lot of time (and money) to these treatments in the spring, I didn’t think there would be a quick fix. But I expected a direction of treatment by the end of summer. It seems like every stone we overturn reveals another hidden detail about my physiology. I never expected the news about my hormone levels back in April and I certain didn’t expect to follow that up with thyroid problems in August.

With no direction of treatment, I feel worse for having pursued treatment. I’m in almost the same place I was in April pain-wise but I’m in a worse mood: more hopeless and frustrated. This doesn’t even touch on the issues of money and insurance which have now hit a level where I must deal with them before proceeding with any more treatment.

Once I resolve insurance issues and file 17 separate claims, I must see my regular physician and have her order the MRI and next batch of blood work. That means weeks of waiting and taking this new drug hoping to feel some kind of relief.