I went to my first physical therapy appointment last night. It wasn’t actually much on therapy as it was getting a grip on my balky shoulder. My therapist, Tami, put me through a number of poses, to measure how far I could move in various directions. She also took measurements from my other shoulder, for comparison purposes.
It’s funny when you know that the entire basis of measurement stems from your own subjective judgment on when it hurts too much to move any further. I’m sitting there wondering, “Am I being too much of a wuss? A real man would bend his arm until it breaks off, before telling a cute little physical therapist that he has an owie.”
Sometimes you really wonder ‘how much is too much?” Then other times she moves you and every muscle in your body contracts from the jolt of pain.
“Oops… I hope I didn’t stain the bed here…”
systematic torture motion-range measurements, she was able to confirm what the doctor (and the MRI) had indicated. She also better explained the course of action they wanted to take. While it’s true that PT won’t heal the labrum or rotator cuff tears, there can be a build-up of scar tissue, which can reduce the likelihood of further tearing. In the meantime, directed exercises can build up the surrounding muscles to better stabilize everything.
Hey, anything that can be done to avoid the surgery is OK with me. So we’ll see. I’ll have 3 appointments a week for 4 weeks, and then I’ll reconvene with my doctor to see where we stand.
The best part of the evening was at the end, where they gave me this electrical treatment. First, they put 4 adhesive patches around my shoulder and hooked in the electrodes. (If you’ve ever had and EKG, it was like that, only the adhesive pads were larger.) Then they put this kind of ‘cuff’ over my shoulder. This would fill up with cold water and compress like a blood pressure cuff. I was to get 15 minutes of this treatment.
It was kind of cool when the electrodes fired up… It was this tingly, buzzy sensation; it felt like a vibrator being held to my shoulder. It also made me think, if they could ever do the same thing only with warm water and make the cuff schlong-sized, they’d sell a million of these contraptions.
After having seen the finale of the Amazing Race on Sunday, where two very hairy dudes were required to submit to 15 minutes of Brazilian waxing on their chests, I was a bit concerned about having the adhesive removed, but Tami was an expert and they came off smoothly, leaving all shoulder-hair intact.
The only problem I had at all didn’t crop up until this morning. I woke up with sore, swollen spots on my shoulder, where Tami was poking around. This is because of this other medical problem I have, “Delayed Pressure Urticaria.”
Basically, that means I get hives that come the day after pressure on my body from any hard surface. Weird, right? I mean, where do they come up with stuff like this?
Right around the time I turned 40, I started getting these pains in my hands… I had no idea why. But I’d wake up at night and it would be like my hands were on fire. I’d get these angry red welts on my hands… it wasn’t a surface thing, it was deeper under the skin. They’d itch like crazy and if I scratched them, it would hurt like a bitch. It took me months to figure out what was causing them. They look like this:
This shot is from a couple months ago.
I’d wake up in the morning and have to put my hand on an ice bag while I read my morning paper. At night, I’d ice my hands while watching TV, hoping that they’d stay numb until I could fall asleep.
Then one day at work, I put my hand in its usual place at my keyboard and noticed that one of the sores lined up right with the corner of the metal tray that held the wrist pad. That’s when I figured out that it was extended contact with hard surfaces that caused the welts.
I basically went about padding my entire living space, but still, the welts are unavoidable. Later, I started getting them on other parts of my body. But they weren’t quite the same… I’d get big swollen lumps rather than the deep red welts. They'd look like the Coyote's head after a bag of Acme hammers landed on it.
Wooden armrests put welts on my forearms. Hard wooden chairs or barstools put welts on the backs of my thighs or directly under my lower pelvis… Ass-welts, as I call them. Feels like I’m sitting on a couple of beanbags. If I lean up against the corner of a wall, I get lumps on my shoulder. If I hang my feet up on the rungs of my chair support, or even if I just stand in one place too long, I get welts on my feet the same way I get them on my hands. They itch like crazy, and just walking is an adventure, especially if my heel is affected. The way I end up walking makes me look like my ass is made of cake and I'm afraid to crack the icing.
There’s almost an endless list of things that put the welts on my hands: cutting food with a knife, scraping frost off the car, grasping anything like a fishing rod, racquet or paintbrush for too long, catching a non-Nerf football, accepting too vigorous a high-five at a Steelers game, or God-forbid, clapping… the list goes on.
This one was probably from cutting food. The end of my steak knife would go right were that welt is.
So after suffering from this ailment for several months (and generally acting like a bear with a thorn in his paw), my friends and family finally insisted that I see a doctor. He could tell me it was a case of hives, but couldn’t really nail it down. He suggested I see an allergist or dermatologist for further review. In the meantime, he prescribed an antihistamine for me, Zyrtec.
The Zyrtec didn’t prevent the hives from happening, but it made them hurt an awful lot less. Finally, I was able to sleep through the night again. I’d still ice my hands or feet once in a while if I developed a particularly bad one, but for the most part, it made the condition livable.
First, I saw an allergist, and she was able to put a name on my condition. To me, that was huge; just knowing that I wasn’t the only one in the world with this goofy-ass condition. Enough other people were afflicted with it that it had a name. But she couldn’t tell me what was causing it. She said even with a battery of tests, they still might not be able to narrow it down. I asked if knowing the cause would affect the treatment and she said that it wouldn’t. So I decided to bag the battery of tests and just roll with it.
But it turned out that she couldn’t really find anything that would prevent the hives from occurring. We tried a number of other antihistamines, even combining them with other drugs, but ultimately nothing worked any better than the Zyrtec.
Lastly, I went to a dermatologist, to see if they could offer some insight. They couldn’t. But they would continue to write me prescriptions for the Zyrtec. Each year, I’d go in and ask if there were any developments in hive treatments, but there never were. I stopped going once Zyrtec went to Over the Counter status.
And on the bright side, I haven’t had allergy symptoms in 10 years.
I suppose I was destined to have something like this… my sister gets hives from stress. My brother used to get them from scratches, but his symptoms just stopped after 10 years. I’m hoping mine will go away as well. This fall, it will be 10 years since I noticed the problem.
It’s funny… I spent my first 40 years being relatively indestructible. No major illnesses, no broken bones, no sprains. Rattled my shoulder a few times, but shook it off without doctor visits. Hadn’t seen a doctor for an injury since 3rd grade. (I fell, learning how to ride a bike, and my knee landed squarely on a pebble, on the sidewalk. That one hurt like a sonofabitch, but I was too young to describe it as such. I couldn’t even walk for the rest of the day.)
Now it’s like “Happy 40th birthday” and BANG, it’s one ailment after another. And I have to pad my surroundings like I’m the fucking Bubble Boy. I’m not used to being fragile.
Oh yeah, and there was this other problem that first doctor found when I went to see him about my hands… atrial fibrillation.
“Dude, you need to see a cardiologist…”
“Yeah, sure. But what about my hands?”
Update: March 2015
When I wrote this post, almost 5 years ago, I had no idea it would be the most frequently visited page I’d ever do. I had no idea there were so many people looking for information on helping them find a cure for the pain in their hands, feet and whatnot. Oddly, it made me feel better, knowing that I wasn’t the only one with this weird affliction.
The reason I’m posting this update is to try to provide some closure and a bit of hope for anyone so afflicted. You won’t have this problem forever... it gets better.
I began noticing that the frequency of getting the welts was decreasing throughout 2013. They only seemed to pop up during the hottest summer months, and even then, they weren’t as bad. By the end of 2014, I was basically over them, unless I did something particularly egregious, like kneeling on linoleum, or turning a stubborn screw with a screwdriver.
And now? Gone.
Last month, I had to do that very thing… turn a stuck screw, with the end of the screwdriver jammed into the base of my palm. In the past, that would be the recipe for a wicked welt that would hang around for days. This time? Practically nothing. I noticed a small twinge overnight, but by morning, no problem.
All in all, my DPU lasted about 12-13 years before it ran its course, which was about 3-4 years longer than the average case.
I know that’s not much comfort to you if you’ve just started dealing with these hives, but at least you know there IS an end.
In the meantime, here’s how I survived:
Dr. Scholls shoe inserts
Pad everything… wrist rests in front of your keyboard and mouse, hard arm rests, memory-foam mattress topper
Weightlifters or bicycle gloves
Limit elastic in cuffs, waistband