I have compartment syndrome.
It’s a super scary condition where your muscles don’t want to be contained in their muscle holder anymore.
The magical medical practitioners think it happened as a combination of stressing myself out way to much and overworking my already injured body. As a kid I wanted nothing more than to be a prima ballerina. This didn’t pan out as I have exactly 100% the opposite natural body you want for ballet. I have hips, I have a bum, and I hold weight in my stomach. It’s not exactly graceful. But I tried. I loved- still love- to dance. When I was 15 I went to my then family doctor and asked about this weird pop thing my hip was doing. He told me it was nothing and not to bother him with stupid problems. Yeah. I continued to throw myself into performing through dance, intensive theater camps, and started competing in musical theater the next year. My hip didn’t get better. It wasn’t until I was 22 during a rugby practice where a coach heard the noise. At that point I had been playing for a few years with a break to study abroad. My coach looked at me, informed me that wasn’t normal, and gave me the name of a sports specialist who I saw that week. Keep in mind I hadn’t really seen a doctor that wasn’t at the walk in clinic since I was 15. I went and he diagnosed it as snapping hip syndrome in 5 minutes. I walked out with a physio referral and started on that path. I probably wouldn’t have been in that sort of pain for that long if I had been better about resting and not going in to intensely. I was still playing rugby and… man, I love playing rugby. It’s definitely one of the most fun things I’ve ever done. I love the crap out of that sport, I loved the people I was playing with. So play I did.
After my friend passed away I kind of gave up on life. I stopped playing rugby, stopped going to the gym… stopped giving a shit about anything really. I lost my biggest support system and that took its toll. I still have to deal with it every day. Losing someone you were that close to messes you up. My feet started to scream bloody murder whenever I stood up and after much fighting my Mom made me go back to the doctor to get orthotics. I went and mentioned that when I walked a lot my shins hurt SO bad and it hurt to even touch my calves. That’s when I got the compartment syndrome and instructions to keep very lightly active- which at that point I wasn’t, to not google compartment syndrome and, most importantly, to keep my stress levels down. I tend to be a very high stress person so I figured that was impossible, got my orthotics and hoped for the best.
Eventually it all caught up with me and I found myself having to miss a day of work to spend in the hospital because I was absolutely sure my foot was broken but had no idea why. The doctor at emergency checked me out and diagnosed me with plantar fascitis in both my feet. I had no idea what that meant and vowed to wear my orthotics more. He gave me celebrex to take and I was, once again, told to be lightly active, rest, and keep my stress levels down. During all this I managed to do two summers working at summer camps in Italy. I didn’t have the same problems there. Working with kids is pretty stressful so I still can’t figure out why I wasn’t in pain.
By this point my sports specialist had retired, which was terrible because he was the best doctor I’ve ever had. He was direct but caring, and you could tell his focus was completely on his patients. My mother had found a new doctor and my feet were getting much, much worse. I could only walk for about 5 minutes before the pain became unbearable. My mom kind of took matters into her own hands and made an appointment with the doctor and bribed me out of the house with a shopping trip. My anxiety level was high, but I like the new doctor. I’m still on her patient list. She referred me to a pain specialist in the same clinic who wanted to start K Laser. I had four treatments and things were better. I could walk for a half hour after the first one. After the fourth one I went to London and Paris and something weird happened. I walked. I walked for five hours one day and didn’t even feel a hint of a throb. I was enjoying walking. I reported this back to the doctor when I went for my fifth and final treatment. He thinks it might be a climate thing and that I should move to Europe.
Alas, the point of this trip isn’t to talk about all my pain and reinforce the fact that I really, REALLY should live in Europe. Bonjour France, je veux moi? It’s to talk about the how. Since I did spend two summers in Europe with chronic pain while working and whatnot I’ll give my list.
- Carry all medications with you in your carry on. Luckily they only lost my luggage on the way home, but damn were those some bad days until it got restored to me.
- Make sure your medication is legal in the country you’re going to. I worry about this all the time even though celebrex is pretty standard.
- Talk to your doctor about transitioning through time zones. When I went to Australia I lost a whole day. I tend to keep my Ipod on Vancouver time no matter where I go so that I don’t accidentally wake people up when I call home. Sometimes you end up taking what you take at noon at home at eight pm away, which is reasonable. However, sometimes you end up needing to take it at 2. Figure out the time zones and talk to your doctor.
- For the love of all that is and ever was do not start your medication on the trip. Take it for at least two weeks before. Finding that celebrex worked for me was hard. I went through some other pain meds that had side effects that… wouldn’t be what you’d want in a shared bathroom situation. (This also plays into why I hate ensuite bathrooms at hostels, but that’s another post.). You need to know how your body reacts to what you’re taking. For instance, I had to learn the hard way that if you ignore the label and take celebrex without food you will not be a happy camper. I tend to prize celebrex because it worked for me but meds are different for everyone. I’ve even heard of some people having weird side effects from the generic. Do not take this grace period for granted. Seriously. Very, VERY important.
- Give yourself permission to feel like shit and hermit for a few days. I’ve been to Genoa many times but I’ve never seen any of it. There’s a hotel there that’s not far from the train station and whenever I’m there it’s where I stay. It’s clean, not to expensive, the shower water pressure is awesome and their wifi is full on badass. I get an inordinate amount of food, take the longest shower ever and just relax. I’m an introvert with extrovert qualities and I need the recharge time. Even with a cold it’s not fair to do a shared room when you’re sick or injured. Let yourself have that down time and don’t let anybody make you feel bad for it. If you’ve booked a hostel and just need a day to hang around the building and the two blocks around it, that’s fine. Take care of your mental health and your physical health will follow. After my Genoa stays I go wherever I need to after feeling like a renewed person. If I have a bum around the hostel day, usually I feel ready to go and end up having amazing nights.
When you have chronic pain it sucks. Going places sucks. Getting out of bed most days is a marathon… but it’s possible to push through it and have some great experiences.
Just give yourself permission to feel it otherwise I’m sure your head will explode.