Stranded on the side of the road and the ups & downs of chronic pain.
Whiplash is a silent killer. I never took this phrase seriously or took a second thought about this until it happened to me. The moment I was frozen and realized I could barely move was terrifying. Here’s how I remedied my pain.
February 8th in Seattle was a beautiful night. It was the night we had our first real snowfall. I was working at my restaurant and saw the flakes falling outside the window. It was a lovely sight to see. The later it got, the more nervous I became because I realized I would have to drive home across town in the snow and my car doesn’t have very good tires. I closed up shop earlier than usual, and made my way out the door. I shoveled away the snow on my car, heated it up and started driving.. very slowly. In order to get home, I have to go down a road that leads me to a bridge onto the highway. I went my normal route, because it is well-traveled and thought it would be fine. As I drove down the street, I realized I was driving on a sheet of ice and was swerving around. I slowed down, kept trucking very carefully until all of a sudden I saw a car in front of me that was parked and stranded on the road. My car totally slid, and I had two options: either hit a tree or the car in front of me. Before I could even decide, I was was slammed against the car in front. I sat in shock, but thankful to be alive and that it was a low-impact hit. Then all of a sudden I looked in my rear-view mirror, saw a black Nissan coming down the road swerving aimlessly.. then hit me. We all got out of our cars and stood on the sidewalk to see if each other was okay. Then lo and behold an SUV starts coming down the road, we all yell and flag at him to stop, but he does the exact same thing all three of us did. Boom. So here I was stranded on the side of the road with a bunch of strangers and four pieces of large metal cars damaged in a pile-up.
Even though the circumstances were quite terrible, it was kind of nice to stand outside and absorb the beauty and stillness of the snow. I had been going all day, working two jobs. Sevens days a week I have somewhere I need to be and something I need to do.. whether it be work, school or church-related, as well as other outside activities and commitments I tend to throw myself into (which doesn’t include my non-existent social life, visiting my family, exercising, cooking and maintaining my home). I consciously have to make the decision to take a day “off,” which is kind of ridiculous in and of itself to have to “schedule” in relaxing time.
Anyways.. so here I was in a car accident, stranded in the snow. I was technically being forced to stop (it wasn’t scheduled in). In a way, I’m kind of glad it happened, because it brought me back to reality for a moment. It made me look at what was around me.. instead of being constantly “on the go” always chasing after something. At the time of the accident my physical body felt fine. I was in a bit of emotional shock, but it was a low impact hit and I was still able to walk around and function as normal. I had heard about whiplash being a creeper though.. so just to play it safe, I went in to see an acupuncturist right away. I’m all for preventative health care, so wanted to make sure nothing was damaged that I couldn’t feel at the time.
The acupuncturist examined me and said he didn’t think anything major was wrong but wanted to keep a close eye just in case. I received treatment, he prescribed me some herbs, and told me to come back in a week. I did what he said. The second week, I was feeling a bit sore in my neck and shoulders (but it didn’t seem like anything I should be overly-concerned about). I came in for a treatment, received some relief and went on my way. I also attended a yoga class, because I wanted to get some stretching in (not sure if it helped or made it worse). By week 3, I was completely in shambles. I could barely walk. My tailbone felt like it was going to explode out of me. When I sat for too long, I could barely get up without by entire spine screaming in agony. If I walked around too much, the same feelings came about. I couldn’t even bend down an inch and stretch (as a health-fitness oriented person, the fact that I couldn’t touch my toes was a complete shock). I was frozen and trapped in my body. Yet I was still mentally able to function as “normal.” When I told people about my accident and that I had whiplash, I was always dismissed like it wasn’t a big deal. And of course I didn’t want to make a big deal out of it, because no one likes to be around people who complain about their pain. So I found myself crying alone all the time and in a room with my acupuncturist because I didn’t know what to do and was afraid of how long this was going to last. Not only was I walking around with chronic pain, pretending like everything was okay.. I was in an emotional mind-battle. One day I would wake up and feel fine, the next day I hated myself. One moment, I had a positive outlook and was ready to “overcome” the pain, the next day, I was venturing down a hole of despair. The roller coaster of emotions that comes with chronic pain was something very new to me (I’ve never broken a bone or had to deal with anything like this).
My acupuncturist said this could last anywhere from 3-6 months. I was determined that it would be less than that. He recommended I come in twice a week to monitor the pain and really dig deep. I concurred. I also decided to swim. I joined an athletic club near my house and started swimming twice a week followed by sitting in the hot tub and sauna. I had to work out the kinks in my spine and melt away the frozen-ness in my body. I had to ease my load (physically, mentally, and spiritually) if true healing was to take place. I made a decision to scale down, quit some of my activities, and decrease my work load in order to have more time to be at home to relax and cook. I went to a massage practitioner. I prayed. I did everything except go to the doctor, sit on the couch and take a bunch of pain pills. How much did this all cost me?
- Acupuncture = $30/session
- Massage = $50/session
- Athletic Club = $60/month (using facilities twice a week comes out to $7.50 per day, which is cheaper than an access pass to a day spa facility or drop-in fitness class)
It’s been three month now and I’m amazed at my progress and how fine I feel. I’m pretty much back to 100%. I still have a few kinks here and there, however, I can actually get up and walk around without anguish. My goal is to be able to start running outside again. I love the freedom of a nice jog. As my physical body continues to be restored, my emotions are still a bit messy (I’m already an over-emotional female, so that’s probably never going to go away). However, what I do know is that this experience has taught me to slow down, value what I have, and look at how far I’ve came. Having a “busy” life and chasing the rainbow can be fun and exciting.. but sometimes the pot of gold has already arrived at our doorstep. We just have to “take a load off” and keep swimming weightless in the water.
by Kristin Bach