The Excruciating Pain of Writing

Two summers ago I strained my shoulder at work.  After eight months, I noticed it was still painful and thought I’d better do something about it.  Some physio and it seemed to be getting better – but just as it suddenly got a lot worse, the physio signed me off.  And then the pain really began, along with the worsening factor of mobility.  By the time I got to see the NHS physio a second time, I was virtually disabled.  I can’t begin to describe the despair of not being able to do perfectly ordinary things – getting dressed, bathroom functions, getting a mug out of the cupboard….let alone my job, where I had to fight to get a ladder to reach the top shelves and forced myself to put a brave face on every day because I was terrified of the dole queue (…been there, done that…)  The physio thought I might have a frozen shoulder and gave me one treatment that really helped, then a second treatment that nearly killed me.  By the third appointment, he was referring me to a specialist for a steroid injection.

A year and half had now gone by since the initial injury, which at the time hadn’t even seemed that bad, just rather persistent.  Both the physio’s ill-advised second treatment and the specialist’s inspection of my shoulder (“mmmm, let’s see, does your arm go in this completely impossible direction….?”  force force shove shove scream scream pain pain) left me in agony.  My shoulder was so inflamed that the drugs stopped working and nothing brought relief.  The pain pushed me into deepest despair about ever being able-bodied again, though I did keep telling myself that there are many, many people who are far, far worse off than I am, with dreadful illnesses and no life expectancy.  It’s only a sore shoulder, I repeated, over and over, though it didn’t help.

The weirdest thing was that the original injury occurred when my arm was in the exact same position as it used to be when writing longhand.  Imagine you’re sitting at a desk, head bent over, body curved to the left, right elbow out, hand writing on paper at a slant – yep, it’s the WRITING POSITION.  At the back of all this is some psychosomatic thing to do with writing.  Since my whole life is writing – though these days it’s done with a rather better posture at a desk top computer – it’s immensely interesting that the underlying injury is connected.  All my school and college work was done in longhand as computers hadn’t been invented yet – indeed, I am that prehistoric.  And not being able to write is, to me, the most painful circumstance of all.

On New Year’s Eve, I had the first steroid injection which was so horrible it made me cry.  What a way to end the year.  For the next month, there was still pain but it was more tolerable and more manageable:  no more NSAIDs, just a whole lot of Volterol gel.  Today I went along for the next injection and dreaded it.  By the time I got to the lovely hushed clinic (it felt private rather than NHS – are they smartening up?) I was extremely stressed while waiting.  Finally, the rather marvellous doctor/clinician/specialist/person-armed-with-large-needle did another ultrasound, noted that the bursa was no longer inflamed but that my shoulder was unstable.  And finally I got the right diagnosis (which is exactly what the physio had thought it was) – I had a frozen shoulder.  I had already figured this out and had been following the advice of a truly fantastic website called – appropriately – www.frozenshoulder.com

I didn’t get a second steroid injection but something else equally horrible.  This time I was prepared for the mind numbingly awful pain, got myself more comfortable and while that damn needle got shoved into my shoulder joint and hung around in there for several thousand years, I took the nurse’s hand and held it.  This moment was probable more monumental for me than anything else because I NEVER ask for help.  I NEVER admit weakness – to others, though constantly to myself.  The nurse said it made her feel better too because she could feel my pain.  Afterwards, the anaesthetic made my arm feel like Harry Potter’s when he lost all the bones in it because of that arsehole wizard (whose name I’ve forgotten) and in Costa, I had to ask them to carry my tray for me because it – my arm – felt so weak.

It’s weird feeling so dazed.  The Costa clock was utterly blank.  I couldn’t see the arms at all.  Have they fallen off, I wondered.  Why can’t I see properly?  Why do I feel so disconnected from the universe?  After my flat white and a muffin, the arms reappeared.  Yes, arms – arm – shoulder.  I get it.  Everything is really weird.

I just want to be able to write again.

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About susannahjbell

I am a writer of science fiction and other strange and surreal works. I mostly write novels and the occasional novelette. My published works include A Doorway into Ultra, the Fleet Quintet and the Exodus Sequence. I live in London in an attic flat but really want to live in a tree. I wanted to be an astrophysicist but would settle for an alien abduction. I write because I don’t know what to read.
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