Spoiled by Good Health Care

I’m well aware how lucky I’ve been to be very healthy most of my life and, in those rare times when I’ve needed a doctor, I’ve had easy access to high quality care.  To date, the biggest injury I’ve suffered was a crushed hand bowling in college (yeah, weird story, but the important part is that I finished the game before heading off to the campus medical center).  I’ve had the odd occasion to visit a physician over the past 15 years, but mostly just for regular check-ups and the obligatory lecture to exercise more, eat less bread and pasta, and monitor my genetic predisposition for high cholesterol and diabetes.

Last month, as most people have experienced at one time or another, I woke up with a stiff neck.  I didn’t think too much about it, but the pain got progressively worse over the course of two days such that I could not lift my head.  Over-the-counter pain relievers did absolutely nothing — even the combination muscle relaxant/asprin pills they sell OTC here in Canada did zip.  I figured it’d resolve after a few days like such issues always have in the past.  It didn’t.

With E and G here for the summer, I had a lot of help and support, as well as a push to actually get help.  I tried to get in to see a doctor here.  For residents, health care is free — you just swipe your Health Card at any clinic or hospital and wait for your name to be called.  I would be paying out-of-pocket and then submit to Blue Cross for reimbursement.  No problem.

Well, the wait was the problem.  My experience is obviously anecdotal, but I tried a couple of clinics.  The 3-hour wait times weren’t going to work given the level of discomfort standing or sitting on a hard chair.  Many here travel to Ogdensburg, NY, about an hour away, for health care because you can make appointments and billing is handled directly with Blue Cross.  That turned out to be no better.  First available appointment would be August 18th.  The alternative would be to wait in the emergency room — probably 5+ hrs.

Thus, I’m not making any judgment on socialized medicine in Canada vs. US pay-for-play health care.  Both failed me when I needed help.  I knew if I were back in Palo Alto, I’d be able to see a doctor, have an MRI, and get a definitive explanation and prognosis within a couple hours of making a call.  Spoiled, no doubt, and not typical just about anywhere, including the United States.

The neck thing was so bad I went to see a local chiropractor (for those who know me, I have little faith in that particular discipline).  After a few weeks of what I’d call very painful massage, I have a better range of movement.  I can life my head and turn to both sides.  I honestly have no opinion whether the 15-minute sessions twice a week helped or if I’d be in the same situation with the regular icing and resting I’ve been doing without the chiro.  I still have a lot of pain most of the time that radiates down my left arm and causes spasms sporadically to my thumb.

After a lot of reading, it has all the symptoms of a badly pinched nerve that will eventually resolve.  I reached the self-described limits of the chiro’s capability and will start physio therapy next week.  My hope and expectation is that it will resolve in the next month or two while I try to not let it impact daily life.

I had a chance to do a temporary month-long consular assignment in Shanghai but figured the long flights back and forth would probably be a bad idea so I opted out.  Next time, for sure, though.

If anyone has prior experience with these prolonged pinched nerve in the neck/upper back and found an exercise or treatment that helps speed up the healing process, let me know!

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5 thoughts on “Spoiled by Good Health Care

  1. We will be arriving there next week. If there’s anything we can do to help out, let us know. In the meantime, I probably don’t have to say it, but take it easy – relax as much as you can.

  2. I “came down” with a terribly stiff neck 2 weeks ago. It arrived with a migraine, but after 3 days I realized that either this was the worst migraine ever, or something else was wrong. I saw 3 doctors, had acupuncture, took migraine meds and steroids, was diagnosed with viral meningitis, and am just starting to feel like myself. The neurologist suggested moist heat for my neck – wetting a towel and microwaving it (for my microwave, 30 seconds on high is perfect). That helped, and another friend with neck pain suggested rolling up a towel to support your neck when you sleep or rest. That also made a big difference. I hope you feel better soon!!!

  3. Sorry you’re hurting.
    I guess that chicken soup wouldn’t help.
    But seriously, around 15 years ago, I had a neck situation that was so bad I ran the gamut of doctor, chiropractor, physical therapy and acupuncture…stopped the latter because I couldn’t tolerate the herbs that were an essential part of the treatment.
    The chiro helped a lot, and eventually the stiffness disappeared, along with the pain.
    Louise and I both have a chronic lower back “thing,” and I wish that my wonderful physical therapist had been around back in those days. He would have managed that pinched nerve in my neck in no time.
    My new Droid Incredible arrived this week, and I’ve arranged a US/Canada connection for the days that I’m there. Can’t wait!…Mom

  4. I have sporadic flares of horrible back/lower neck spasms occasionally, but it might be different from what you have. Mine is in my rhomboid. Deep tissue massage helps me a lot, and I can do it myself — as in, lying/rolling on a tennis ball or against a protruding wall/dresser corner to really get something blunt and hard into the muscle. That and the muscle relaxants/pain relievers.

    Have you tried to make changes in your ergonomics at work? Maybe that has played a role in this flare up for you?

    Good luck!

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