It was the fall of 2013. I, then aged 24, was going through a rough phase in my personal life. I was reeling under the pressures involved in an on and off relationship. It was mentally straining and I had gained on the habit of binge eating to beat the stress along with the usual suspects – smoking and drinking. Like Po in Kung-Fu Panda, I was eating when depressed. From 62 kilos in 2011 I had reached 75 kilos and the tummy was just showing up. Sleeping late at night had become a habit and I used to not sleep at all on some days. Due to the irregular food habits and awkward timings, my stomach’s digestive powers went for a toss every alternate month. Sinusitis added to the problems.
So this one day I started experiencing a shooting pain in my back, at a single point below the neck and part of the muscles attached to my right shoulder. The pain would appear and disappear over the next one week and it started causing a lot of discomfort. The pain point used to shift too. I exercised a bit, some basic shoulder exercises and twists. I thought it’s a muscle sprain or may be symptoms of spondylitis or something of that sort. At office, every colleague brought her own medical expertise, notwithstanding the fact that we were engineers by profession.
I had met with a small accident in 2009 that had resulted in multiple spasms in my back and another serious one in August 2011 in which I had narrowly escaped death because of a big backpack and a helmet. Ever since these happened, I used to have lower back pains which I attributed to the accidents.
A week after the pain started, I wasn’t able to put a spoonful of food into my mouth, when at the dining table. Tears rolled down my eyes and I realized that this pain was unusual and unbearable.
I went to an orthopaedic specialist in my locality. He was a 60+ surgeon and I had been to him a few times – once for a fractured thigh bone, a few times for fractured fingers and once for a dislocated arm. He was a trusted name in the locality too. Based on a X-Ray report, he diagnosed my pain to be a severe neurological damage caused by continuous exposure of the neck to physical stress linked with working on computers. He suggested physiotherapy for a whole month.
My physiotherapy started the same day. Laying on the bed in his clinic, they tied two sandbags to my neck (the sandbags are supported by pulleys attached to the bed). They call this treatment “traction”. After 20 minutes of this, a nurse would administer infrared treatment using a red lamp that’d heat up the my shoulder to relieve the pain. Then they’d make me undergo some ultrasound massage. I was made to wear a strap around my neck too.
The physiotherapy went on for a whole week. I took an exception from my manager to work from home, something that was not permissible given the contractual obligations we had with our client. Though hesitant at first, seeing my condition my manager agreed to my request. I spent almost ₹4,000 that week on the treatment. The most peculiar thing was that they never concentrated on the exact place where I had pain and instead made my neck the most important piece of treatment.
The trust I had in their treatment waned down severely because they never took my feedback. I decided to go to a hospital. The orthopaedic there heard my case and touched my right arm to see if it hurts. It did. He pressed left arm, that hurt too. He pressed a few points in my back, every point hurt. He then isolated the main pain point, the muscle lock that I had. He said the fibres of my muscle had hardened and had caused a sort of knot. That this is a condition called fibromyalgia.
He prescribed a non-steroidal analgesic Etova P along with a Vitamin B12 tablet Nurokind; and suggested physiotherapy sessions every day for a fortnight. I was devastated. I didn’t know what fibromyalgia meant and didn’t pay much heed to it. I called up my manager, sent him a few pictures of the reports and explained him how important it is for me to continue with the treatment.
The physiotherapist at the hospital was more learned. He was a thorough professional. After going through the reports he explained to me that fibromyalgia is generally seen in people who are inactive. I told them the nature of my work, how I travel close to four hours a day and spend another 10-12 hours in from of a computer. He advised me to stop it or consider cutting down on travel.
We started our sessions the same day. Since the pain point used to shift a few inches everyday, the physiotherapist used to triangulate the position of the hardened muscle fibres in every session. He then used to place electrodes at specific calculated positions and make me undergo electrical stimulation of my inactive muscles. It was a painful ordeal. A session of targeted ultrasonic treatment followed. I was spared of burning my skin with the infrared lamp and also the traction.
These new folks made me ditch the neck strap, taught me a few simple exercises. They advised me to lift weights everyday and to start with a 200 grams dumbbell. In their own facility, I required the help of the physiotherapist to lift the 200 grams dumbbell to an eye-level position with arms stretched out straight. The physiotherapist ridiculed me for having brought myself to such a condition and advised me to cut down weight to 72 kilos asap.
I was relieved of the pain in 10 days and I was able to return to work, cutting my sessions short by a week. I became more conscious of my body and so started searching for a job close to home. In a year’s time, I shifted to a company which had an office located about 30 minutes away. Yet, I was under more stress given that my on and off relationship had completely ended and the relationship with my parents had sunk to extreme lows.
I sulked, I ate even more, slept even more hours, was hit by insomnia on some nights, troubled stomach, indigestion, back-aches, strained neck. One day, I was not able to put a spoonful of food into my mouth, sitting at the dining table. I weighed 88 kilos now.
To be continued.