Medical treatment when out of network? Emergency Room It Is!

Last week I visited the emergency room in my home state of Iowa. I was out of town and after having truly excruciating, constant pain for a few days, I had to do something. 

But let me start from the beginning. I have had off-again-on-again discomfort in my shoulder for years. Sometimes I wake up assuming I have slept on it wrong, sometimes bootcamp class bothers it, and it always hurts when I toss the baseball around with the kids. These discomforts are nothing compared to the pain I recently felt. I never in my life have had pain in my shoulder like the pain I had this past week.

I woke up one morning and immediately noticed significant pain in my right shoulder. It definitely bothered me, and I complained a little about it, but I had plans throughout the day taking my kids on adventures with their grandma so I toughed it out. I assumed the pain would subside as the day progressed, like usual. I took layers of acetaminophen and ibuprofen but nothing seemed to take the edge off. All day it progressively, slowly worsened, but wasn't significant until later that night.

Around 11 p.m. I realized that the pain wasn't going away at all, no matter what position I placed my arm in. The pain was now constant and intense and I couldn't lay it down or bend it in any direction that offered any type of relief. That night I had noticed that it really started to hurt to do things like lift up a gallon of milk or brush my teeth. I laid in pain until about 1 or 2 a.m. and then tried a different bed. At some point I finally fell asleep but when I awoke at 7 a.m. the next morning the pain was excruciating. Not only was the pain literally constant, but it was very intense. Again I layered medicines, hoping, but failing to get any relief. I then started icing it, intending to numb it some.

Still on vacation with the kids, I again had plans with my children's other grandmother, so I wanted to tough it out. She suggested Icy Hot, which did help some, but all day long there was no position that offered significant relief. I also started to notice loss of normal motion and use of my arm: it literally would not move in some directions, no matter how hard I tried to move it, it locked up. I took a again ton of meds and visited some friends that evening as planned, but by the time I got back for the night, I was in an incredible amount of pain. 

That night I tried some leftover prescriptions drugs my mom had around the house (I know, I know, you aren't supposed to do that) but I was in so much pain I was willing to try anything (even a prescription that expired in 2003!). I spent the night rolling around, pacing my parents living room and crying. It hurt so much I couldn't even play on or use my phone- now THAT is significant. I may have even contemplated cutting off my arm, but couldn't decide if it would hurt more or less to do that.

I finally called my insurance company in the middle of the night to see what kind of out-of-network benefits I have. They basically said the ER was the only way to be certain my visit would be covered. I was apprehensive to go to the ER for shoulder pain and decided not to go. Around 3 a.m. I finally fell asleep. 

At 4:30 a.m. my mom woke me up because I was moaning in my sleep. She startled me so much that I jumped up, jerking my arm forward, and I immediately fell to the ground in pain ranking at a 12 on a 10 point scale. After another call to my insurance company to verify coverage, some mental debates in my head, I finally decided to go to the ER. I was supposed to drive back to KC later that night and there was no way I could ride in a car for the 6 hour drive home without some kind of serious pain management.

It was funny because I haven't gone to that ER since I was a kid, so when my hometown hospital looked me up, my childhood maiden name was listed and my mom suggested my childhood pediatrician as the last doctor that had seen me in the area. After updating my medical records, I was seen right away. The staff was great and I was quickly given Codeine, and although it didn't help at all for the pain, it did help me relax a little.

The doctor on duty determined, after a clean X-ray, that I had a raging case of bursitis and tendinitis in my rotator cuff. My treatment was a shot of Cortisone into my shoulder, as well as a shot of a numbing agent. He also sent me home with a prescription of Percocet, that again did not impact the pain much, but helped me relax. He suggested I take 2 weeks off from running, due to the rotation of my shoulder in my running form. He also said I needed to follow-up with my regular doctor when I got back home to KC.

Luckily my wonderful moms, one by birth and one by marriage, graciously helped me out. My mom works at the hospital I visited so she helped me while there and also took a long lunch break to drive me back to my mother-in-laws house where my kids were so that I could rest for the afternoon. Later that night my poor mom had to drive drugged me and my three crazy kids back to Kansas City in her car. It was quite the drive with my children screaming in the backseat, me puking into a bag with nausea from the pain meds, and her super tired and fighting off fatigue while driving. But we somehow made it back to KC.

It was during our drive home that I realized that being a mother never really ends no matter how old your children are. Thank you so much mom (and I think I may have another article idea!).

It took two full days before the Cortisone shot started working, but then once it did, it took another two full days for most of the pain to go away and most of my mobility in my arm to return. I am now left with minor pain and discomfort sometimes and some reduced range of motion in my shoulder. My doctor agreed with the bursitis diagnosis and I start physical therapy soon hoping to prevent this from happening again. Luckily my doctor does not believe I tore anything. She said that the pain I have felt over the years could be minor bursitis and tendinitis bouts, and that this one was just a really significant event.

Although I had to take a full week off of running, my doctor gave me the all clear and I am back running, but taking it very slow. I need to listen to my body and if I feel pain in my shoulder I need to rest it. I have never done physical therapy before so I am interested to see what it is all about.

This has been a challenging year for my running goals, with a stress fracture and now bursitis, but I am committed to reaching my goals and living a healthy life. These small setbacks are nothing compared to the big picture of life. And I have to remember how lucky I am that these are injuries, and not chronic diseases or illnesses that I have live my day-to-day life battling.

I'll keep you updated on this new journey of recovery over the next few months.

And I will leave you with one thought: I wish bursitis on no one- not even my worst enemy.

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