Whenever a patient goes to to get a stent placed in one of their coronary arteries, he or she is awake for the whole procedure. At one point during the stent placement, there is a balloon that gets inflated and blocks off all of the blood that should be flowing through that artery. It’s usually not inflated for very long, so it doesn’t cause long-term problems, but the lack of blood flow and oxygen sometimes results in patients experiencing chest pain at that moment in the procedure.
We nurses, being the sadistic-but-educationally-minded weirdos that we are, really love that moment. We love it because the patients can learn that the chest pain that they experience when the balloon is inflated is the exact same pain that the patient would feel if he or she was having a heart attack. There are common symptoms of heart attacks that most people know. Pain in the chest, shortness of breath, shooting pains down the left arm, etc. There are also less common signs, though. Some people have jaw pain. Some people have pain that they mistake for indigestion. Others have back pain, or just feel overly tired. None of us knows what our particular flavor of chest pain is going to be until we experience it for ourselves. But the people who experience chest pain during a stent placement are among the few that get to know for sure that THIS is MY chest pain, and if I ever feel like THIS again, I should go ahead and get myself on down to the ER, like, STAT.
Today I went to see my massage therapist. Usually by the time I go to see her, I’m experiencing numbness and shooting pains down my arm, and have been in pretty severe pain for at least a few weeks. Though I am not very timely in my appointment making, massages are very helpful to me. I am apparently incapable of dispensing of my stress and instead choose to store it up in all of my muscles in my back. Every time I go to see Jayme, she works on me for hours. She focuses on my trouble areas, which have always been between and above my shoulder blades. I have steel cables that run perpendicular to my spine, and those steel cables are emotional hoarders. I’m sure they’re going to get a call to appear on the show any day now. It’s disgusting up in there.
I didn’t wait until I thought I was going to die before I made today’s appointment. I had a gift certificate and a day off to burn, so I decided to do my steel cables a favor and try to take out the trash. I even gloated as I laid down on the bed at how wonderful it was that I’d come in so early this time.
I had been fooled. Jayme, however, was not fooled. It took her about 3 minutes to discover that while, yes, it was true that the area between my shoulder blades were in better condition than usual, that didn’t mean that I’d done myself any favors. Instead, she told me that, “It was like I was in a totally different body.” The places that had always pained me the most were healthy, and I’d developed all sorts of new problem areas. Problem areas that were (are) so jacked that even after two hours of unusually brutal elbow-kneading, my muscles still weren’t budging. Jayme and I had to book another appointment on Wednesday so that we can pick up where we left off today.
I guess Jayme could tell that I was baffled by the change, even though my face was smushed down into the little donut pillow. As she worked on my neck and back, she gently explained that this was normal because I had just experienced a big life change. The transition from nursing school to actual nursing meant that my stressors were changing, too. Before, I was experiencing nursing school stress and nursing school muscle pain. Now, she told me, I am experiencing good ol’ nursing-as-a-daily-grind stress and muscle pain. And my body can apparently tell the difference between the two, even though my mind sometimes (most times) can’t.
I just kept thinking, “So, my body’s muscles are a stress filing cabinet*? School files do not go in the same place as work files?” I thought I knew my pain. I thought I was like that Cardiac Cath patient who had experienced his chest pain during the stenting procedure. I thought I knew how to recognize my particular brand of pain, just like I thought I knew exactly how long I could ignore it. But I was wrong. Chest pain and Muscles-Hiding-Stress pain do not play by the same rules. Lesson learned.
*Is this a good enough reason to get a label maker? I could just put little labels all over my back** denoting the area’s stress sensitivities so that I could use it as a physical map to guide me to the source of my life’s stress when I’m all freaked out but I can’t quite put my finger on why.
**Logistically, this idea is pretty difficult. I could get the labels tattooed on, then they wouldn’t come off in the shower. But I don’t know if these areas morph, so that seems a wee bit permanent. Perhaps I should just draw a picture?