Hah! Until I got repetitive strain injury in the early 1980s.
RSI started me off on the road less travelled health-wise as I turned to complementary therapies when the medical profession was unable to provide answers to my health problems.
Don’t get me wrong: I have respect for medicos and the huge advances in medical care. I appreciated hospitals when I broke my leg and ankle in 1996. I have appreciated the power of antibiotics when I’ve had a severe sinus infection, bronchitis and kidney infection. Blood tests, x-rays and so on are a boon.
And just as the general community are incredibly varied, so there are good, bad, indifferent and very conscientious doctors.
I don’t throw the baby out with the just because conventional medical care can’t provide all the answers. But also, when conventional medicine lead me to a dead-end in recovering from RSI, it also led me to query the power of Big Pharma and the industrialisation of medical care which reduces people to dollar figures and profits for the huge pharmaceutical corporations. I also see doctors too often reduced to pen pushers, overloaded with paperwork, bureaucracy and unrealistic demands on what they are able to offer the general public.
I found myself looking for non-medical treatment in the mid-1980s when I got repetitive strain injury. Ironically, at the time I was working in the office of a small union and had been organising publicity about a new work injury, RSI, which was affecting a lot of women working in call centres as, with new computer technology, they could key in input very fast and overuse arm and shoulder muscles.
I simply never believed it could happen to me. I used to keep going on the typewriter long after I felt a pain in my shoulder. I kept expecting the pain to go away but it got worse. It was agonising to move my right shoulder and arm. Then I started getting pins and needles in my left arm and a feeling which I can only describe as rats gnawing away inside me.
At the time my husband, Bryan, was working away from home in Bunbury, south of Perth, and most evenings I would just rest on the sofa and hope the pain would go away. If I tried to do a simple task like washing up, my whole shoulder would seize up and I’d have to stand stock still until the intense pain abated. But as it got worse, so I started getting severe migraines. I’d wake up around 2am with a violent pain starting at the back of my head, working towards the front at the back of my forehead, and for all the world like it was a brass band pounding around at full volume. I’d take headache pills which got stronger and stronger in order to cope. If I was lucky the headache might fade a bit and I could get to work and cope okay. If I was unlucky, I’d wake up vomiting and it was like a vicious cycle – vomiting exacerbated the headache which me throw up more which intensified the headache, and so on.
I had, of course, read all the literature about repetitive strain injury but tried to ignore the fact that it seemed to be happening to me. That was, until one day and I got into the office with my head pounding from another headache and I just sat there crying my eyes out. The union secretary came into the office, took one look at me, and thankfully for me, took charge. I wasn’t capable of thinking straight or taking action of any kind. She made an appointment for me at her doctor’s, got me in early and off I went to see a doctor who not only was incredibly kind, but also very helpful in supporting me through what felt like a nightmare.
She arranged physiotherapy for me but as this was something new on the medical scene, no-one quite knew how to deal with it. By rights – I found out later – I should have seen a rheumatologist, but I was sent to see an orthopaedic surgeon who was a butcher. He wrenched my head back and forward and side to side with the result that the pain got even worse. He told me he could operate and cut a nerve which might help. That sounded very dodgy to me and even more so when I saw a programme on the ABC about a pain centre in Adelaide dealing with patients, many of whom had had the type of operation the orthopaedic surgeon wanted to carry out on me. And as any small step forward I’d made with physiotherapy was wiped out by his lousy treatment and I ended up worse than when I’d first started treatment, I declined surgery.
I clearly remember sitting in my doctor’s surgery, tanked to the gills with anti-inflammatory medication and a soft collar around my neck. I hardly dared to move because the pain would flare up and feel like a knife being driven into my shoulder. My left arm felt as if rats were gnawing it inside. My doctor asked: “Are you feeling any better?” And I had to say no. She looked at me and said somewhat reluctantly; “Well, I don’t think there’s anything more we can do for you.”
Which is a bit depressing, folks. I’d always been on the go, active, restless, eager to get on to my next project. And suddenly I was sitting on a sofa all day, frightened to move, terrified about what the future held for me and very lonely because Bryan was still working down south during the week and home only on the weekends. I knew an older lady who said very kindly (but not very helpfully, to be truthful): “You young folk always think that life is a straight line that you can set out in front of you without any deviations. Life isn’t like that. All sorts of side paths, obstacles and cul-de-sacs happen. It’s life.”
But in a nice little piece of synchronicity (although I’d never heard of synchronicity at the time), I happened to see an advertisement for a reflexology course at the local community centre. I will be very honest and say that the first time I’d ever heard of reflexology was when a friend said she was going to get a treatment with this alternative therapy. I asked them what it was as I’d never heard of it before, and was quite revolted when they told me it involved foot massage. Errr, yuk, fancy getting your smelly old feet massaged! But, as the old saying goes, never say never.