So yesterday my Thanksgiving started with a bang. I went to get up from our somewhat dilapidated couch at about 1PM to start getting ready to go to my brother's house for Thanksgiving, and something went very wrong in my back.
Now, I've had a marginal back for years and years, since I was in a car accident at 17. I'm used to the sort of ongoing, chronic (and transient) pain that one learns to live with pretty well. But I've never "thrown my back out" in that stereotypical way you see on TV when someone bends over and then grips their lower back in agony. But yesterday when getting up I suddenly felt something very wrong in my back, not my lower back, but the lower center portion of my trapezius muscle on the left side. I tried to have my S.O. rub it, but that just made it worse. It was like every way I tried to move was initiating a stabbing pain. To make matters worse, taking a deep breath initiated a stabbing pain too. So, of course, that meant that I immediately felt like there was nothing I needed more than to take deep breaths, but I couldn't, so I started to get a little panicky hyper-ventilating thing going on.
I laid on the ground for a while, and was pretty convinced I might have to skip Thanksgiving. Eventually the S.O. got me two Aleve, a glass of water and a bag of frozen peas from the freezer, and I lay in bed with that bag under my back while he took his shower. I also started doing some minor stretches and trying to test my range of motion with my arm. By the time he got out of the shower I decided I could suck it up and go to Thanksgiving. The hot shower seemed to help a bit. (The whole heat vs. ice thing remains unclear to me.)
It was fine, pretty much. I did take some more painkiller about six hours after I'd taken the first batch. I fell asleep fine last night, although I woke up early in the morning and had some difficulty finding a comfortable position. And that is still true. I don't seem to have the stabbing pain problem, but it's still uncomfortable to breathe deeply, and my whole left side from the base of my neck down my mid-back feels stiff and uncomfortable, and like if I moved the wrong way it would feel very bad indeed.
So, do I plan to go to the doctor? No, I don't. I was thinking about that this morning and wondering why it just didn't even occur to me to go to the doctor, and this is what I came up with:
1. Time: Not that Kaiser has ever been terribly disrespectful of my time, but I just envision a holiday weekend with holiday staffing levels and holiday mishaps and feel sure this would be time-consuming. Particularly because I wonder if they would make me see a primary care physician before referring me to a whatever-kind-of-doctor-looks-at back. (A call to the appointment line would answer this, of course.)
2. Money: What would all of this cost? I have confessed before that I find my plan a little confusing. I think I'm only going to owe a small co-pay, and I end up getting charged $150. Again, I could pull out my paperwork and figure this out, but I start weighing whether any time or money is worth it, given that I believe...
3. ...that in the end there won't be much they can do. Seriously, what else are the going to tell me besides take a painkiller/anti-inflammatory, put ice on it, rest? Stuff I can do without them. OK, maybe they'd give me a stronger painkiller/anti-inflammatory, which wouldn't suck, but like so many random medical mishaps, this seems like a "time heals" situation. (And a quick scan of Kaiser's web site entry on back injuries seems to confirm this guess on my part.)
Of course, this is the same thought process that prevented me from going to the doctor when I was sick at the beginning of this year...until a month or two later I had to go and discovered I had a raging sinus infection.
This is the same thought process that many people probably go through every time somethings feels wrong, even those like me with health insurance. Imagine the thought process for those without health insurance.
1. Does it matter? Is it in fact good for us all to think twice before availing ourselves of medical assistance? Does this prevent overloading the system with unnecessary patients? Or do too many people end up with escalated conditions that could have been prevented, had they simply gotten checked out earlier? Who's got the stats on that?
2. If it matters is it purely the responsibility of the patients to be more proactive and take better care of themselves, or should we be thinking about the system and how it might be changed to make it less time-consuming, expensive and more hospitable to potential patients?
I don't think I really need to go to the dr. this time. But will I make the right call the next time I really should go?
How do you make the call?