I endured three years of constant excruciating pain despite seeking help from numerous medical professionals, do-it-yourself remedies, and relaxation techniques. I suffered a minor lifting injury around 20 years ago as well as a couple other minor injuries to the same shoulder. I never got it checked out and I thought it healed, but about 6 years after the initial injury, I began to have painful flare-ups that came and went for a decade. The flare-ups lasted only a couple days and I didn’t connect it to the injury. I thought I had repetitive stress from a desk job and bad posture. But each successive flare-up got worse and lasted longer.
I tried to learn to play the guitar but had to give it up because it caused so much shoulder pain. By 2013 and 2014, I could barely function due to the constant pain preventing me from sleeping, and having to remain home near a supply of ice to keep on my neck and shoulder at all times in attempts to numb the pain. Despite x-rays, MRIs, and my history of several prior injuries, the many physicians I saw never made a diagnosis. I was simply sent to physical therapy and told that there was a 99% chance that the PT would work and I would not need surgery. I diligently did my PT exercises, which only exacerbated the problem. My arm began to feel like it was disconnected from my body, and I could find no comfortable position.
I went to see a supposed shoulder specialist at the University of Connecticut Health Center’s Musculoskeletal Institute. “Some women have unexplained muscle pain and you will need to learn to live with it. There is nothing I can do for you” he said. I insisted that I could feel pain coming from non-muscle parts, and I told him for a second time that the most recent flare-up had a definite sharp start while I was swimming. He said he could not find anything wrong. I left his office in tears.
In desperation, I took time off of work and traveled 90 miles to the Hospital for Special Surgery (HSS), where I encountered the skilled and confident Dr. MacGillivray and finally received a proper diagnosis and treatment. Dr. Mac exuded a natural intuition and within 10 minutes of meeting me and reviewing my records, he said “I know what’s wrong with you.” How funny to think what joy that sentence brought me!
Dr. Mac identified the cause of my pain – a torn tendon, the biceps tendon, which attaches the bicep muscle to the shoulder bones and helps keep the shoulder stable. Two weeks after my first visit to Dr. MacGillivray, he performed an outpatient arthroscopy procedure on my shoulder. I woke up feeling pain free and ecstatic. For the first time in three years, I turned my head in all directions without feeling like I was compressing a tension spring or turning a corkscrew into my neck. Right there in the recovery room – immediate relief! I tried to maintain caution, realizing I could be feeling lingering effects of anesthesia. But thankfully the removal of scar tissue and bone spurs, and the tenotomy to release the torn tendon truly did provide lasting relief from that moment on. Even though I developed a frozen shoulder (adhesive capsulitis) in response to the surgery, and fought through that for many months, I always saw the light at the end of the tunnel, whereas before the surgery I was in so much pain that I saw my life floating away from me.
Looking back, I still don’t understand why my diagnosis was so elusive. August 5, 2014 goes down in the history book of my life as a milestone marker separating the before and after of crippling pain. I've been able to practice yoga and swim, hold a book to read, and get through each day without being drained with the physical and mental exhaustion of constantly trying to manage my pain. I am not exaggerating when I say that Dr. MacGillivray gave me my life back. I cannot put into words the appreciation I feel towards him and his entire efficient and hard-working team. Thank you!!