Random Eruptions: Things could always be worse
By Randy Erickson
I try to look on the bright side. Some see the glass as half
empty and some see the glass as half full, whereas I usually
don't even worry how much is in the glass because I figure
I've got a free refill coming.
The past couple months, though, have put the optimist in
me to the test. That's what happens when your children are
suffering, but I try to keep telling myself it could be worse.
And it really could.
I mean, the doctors could have missed diagnosing the mysterious
pain my 11-year-old daughter, Becca, was having several years
ago. She had done something to her ankle in gymnastics class
- nothing serious - but the pain just would not go away. In
fact, it kept getting worse, although there was no swelling
to indicate a sprain or a broken bone.
By the time we got her in to see a specialist, she couldn't
stand to walk on her right foot. Luckily, the doctor recognized
Becca's strange collection of symptoms - unexplained or unexpectedly
intense pain, unusually sensitive and cold skin in the affected
area and skin discoloration - as reflex sympathetic dystrophy.
If the doctor hadn't known what it was and what to do, the
symptoms could have kept spiraling into more and more pain.
With this syndrome, known as RSD for short, a minor injury
somehow triggers a reaction in the sympathetic nervous system
that begins sending constant pain signals from the area of
the injury. With the escalating pain, the RSD sufferer immobilizes
the injured area, trying to avoid pain, and with time, the
ability to move the affected part is severely limited or even
After the diagnosis, Becca went through about a month of
physical therapy. The pain finally subsided and she was back
to normal. The optimist in me wanted to believe it was gone
for good. Wishful thinking.
The RSD flared up three or four times in the next couple
years after she was originally diagnosed, but we recognized
what was happening and hit the physical therapy hard, so the
episodes were mercifully short.
Then this winter, a playground bully pushed down my 8-year-old
daughter, Annie, and she came home from school with a sore
wrist. Nothing broken. In fact, it didn't even raise a bruise,
but it started hurting so bad she didn't want to move it.
RSD strikes again.
While we were doing physical therapy at home on Annie and
waiting to get her in to see the specialist, Becca's RSD flared
up again, too. By the time Annie's appointment came, she was
back to normal, thanks to home physical therapy, but Becca
was on crutches with her worst episode yet.
That was two months ago, about a month before we decided
to rent a wheelchair for Becca so she wouldn't have to crutch
for long distances if we wanted to go to the mall or out for
a family walk. Becca has made little if any progress in the
past month and at times is in pain beyond any she has ever
Last week, we finally decided she couldn't continue attending
school. The pain is too much of a distraction, and the medication
she is on makes her dizzy at times, kind of a hazard if you're
trying to crutch her way down a crowded hall. If the medication
doesn't produce improvements soon, the doctor says the next
step is a nerve block, which involves shooting some kind of
substance into a strategic spot in her spine to block the
nerve signals from her ankle.
I'd be bummed out about all this if I weren't so lucky. It
could be so much worse.
Becca could have a deadly disease instead of a painful affliction.
Or she could be paralyzed, requiring constant care instead
of relatively minor concessions to her condition.
We could be dealing with this ordeal alone instead of having
the help of my wife's mother, whose invaluable assistance
has limited the amount of work we've had to miss and given
Becca a chance to spend more time with her grandma.
And what if we had no health insurance? Scary.
Even the timing of Becca's latest battle with RSD seems lucky.
Thanks to a People magazine cover story about Paula Abdul's
struggle with the chronic pain of RSD, public awareness of
this bizarre syndrome is probably at an all-time high. USA
Today this week came out with a spread on chronic pain, and
we have found another local family whose struggles have been
remarkably similar to Becca's. This week, we don't feel so
Yes, I have a daughter (maybe daughters) with a syndrome
that could develop into a lifelong debilitating disability,
but you know, my cup runneth over.
June 28, 2006