My current passion to make a difference to how we manage pain in the health care system all began through my own personal journey. A journey that began when I got into a traumatic bike accident while travelling solo overseas back in 2017.
As the days followed post accident I was informed of the extent of my injuries. All my injuries were things I would completely recover from. A punctured lung, a deep wound in my thigh, fractures in my spine, ribs, and collar bone. I had multiple skin surgeries to aid the healing of the leg wound and a plate put into my collarbone. However, there was one injury where the prognosis was uncertain.
I had damaged the nerves running down from my right neck to my shoulder, what's called a brachial plexus injury. I had almost no movement in my right arm after the accident other than some minor movements in my hand and wrist.
As a physiotherapist, I had never treated anyone with this injury so I didn't have a clue how this would go. The specialist neurosurgeon who initially saw me said I should recover within 3-6 months. As the months went on and my arm had not improved I started to get more and more concerned. I eventually had to undergo a major surgery to repair the damaged nerves as the nerves had shown no signs of recovery. Five months post accident.
I would have bouts of intense nerve pain in my arm for minutes to days seemingly at random. Prior to the accident I felt I had a healthy relationship with pain, however I never had persistent pain before. On top of the pain I had to learn to only use my left arm for all daily tasks. I used to be heavily right handed prior to the accident. Simple tasks like brushing my teeth, cleaning myself, and eating became challenging. Anger, frustration, and sadness were the typical emotions felt towards my situation in the months post accident.
It felt like time had almost come to a halt in those 5 months from the accident prior to surgery. Each day all I had was hope that the movement would return in my arm. With each day of no change, hope started to diminish. My life had been on pause, with no direction, no purpose. I had no idea what I was going to do with my life, with my career. The physio profession was a really rewarding career and gave me a great sense of achievement and purpose. I no longer had that. I had to start searching within.
My surgery involved multiple nerve transfers, meaning healthy working nerves were grafted onto the damaged nerves. It was a full day surgery, went under in the morning and came to in the evening, like no time had passed. Waking up from the surgery was a huge relief. The uncertainty of my prognosis had caused me great stress and anxiety in the months leading up to it. The surgeon reported it had been "successful". However, the success of the surgery was unable to be validated until at least 5-6 months post surgery when the nerve graft had the necessary time to grow into the damaged nerves. Another waiting game.
This time, I was prepared for the waiting game. I had began my deep dive into buddhist teachings prior to the surgery. Inspired by my accident and the passing of my grandma a year beforehands, I was instantly drawn to eastern philosophy. I began studying and reading up on mindfulness and meditation practices. I had began a daily meditation practice that started at 15 min and later progressed to an hour a day.
Persistent nerve pain was debilitating at times but it also allowed me to focus my mind in my meditations. It anchored me to the present moment. I used pain to practice the mindfulness qualities of kindness, compassion, curiosity, openness, and non-judgement.
It is for this reason that I call pain my greatest teacher. It's taught me more about the human condition than any degree could ever do. It's humbled me and it's awakened me to my true purpose. To help alleviate suffering in others who are in pain.
It is now 6 years after my accident. The accident has led me to 2 degrees in psychology, starting a PhD candidature, reinventing myself as an integrative physiotherapist and pain management specialist, and pursuing my passion.
I can proudly say that I am living my purpose. Empowering individuals to take control of their health and overcome pain is a path that is more rewarding than anything I could imagine.
I am truly grateful for my life experiences and even though I continue to have bouts of persistent nerve pain and am nowhere near having full function in my arm, it has all been worth it and I would not change a thing.
This is my story and I share it with a hope to inspire and empower those who may be suffering in pain.
P.S. Photo taken after my surgery in 2018.
P.P.S. Check out my FREE guide if you haven't done so below: https://raychenzen.ck.page/33101a42a0
With love and gratitude,