Costochondritis, or “How I wound up grounded!”

About a month ago I had a slight twinge in my shoulder one Saturday evening. I’d been doing my usual crewing of hot air balloons during the week and while some of it was a little more strenuous than normal, there hadn’t been any moments of pain or recognisable “oh shit” moments. Not until I was sitting at the computer, chatting on Skype with Steve, my co-host in the Plane Crazy Down Under podcast. I reached back to get my beer off a table beside & behind me but, becau&se I was chatting into the microphone in front of me, I didn’t turn my upper body.

That, I think, was when I felt the slight strain, almost like stretching a muscle after exercise. Gentle, no twinge, just a bit of resistance.

By a few hours later, it was rather sore and by Sunday morning it was all locked up & painful. On Sunday arvo I was applying heat creams and a friend of ours who does sports massage came over and worked up my shoulder. I could barely get on the massage table let alone turn myself over.

We figured I’d over-exerted myself and my muscles & tendons were registering their protest. I was only getting a few hours of sleep at a time on Sunday night and the pain was as bad (if not worse) on Monday morning, so I started taking some Ibuprofen & pain killers to see if that would make things bearable while my arm sorted itself out.

On Tuesday, I made an appointment with the doc as things just weren’t getting better. The lady I saw thought it was my tendons, put me on Voltaren and sent me for ultrasounds. She wanted to check that there weren’t any tears. The ultrasound revealed bursistis in the shoulder area (inflammation) and fluid in the sheathes around the tendons. Yup, nasty, but not a surgical situation. Whew!

A few days later I called the doc as the images & report should have been in. Reception told me she’d read them and marked my case as closed ‘cos it’d be fine within a few days. Erm, no, pain persisting and in some areas getting worse. I came back and wound up seeing a different doctor who examined me and asked “What’s this lump here?” pointing at the spot where my clavicle meets my sternum.

It takes me a few days to get scheduled (maybe I was kidding myself it would settle down of its own accord? :) but then I’m back for more ultrasounds & x-rays of that spot. This time the radiologist said “Don’t wait a few days for the results to go by courier, take them now and go see your doc again ASAP.” She said she thought I might have popped my clavicle out of its joint with the sternum. Yup, that makes you feel a LOT better, doesn’t it? :)

The next day the doc took a look at the results and immediately sent me off for a CT Scan. Later that afternoon I was having my first ever CT Scan and got to see seven sheets of little images that all said I had a real issue, apparently :)

Back with my doc and the assessment is that while I’ve not dislocated or fractured anything in there, the left sterno-clavicular joint has expanded and the surrounding tissues are swollen. She finds a good orthopaedic surgeon who specialises in shoulders and writes me a referral. I call the clinic and am told they’re booked out until September but can take urgent cases by the end of August (I was calling in early August). The lady gets me to work through what happened, where I’m at and what movement/pain I’m experiencing. On hearing the news, she double books me for the next week and tells me to come with lots of reading material as I may be waiting a while.

The day comes and I’m in reasonably quickly. The surgeon checks it all out, runs me through the what/how/etc and sends me for blood tests. We meet again two days later and he confirms the likely diagnosis:

Costochondritis / Tietze Syndrome

Costo-what???? :)

Costchondritis is where the rib/sternum joints get inflamed and swell, causing localised sore spots and some pain. The Tietze Syndrome is associated with it and leads to referred pain through the nerves, typically around the chest wall and into the arm. This can often lead to reports of pain similar to angina/heart attack. Charming.

In my case the costochondritis is in the clavicle joint and top one or two ribs. It was probably brought on through a series of micro-traumas built up over time (eg: from crewing/flying hot air balloons (packing away especially), lifting stuff and generally over doing it a few times). As a result of this I’m getting pain under my shoulder blade, in the front of my chest, up into my neck, across the top of my shoulder and down my arm – all on the left side.

Coughing, sneezing and yawning can lead to rather intense pain in those areas while moving the arm feels similar to when your muscles are protesting after a hard workout. If I try to do anything against resistance (eg: lift the shopping, pull/push a door, change gears in the car, etc) then pain can be experienced too, often associated with a “nerve tingle” and/or numbness immediately afterwards.

Not pleasant at all :(

The only real solution is rest and not aggravating things by doing any lifting. As such, I’m grounded from any form of ballooning for three months or so. Not happy about that at all! :(

We’re trialling some new anti-inflammatories and I’m off the pain killers as we see where things are at. So far, not good. The pills are helping a bit but not doing a lot for removing the pain when I move my arm, etc. Will have to check with the surgeon re: taking other pills as well (would prefer not to), using a sling, etc.

This sort of thing is all very new for me as I’m normally a pretty active person and enjoy running around being involved in lots of things, doing IT work and being outside working with aviation. I’m now coming to grips with the fact that even just sitting at the computer all day is painful, let alone travelling into the city to an office. As to flying, the surgeon’s asked me to wait a while before I try going off flying fixed wing with friends (let alone aerobatics) and I shouldn’t contemplate setting up or packing up a balloon until this has all cleared up.

Bugger :(

Watch this space for more news as things develop.

Why Telstra Sucks

Lets face it, it’s a miracle that Telstra is still in operation. They couldn’t organise their way out of a freakin’ paper bag and have zero idea about making their customer experience worth while. The only thing they have going for them is their great mobile phone network, and even that benefit is starting to fade.

My mobile phone is with Telstra due to some work I was doing with a previous company. When I started the gig, I ported my personal number into the company’s account and had it linked to a new Blackberry. When I left, we tried to get my number back to me and give the Blackberry to another staff member. Sadly, this was not possible as Telstra claimed the phone number & Crackberry were locked together until the 18 month contract ran out.

First black mark – the number should be portable, the contract & phone can stay with the company. Whatever.

So, for another project I’m doing I’ve picked up a Telstra $10 prepaid starter kit (SIM card with associated number) because the phone’s going to be texting my phone and a number of others on the Telstra network. Telstra offer a plan with $0.01c SMS rates when sending to Telstra phones. Nice – more testing for less $$$.

OK – that’s a good thing – they get a tick for that.

Then I set up the SIM and get it started. I try to do it online (being the online kinda guy I am) but I’m registering it under my company’s name (it’s being used for a project) and the online registration wants me to enter two forms of proof that my company exists. What are the options? A fixed line phone bill and/or a rates invoice. Say what? We run a small company that has no office or fixed services or rates or anything. WTF?

Yet another black mark – I guess Telstra’s idiotic legal types have stated that all companies must have these so that’s what they’ll use to verify corporate info.

Right, so I call in and get the starter kit happening. YAY. It’s not that painful dealing with a human and I can register it under my company, just supplying both ACN & ABN (why I need both though is odd as usually the ACN is sufficient).

Half mark there – not a full mark, but OK.

Comes now the fun part – I have no credit on the phone. Say what? Where’s the $10 that comes with the pack? It’s not there. WTF?

So, I go to their Prepaid Portal to register online and check where the problem may be. Bzzzt – the registration fails, telling me there’s a problem with their systems and to come back in 24 hours.

Sorry, isn’t this a mega-corporation? Shouldn’t their systems just work? Yes, OK, I know, I’ve worked in Telstra IT before and quite frankly it’s a miracle anything works in that place.

So, major black mark on Telstra’s image as a credible organisation.

A few days later, I manage to get the registration done and can access my account, confirming that there’s no credit.

I call their voice line and, after going through a few prompts, wind up sitting on hold for 3 to 5 minutes and then get through to a human. Clearly not from around here, she is polite and trying to help. She tells me to call their number on the mobile and press 1 then 1 to activate the $10 bonus credit. Gee, that’s news – it wasn’t listed anywhere.

OK, lets do it while we’re on the phone (good thing I called on the landline, yeah? :). I call it on the mobile and follow her instructions but it doesn’t work. I talk her through what’s happening and she realises her advice isn’t correct in this case. She needs my info to look into it further. I’m part way through this when the phone call drops out. Ummm – WHAT???

Yes, that’s right – while talking to Telstra’s helpdesk somewhere in the world other than Australia, the call got dropped. Oh yes, way to go mega-comms company. I feel so much more reassured about purchasing your communications products – NOT!

So, another black mark.

I call the number again, follow the prompts, sit on hold and start talking to the person I get through to (again, not from around here). They look into everything and then tell me that all is good but I first need to purchase some credit for the account and that will activate the “bonus” $10 credit. Ummm – say what??? Where was that plastered everywhere when I purchased the kit? There is something mentioned on page 9 inside the little booklet but it says:

If you have selected a Telstra Pre-Paid offer that gives you an included bonus amount or value, remember to recharge the correct amount to get the included benefits of your offer.

Ummm, yeah, right, whatever. Slightly confusing and also written in small font. Not clear, not obvious. Good grief…

As of the moment, I’ve recharged the prepaid account but the $10 that was supposed to come with it isn’t showing. I give it a day or two and then if it’s not showing up, I’m going to get *really* angry and will call them again to complain.

All this freakin’ effort just to get a prepaid sim up and running?

Hello Telstra, you are farking clueless idiots who deserve to be broken up and made to compete on a level playing field with other telcos. With luck, you’ll finally “get it” and be able to lift your game, but it is highly likely that you will be beaten by other companies that understand quality & customer service.

As soon as my current contract is over, I’m taking my Blackberry to another provider ‘cos clearly Telstra isn’t worth supporting at all.

Not the car’s fault

So, remember my previous post about having car problems?. Well, it seems it wasn’t entirely the car’s fault that it wouldn’t start.

After leaving work early on Monday arvo and getting to the car, I called the RACV to arrange the tow down to Greg’s shed. The truck arrived about 40 minutes after I called and did a great job of getting the car on the back and down to the shed in record time. I’d tried to leave early enough so we beat the worst of the traffic and it was a surprisingly good run down the expressway and on from there. Awesome.

The first 20k are free so I only had to pay for the last 10k which meant the whole tow cost me less than $40 – handy. Greg arrived back at the shed with a starter motor to suit my car – $125 – ouch – lucky me to have such a unique vehicle.

We cracked the hood and I demonstrated the lights, camera, no action problem. “Wait a minute” says Greg “Do that again?” – lather, rinse, repeat and Greg goes “Ahhhh – hang on.” He heads into the shed and comes back with a small hammer which he then proceeds to whack the battery terminals with, knocking off a bit of corrosion in the process. He adjusts the leads onto the battery and tells me to try again.

Vroom – Houston, we have ignition!

Bloody hell…

Seems that the battery had power, the lights could work, the windows go up & down and so on, but the connection wasn’t solid enough to supply the current required by the starter motor (the Cranking Amps). So, when the RACV guy had a look at the battery, it appeared fine, but it just couldn’t enough power down to the starter.

So, if I had known to double check the battery connections I would have saved myself a stack of hassles. However, seeing all the lights come on and so on, I figured the battery was fine.

Looks like it fooled the RACV guy too. Greg reckons he should have done the same thing anyhow, even though the battery gave good readings on the meter.


So, the car is working fine, Greg’s able to return the expensive little starter motor and get his money back and I’ve learned yet another lesson about electro-mechanical systems. Hell of a way to learn, no?

Joys of older cars

What a “fun” day – my car broke down at the Queen Victoria Markets this morning. I got back with my load of shopping, jumped in and went to fire it up. Lights, camera but no action. No cranking at all.

Called RACV and had to wait over 2 hours before their roadside assistance guy could arrive (busy day). He worked at it for a bit but couldn’t get it to fire up and confirmed that the starter was shot. While they have starter motors for a number of Mazdas, the RX-7 is not exactly common so there wasn’t much they could do for me.

Fortunately RACV membership includes a taxi ride up to $50 to get you home if your car breaks down, so I used that to get myself and the shopping back. Of course, that didn’t go smoothly as it took 2 taxis to get one who could find where I was. DOH!

So, the car is sitting in the parking lot overnight but security knows about it and will keep an eye on it where possible. I’ll arrange for RACV to tow it to my mate’s shed where we’ll see about trying to fix it. At least I get a discount on the towing – all part of the service.

Yet Another Car Hassle

Oh great, someone else has run into my frickin’ car – I was in working at Destra with the car parked on a side street. When I came out, I found that someone appeared to have backed into the side of my car, putting a massive dent in one panel and a scrape on another. No information left on the car, they just drove away. Did some checking and no one in the area had seen anything. Very annoying, but the car is at least still useable.