My medical and work situation (detail)

Continued from this summary.


(1) Where and how my accident occurred [Go]

(2) Unusual complications prolonged my recovery, and added to rib and nerve damage; the fibromyalgia diagnosis [Go]

(3) How Fibromyalgia and Intercostal Neuralgia turned my life upside down [Go]

(4) A graphic depiction of my fibromyalgia and Intercostal Neuralgia pains [Go]

(5) A graphic depiction of how my chronic fatigue symptoms impact my life [Go]

(6) 2003-present: My survival has depended upon my ability to find consulting clients, and deliver superior service to them [Go]

(7) FAQs [Go]

(1) Where and how my accident occurred

The documentation of the accident I was involved in on August 3, 2002, which changed my life, is here*.

In summary, on my first night in a new apartment complex I’d moved into, I tripped over a 6″ asphalt curb that had been installed across the sidewalk in front of my unit – and was the same color as the sidewalk (it was painted bright yellow the next day). I could neither see nor avoid this curb, because all the lights in that side of the complex were not functional, and I’d never been there at night.

The left side of my upper torso came crashing down atop the curb, fracturing all or most of my ribs on that side of my chest (diagnostic imaging was unable to ascertain this with certainty):

Click to enlarge; my accident occurred when this scene was almost pitch-black, due to an almost total lack of lighting in this side of the apartment complex.

(*Note: In that documentation, I do not indicate that I am the “plaintiff.” I crafted those graphics for litigation purposes, then modified them for my portfolio, to demonstrate to prospective legal clients my ability to research and develop effective courtroom presentations for personal injury cases.)

(2) Unusual complications prolonged my recovery, and added to my rib and nerve damage; the fibromyalgia diagnosis

Over the course of the following six months, my healing was severely complicated by the fact that throughout my life I slept on my left side, but due to the persistent pain my injuries caused, I could no longer sleep on either side without extreme rib pain. I was only able to sleep for short periods in a semi-reclined, angular position on my sofa.

This situation, coupled with my consumption of large quantities of coffee to stay awake during the daytime, caused me to develop osteopenia, a premature, temporary (in my case) form of osteoperosis (weakening of the bones due to decalcification). In itself, this would not have been much of a problem – except that during that winter I caught several colds, and because my bones were so weakened, on numerous times when I sneezed or coughed, I re-fractured ribs on my left side. This was confirmed each time at hospital emergency rooms.

Click to enlarge; see the top row for documented incidents in which I re-fractured one or more ribs due to sneezing/coughing.

The fibromyalgia diagnosis: In early 2003, I began to experience chronic, often “burning” pain that was spreading throughout my upper torso, particularly in my forearms, hands and the left side of my ribcage. My primary care physician referred me to a rheumatologist who, after a series of tests, diagnosed me as having developed fibromyalgia. He suspected that the cause was that the nerves that run underneath each of my ribs were quite damaged by the original fractures, then the re-fractures, and were unable to heal properly. He explained that severe nerve damage is a common cause of fibromyalgia.

The Intercostal Neuralgia diagnosis: About the same time, my rheumatologist also diagnosed the chronic pains in my ribcage as Intercostal Neuralgia – the result of these severe damage to the nerves that emerge from my spine and underlie my damaged ribs, but which never healed properly.

Re-diagnoses: Twice more over the next six years I was re-diagnosed by rheumatologists as having fibromyalgia.

(3) How Fibromyalgia and Intercostal Neuralgia turned my life upside down

(March 2012 note: This part of my life story is told in significant detail in the upcoming e-book I’ve written, “Saved By Shayna: Life Lessons From a Miracle Dog.”)

Until August 2002 I was a healthy, hyper-productive multimedia designer & consultant. I had been known for possessing enormous energy, and my ability to work for 18-24 or more hours at a time, if I got “in the groove” in a challenging creative venture.

The accident had a profound, immediate impact on my life:

  • On a typical day I have periods of energy that last between 5-8 hours, after which I must rest. I then engage in some form of exercise or physical therapy. The process then starts all over again. Depending on the severity and duration of my symptoms, my alert times can be somewhat unpredictable; I can be (and often am) as active and productive at 3am as I am at 3pm.
  • I am often able to work 6-8 (or more) hours a day, just not in a continuous sequence, or in a traditional work environment.
  • I avoid taking prescription painkillers in all but the most severe circumstances, because while they reduce my pain, they also dramatically increase my fatigue. Recently I have been working to learn biofeedback and meditation practices that, with practice, I’ve learned can help tamp down fibromyalgia pain.
  • Other physical trauma also “triggers” my fibromyalgia pains. For example, an ear infection, while intensely painful to normal people, causes pain not only in the “normal” area for me, but also dramatically escalates the fibromyalgia “hot spots” in my neck, shoulders, etc. Also, severely negative stress aggravates my symptoms; intensely positive feelings tend to mitigate them, temporarily.

At the time of my accident I was not employed; I had recently moved to Charlottesville, VA (from Ft. Lauderdale, FL), and was just about to embark on a search for employment. Needless to say, my search was made inordinately more difficult by my medical condition – and as I soon learned, I was unemployable in a traditional full-time (or even part-time) sense. I do not blame the employers who interviewed me; I was in a very unfortunate situation, but that was my problem – not theirs.

From that point on, in order to survive, I sought project-based consulting work, largely within the realm of helping attorneys to create graphic courtroom presentations – and whatever other types of work I could obtain that I could do within the parameters of my condition.

(4) A graphic depiction of my fibromyalgia and Intercostal Neuralgia pains

The following graphic details, for the first time in public, the “map” of my primary chronic pains, due to these conditions:

(5) A graphic depiction of how my chronic fatigue symptoms impact my life

When close friends and family ask how I’m doing, my typical response is, “Eh, good days and bad days.” My chronic pain aside, the graphic below depicts, for the first time in public, my chronic fatigue on a “Good” day, a “Bad” day, and a “Really Bad” day. As indicated, on a typical day I have periods of energy that last between 5-9 hours, after which I must rest and/or do physical therapy; the process then starts all over again.

(6) 2003-present: My survival has depended upon my ability to find consulting clients, and deliver superior service to them

In general, until 2012, I never spoke to anyone outside of my closest friends and family of my medical condition, and how it turned my life upside down.  The only exceptions to this policy were my discussions with personal injury attorneys, some of whom were familiar with fibromyalgia and its symptoms.  None of them, however, gave me any special concessions due to this situation – nor did I ask for or expect any.

My litigation media portfolio documents the fact that many of my legal clients were willing to go on the record to attest to the level of performance I delivered, and the impact my work had on their cases.  A sampling:

“We cannot be happier with the quality of the animations you produced for us. (They will) help tremendously in this national litigation, and I expect juries will relate well, regardless of their geographic location.”

Samuel L. Tarry, Jr., McGuire Woods, Richmond, VA world headquarters
Regarding: Product liability: Defense of “Big 3″ U.S. automakers in class-action litigation

“You undertook this difficult task and, working under a very tight deadline, produced graphical depictions of the mechanical components that very accurately show their functions and operating ranges. “The federal judge deemed them reliable and, in a startling courtroom admission, Ford’s own expert acknowledged their accuracy and effectiveness. This is a tribute to your quick grasp of the specifications and your tireless work in getting the job done.”

Edgar F. Heiskell III, Michie Hamlett Lowry Rasmussen & Tweel, Charlottesville, VA
Product liability/wrongful death case against Ford Motor Co.; SUV accelerator cable became stuck in wide-open throttle position (excerpt at right; full presentation here)

“Jon’s graphics, insight, and willingness to go the extra mile were second to none. He was able to comprehend a difficult fact pattern and illustrate the scenario in a method that was both easy to follow and efficient. His input and work product made all the difference in settlement negotiations. We hope to have a long-standing relationship with Jon in the future. He was a pleasure to work with, and I would highly recommend his services.”

Eric Yost, Marks & Harrison, Charlottesville, VA
Regarding: Auto accident

Unfortunately, while this type of consulting work is well-suited to a person with fibromyalgia, in my particular situation it has also had several downsides:

  • The need for my services and my peak ability to work are not always aligned; and like an actor, I may find myself busy for a few months, but without work for the next six – or more.
  • This is due in large part to the fact that Charlottesville is a fairly small legal market – and while I have done work for clients in outlying areas (eg Richmond), there are usually strong competitors there, as well.
  • The economic downturn that began in 2008 dramatically reduced the need for my litigation media design and consulting services, as more disputes were being resolved either through arbitration, or through direct settlement negotiations between attorneys and insurance carriers.

To compensate for this, I’ve diversified the type of work I’ve been pursuing, and have constructed business plans for several small ventures.

I also spent several years writing my first e-book, for which I recently (February 2012) completed the first manuscript: A memoir-type testament to the transformative power that the “right” first dog can have on a troubled person’s life:  “Saved By Shayna: Life Lessons From a Miracle Dog.”

As possible, I’ve engaged in numerous unpaid civic-activism ventures, all of which relate in one way or another to (a) advancing liberty, individual rights and limited, constitutional government, or (b) helping to defend Israel from the persistent libelous assaults to which it is subjected, in the world media and beyond.  See some this work here; more  info is available upon request.


(7) FAQ

(1) Aren’t there pain medications you can take that would enable you to work a more normal schedule, perhaps in an office?

Not that I’m aware of.  Every pain medication I’ve been prescribed has had two effects: (1) to tamp down my fibromyalgia pains, and (2) to dramatically increase my fatigue, to the point where I sleep or am extremely groggy for 12-36 hours after ingestion.

(2) So there’s no way for you to combat the pains?

The primary non-pharmaceutical means I employ to combat the pain are (1) stretching and exercise (a) on land, and (b) in a warm-water (96-98 degree) pool, and (2) biofeedback and meditation, skills that I am in the process of learning.  Massage is also helpful, but is a luxury I have not been able to afford with the regularity that would provide optimal, ongoing relief.

(3) Don’t you qualify for disability?

One would think so, especially with the written diagnosis of board-certified rheumatologists.  There are a small but growing number of cases of individuals with fibromyalgia receiving disability benefits.  It took me several years to swallow my pride, and go ahead and apply, to see what kind of aid might be available to me.  I was turned down, told that all first-time applicants are turned down, and that if I wanted to explore this option I would need an attorney, and expect to wait 1-3 years for determination.  I describe this in more detail in my upcoming book, along with my ultimate decision to not pursue any kind of governmental assistance, period.

(4) You’ve used your creativity to helped lots of people and organizations solve problems.   What creative solutions have you generated to help permanently solve your dilemma?

Aside from the entrepreneurial ventures listed at the end of (6), I am working on pitches for several philanthropists to provide me with the financial support necessary to enable me reach my full potential, as an advocate of liberty.

To learn more about fibromyalgia, please see:

American College of Rheumatology: Fibromyalgia

National Institutes of Health: Fibromyalgia

The American Fibromyalgia Syndrome Association

The National Fibromyalgia Association

The Fibromyalgia Network

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2 Enlightened Replies

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  1. Ashley says:

    Thank you for writing this.
    I have been on quite the journey trying to figure out what is going with my body.
    I am a 35 yo female. I was active, competitive in sports. Now I barely have any energy to play with my son at the end of my work day. I’m also battling with uncontrolled pain daily.
    I found your story scrolling through the internet trying to find some answers.
    What you described is exactly what I experience. Our pain sites are identical. I too had a severe injury was hit by a car in my early 20s and never quite the same afterwards and it’s slowly has been getting worse.
    I wish I could get a referral to a RA. And finally get some answers.

  2. Jon Sutz says:

    Hi –
    Thanks. I’m sorry for your predicament. Not fun. Good luck to you. You might also keep your eye out for clinical trials, new medicines, new approaches, to helping to reduce, or at least cope with the pain. You might also check out It’s helped me a lot.

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