Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Back in Back

Daddy's Birthday
Daddy's Birthday
Originally uploaded by toastfloats.
It is possible that we have found someone who knows what is wrong with my back. Those who have followed me through the years no doubt remember that periodically I am stricken by horrible back spasms. These can leave me incapacitated for days, even weeks. Muscle relaxants have little effect. When the pain is extreme and refuses to succumb to quantities of wine and pills which would otherwise stop an elephant, DrC puts me on steroidals until the whole things stops hurting.

Now, I'm going to take some time to natter like an old woman about what's wrong with me. I promise I'll do something more interesting in my next article. You can go if you want.

A few months ago, the way in which I experienced the pain changed. Like a frog being slowly boiled, it took me a very long time to realize that I was becoming progressively less mobile. Small spasms in the back were gradually replaced by soreness first in the buttocks on the right side, then a sciatica-like pain radiating down the outside of the right thigh, then a gradual spreading of aches and pains to the entire back, neck, shoulders and down both legs. By the time DrC got back from a trip to the States to noodle with other doctors, I was grim, upset, and on the edge of tears almost constantly.

Now let me just say right up front that marrying a doctor is really probably the unhealthiest thing I could have ever done. Tailors' children have no clothes. Cobblers' children have no shoes. Contractors' families live with torn apart kitchens, and doctors' wives get not the slightest bit of sympathy ever. For the most part, we're also not allowed to succumb in the throws of chronic pain to trips to palliative and reassuring folks like acupuncturists, homeopaths, or chiropractors. It's all so science-y with DrC. Never mind a really great experience I had back in my college days with an acupuncturist in Berkeley, now everything has to be done Right.

Life is a compromise. Despite my strong desire to have pins, crystals, voodoo chants and chicken blood, or any other damn thing that would make the pain stop, DrC insisted that we go about this rationally. We tried an MRI with no enlightenment. A muscular problem in DrC's mind implied the need for a muscular expert. Since we have no medical insurance to speak of, we decided to start with the optometrists of the muscular-skeletal world: physio-therapy.

So off I trooped to Pukekohe Physio, doctor husband in tow to see if we could figure out why I couldn't actually troop any more. Gimpy me limped in. Again, it would lovely to and say I walked out a changed woman. Perhaps that actually would have happened if DrC had let me go to the medium on the same block. But no. Instead, I limped back out with a sheet full of exercises and a really promising explanation of what might have happened to get me to the state I am in.

As usual, it's all Jaime's fault.

No seriously. It starts with the first baby.... and the third. We'll let Aeron share the blame. I was supremely lazy after having children, and never actually took my body back from the butchers that sliced me in half. The muscles along my abdomen can't be called muscles any longer. In fact, I'm not sure what you would call this nerveless, flaccid, floppy goo. My big TIP to preggers and post-preggers women is to do ab-work non-stop for years after you make babies. If I'd done that, I'd probably be in a lot better state with respect to my back. Basically, no matter how careful I am to bend the knees and pick things up with my core, I'm actually always always always just using my back muscles.

Problem 1: No abdominal muscles puts huge strain on the back.

Solution 1: Two whole sheets of abdominal/core strengthening exercises prescribed at minimum of three times daily.

Then I fell off the boat in 2008. It's a good story, funny at the time when I thought the long term injury was to my pride. How wrong I was. In landing on the swim ladder, I probably jammed the top end of the thigh bone into the big round disk bit of the pelvis. There are a lot of big words the PT and DrC were throwing around. I just watched her play with her plastic spine and hip model where the joint meets. It made perfect sense. The nerves all run through there. It's not a back problem per se, it's a joint problem. Yeah, sure, there is probably a weakness in one of those lower disks, but the real problem – the problem that isn't healing – is the damage in that leg-pelvis area.

Problem 2: Injury of some sort causing pinched nerves and pain in hip joint.

Solution 2: Stretches to loosen the surrounding muscles and reduce the overall inflammation.

Auckland Botanical Gardens
Auckland Botanical Gardens
Originally uploaded by toastfloats.
So that was nearly six weeks ago. The first few days of the stretch-strengthen routines were hellish. Things got so much worse. But tonight, for the first time, the entire set of movements and exercises felt good. Sure there was still stretchy hurt and a few of the old style twinges, but as I sit here and type, I do not feel the constant dull pinching pain down lower back, through the butt and along the leg. It's a huge difference and a huge relief. I'm optimist for the first time that this might work. Someday, I might be without these discomforts and feel like I own me again.

I think still would have preferred the pins over all this … eewww... exercise.


Anonymous said...

One work: "yoga"

Preferably Anusara

Andy in Mpls

Actually in Kino Bay (Bahia de Kino) for the time being.

Sara Johnson said...

I'm glad you are feeling better! I am wondering about your comment that you don't currently have health insurance in NZ...I thought they had universal health care but is that not for those with work visas?? We are looking at staying in NZ for a while if we make it over there in a couple years, universal health care one of the attractions for us. Would love your thoughts on this Toast.

Toast said...

@sara Yes on universal health care, but no, not for visitors or people on work visas unless it is a car or on the job accident. You have to be a resident or citizen. Takes two years to become a resident. OTOH, you can get international travelers insurance (for our family ~$2500/year) to cover your catastrophes and use the local system. Even uninsured, prices are very reasonable. In NZD, my initial visit was $65, subsequent visits $40. Jaime fell off a trampoline (DO NOT get me started), split her head open. A visit to the Emergency Room and 7 stitches took about an hour and cost a whopping $48. That's about $36USD.

My recommendation: Get an insurance "disaster plan" and come over anyway.

Sara Johnson said...

Thank you for that info Toast! The full prices you quoted are about half our copays with good insurance here in the States! Amazing. We'll be right over. :-)

Anonymous said...

Check out "Healing back pain" by John Sarno M.D. He's professor of rehabilitation medicine in NYU school of medicine and has a different take on back/neck/shoulder and leg pain. He has several other books on the subject too. I don't support alternative therapies, but feel this is a valid (i.e. scientific) approach.