Sunday, May 11, 2014

The Pain Cave

The last thing I want to do on this blog is to complain about personal health issues. However, my recent painful episode, its origins and my experience with the medical system may be of some use to some (especially older) readers who want to keep pursuing an active lifestyle until the hearse pulls up.
Here is a quick synopsis of what I think was the underlying cause:
- January fall on an ice sheet, flat on my back, while getting ready for a snowshoe trip at Paradise, WA
- No pain or other symptoms for couple of weeks
- Two following months, stiffness in the neck, unable to look over my shoulder while bike commuting
- Skiing, dropping 5-10 feet through gates into chutes and bowls, jumping moguls, landing in deep powder, fast descending on a snow bike - all causing dull pain in the neck
- Ignoring all these warning signs
- April - flying on business, sitting on a plane with a strong pain in the right arm
- From that point, the pain in neck, shoulder, arm does not go away, gets stronger, to point 11 on scale of 10

There are two kinds of pain, the first "normal" pain is when we cut, bruise, burn ourselves. The second, nerve pain is the pain we experience during a root canal or tooth drilling without enough anesthesia. It is also a pain caused by pinched nerves in the vertebrae. It is dull, radiating, sends electric-like jolts through the paths of the nerve, tingles occasionally, but most importantly, never, ever goes away. After a few days, it drives you crazy, keeps you awake at night, does not let you concentrate on anything.

OK, so what does one do in such a painful situation? Here is again a quick summary of my actions and encounters with the standards of medical care as well as the non-traditional approaches. First, I tried to make appointments with a GP and an orthopedist, being new to the area, this was going to take several days (a week or so). Second, I ran to a physiotherapy place across the street from my work. These guys gladly took care of me, after three sessions I gained a lot of mobility in my neck, but the pain did not go away a bit. Some of the exercises seemed to help temporarily, but still no sleep.
Then - the real MDs: Dr. 1 prescribes pain medication which makes the pain go away for 30 minutes and a neck X-ray which shows no problem with the bones (besides a slight age related wear of the vertebrae). Dr. 2 says the pain medication was wrong, prescribes a super strong NSAID (the one which can kill you by stomach bleeding), a painkiller that is used to treat epilepsy and an MRI. The painkiller causes me to lose coordination, so I move like a drunk, but it knocks me out for 2 hours at night, so I sleep a little. After 2 of these pills, no chance of driving a car for at least a day. A week goes by.
Dr. 3, a chiropractic with a doctoral degree: immediately identifies a C7-T1 dislocated vertebra, agrees with Drs 1 and 2 on a possibly herniated C5 disc and gets to work. Gentle adjustments, no work around the T1 until she sees the MRI, massage, hot / cold, ultrasound. For the rest of the day and most of the following night I am pain free and the hope of running and biking again returns.

I am sure all this will resolve soon and I will be able to function again. But this experience results in two realizations: first, who knew that the fifties will be so miserable after the best physical condition of my life during my 40-ies? Who the hell wrote this program? Second: from now on, I will listen to my body and be gentle(r) to it. Yoga and chiropractic will likely be part of the routine. After all, I still want to ride 100 miles when I'm 75.

1 comment:

  1. Damn. I saw your comment and came to see if you explained what you meant by doctors letting you ride a bike again. I can only imagine the agony of constant pain and no clear way out. I hope it resolves soon and doesn't return. Let us know if there's anything we can do. Maybe we can all go get a beer in Los Gatos some time.