Taking Steps

So a week has passed since Doctor Evil injected my spine with cortisone. I shudder just thinking about the electric shocks ripping down my left leg. The after-care notes I was given at the doctor’s office warn that the effect of the medicine will not appear for a week to ten days. A friend told me of someone who didn’t feel any change for a full two weeks.

Not much had changed over the first four or five days but I decided to try doing some very gentle physical therapy exercises designed specifically for stenosis. I have my doubts about PT but my friend Ed told me yesterday that he did PT for stenosis without shots with success. (His nerve issues produced different symptoms. For example, I couldn’t stand for any length of time; he couldn’t sit. He said it took a year to get his pain under control. (One odd commonality in our cases is the fact that we both have asymmetric depressions in our leather saddles. This means that our sit bones push into the saddle more on one side than the other.)

I honestly can’t tell if the exercises are doing anything, but they are low risk and only take ten minutes to do. I do them twice a day,

Yesterday, I braved below freezing wind chills to ride to Friday Coffee Club. I had no troubles on the bike. I was very much aware that seven days had passed since the shots. And I am pleased to report that I stood for a half hour with no discomfort at all. I eventually ended up sitting but it was a choice not a need.

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On the way home. Note the flags at the base of the monument. 

I rode home in even colder wind chills. The ride across the river had a nasty cross wind that cut right through my neck gaiter. The right side of my face was nearly numb by the time I reached Virginia. Fortunately, I had the wind at my back for most of the last 12 miles home. I could tell how tough it was for DC-bound riders by the look on my friend Joe’s face just south of the bridge. Then a few minutes later another DC-bound rider yelled, “Hi John!” as she rode past. She too was freezing, but a smile betrayed her Hoosier upbringing. (Winds in Indiana are often so strong they moan.) I said “Hi, Laura” back but she couldn’t hear me.

About five miles from home I came upon an e-biker. He was covered in black except for space age reflective goggles across his eyes. He looked like an extra from The Fly. He did not say “Help me!” in a high-pitched squeaky voice.

Last night I walked to and from a restaurant with no cane. No problems. Today I awoke and felt totally limber. I was standing straighter. My back and hips felt relaxed.

After puttering around the house all morning, I took the back by the cane as it were and headed over to Huntley Meadows Park to go for a walk. The park has a flat. unpaved trail that leads to a boardwalk through a marsh. It’s a great place to chill out. On a day like today the chilling was literal and figurative.

I brought my cane to be on the safe side. I managed to get over a half mile before I started using it. Again, it was not out of need. It was just seemed easier to use it than to carry it.

I made it about a mile before is started getting some very mild discomfort on the outside of my lower left leg. It never progressed into pain. I walked two miles in all and maintained proper walking mechanics. In fact, I had trouble keeping my walking pace down. My legs wanted to rumble. When I finished I noticed that my lower back didn’t stiffen up. 

I did feel a hot spot on my left hip and the continuation of discomfort in my lower leg when I got home but I still regard today’s walk step in the right direction.

 

Rosanne Rosannadanna phone home

I’m five days removed from the cortisone injections in my spine. I should start noticing some effects in a few days.

I’ve ridden my recumbent bike and my CrossCheck twice each. Until today I was having no problems. I have stayed off my feet as much as possible to let the steroid do its thing. So it’s not surprising that I have had no pain.

Today, about an hour into my indoor recumbent ride, I experienced a sharp pain in my left knee. It felt very different from the various kinds of knee pain I’ve had over the last year. I think it’s an iliotibial band strain, the result of doing no stretching for three weeks.

It’s always something.

The cortisone shots have some interesting side effects. I had a pretty good headache the night of the injections. And then my face turned beet red the next day. The illness that I had last week seems to be lingering, perhaps a result of transitory immune suppression.

Yesterday I went to the drug store. It’s transitioning from one national chain to another. I had to wait in lines twice, perhaps for a total of 15 to 20 minutes. I had no trouble with my lower back or left leg.

Tonight and tomorrow I am attending events in the city. I’ll be interested to see how my leg and back do. I’m bringing my cane just in case

The beneficial effect of the steroid injections should start kicking in this weekend.

 

 

 

 

A Little to the Left, Doctor

I noticed a sore throat coming on a few days ago. I thought it was just the aftereffects of a smoggy temperature inversion the likes of which Los Angeles had not seen since, well, Monday. No such luck. I had a full on head cold on Wednesday. I treated it with extensive napping, Netflix (Philadelphia), and, very unwisely, a bottle of Clos du Bois Cabernet Sauvignon.

I slept not a wink Wednesday night. After my bi-weekly diner breakfast with Mrs. Rootchopper, we went to the library while our house was being cleaned. I put on my headphones, played some woo woo music, and promptly fell sound (and I do mean sound) asleep. Two hours later we went home.

The weather outside was cold and wet so I rode Big Nellie in the basement. (For the uninitiated, Big Nellie is my recumbent bicycle which I have attached to a resistance trainer. Get your heads out of the gutter, people.)

Later that night I took a couple of Nyquils and fell into a deep slumber.

This morning I woke up groggy and stayed that way through four cups of coffee. I then went to the physiatrist, also known as the pain doctor. After a bit of a wait, the doctor came in dressed in black. She had on what appeared to be a black butcher’s apron over her black outfit. I was half expecting her to speak with James Earl Jones’s voice. With an incongruous smile she said, “You’re on deck.”

Oh joy.

Soon I was escorted into white room which contained what appeared to be a giant white C-clamp from Goldfinger’s laboratory.

No, Mr. Rootchopper, I expect you to die!

This fluoroscope is an x-ray device used to guide the doctor to the appropriate trouble areas of the spine. I lay face down on a padded black table, my face in a donut shaped extension which allowed me to do such helpful things as breath, drool, and, as it turned out, cry out for my Mommy. The doctor’s assistant (what is the female of Igor anyway?) positioned a small padded chair for me to place my hands on.

After the assistant used freezing cold solutions to clean and disinfect my lower back, the doctor came in and fine tuned the position of the fluoroscope. The doctor mentioned that, as we discussed in our previous meeting, I have a transitional (i.e., abnormal) lumbar spine, one with an extra vertebra. I was relieved that the doctor was taking care to find the right section of my spine to inject.

Out of the corner of my eye, I spotted two needles that looked somewhat like artillery shells in my doctors gloved hand.

I. Am. So. Screwed.

Then the poking began.

The first few needle insertions felt like getting a flu shot. Not so bad.

Then the money shots into the spinal canal, no doubt, started.

One after the other. A series of, I think, four shots into my spine. The first shot sent an electric shock down a nerve in my left leg. My hands clenched together on the seat beneath my head. I tried to breathe meditatively to disassociate my mind from the pain, from the anticipation of the next shot. I told the doctor that she had the correct spot as the electric shock exactly matched the pain I have been experiencing for months.

Then came the second shot. Fuck all! That hurt. So much for breathing techiniques.

I groaned. The doctor apologized. Then she said, “Take a deep breath. Now, let it out slowly.” (She was on to me.)

The third shot was doozy. OWWW.

“Sorry.”

Then the piece de resistance. The mother of all injections. It sent a bolt of pain straight through my butt, my knee, my calf, into my ankle and foot. Had I not had my hands clenched together, I’d have come off the table.

Lordy.

Done. The doctor left. (I swear she said, “BWA HA HA!” under her voice as she exited.

I sat up. My left leg was numb from my hip to my toes. I gingerly plopped into a wheel chair and was rolled out into the waiting room. I struck up a conversation with a forty something man who had a walker. He was a retired Marine who had 16 years of pain after 20 years of service. The VA and Walter Reed had done all they could for him. He’d had the same injections that I had. “I can’t have any more,” he said.

As he rose to go into the examining area, he turned and quietly said, “Oorah.”

Semper fi, dude.

Count your lucky stars, I thought.

The feeling in my leg returned in stages beginning in my foot and working its way up. I left with only a slight numbness in my thigh after 50 minutes.

I refrained from leaping for joy and yelling “I’M CURED!!!” Mostly because the doctor’s self care sheet said the shot wouldn’t really take effect for a week to ten days. I can take OTC pain killers. I must keep a day-by-day account of my pain progress. In a month I go back to Dr. Pain to see if I need another set of injections. 

I hope not.


Before I forget, I need to welcome back Jessica from her adventures around the Pacific Rim. I started nearly every day of this pain party reading one of her upbeat posts on Facebook, often documenting her doing inane things such as rolling down a hill in a giant translucent ball or lowering herself into a Viet Cong tunnel. From time to time, she recapped her antics in her blog, which I highly recommend. Thanks for keeping my spirits up, Jessica.

The needle and the damage done

Today was the big day. I went to a physiatrist, a pain doctor, to see about fixing the stenosis pain I’ve been enduring for the last three months.

The doctor took my history. When I mentioned that, after inadequate pain relief from ibuprofen, I switched to marijuana edibles in Colorado during last summer’s tour. She was not at all surprised at the relief I experienced. She said that for most people edibles work for pain relief only when they contain a substantial amounts of THC. (In Virginia, CBD edibles have only trace amounts of THC and, therefore, tend not to work so well. Your mileage may vary.)

The doctor brought me to another room where she examined my MRI on a computer with her physician’s assistant. The doctor explained that I have a transitional lumbar spine. Transitional in plain English means abnormal. Most people have five lumbar vertebrae. Some people have four or six. I have six. (Thanks Mom and Dad.) This explains two things. First, the location of my previous back surgery is either L3-L4 or L2-L3 depending on where you start counting from, top or bottom. Second, the surgeon who did the operation cut too low and had to extend his incision. This is no big deal except that it means the recovery time, mostly associated with getting the back muscles to work together again, is a little bit longer.

That old surgery involved removing a disc in my spine. My pain doctor thinks this is the source of my problem. In the area around the missing disc, the spinal canal, through which the spinal cord passes, is narrowed. This stenosis is causing further problems downstream in my lower back. Thus, the pinched nerve root in my lower back, she thinks, is the product of the stenosis higher up. The stenosis in my upper lumbar region also likely explains why my lower back gets achy when I stand for a long time, as I do at concerts.

My physiatrist clearly loves what she does. She seemed quite confident and upbeat about my case, saying that one or two cortisone shots in the problem area should fix me for five or ten years.

Bring it on.

But wait. I have to get approval from my health insurer. So, I go back for the injection a week from Friday, or sooner if she gets a cancellation.

 

 

 

 

 

Ride my seesaw

I am on a medical seesaw. One week I’m feeling great, the next not so much. The weather has turned here and it’s perfect for riding in t-shirt and shorts. On Saturday, I rode 38 miles. Sunday 23. Monday 64. Tuesday 33. No problem. No pain. Just me and my Crosscheck cruising around the DMV.

Last night I was sitting watching the Nats game, an epic ten-inning come from behind smackdown of the Phillies. Around 11 pm, I noticed that my left shoulder was really sore. I’ve been having troubles with my left shoulder and arm for over a year, but this pain was in a different place: behind and on top of my shoulder.

I took some ibuprofen at bedtime and woke up to more pain and even some swelling. I’m right handed so having pain in the arm that I rarely even use makes no sense at all. I didn’t do anything to cause this. It just is.

Today was perfect riding weather but I had things to do. The morning involved errands. The afternoon was spent powerwashing my deck and patio. None of this activity involved my left shoulder. It’s still tender. I had a cortisone shot in this shoulder on March 1. The doctor said that if the shoulder felt okay after four weeks, I was in the clear. Yesterday was 5 1/2 weeks.

I am going to give it a couple of days to calm down but I am worried.

Apropos of nothing, did you grow up calling them teeter totters or seesaws? Tadpoles or polliwogs?