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.

Left leg saga continued

On Sunday, I rode the Hains Point 100, the final event ride of the year (for me anyway) in DC. The ride is 30 laps of a 3.3-mile circuit in East Potomac Park, down to Hains Point and back. It’s about as flat a course as you can find. Serious riders form fast-moving pelotons. We mere mortals ride a few laps, socialize, munch goodies, and hang out at the raffle. (I won a gift certificate to a taco place a mile from my physical therapist. The burrito gods are on my side.)

I had no intention of riding anything close to 100 miles. It was pretty cold, in the 30s for much of the time I would be riding. The Mule and I took it easy, rolling along, mostly at 12 miles per hour, but, occasionally cranking it up to 20. My legs were holding up just fine. Until about 28 miles into the ride, that is. The ache in my left leg, formerly only present when I was walking, appeared. I managed to ride another 9 1/2 miles with plenty of rest stops but I was really not a happy camper.

Fortunately, I made an appointment with my orthopedist on Monday. I felt fine when I woke up. Oh, great. What will I tell the doctor? I decided to do some stocking shopping before my appointment. I lasted 50 feet before my leg started aching again.

I limped a few blocks to and from a store and my left calf, groin, outer thigh, and butt cheek were having a contest to see which one could make me drop a salvo of F-bombs. (The calf won.)

At the doctor’s office, I explained my woes to the doctor. He nodded and smiled. When I told him about hurting after 50 feet of walking his eyebrows went up. Forttunately, this was obviously a no-brainer to him. 

He examined my legs and back. He was impressed. “Push. Pull. Resist. You’re strong,” he remarked. Funny, what 30,000 miles in three years can do.

Then he checked my back for flexibility. I acquitted myself well for an 85-year-old. I did however manage to touch the floor from a standing position without bending my legs. I took about 15 second for my back to relax though. “I’ll only be a minute.”

The diagnosis was stenosis.The passages through the vertebrae in my lower back are narrowing as I age. The nerves emanating from my lower spinal cord are being compressed. Lucky me, I’m old. The good news is that I haven’t incurred appreciable muscle weakness in my legs. (And you thought I was nuts to ride so much, didn’t you?)

The treatment plan is pretty simple. I am on a nine-day declining does of prednisone, a steroid that will almost certainly calm the nerves down. (I was on a seven-day course prior to my back surgery. It worked well. It wore off just as I was being wheeled into pre-op.)

The doctor gave instructions to my physical therapy team to change my PT regime. He agreed that the gentle yoga exercises I have been doing would be helpful.

When I arrived home, I looked up PT-for-stenosis videos. As it turns out, most of the exercises are already part of the yoga/PT routine I discontinued last year.

The plan is to follow this exercise regime for a few weeks, unless the pain doesn’t abate in which case we amputate.

Just kidding. If I don’t recover, we’ll discuss surgical remedies. Time will tell.

Ironically, my PT team has being trying to improve my posture, thinking this would help with my general mechanics, I suppose. Well, it turns out that stenosis patients find that a forward lean helps to attenuate symptoms. When I ran back in my 20s and 30s, I had a pronounced forward lean. When I sit, I naturally lean forward. Riding a bike puts my in a forward lean as well. 

So I asked the doctor, can I ride my bike.

Yes.

Considering the fact that two years ago I was in a hospital bed on anticoagulants and trying to breathe with one functioning lung, I’ll take this year’s medical conundrum any day.

Merry Christmas, y’all.