Wednesday, December 24, 2008

I got shot in the back yesterday!

(WARNING: This post will of absolutely no interest to anyone, except possibly my family.)

Ever had a bout of sciatica? I hope not. It ain’t no fun, I promise.

Facts: The sciatic nerves exit the spinal column way down in the lower back between vertebrae L5 and S1 (L is for lumbar, or lower back, and S is for Sacrum, which adjoins the pelvic bone.) The nerve at its root (an aside here: who knew that nerves had roots? Maybe its pre-Latin name was Kunta Kinte? I wonder if Alex Hailey had sciatica) is about as big around as one of your fingers. Which finger? I don’t know—how big are your fingers? Anyway, it’s a pretty big nerve.

This nerve extends all the way down each leg to your toes. When it becomes inflamed or irritated, the pain starts in your butt (yeah, I know, it’s a real pain in the a$$), extends down the back of your thigh and calf, all the way to the sole of your foot.

This is NOT your typical everyday lower back pain. I’ve been subject to those pains off and on for many years, usually on the left side. They last about two weeks and then subside. This sciatica is a burning aching throbbing mess, located more in the leg than in the back. In my case it has included persistent numbness in the sole and toes of my right foot.

Yes, I went to a family doctor. He sent me to a neurologist, who ordered an MRI and did some other tests better described in a Nazi torture spy novel than on this blog. Suffice it to say that the tests involved electrodes, needles, and a device I refer to (kindly) as a cattle prod. They SAY they are measuring the time an electric “impulse” can travel through your nerves to determine if there’s nerve damage. I say, “HA!!” They’re really seeing how far they can raise the voltage before your leg jerks high enough to kick the technician in the face, and your grunts turn to screams. Each time the doc hits you with another jolt he says, “Sorry.” But I can hear the sadistic sneering smile in his voice. (Great sibilance there, eh?)

Not satisfied with that infliction of pain, the Neurologist’s suggested treatment (following an MRI, which I guess was supposed to add some semblance of objective logic to his devious plan) was an ESI.

Sounds innocent, right? That acronym stands for Epidural Steroid Injection. What it means, in layman’s terms, is that a different sadist (excuse me, I mean “doctor”) gets to stick a big, long needle in your back. Using a fluoroscope to position the tip of the needle precisely, he tries to inject cortisone (the steroid) in just the right spot. Too “shallow” and the steroid does little good. Too “deep” and there could be damage or other problems.

Well, I underwent that procedure yesterday.

If you are currently cringing in sympathy, you don’t need to. Like a trip to the dentist, the anticipation is worse than the reality.

The good news is that I had an excellent doctor doing the injection. He first deadened the area with Novocain or something similar, just like the dentist does before drilling. He said that little injection would feel like a bee sting, but it was very mild. After that there was no pain at all.

Yes, when he told me he was guiding the needle to JUST the right spot (the most critical part of all this) I wanted to stop breathing so as not to move my abdomen. But all THAT does is make you want to take deeper breaths later! Fortunately, the entire procedure from the numbing injections until the big needle was out only took about 10 minutes. He slapped a little Band-Aid on my back and said we were finished! Music to my ears!

Then (and ONLY then) he showed me the needle! I thanked him for waiting. I think I would have fainted dead away at the thought of that telephone pole being shoved into my spine!

Now, as I type this some 20 hours after being “shot,” I think it all may have been worth it. It will take 2-3 days to determine if I get full relief based on just one shot (and if not I might have to face one or even two more!), but I can already tell that there has been some improvement.

Before the doctor shook my hand and left, I asked him if I would be able to play golf after this. He assured me I would. I then thanked him profusely, and admitted that I never really had been able to play before.

Somehow I think he’d heard that one already.


kenju said...

Having sciatica is a royal pain in the butt - really! I know, since I am currently having it (left side hip). A chiropractor could do away with it, but I prefer to suffer and let my wallet stay closed....LOL

Merry Christmas, John!!

Linda S. Socha said...

OUCH! I am new visitor but.... Unfortunately I can relate! The good news is it does go away!!
Massage can be a help also!
Good luck!

Nankin said...

LOL! From someone who has suffered sciatica for years, I can relate. I've done the injections and chiropractor and they do help some, but most of the time (so they tell me), it's self eliminating.

In reality what has worked the best is exercise. But who wants to exercise when they hurt?

My sympathies to you and I hope you had a great Christmas.