Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Lumbar Blues

On December 30th, while talking on the phone, looking for a pen, and walking too fast, I slipped on a wet spot and fell on my ass. The colonial pasta tiles are made of painted, polished cement that is slippery and hard. I experienced a new level of pain that night.

The next day we went to the Clínica de Mérida to consult a Dr. Hector Maldonado. (Don’t go to him for any reason! He is not only an asshole, he is an idiot.) He said I probably bruised my tail bone and gave me a prescription for an anti-inflammatory and muscle relaxers, or so I thought. He said to wait a couple of days, get xrays, and come back. It was a holiday weekend so I waited until things got back to normal. On Monday we got xrays and went back to the doctor. He was pissed off that I didn’t take the xrays at that particular clinic and said nothing was wrong, prescribing an injection of some sort. He basically accused me of faking the pain and insisted that a steroid injection was all I needed.

I hate injections. Bad childhood memories of a brown recluse spider bite surface and I panic. They do not administer injections at doctors’ offices here. They send you home with a prescription and you do it yourself. Pablo talked me into the injection and gently administered it. It gave me some relief. As the days passed the pain increased. I felt like someone had whacked me across the small of my back with a machete. As if that didn’t hurt enough, the pain spread to my hamstrings, all butt muscles, and I could hardly stand up or sit down.

I found another doctor. He was thorough and knowledgeable. By the time I consulted the second doctor my ass and legs were contracting and throbbing. He looked at the xrays and detected a herniated disc. Of course he said my only option was surgery and titanium pins. But he is supposed to say that, he turned out to be a surgeon. He changed my prescriptions, stating the ones I had would not help me. No steroid injections, just ibuprofen and a lightweight pain medication.

Not being much for surgery, and knowing people who regret having had this type of back surgery, I sought out alternative treatments. I found a chiropractor. Danny De Graff is from San Francisco and has a well organized clinic. I went for a consultation and treatment last Friday. He discovered there is a small fracture on my tailbone as well as the herniated disc. He carefully adjusted me and sent me off to the second room. There they used an electric massage tool and heat on my back. In room eight, they used electromagnetic shock on my behind, with a cold pack because of the inflammation. From there I was sent to room ten, where Nieves the masseuse was waiting for me. She gave me a thorough deep massage for thirty minutes. The entire treatment process lasted two hours, and because I bought “the paquete” of eight sessions the cost of one two hour session works out to about $45. The price of xrays they plan to take after the treatment program is included. To me this was more reasonable than a ten thousand US dollar surgery. Some of my back degeneration is due to all the lifting of heavy gear and scuba tanks, as well as the nitrogen uptake from maxing out the dive tables during my scuba instructor days. And of course, my age factors in too.

There are good days and bad days with this pain. The wet cold fronts that have been passing through don’t help my aching bones. The gloomy days do help me to accept the fact that I must hang out in the hammock with lots of pillows, or lie in bed flat on my back. The bummer is I was in too much pain to concentrate to write or read. The Soma or Flexeril I took helped me maintain the state of zombie-ism required to keep me horizontal and watch the same CSI and Law and Order programs again and again, but I am just not that much of a couch potato to be content doing absolutely nothing but staring at the TV drooling.

Yesterday I went back for my second appointment. The doctor said he could feel my spine whereas on Friday he couldn’t because it was so inflamed. I like the doctor and he doesn’t scare me. I usually have a split second of panic when a chiro gets in position to crack my back or neck…I envision permanent paralysis or death.

I spent extra time in room eight with the electromagnetic shock under a hot pad, then infrared heat. I look forward to the day they put me in the upside down vertical chair. I think my spine would enjoy a really good stretch. Soon come, man, soon come.

Research told me it takes around six weeks to heal a tailbone. I have high hopes that within a few more weeks I will be back on the dance floor. I can tell I feel better because I have a few brain cells operating again. As it turns out, I am an excellent caregiver but a lousy patient. My first lesson of the year is learning to ask for help and not feel guilty that I need some.


Daniela said...

I'm so sorry. I hope you feel better soon!

Annmarie Borucki said...

Lin: Bruce and I have been meaning to write for some time... but for now, Bruce wanted me to share his back experience with you… it may be useful for you.

With his 1st experience with a herniated disk (between L4 and L5), he only saw a chiropractor in an attempt to relieve the pain in the short-term. The pain would radiate down his right leg, but since he was at school, he dealt with it for 9 months and the pain never went away. After 6-9 months, he went to a surgeon and then tried physical therapy to no avail. He then had surgery where they cut off part of the disk and the pain was relieved immediately. 2 years ago, Bruce herniated another disk and he immediately started physical therapy 3 times a week, and within 2 months, the pain was relieved. In summary, the chiropractor was great for identifying the cause of the pain and provided some short-term relief, but offered nothing for the actual rehabilitation, i.e., strength exercising and stretching. He has found physical therapists much more knowledgeable and useful in rehabilitation of the spine. Although when you begin physical therapy, they start you off so slow that it seems like it’s pointless, but then after a few weeks they ratchet it up and you start seeing progress. Bruce suggested that you might want to contact Donna because she recently experienced crushed vertebrae. Anyway, Bruce and I wish you a speedy recovery! Call or email if you have questions!