Tuesday, May 08, 2007


Had an MRI yesterday morning. My appointment was at 6:45, an ungodly hour for a nightowl like myself. Truth is, though, the painkiller cocktail and the pain itself both have been knocking me for a loop for almost two weeks now. I've been getting to sleep at 10 p.m. and barely waking up with three alarms going off. Last night, though, I watched a little Adult Swim and crashed out at midnight. I kept thrashing around, unable to find a comfortable position, but fell sound asleep at last around 1 in the morning.

Around 2, though, I was brought fully awake by the sound of sirens - lots of them - passing rapidly by on Strathmore, the road that connects Rockville Pike and Connecticut Avenue and runs just two blocks behind my apartment. The sirens continued on and off all night. I barely slept and kept twitching. I thought of Kramer on "Seinfeld", talking about his inability to sleep with a restless girlfriend because she had what he called "the jimmy legs." I had the jimmy legs, for certain, and the sirens seemed to make it worse.

By the time my alarm went off at 5:45, I could hear helicopters overhead. I switched on the news only to find out the cause of the uproar - a house fire that took the lives of a couple in their 80's. What a horrible way to die after so many years of life. The reporter said the wife was wheelchair-bound, and her husband struggled to free her from the smoke and flames, but they were both lost.

I left for the radiology clinic in a somber mindset, and I was glad to hear the helicopters fade in the distance as I drove north up 270. The clinic was right off the highway and easy to find, although I took a wrong turn. Like one of Pavlov's dogs, I turned into the lot where I go for periodic blood testing, across the street from the radiology folks. Still, I walked in the door at 6:45.

If you have never had an MRI, let me tell you - it's loud and, at least this morning, it's cold. Lying stock still for 45 minutes on a back that screams with pain and begs you to writhe around is quite the ordeal. Fortunately, I had the soothing sounds of Canadian songstress Sarah McLachlan to help me through the session. If you've gotta do this, I recommend the folks at Rockville Open MRI. Friendly, professional, and they'll let you bring your own CD to listen to while the magnets work their imaging magic. Of course, I didn't know about the music thing. They'd forgotten to tell me. But I got to choose from an array of music they had available.

Enya? No, thanks. I think that would make me feel like I was about to be turned into Soylent Green as I slid into the apparatus. Alanis Morrisette? A little too angry for such an early hour. Sarah McLachlan? Okay, I can go all Lilith Fair for 45 minutes. No problema. Still, even with the soothing music, somewhere in Minute 30, I wanted to squirm. I practiced deep, cleansing breathing. I counted the lines in the plastic that wrapped the MRI's hood above my face. I counted heartbeats and seconds and sang along with Sarah, quietly, quietly. I got colder and colder and pulled the "blanket" (a sheet, really) up over my shoulders. I was allowed to move my head, neck, and arms, but nothing else. I created patterns of movement to keep my mind focused. Breathe, move hands, move head, breathe.

When it was over, I could barely stand. The pain in my back made sitting up difficult. The numbness in my leg made standing one hell of a trick. I walked to the locker room hunched over, like a pale, obese Yoda, but without the wisdom or the Jedi tricks. Or the hairy ears. Thank god.

When I finally made it to work, I was subdued. Not my usual perky self. I just plowed through things on my desk, trying to find the wood surface I knew was there, somewhere. By the time I got home, my regular doc had received and read my MRI images (man, those guys in Rockville work fast!) I have some bad nerve compression and a couple of bulging discs in my lower back, and some disc degeneration, too. Great.

My doc doesn't want me to undergo surgery at this point. I may have to have some periodic injections to help me with the pain. She does want me to go to a chiropractor or have physical therapy. Problem? My insurance only offers a very modest discount (10-20%) on such services. With my current financial picture, that's out of the question. Guess I'll be taking a lot of cleansing breaths, eh?

Maybe it's time to start listening to more Enya...


Loracs said...

Oh Merujo, I'm so sorry for the pain. Your insurance doesn't cover ANY PT?

I know what you mean about chiropractic care - my insurance only offers a small discount too, and yet it has helped me a great deal when I've used it. I wonder if there are any chiropractic schools in your area - maybe you could get some work done "gratis" or cheap by a student. We've use UC Berkeley's optometry school for Guy's eye care. And while it's not free, it's certainly a lot cheaper than a private practice.

Even a good massage might help - many massage students are looking for qualifying hours for their certificate. Barring all of that, “ice/heat/drugs/repeat” will give you some relief and then your body can take on the healing process. It just goes a lot faster with good body manipulation.

Heather Meadows said...


Chuck said...

My last episode of bad back pain was caused by a bulging disc. Of course, job stress may have been a contributing factor. At any rate, at least it wasn't a herniated disc.

Look for a chiropractor that is willing to charge a flat fee per office visit no matter what is done. Even if you can only go once or twice a month it will help. Most chiropractors I've been to have some sort of price scheme like this (cash discount) because a lot of insurance companies don't cover their services. As an example, I'm paying a $20 copay right now for my chiropractor, but before I got on insurance here, I was paying him a flat $40 per visit which included all services.

Hope you feel better soon!

Cyn said...

I know more than I should about this stuff, since my esteemed husband had basically the same problem a couple years ago. (Helpful Hint: Don't move a grand piano by lifting it up on your back.)

After suffering excruciating pain/muscle spasms for 3 or 4 months he eventually resorted to a series of 3 epidurals - the last of which reduced the pain to the point where he could get off the heavy-duty meds.

From my research for R., I think your doc is wise to avoid surgery. There's a certain amount of natural healing that should take place (very slowly) as the bulging goo between your vertebrae will harden and shrink and (hopefully) stop pressing on the nerves.

I shouldn't be speaking for my husband so much, but his experience with P.T. was that it seemed to aggravate his pain...couple that with the cost and he discontinued the therapy after two or three visits. He didn't try chiropractics though.

Anyway, sorry to hear the diagnosis. Absolutely no fun whatsoever. Hang in there.

kristen said...

Your situation is much more severe than mine, but from everything I've heard from family in the medical field, back surgery should be avoided.

Insurance companies suck. Rehab should be covered - after all, it can prevent the far costlier surgery option.

I second the chiro school opinion above. Or maybe a local hospital would have a resource, some free or reduced rate rehab option. I also know that when my insurance runs out, my practice has a package approach so I can reserve a number of sessions at much cheaper rates. You might be able to negotiate something like that with a reputable practice.

My chiropractor has been a life saver. Skeptical as I was at first, she put my fears to rest. Instead of trying to adjust me right away, she gave me electro therapy to help calm down the inflamed area. She also showed me the right way to move my body as well as stretches I could do in my own time to improve my situation without going too far, too fast. It has been very gradual, but I feel like I'm on the road to recovery. To paraphrase my doctor: "Rome wasn't built in a day, and neither was your back pain."

Best of luck with it...back pain is so atrocious. I'll be thinking of you and praying for your recovery.

Anonymous said...

No wonder you're in such hellish pain. I hope you find some relief or options. (On a sidenote, a coworker just bought a condo near you, and, ha, likes quiet nights. Right....)