Well, How Did I Get Here?Posted: November 28, 2011
You may ask yourself, well, how did I get here? – Talking Heads, 1980
It was literally a pain in the neck that got my attention. Yes, a pain in the neck always gets our attention and our ire; I’m trying to say that my neck hurt, a lot. Naturally, I ignored it. Why would I ignore such a thing? Because I am a man. That sort of behavior comes with the y chromosome.
Like people who are pains in the neck, the pain that was in my neck eventually became something I could not ignore. I was due for a physical, so I got an appointment to see my doctor. I thought I’d tell him about my neck while he was doing all the testing and maintenance work on me. I was sure he’d know what to do. He did. He referred me to a specialist.
“Why Don’t You Come With Me?”
So two weeks later, I was at a spine specialist. It was nice to go to a doctor and keep my pants on. He looked at some x-rays my primary doctor had ordered and pointed out where a disc in my neck looked like a problem. Something the doctor said made me think I was going to get out of there with some medication and physical therapy. I was wrong.
The doctor did a few more tests. Apparently I did not do well on them. To be fair, I did not know a test was coming and was not able to study. Based on the results, this specialist said “oh, no, no – you just bought yourself an MRI.”
I went to see the specialist after another two weeks so he could read my MRI. I sat on the examining table with my pants on, reading Woman’s Day magazine because that’s all that was available. The doctor came into the room, but not really. He just stood in the doorway and said “hi, how are you feeling?” He seemed surprised when I told him I wasn’t too bad.
The doctor just leaned on the door frame, making small talk. This struck me as a little peculiar. I thought about inviting him in, but I got hung up on the realization that even though I was in the room and he was outside it, the office was his. I really had no standing to invite anyone into the room. As it turns out, when a doctor doesn’t come into the room, there is a reason.
“Why don’t you come with me?’ he said. I went along because it took the pressure off me on that question of inviting him in.
We went to a room where he had a couple of computer screens. I noticed that he differentiated between the MRI images on the screens as “yours” and “normal”. These are not good differentiations when it comes to things like one’s spine. Among other things you don’t want to hear regarding your spine are terms like bone spurs and deterioration. The doctor distracted me from these unpleasant words by showing me my spinal cord on the screen.
I thought that was really cool. How often do you get to look at something like that? As it turns out, seeing your spinal cord is not that cool because sometimes “this is your spinal cord” is followed with “this is the damage you’ve already done to it” and “I’m referring you to a surgeon”. This pain in the neck was becoming a real pain in the neck.
“Don’t Do Anything Stupid”
While I was trying to get my head around this surgery idea I asked whatever popped into my mind, like how I will recover (very well) and what would happen if I opted out of having surgery (not good). I asked if I should restrict myself in any way given that he had also told me I was at a higher risk for serious spinal injury until the surgery was complete.
The doctor told me not to do things that make my head snap back. It surprised me that it was that simple. I asked for clarification. “Just don’t do anything stupid” was his clarification. I told him that I was about to celebrate my fiftieth birthday on a road trip with my friends and doing stupid things was the theme of the trip. He narrowed “stupid things” to fighting and water skiing. Given that these are things I never do, I did not feel terribly restricted.
“Why Don’t You Come With Me?” I’m Getting Sick Of Being Asked.
And so it was that later, I was sitting on an examining table in a surgeon’s office, with my pants on, reading Southern Living magazine. The surgeon opened the door, stood in the doorway and introduced himself. We talked for a few minutes and then he said “you look better than I expected you to.” It occurred to me to say something like “most people look like crap in hospital scrubs, but they look ok on you” but I opted not to. It just didn’t seem a good idea to pop off at a guy who will be in a position to kill me in my sleep.
Like the last doctor, the surgeon invited me to follow him. I wasn’t all that eager about the invitation because I didn’t like the results last time. We ended up in front of some monitors with my MRI images on them.He spoke very well of most of my spine and spinal cord, but not so well of the section the previous physician had also disparaged. He said that, based on what he saw on the MRI before meeting me, he expected my condition to be a lot worse.
We went back to the examining room, where he showed me on a toy spine what he proposed doing to my real spine to relieve the pressure on some of my nerves and restore me to being pain-free. The toy spine even had a toy titanium plate and toy “donor bone” to simulate how these would replace my deteriorating disc. He said to get back to him if I wanted to proceed with the surgery.
My current job involves using both my hands and the pain in one of my arms makes doing that difficult sometimes. Writing is now a two-handed activity as well. I’ll be pain-free and the surgeon says I’ll be able to turn my head at least as far as I do now, maybe even more. I hope I’ll be able to turn my head around like an owl by the time I finish physical therapy. The decision was easy. I was on the phone the next morning starting the arrangements for surgery.
So, that’s where things stand. This has been a bit of a distraction over the past few weeks. I am behind on reading, writing and social contacts. But it is a distraction I can see an end to. There are a lot of positives to this thing beyond the pain management.
On December 20 I get some new pieces, two days in the hospital, and a couple weeks out of the office. Hmmmm, maybe this gives me time to work on the communication book idea? I think so, but not while I’m on the heavy pain medicine. I also get a cool scar on the front of my neck and I get to grow a beard…and maybe long hair.
This is going to be alright.