Monday, January 18, 2010

What a Pain in the Neck!

Just a few short weeks ago I quoted John Lennon’s words, “life is what happens to you when you are busy making other plans.” Since then I have moved quickly from “my neck is a little stiff” to “my neck is stiff and my shoulder is very sore” to “I cannot lift my right arm above my waist.” I have been to a physical therapist, dosed myself with steroids, sent for an MRI and am about to meet new friends at the Neuro-Spine Center. Along the way I have learned a great deal about cervical spines, mine in particular. Who knew that “marked right neural foraminal narrowing” was a bad thing? Or that the proper name for a bone spur is an osteophyte?

The heart of the matter is that a nerve is being pinched in such a way that it no longer sends instructions to my deltoid muscle. My two challenges are pain management and finding work-arounds for the everyday tasks that my shoulder wants nothing to do with. For example, when driving I can move through the first four gears pretty well, but to reach fifth or sixth gear I have to use my arm as a sort of glorified broomstick (Susan once caught me shifting with my left hand and had some stern words for me). I can work the radio and adjust the temperature by propping my wrist on the shift knob. Applying deodorant to my right armpit involves using my left hand to place my right hand on a towel bar (friends and co-workers are grateful I figured that one out). Sitting at the computer and typing is far more of a challenge – I can do it, but it hurts like a bugger – and all of this was unfolding while Susan and I were in the throes of completing our manuscript and sending it off to our editor. They had better publish the damned book!

For those who have never had an MRI, by the way, the experience is much like being shoved into a tube and forced to listen to the soundtrack of a very bad science fiction movie that features, among other characters, a giant deranged woodpecker. At high volume. For twenty minutes. I give it two thumbs down.

So on Wednesday I will go to the neuro-spine center to meet my physiatrist, a medical specialty I knew nothing about a few days ago. His job, as I understand it, is to keep me out of surgery if at all possible. According to the way my primary care doc reads the MRI results, this could be quite a challenge. He may inject some cortisone into the site to see if it will alleviate swelling just enough to take away the pain and convince my shoulder to report for duty. He may wave chicken bones over my body and recite incantations. He may put me in traction and stretch me until I confess my sins and secrets. I am in favor of anything that might prove effective and does not involve getting cut on.

I have long thought that one of the benefits to being a skinny little dude was that I would never have back problems, but that proved an empty hope. Another word that pops up frequently in my MRI report is “degenerative.” Had I only know that by age 61 I would be a degenerate anyway I would have put more effort into at least getting some fun out of it.

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