This is completely off-topic, but tomorrow morning, I'm heading to a neurologist's office to have a pain killing formula epidurally injected and dripped onto the root of the sciatic nerve that sits between vertebrae L5 and S1 in my lower back.
For close to three months now, I've been in a battle with three herniated discs in the lumbar region of my spine. The discs have been herniated since 1991 but the pain was managable until I gained too much weight and then, one week before Christmas, my three year old son very innocently jumped on my back for a horseback ride. I was immobilized for about a half an hour, unable to get up from the floor. Surgery is a last resort for herniated discs. Time and physical therapy are better, less invasive choices if they can work. Losing weight isn't a bad idea either. You don' t have to be overweight to have problems with herniated discs. It just takes that 1 extra pound beyond your back's threshold to trigger a debilitating episode. I was not careful about my weight and apparently crossed that threshold. My discs were already complaining about my weight when it was apparently time for a horseback ride. Since then, I've lost 20 pounds, visited both the accupuncturist (with amazing results) as well as a chiropracter and the pain in my back itself has subsided.
But one of the discs (the one between L5 and S1) decided to do something new for this episode. In the middle of January, just when I was really feeling as though I was coming out of the woods from the horseback ride, it decided to pinch a sciatic nerve. The sciatic nerve that's rooted at L5/S1 runs down your back, into your but, through your hip flexor, down your thigh to the outside side of your calf and terminates in your big toe. So intense can the pain get when the nerve is inflamed or "hot" as the doctor likes to say, that there's literally no position (not standing, sitting, or laying down) that can ease it. To make matters worse, my right foot is completely numb and the muscles in my right leg have atrophied. To give you an idea of how intense the pain is, Percoset is like baby aspirin. Accupuncture and chiropractic manipulation couldn't scratch the surface either. So, in saying "there's Vicodin, then Percoset (which is like 4 Vicodins), and then there's this," my doctor has put me on something even stronger.
Damned if you do. Damned if you don't. Without the meds, I can't sit at my computer and do much work let alone do anything else (eg: play with my kids). I can't get into the car to get to the doctor's office. With the meds, I'm back on my feet, but it's difficult to concentrate on anything and all I want to do is sleep (and with the meds, I can also get into the car, but I really shouldn't be driving). In either case, blogging is damn near impossible. Podcasting is a little easier because I don't have to stare at a computer screen, write or edit. If I lay off the meds just to get my sanity back and try to get some work done, I can only work for very short periods and I still feel like I need to take them just to get to sleep. This must be how addiction begins (which is why I have to ditch the meds as soon as possible). Laying down (to sleep) is a position that intensifies the pain and I've yet to perfect sleeping while standing up (the position that is the least of all evils).
Without sleep, the sciatic nerve thrives on exhaustion and the pain intensifies. The problem practically feeds on itself, trapping its victims in a no way out situation. The goal of the epidural injection is to eliminate the downside of the meds, kill the pain for about six weeks, and get me started on the physical therapy that's apparently needed to cool down the hot nerve (currently, physical therapy is too painful to consider). In other words, the injection is to get out of the trap. It will also enable me to do things like sit on a plane as long as the seat belt sign is illuminated so I can go to events like PC Forum next week. It was a combination of the meds and a homeopathic remedy that got me to California for Mashup Camp and that kept me on my feet for those two days, crooked as I was. But did you notice? Dan Farber did all the blogging. I could stand and talk. But that was it.
So, why am I writing about this? First, it's at times like these when you're down like this that you find out who your real friends are. You, know -- the ones that stand by you, pick you up, and say things like "whatever it takes." So, now that it looks like I'm about to turn a new corner, I'd like to say thank you to the people that got me through this ordeal so far; Folks like Dan Farber, ZDNet senior editor David Grober, CNET broadband senior producer Marianne Wilman, Mashup Camp co-organizer Doug Gold, my new hero Mary Hodder, my new friend Kaliya Hamlin (both of whom were critical to the success of Mashup Camp), my neighbor Tim who kept our driveway clear of snow throughout the winter, [updated: Dan Bricklin who routinely checked-in on me], and most of all, my best friend: my wife who has proven throughout this ordeal what it means to be someone's soul mate. When I basically didn't have a backbone, she took its place. And then some. Babe, I will always stand by you.
Secondly, I'm curious to know from others who've been through this; either a inflammed sciatic nerve, an epidural injection (but not for pregnancy), or both. What has worked for you? Did the epidural work as advertised? Were there any side effects? Were you able to return to normal life? Were there relapses? Thirdly, I've heard about people who live in chronic debilitating pain. Sometimes, I'd see them on TV, particularly news magazines. But I was never able to relate. I often thought it was all in their heads. That can't be how the human body really works. It's a hard -- almost impossible -- to relate to someone else's pain because you can't feel it or see it. Now, I feel badly about thinking that. Now, I can completely empathize. To those of you in that sort of pain out there, I'll never think that again.